In this situation, I’d expect to give her the occasional plot update, maybe a slightly patronising explanation of, say, how a swooning ladyhamster like Lavinia brought down the government. Something like that.
But Downton has become such a parody of itself that she managed not only to figure out everything that was going on (“Why do I feel like I’m watching Home & Away?”), but also pre-empted every single plot twist.
She deserves a co-writing credit on both this article, and the series itself.
The episode was brought to you by the letter F: for family, for fraud, and for what Sir Richard is going to do to the Grantham family if Lady Mary so much as chuffs in the marital bed.
In family terms, the law of thermodynamics keeps things on an even keel, with the departure of Mrs Crawley balanced by the arrival of “Patrick Crawley”, Titanic survivor and heir to the Downton estate. Yep, him, remember: the cause of all those trembling upper lips in series 1, before the servants got uppity and the Tsar got it in the face.
The fraud was perpetrated by one of Gunther Von Hagen’s plasticised corpses trying to pass himself off as the Lost Heir. That or the make-up department, crazed on power (and/or brains) after their undead-Matthew triumph of last week, decided it was time to take it to the next level (of Zombie Apocalypse on the Xbox, by the look of it).
“Patrick” had done his homework; his only chance of pulling off his monumental heist was to find a chink in the armour, a weak (-chinned) link in the robust family dynamic. And he nailed it in Edith, if you’ll pardon the expression (though I suspect she was rather looking forward to that side of things: she’s not been the same since her farmer beau showed her the joys of a good forking in the hayloft).
Surely, then, the series finally has its cliffhanger: a mystery to drive the tension until the last minute of the last show?
Er, no. Lord Grantham must keep Poirot on a retainer – one phone call to his lawyer and the charlatan’s story is blown out of the water (if that’s not an insensitive metaphor).
Except… despite a series of increasingly blunt confessions, Edith remains convinced by his claims and by the end of the programme she’s transforming before our eyes into a malign, paranoid amalgam of the Phantom of the Opera and Gollum, albeit in nicer frocks. After everything Thomas, Sir Richard, the glottal stop etc. have done, could Edith be the final nail in the Grantham coffin?
The biggest upheaval we’re left to deal with is the imminent loss of Carson, poached by Sir Richard to look after Lady Mary in their new anything-but-lovenest at nearby Haxby Hall, about which no-one has a good word to say. A bit cruel, seeing as a) it’s a bloody huge amazing mansion and b) it’s not really a building, but rather a metaphor for their doomed nuptials.
To be honest, it’s a struggle to find much to say about Mary and Sir Richard because this is, let’s face it, a fairy tale: he’s a panto villain and whatever suffering the princess may endure, she’ll have her way in the end.
The threat of Carson’s departure is just unnecessary; without his enveloping presence the Abbey would collapse in on itself like the House of Usher. Who would measure the distance between the knives and forks on high table (my personal highlight of the week)?! Ain’t gonna happen.
Meanwhile, the many and varied repressed passions both upstairs, downstairs and a combination of the two continue to develop in entirely predictable ways. Lady Sybil seems to have turned to the dark side. Rather than being creeped out by her proletarian stalker (okay, I’m projecting), she asks Branson if he’ll wait for her to make up her mind about something or other. I may have fallen asleep. Ahem.
The Anna/Bates/Vera triangle takes an even more dramatic twist when Bates decides to confront his not-actually-ex-wife, [insert plot device from ep 7 which infuriatingly we're not let into yet] and then she’s found dead! Blimey! Lord G is going to find it hard to react with his usual benign tolerance over this rather alarming breach of etiquette. It just won’t DO to have one’s valet go round offing people, no matter how ghastly they are.
And speaking of Lord Grantham, keep an eye on him. The new serving wench has a twinkle in her eye aand who knows what in her petticoats.
As the curtain closes on the episode, so it draws over the Great War. Huzzahs all round (among much sadness and loss, &c &c). The Abbey’s ready for another big socio-political shake-up, with another era of change that might finally polish off everyone’s favourite crinkle-cut battleaxe, but not before the final two episodes draw all the plot threads – which include a yawnsome Thomas-led black market scam and the ultimate bout of Foxy Boxing for the heart of Matthew- to a close.
And for all this series’ soapy melodrama, I can’t wait.
Class stereotype of the week: Matthew, once a happy, generous commoner, now a bitter, weak-chinned toff-to-be who sounds more like Hugh Grant with every episode. Maybe getting his winky back will reverse the transformation.
Pathetic fallacy of the week: despite Edwardian Yorkshire’s phenomenally good weather, it always rains on Ethel. She even gets her own colour palette – do I sense a spin-off series? No.
Quota-filling fatality of the week: Major Bryant, killed off at Vittorio Veneto. Admittedly his storyline was heavy going, but that still seems a bit much.
Period incongruity of the week: the only way Lady Mary could push a 1910s wheelchair over grass that easily would be if it was raised up by some kind of hovercraft, and as any fule kno: the theoretical grounds for motion over an air layer weren’t constructed by Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovskii until 1926.
Last survivors of their generation of the week: have you noticed that when Carson & Lord Grantham speak to one another, they both face the same way? Now those are manly men. End of an era.