Monday, January 21, 2013

Downton Abbey recap, Season 3, Episode 3: "No Lady writes to a newspaper"

"It was the best of times; it was the worst of  times." Well the balance fell somewhat on the latter in this episode. Edith's stab at suffragism ("Earl's Daughter Speaks Out for Women's Rights") and the beatific smile on her face when she discovers her letter was published was a definite bright spot, as was the resumption of communication between Bates and Anna. But Mary was decidedly on the crabby side throughout, and poor Daisy seemed to have her budding romantic hopes crushed upon the advent of a comelier scullery maid. (You may wonder why Daisy complains so vociferously about the lack of help in this and other episodes. Tune in later this week and I'll walk you through some of the tasks assigned to an actual kitchen maid of the period.) Lord Dumbledore seems to care not a fig that the estate is bleeding money now that he has it back, and he's all het up about harboring a revolutionary in the person of his son-in-law, as well as the possible incursion of creepy Catholics into a very C of E sphere of existence, in which he has the Archbishop of York to dinner. And Mary is cheesed that Tom/Branson watched approvingly while the house of an Irish aristocrat she "came out" with burned to the ground. "When I see these houses, I don’t see charm and grace. I see something horrible" he counters.
Mrs Patmore and the unlucky-in-love Daisy. Photo: ITV
In other wrenching developments, "fallen woman" and former Downton housemaid Ethel gave up her illegitimate son Charlie—and still his grandpa was beastly to her. Mrs Crawley is up in everyone's face, using the actual word "prostitute." She's not about to back off, employ euphemisms, or blame the victim. Bully for her! Methinks her cook Mrs Bird, who feels above handing Edith her coat, is about to get her comeuppance.
"No family is ever what it seems to the outside."
Both Edith and Matthew go to the Dowager Countess for advice. To the smart and capable Edith's plaint that "There's nothing to do at the house except when we entertain" Vi has little to offer, except to eschew gardening: "you're not as desperate as that!" The post-war, post-jilted, purposeless Edith must feel condemned to a future of despair and ennui. (Although the Dowager Countess does say "There must be something you can put your mind to!" I suggest books—or helping Mrs Crawley with her social work. What do you think?)
Matthew wants to know how he can address Robert's "mismanagement" without "putting anyone's nose out of joint." Violet tells him to tally ho, but warns that however he proceeds, "a great many noses will be out of joint."
We fade out with Mrs Hughes playing with her new electric toaster, a pincher model with a nickel-plated toast rack on top. "I’ve given it to myself as a treat," she tells Carson. "If it’s any good, I’m going to suggest getting one for the upstairs breakfasts."
Lingering questions: Where did Shirley McLaine go? I know some Downtonites (Mary and her Granny) were keen to have Cora's blunt American mother back across the pond, but as of the previous episode she seems to have unceremoniously disappeared.
Favorite exchange: "I think Granny's right." Violet: "Will somebody write that down?"
Favorite characters to befriend. "These are the current Downton characters I would most like to hang out with, in roughly descending order: The dowager countess, Sybil, Matthew, Mary, Branson, the smoking hot new kitchen maid, Isis the dog, and Mrs. Hughes" writes Seth Stevenson of Slate. How about you?
SPECIAL LIMITED OFFER: Go here for10% off all Downton Abbey–related items (books, CDs, DVDs); & there are lots!


  1. I would want to hang out with Tom and Sybil in their flat in Ireland. Tom would eventually drive me away with his nonstop nationalism.

    For something different I would pose as Daisy's brother and visit the farm with her. We'd throw some hay bales around, maybe eat a scone with fresh cream, and call it a day.

    That life would grow tiresome, too. The farmer would eventually get to me, with his endless positivity and understanding.

    I don't know where I would end up, maybe with the servants, they always have something to do.

  2. I would be a bit scared of the Dowager Countess. I might help Edith get up to no good. Regarding my comment that she should read more, I also think that she should take up an instrument. (I can't believe I'm talking about the hypothetical pursuits of fictional characters!!) I also thought the interaction between Daisy and her "father-in-law" was a refreshing change of scene. I think of all of them I would like to "hang" with Mrs Crawley because she has her mind on something other than herself or the status quo; she really wants to help people. Mrs Patmore is funny (and you'd get lots of yummy treats!)

  3. I loved this episode. Far more meaty and complex class themes than the treacly romance and wedding episodes: Ethel's giving up Charlie was the most tasty and nuanced especially given Edith's lowly status as the unmarried daughter of an Earl. (Sit quietly and eat your breakfast, Edith!)Love this new suffragist story line possibility. If Edith's life is so proscribed what chance does Ethel have? Even Mrs. Bird is rude and unapologetic.

    The entire episode was about caste: from Bates' undoing of the prison caste, and the downstairs squabble about first and second footman, to the less well done Irish-English struggle--no subtlety there--to Matthew's middle class intrusions on Lord Grantham's management style. This episode put meat on some character's bones.

    1. Hadn't thought of it in those terms. Thanks for the insight.