I’ve come up with ways to amuse myself while watching this fifth season of Downton Abbey. For the third episode, I imagined the show as a 1924 version of Sex and the City. Mary, the center of everyone’s world, is the Carrie of the group. Anna is clearly the Charlotte. She frets that she’s “aiding and abetting sin” by helping Lady Mary have premarital sex. Poor, put upon, unlucky-in-love Edith is Miranda. And the Dowager Countess, always ready with a pithy one liner, is Samantha.
Mary and Lord Gillingham have spent the week ensconced in a hotel, apparently having lots of sex. Mary smugly thinks they’ve gotten away with it. But Violet’s butler Spratt is in Liverpool for his niece’s wedding and sees Mary leaving the hotel with Lord Gillingham. He promptly and somewhat delightedly reports this fact to Violet. Violet quickly responds that of course Mary was there with Lord Gillingham. They were both attending an informal conference of northern land owners. “What did you imagine you were witnessing?” the Dowager Countess asks him. (As a side note, I kind of want to use an “informal conference of northern landowners” as my go-to excuse. As in, “Oh I would love to come to your party, but unfortunately I have to attend an informal conference of northern landowners.”)
Later Violet summons Mary to her home and reprimands her. Mary assures her grandmother that there will be no “unwanted epilogue” to Mary’s tryst (thanks to Anna aiding and abetting sin!) and that she and Lord Gillingham plan to marry. The only problem is, as Mary later confesses to Tom, she doesn’t want to marry Lord Gillingham. Gillingham, it turns out, is kind of a dud and Mary doesn’t feel passionate about him. Now Mary really is in a pickle. She’s had sex with a man she has no intention of marrying, and her grandmamma wants her engagement announced immediately. “In my day, a lady was incapable of feeling physical attraction until she had been instructed to do so by her mamma,” Violet tells her granddaughter.
The mystery surrounding Mr. Bates’ involvement with the death of Anna’s attacker is draaaaaging on. A witness has come forward who heard Green say, “Why have you come?” right before he died. Lord Gillingham’s other servants now are saying there was animosity between Mr. Green and Mr. Bates. Mr. Bates talks to Sergeant Willis and says that on the day of Green’s death, he was in York getting lunch and visiting the cobbler. I kind of feel like this whole thing is going to end with Mr. Bates having no involvement with Green’s death. Instead of being intrigued by this storyline, I’m annoyed by it.
Elsewhere, poor Edith (still number one in the running for Most Pathetic Television Character) is banned from seeing Marigold. The pig farmer’s wife is rightly annoyed/suspicious of Edith’s devotion to her adopted daughter. Only Tom notices that something is not right with her.
Mrs. Patmore is trying to get her nephew recognized in the Downton war memorial. He won’t be recognized in the one in his hometown, because he was considered a coward for deserting the war. Mrs. Patmore asks Mrs. Hughes to talk to Mr. Carson. Carson won’t do it. “Add the name of a coward to the memorial?” he says in horror. Mrs. Patmore is teary-eyed, and it’s a lot of time spent on a character we’ve never actually seen.
Rose invites the Russian refugees to Downton. The school teacher Sarah Bunting is quite rude to them. She needs to learn the difference between being feisty and being ill-mannered. But it turns out that Violet has a past with Prince Kuragin. He remembers Violet from a trip she and her husband took to St. Petersburg in 1874. The two exchange steamy glances and suddenly, Violet might have a very interesting love life in the works. “I know now that you understand my predicament far better than you let on,” Mary tells her grandmother.
Baxter confesses to Cora that she stole her former employer’s jewels because she was in a relationship with a footman who led her down a dark, dark path. The only way this storyline will be even remotely entertaining, is if the footman suddenly comes back into Baxter’s life—which will probably happen, since Cora is encouraging Baxter to turn him in.
Simon Bricker takes Cora to a museum and rather boldly flirts with her. “You’ll be the best looking woman in the Ritz dining room whatever you’re wearing,” he tells her. He wants to see her again but she tells him that’s unlikely. Robert is none-too-pleased when he comes to London with the intention of surprising his wife and finds her out to dinner with another man. They fight in a very upper crust way – never raising their voices. Robert tells her there’s no way Simon is interested in her opinion on art. Cora goes to bed early.
This season of Downton Abbey still feels a bit like a visit with old friends. I’m happy to see them, even if they don’t have anything that interesting to report.
Other thoughts on episode three:
• Violet would prefer it if her servants were human only on their days off.
• I’m unclear as to why we are supposed to care about Daisy’s academic aspirations
• “I don’t remember Mary doing much.” I love it when Mary’s family remembers what an utter self-centered brat she is.
• I kind of feel bad for Tony Gillingham. He does seem like a nice guy.
Amy Amatangelo is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and a regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter or her blog.