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- Tim Boden’s Letter from Australia – First Impressions - 15 March, 2014
Last week: Alfred was voted off the Great British Preparing-Fancy-Pears Off, Lady Violet mislaid the King of Sweden’s letter opener, and Bates determined to find out Anna’s terrible secret, an investigative process which took all of five minutes thanks to some finely-honed scowling and the spooky music that follows him everywhere he goes.
I knew it was a good omen when this week’s episode opened with Daisy walking in bearing a bread pyramid, and thankfully I was not proved wrong. Although it’s most likely the calm before everything goes tits-up again, this week’s episode was one of the most enjoyable so far.
Figure 1. Actually, it’s more of a bread cuboid, but let’s not split hairs.
It was once again party time at Downton, because other than squabbling about fields and tenants, parties are all that stands between the aristocracy and being forced to contemplate whether they have been made wholly redundant by the march of progress and their eventual extinction is only a matter of time. This time the occasion was Lord Grantham’s birthday, which provided a handy pretext for Mr Napier (that’s the second of Mary’s potential new love interests, keep up at the back) to pay them a visit, this time with a rather surly pal in town. Mary fended off Mr Blake with some passive-aggressive comments, while making a mental note to ask Carson to have him taken round the back and shot, while Rose was in charge of organising a birthday surprise.
And guess what – it was a jazz band! Because that’s literally all Rose ever thinks or talks about! But even if Rose’s characterisation remains infuriatingly one-dimensional and Jack Ross remains wholly unconvincing as a jazz singer (or an American, for that matter), Lord Grantham enjoyed his surprise and the event did at least facilitate some interesting goings-on downstairs. Downstairs, that is, both in a metaphorical sense, as Carson nearly levitated his eyebrows off his head in his disapproval of being forced to share a room with such a blatant symbol of a changing society, and in a literal sense, when Mary walked in on Rose and Jack having a bit of a snog in the parlour.
Figure 2. Trapped between his duty to be polite and his natural inclination to be horrified by the slightest visible difference from the norm, Carson avoids having to make a decision by pretending to be a statue.
Talking of Carson, he seemed to be even grumpier than usual this week, to the point of being a bit of a git. Alfred, you see, managed to scrape into cooking school after the person placed above him dropped out, leaving a sudden vacancy up for grabs and resulting in an almost exact repeat of the scene from last week in which Molesley came to Carson cap-in-hand to beg for a job and be met with absolutely no sympathy in return. It was starting to get more sadistic than amusing, but luckily a cunning plan – or rather, Molesley hovering about the kitchen holding a teapot and looking forlorn – was enough to get Carson to relent and allow him on to the staff, on the condition he wore gloves and didn’t talk back. It’s not much, admittedly, but at least he didn’t have to sell a kidney. (Or he hasn’t had to yet.)
Whilst we’re on the subject of not being able to get the staff these days, it turned out that the saga of Young Pegg the Allegedly Thieving Gardener was not quite over. This week, though, it was much more fun, with Lady Violet and Cousin Isobel facing off against one another in a way reminiscent of some of the high-camp bitchery of Series 1, and another appearance from Spratt, the butler with the beady eyes and the ability to speak without moving his mouth. Spratt is clearly up to something, for no real reason, and it is marvellous.
What else? Oh yes – as usual, Thomas is also up to something. We still haven’t learned exactly what he knows about the new housemaid that’s enough to justify him using her as a mole, but she’s starting to get cold feet about the whole thing because, unlike Thomas, she isn’t completely motivated by boredom and spite. Anna and Bates went out for dinner and tried, with limited success, to put everything behind them. Edith’s pregnant and the newspaper man’s done a runner, Jimmy pushed things a bit too far with Ivy, and American relatives were mentioned again in a way unsubtle enough that it’s almost certain we’ll be seeing them at Christmas. Is it too soon to hope that they lose everything in the Wall Street crash and the house becomes riddled with bitter ex-tycoons?
Best bits: Without any new electrical devices turning up to scare her, Mrs Patmore was in high spirits this week, commenting on how Rudolph Valentino makes her “shiver all over” and merrily bouncing to the jazz tootling away upstairs. Even better, in both cases she was immediately shot down by withering commentary from Carson, who considers all overt displays of chirpiness to be unseemly. Special mention, also, to the gloriously slimy maitre d’ at the swanky restaurant that Anna and Bates went to, who couldn’t have been any more of a toad were he actually sitting in a pond eating flies.
Worst bits: Nothing too cringeworthy this week, thankfully, but didn’t we all figure out Edith was pregnant ages ago? Also, I’m not quite sure what that awfully morbid scene in the nursery with everyone reflecting about their respective dead spouses was all about, other than to remind us of Downton’s appalling mortality rate.
Innuendo of the Week: “He may have slipped it into the maid’s bucket when we were not looking.”
Quote of the Week: “Things! Things! Things!” Cousin Isobel is not, it’s fair to say, a great debater.
Next week: Mary’s being sarcastic, Lord Gillingham and his rapey valet are back in town and – perhaps even worse – Lady Violet’s coming down with something unpleasant. I don’t know about you, but I’m dreading it already.