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Downton Abbey: Season 3, Episode 5: Bright Young Thing

February 3, 2013

How do we talk about the pall over Downton, when not even Robert and Cora are speaking? This week’s recap highlights a heaping helping of Dowager Countess zingers and some good news from downstairs… And now, our recap by Amie Simon.

The sadness of Sybil’s passing has cast a shadow over Downton as Julian Fellowes breaks our hearts open all over again in this week’s episode … although he did include plenty of zingers from the Dowager Countess, so at least that’s something.

We open on a defeated-looking Lord Grantham and Carson as they say goodbye to the last of Sybil’s mourners. Matthew offers a stricken Tom his help, and says Mary wants to help too.  

“My wife is dead. I’m past help.” Oh, Branson! So sad.

After a tense moment between Cora and Robert, Isobel and the Dowager Countess make hasty exits. Robert tries to soothe Cora as best he can, but she’s obviously still pissed and having none of it. Oh, Cora! So sad too.

Down in the servant’s dining room, Thomas looks like he’s about to fall apart. Alfred’s wry poking prompts a “Leave him alone” from Anna, and James offers up his condolences—which is when Thomas places his hand on James’ knee, leaving him visibly uncomfortable. I don’t know about you, but I can barely handle seeing Thomas looking so distraught (over someone other than himself).

At Crawley House, Isobel and Ethel have a conversation about throwing a small luncheon party, and Ethel says she can make something special. Yay! Something funny. Isobel can barely contain herself as she takes the first sip of the worst soup in the world and calmly tells Ethel, “Well, we don’t have to decide that now.” Ha-ha!

During the morning dressing routine, Mary speaks to Anna about Bates and wonders why they haven’t let him out of prison yet. Seriously. HURRY UP! I feel like the Bates in prison storyline is pretty uneventful, and I wish it would wrap up already. Anna explains that the lawyer hasn’t talked to Mrs. Bartlett yet, and then even when he does that might not be enough proof to let Bates go free.

Robert slinks into Cora’s bedroom and broaches the subject of moving back in, but she lays into him about letting his admiration of Sir Tapsel’s fancy title override the common sense of Dr. Clarkson. Robert leaves looking defeated after saying that he misses Sybil as much as Cora. “I should think you miss her more since you blocked the last chance that we had to prevent her death.” Yeowch.

The next morning at breakfast, Branson arrives at the table and announces he’s not planning to stay at Downton, and he’s going to find a job somewhere—probably Liverpool—as soon as he can. Matthew and Edith urge him to stay longer, but Robert seems more than happy to shoo him out. Then Tom starts some real trouble by saying he’s going to name their daughter Sybil and that she will be baptized a Catholic! It’s unclear which part of that Lord Grantham hates more.

A desperate Ethel chases down Mrs. Patmore on the street, and asks her for help in preparing a few simple dishes for the special luncheon at Crawley house—but Patmore initially objects, stating that Carson has forbid any of them to associate with her. Since does Mrs. Patmore listen to Carson? I’d like to know.

Back in BORESVILLE—oops, I mean prison—corrupt guard Durrant and his buddy Craig start tormenting Bates with questions about his happy outlook of late. They definitely know something, but what? I think …  honestly, I kind of zoned out during this scene. I really prefer Bates in service to Bates in prison.

Meanwhile, Robert throws a tantrum about Branson baptizing his granddaughter as a “left-footer” (I totally had to look that up: it’s a derogatory slur for Roman Catholics that apparently has something to do with their military allegiance during the war) and Mary gently reminds him that his granddaughter is a Branson, not a Crawley!

This is somehow new information for Robert, who stubbornly insists that the only good chance the baby has is to be raised at Downton. He also objects again about naming the baby Sybil, “I think it’s ghoulish!” Strong words, Robert. Strong words.

Isobel instructs Ethel to make up some cold ham salad, because it would be hard to screw that up. Then when Ethel pushes to cook something nicer, Isobel reaches her breaking point and starts shrieking about how she’s going to blame her forever if the lunch is a disaster. Geez. Who knew Isobel thought entertaining was important?

The Dowager Countess pushes Robert to figure out what’s to be done with “the child” (aka his granddaughter), before Branson whisks her off to Liverpool. Robert confesses that Cora still blames him not just for Sybil’s death, but also the death of their marriage. Which prompts a “People like us are NEVER unhappily married.” from Violet, who then says that maybe Cora can go to New York to see “that woman” (aka her mother) and create some absence of the heart. HA. Zing!

In the kitchen, Alfred and James are standing around flirting with the young ladies, and Alfred’s compliments to Ivy trigger Daisy’s “Bossy McBosspants” mode. Mrs. Patmore arrives just in time to snap at the boys for waiting in the kitchen, and then heads over to give Ethel some tasty luncheon tips: salmon mousse and chicken liver pate! Mmm. Ethel seems reluctant about the ease of making those dishes, but Patmore pushes her until she agrees, saying she’ll check in on her the morning of to make sure she’s all set.

Isobel arrives at Downton to invite Cora and “the girls” to come to luncheon (“Do I count as one of the girls?” says the Dowager Countess. Zing! again), but Cora says she’s not going out for the moment and declines. When Mary and Edith enter, Violet lets them all know about the plan, and Mary seems pleased and then asks Isobel to stay for dinner despite the fact that she’s not dressed for it (!!!). So many social faux-pas committed in one scene.

In the kitchen Alfred, Daisy, Ivy, and James are all saying vaguely flirty things to one another, when Mrs. Patmore wins everything ever by telling them, “You know the trouble with you lot; you’re all in love with the wrong people.” NAILED IT! I love how Patmore is the only one who knows what’s going on re: Downton’s young people and their romantic preferences.

At dinner, Reverend Travis does his best to sway Branson away from his PAGAN (Catholic) beliefs, which only enrages the hotheaded Irishman. Edith, Mary, Isobel, and Matthew all pipe up about how the Reverend must hate everyone outside of Britain because of their different religious preferences. Robert objects, but even the Dowager Countess claims to have a close friend who’s Catholic—and then Mary shuts them all up by telling everyone that Sybil told her she wanted the baby raised Catholic the day she died.

During a similar discussion about religion in the servant’s dining room (guess which side Carson’s on?), James says he believes “A man can choose to be different without it making him a traitor.” And Thomas HEARTILY agrees with him … maybe a little too heartily. Oh, Thomas—he’s not talking about what you think he’s talking about. Your forthcoming letdown is going to be epic.

In bed, Mary and Matthew talk about whether or not Sybil knew she was going to die, and Mary says life is too short, and they must both never take anything for granted. Which is when Matthew confesses her father’s been messing up the finances and Mary is all I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT MONEY YOU JERK; I am talking about love. Thankfully Matthew saves himself with the most romantic declaration ever.

Grantham’s lawyer, Murray, goes to see Mrs. Bartlett—but of course she’s changed her story by the time he arrives to speak with her, saying that she didn’t see Vera at the same time she related to Anna. Murray doesn’t buy it, but it’s out of his hands ... for now.  

Ivy gets caught dancing by both James and Alfred, who end up sparring over her! Aw, young love. Or is it lust? Or. Wait, what is happening? I’m totally confused about who likes whom now. I should probably consult Mrs. Patmore for a cheat sheet. In any case, the James/Alfred rivalry seems to be closely mimicking the Thomas/William rivalry in Season 1.

Cue the traveling music as Daisy goes to visit father-in-law Mason on his farm, where he tells her that she can take over the tenancy when he dies. “But I’m a woman!” she exclaims in horror. He tells her that there are plenty of widows who make it work, and he intends to leave her all the equipment and stock, which he owns. A chance at life outside of servitude! Go, Daisy!

The Dowager Countess calls Dr. Clarkson over and questions him about what Sybil’s chances would have been had they operated. When Clarkson confesses that they were slim, she tells the doctor that he’s created a division between her son and his wife and asks him to lie, telling them Sybil would have died anyway. But Clarkson refuses, saying he can’t outright lie.

“Have we nothing in common?” she says in (zinging!) exasperation.

Matthew takes Tom on the same farm tour he took Mary on, but at least Branson seems more interested. After Matthew bad-mouths Robert’s mismanagement of the estate, Tom suggests several easy financial fixes for the rundown farm—but still insists he’s going to find a job in Liverpool. I can’t be the only one who sees the obvious solution to all this, right? Matthew and Tom sure don’t. Not yet, at least. 

Mrs. Patmore arrives at Crawley House to give Ethel cooking tips, and tells her she’s done well, then sneaks away. But! Carson sees her leaving Crawley House and makes an audibly frustrated noise. I am now dubbing Patmore “the disobeying cook.” 

Murray and Anna go to see Bates in Boresville, where they talk about ... ZZZzzzzzzz. Oh, sorry. They talk about how Bartlett wouldn’t fess up, and they try to make a new plan involving persuasion, which is murkily described. I’ve already lost interest in whatever plan Bates has in mind. Is this part over yet?

Shortly before her luncheon, Isobel bursts into the kitchen and tersely tells Ethel that she doesn’t understand why there are cooking smells! Ethel assures her it’ll be fine; Mrs. Crawley looks severely unconvinced.

Carson calls Patmore out for helping Ethel, but Hughes sticks up for her. And they use the “P” word in Downton again!

“Fine, if Mrs. Patmore wants to spend her time frolicking with prostitutes!” Carson says in a loud voice. “DO I look like a frolicker?” Patmore replies. BWAHAHAHAHA! She’s quite the comedian today.

When Carson finds out that all the ladies of the house will be in the presence of Ethel, he screams, “You’ve allowed a woman of the streets to wait at table on members of our family. I’m speechless.” I’m with Hughes on that one; a speechless Carson won’t last for long.

Over drinks, Matthew tries to bring up the financial mess the estate is in by throwing out words like “bad management” and “crisis.” As Matthew and Robert throw insults back and forth, Branson’s face is clearly shouting that he doesn’t want to get in the middle (despite Lord Grantham throwing many digs his way). “We’ll discuss it later!” Robert says. Always later with this one. No wonder he almost lost his home.

Carson then bursts in with the news about Cora, Edith, Mary, and the Dowager Countess having lunch that was prepared by a “prostitute.” Ohdeargod. How will Robert handle this, I wonder?  

The kitchen is bustling with young people again, but after Ivy makes yet another play for James, Mrs. Patmore assures her he’s isn’t interested. “Well he must be interested in someone. He’s young, isn’t he?” says Ivy … and Thomas offers up a quick, “It’s not you!” Um. It’s not YOU either, mister. Stop being so cocky!

A nervous Daisy spills the beans to Mrs. Patmore about Mason giving her the farm, and asking her to come live with him so she can learn the ropes. Patmore tells her that she’s a proper heiress—and it’s a very generous offer … but her expression seems to indicate that she might be more than a little upset about Daisy leaving.

The luncheon goes off without a hitch, and Isobel says she owes Ethel an apology about the food. Edith wonders if she should learn to cook, and Mary throws her a bitchy “But why?” Isobel steps in with an inquiry about her journalistic offer—earning a sideways glance from Violet, but Edith says she hasn’t decided yet and it’s probably too late anyway. Cora takes this opportunity to slam Robert one more time.

Then! Robert BURSTS into the room and in an almost hysterical tone says that they can’t be there because Ethel bore a bastard child and is a prostitute! Everyone must leave with him at once! Cue one of the Dowager Countess’ best Zingers.

Cora refuses to leave, and after learning of Mrs. Patmore’s help, she says she’s glad to know Patmore has a good heart and doesn’t judge. Cue dagger eyes at Robert, who asks the ladies if they’re all choosing to stay and be ruined by rumors and gossip, while looking pointedly at his mother.

“It seems a pity to miss such a good pudding.” Says the Dowager Countess (triple zing score!) … and Robert leaves alone.  

Bates has finally had enough and throws Craig against the wall … I mean again, but this time with a shiv, threatening to frame him for drugs if he doesn’t contact Bartlett immediately and make her recant her story. I don’t know if it’ll work. But I hope so. I’ll accept anything that will end this ridiculousness.

Carson tells Hughes that Lord Grantham went to Crawley House to retrieve the ladies and no one would leave. She seems pleased, while Carson is visibly upset and claims that Mrs. Hughes has disappointed him. Whoaaa… is this because of his secret love for her? Maybe you shouldn’t have put her on such a high pedestal, dude.  

Mary approaches her father about his “performance” at Crawley House and tells him he’s angry because the world isn’t going his way anymore. Robert is feeling pretty useless, and admits to her that Matthew is right and he probably doesn’t manage the estate well … giving Mary an opening to press the whole granddaughter/Catholic thing.

And then the sobs start flowing once more! Robert delivers a tearful speech about missing Sybil, saying that he keeps forgetting she’s gone. Mary begs him to tell Cora so they can make nice, but he’s a stubborn one. [Ed. note: This show wouldn’t exist with the Crawley stubborn gene!]

Cut to a brief, but super-sweet, moment with Branson and his baby daughter. Mary and Matthew join in for some baby snuggling. Awww! Family.

Downstairs Molesley is positively seething about the PROSTITUTE (is this episode a record-breaker for that word?), but Mrs. Hughes brushes him off with some sassy retorts. I am loving her in this episode!

In the young romance department, Alfred compliments Ivy, and then Patmore discovers she’s wearing rouge and calls her a hussy! Well, well. Taking after Ethel, are we, Ivy?  James tries to brighten up the mood by playing some happy piano music, which Mrs. Hughes compliments.

“There’s no end to Jimmy’s talents, is there?” says Thomas, who places both hands on James’ shoulders. FORWARD MUCH? “He’s always touching me,” a squicked-out Jimmy tells O’Brien. But she and her bangs are still pushing him to stay close to Thomas … all the way to the ruinous end we’re expecting.

Daisy walks into the dining room to see Alfred practicing his foxtrot. So naturally he asks Daisy to teach him. Flirty looks galore as they make the moves around the dining room. Cuuuuuute.

A breathless Anna finds Lady Mary and Edith with news that Murray has finally gotten Bartlett to make a statement, and that Bates WILL definitely be released. He’s coming home! Whew. Let’s all hope this is resolved quickly. Mary urges Anna to tell Lord Grantham to snap him out of his current state. 

Cora finds Robert in the study and says she’s received a note from the Dowager Countess summoning them both for a talk. She’s not into it—and not having any compliments from Robert either.  

Anna finds Robert to deliver the news that Mr. Bates will be released, and Robert does seem happy about that, at least. We get to see his first smile since Sybil’s traumatic passing. Awww, part 2.

Ethel arrives at Downton to thank Mrs. Patmore! HOW DARE SHE. Carson tries to block her, but Mrs. Hughes lets her in. Carson’s disapproval is so intense it’s palpable.  

James stumbles into Alfred and Daisy’s private dance session, and then calls him out for wanting to learn just to please Ivy. Alfred admits it, leaving Daisy stunned—and in the perfect position for James to sweep her off her feet. Sadly, an angry Carson interrupts the young folks’ merriment.

“Have you lost all sense of shame and propriety sir?” Carson yells at James, who never even gets a chance to tell him that Alfred was doing it first. Jimmy’s walking on some thin ice … perhaps he should listen to O’Brien after all.

Cora and Robert arrive at Violet’s to find Dr. Clarkson looking fidgety, but it seems that the Dowager Countess is going to get her way despite his initial protests. The doctor admits that even though there was a chance to save Sybil, his recent research has proven it was a very, very small one. In all likelihood, she would have died even with the emergency C-section.

He won’t go so far as to agree that Tapsel was right, but admits that no matter what, Sybil was probably going to die. Violet’s plan works, the news unites Robert and Cora, and the episode ends with the two of them crying in each other’s arms.


My hopes for the next episode: more Dowager Countess zingers, twinkling young people with confusing crushes, females united against Carson, and Edith doing what she wants; less fighting, sobbing, males demanding loyalty, boring prison scenes—and mourning. Amirite? 

Best line from Dowager Countess:

Regarding Robert raging over Ethel’s list of faults: “Well, of course. These days servants are very hard to find.”

Most scandalous moment:

The ladies of Grantham refusing to leave Crawley House when their lord and master demands it.

Most romantic scene:

Matthew saying, “I will love you until the last breath leaves my body” to Mary, shortly after discussing how life is so fleeting. Swoon!

Most devastating betrayal:

Mrs. Hughes allowing a “prostitute” to come into Downton Abbey! Between this and the evil toaster, Carson may never recover.

Most ridiculous bit of soapy melodrama:

Robert bursting into the Crawley House luncheon, freaking out about ruin and scandal—and gossip!