If you had told me that the funniest line in Sunday’s “Downton Abbey” would be “Come and clear the spotted dick” and that three generations of Crawley women would be involved in extracurricular shenanigans, I would have expected these events to be connected somehow, but alas, Wikipedia tells us that “Spotted dick is a cylindrical pudding popular in Britain, containing dried fruit (usually currants or raisins) and commonly served with custard.” So Mrs. Patmore had nothing but culinary delights on her mind when she uttered those immortal words.
But you know who’s not exactly a pudding, cylindrical or otherwise? Mary Crawley, whose radiant face we see as she awakens between the sheets in that Liverpool love nest, together with the well-toned and body-hairless Tony Gillingham. She doesn’t seem any the worse for wear after a full-week of coital gymnastics. The hunky Lord is in a hurry to set a date so they can spend forever and ever together in marital bliss, but as soon as he leaves the room, Mary’s glow recedes.
What can be the problem? Does he lack the proper equipment? Maybe poor technique? Probably not, because she later confides that, “He’s a nice man, a very nice man, but not, I mean, … of course we talked about things.” I suppose we are to infer that the things they talked about were not as stimulating as the things they did while not talking, and it’s true, they don’t seem to have a lot of chemistry when fully clothed. Not like Mary and the sharper-edged Charles Blake, who can always get a rise out of her. And you’ll recall that it was Blake who helpfully planted the seed of doubt last week by suggesting that Gillingham was not as “clever” as she is. So it appears that the idea of the sexcapade was actually a good experiement, but not for the reasons Mary thought it would be. She and Tony are presumably sexually compatible, but the prospect of spending a lot of vertical time with him has apparently lost its allure.
Of course secrets exist on “Downton Abbey” for the sole purpose of being discovered and it was preordained that Mary and Tony would be found out – the only question was by whom. Well, what do you know, there’s the Dowager Countess’ butler, conveniently in Liverpool for his niece’s wedding. He can’t wait to blab all this to his employer but she didn’t get to be an Emmy-winning character by being taken by surprise by her servants, so as soon as the poor man spills the beans she makes up an alibi to cover for Mary and Gillingham and accuses him of having a dirty mind. The next day she chastises Mary for potentially causing another scandal, remarking, “In my day, a lady was incapable of feeling physical attraction until she’d be instructed to do so by her MaMa.” The Dowager Countess wants Mary to marry Tony as soon as possible, as does Tony, which leads to “Downton’s” annoying habit of beating a subject to death. Every time Mary’s on screen someone’s asking her the same question, just in case there’s some viewer in Tulsa Oklahoma who hasn’t figured out what’s going on.
The time given to Mary’s romantic issues signals a return to the “Downton” we love to hate, with its focus on sexual politics and women’s issues. The show demonstrated some class consciousness in the opening episode of the season, but now we’re back to the true concerns of its targeted demographic. Because not only is Mary wrestling with the consequences of physical attraction, but so too are her mother and grandmother. Cora, for her part, is pining for the good old days of World War I, when the flower of English manhood was being wiped out in Flanders field, but at least she a role that kept her busy. Further, she wants to do something that “people will talk about four centuries later.” But Lord Grantham, as obtuse as ever and thinking her merely a pretty face, won’t even discuss the simplest matters of estate management with her. So it’s no surprise that she gets all gooney when Mr. Bricker the art historian shows interest in her opinions on Piero Della Francesca, one of whose paintings is on display at Downton. Next thing you know, she’s walking around London with the guy, slightly tipsy and divulging secrets about her youth as a rich American vixen, getting Robert all jealous.
Meanwhile it turns out that even the Dowager Countess has a slightly salacious past. Fifty years ago, during the wedding of Prince Alfred and the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, the then-Countess apparently acquired a Russian admirer, Prince Kuragin, who gave her a fan. Through a remarkable set of “Downton”-patented coincidences, Prince Kuragin is among a group of Russian émigrés who have been invited to tea by cousin Rose, who believes that the estate will remind them of the motherland and that will somehow cheer them up. The Dowager Countess is flustered when the Prince rematerializes after all these years, and because she has spent the episode lecturing on the impossibility of sexual desire in a proper British lady, we know she had engaged in some hanky panky with this guy. Or, as Mary observes, “Granny has a past.”
So there we have it: the sluts of “Downton Abbey.” Meanwhile, in other goings-on:
— This would never happen, not even on “”Downton Abbey,” but it seems to me the guy Mary should marry is Tom. They have a cozy, confidential, free and easy alliance and have even declared love for one another (although apparently not THAT KIND of love.) Their union would solve two plot problems : 1) where will Mary live after she marries an aristo with an estate of his own, and 2) how are we going to stop Tom from taking little Sybil to America? If they married they’d both stay put. This is the kind of thing that actually would have happened in real life, but it probably won’t happen on the “Downton” because Tom is too weak and lacks the animal magnetism that Mary has now been shown to require.
— In this tete-a-tete with Tom, Mary confides that in going off with Tony her mind was clouded by what Tom euphemistically describes as the thing that “Miss Elinor Glyn likes to write about in her novels.” Elinor Glyn was an early 20th Century writer of romance novels, sort of the Jackie Collins of her day. Since she wrote lines like, “A madness of tender caressing seized her. She purred as a tiger might have done, while she undulated like a snake,” it’s easy to see that Tom is saying that Mary’s judgment in sleeping with Tony was impaired by her sexual urges. Here’s what she looked like:
— To nobody’s surprise, Baxter is staying on the show because she came clean about her thieving past. She did not steal the jewels from her previous employer in order to pay for a relative’s operation, which would have been a soap opera thing to do. No, she stole the jewels because she was seduced by another servant who promised to run off with her (but didn’t) if she’d finance the escape. In an episode where all the women are fighting the Patriarchy, this kind of seduced-and-abandoned sob story is exactly the kind of thing to secure Cora’s forgiveness.
— I would bet my entire collection of Czarist artifacts that we will eventually be introduced to Mr. Coyle, the seducer of Miss Blake, before we are done. While we’re at it, maybe we’ll even meet Thomas Barrow’s dear old Dad, who was always nice to Miss Blake but not to his own son (well, can you blame him?)
— Cora’s father is Jewish. Since her maiden name was Levinson and he was always described as crude new money I always assumed this was the case, and now we know for sure. That uppity Mary sure doesn’t act like someone who’s one-quarter Hebraic. I assume she knows, but I wonder if everyone else does.
— Why is there such an age mismatch between the Countess Dowager and her Russian admirer? Prince Kuragin is a vigorous and powerful figure, where she’s doddering around on a cane. In real life, Maggie Smith is 80 and Rade Serbedzija the actor playing Kuragin is 68, which means that when their characters met 50 years ago, she was 30 and he was 18. A little bit of cradle-robbing.
— The show would be so much simpler if everyone could just text each other, instead of sending telegrams, and driving all day simply to pop in uninvited. There’d be no plots if Robert could just call Cora on the cell phone to make plans to meet in London; or if the police were able to trace Mr. Gregson’s GPS.
–Oh my God! Can someone please end this Bates subplot? A witness who heard the little-lamented Mr. Green speak to his apparent murderer before he plunged beneath the wheels of a London automobile has come forward, and some others have claimed that Mr. Green spoke ill of Mr. Bates. This is like something out of “Serial.” Where’s Sarah Koenig when you need her? Bates rattles off exactly where he was on the day in question, but Sarah would have explained that an innocent man would not have been able to remember what he was doing on a particular day two years earlier. I can’t tell if Julian Fellowes is an unsophisticated story-teller and doesn’t know this, or if he does know it and is deliberately making Bates an amateur murderer. In any event, the evidence is not very convincing and the idea that a witness would come forward at this point is almost as preposterous as the original crime (we are supposed to believe that Bates got on a train in York, and immediately after getting off the train in London found Mr. Green, pushed him to his death, and then got right back on the train in time to establish an alibi. This is about as lame as the State of Maryland’s timeline in “Serial” in which Adnon Syed supposedly left class, got driven to mall, murdered his girlfriend, and then called Jay from the Best Buy to tell him to pick him up, all within 45 minutes.)
–We once thought Daisy was dumb as a post but now Miss Bunting, that tremendous judge of character, tells us that she is actually quite “clever.” More clever than Tony Gillingham? I gather that’s a low bar. Last week, Daisy just wanted to learn math so she could balance the books at the farm, but now Miss Bunting has put ideas in her head – wants her to get her GRE (or whatever the equivalent is in England). This being a female-friendly show, the men think this is a daft idea and the women think she should do it.
–What’s Thomas Barrow up to in London? Sounds like a visit to one of those practitioners who promise to cure homosexuality. Was that even an idea then? Seems a-historical to me.
–It seems inevitable that the secrets that husbands and wives are keeping from each other are going to come back and bite everyone in the ass. Where in the world is Anna going to keep that birth control device where Bates won’t find it? And what’s he going to think about it when he does? And what about those poor Drewes when the Missus finds out her husband was lying about the real mother?
–That sub-plot about Mrs. Patmore’s nephew comes out of left field. Since he was shot for deserting during the war, they won’t put his name on the monument to the honored dead in his own town, and Mrs. Patmore wants Mr. Carson to pull some strings to get him listed in the Downton village memorial. Carson says “no way,” another example of the repressive male at work, but I’m inclined to agree with him. This seems like one of those issues that will eventually be resolved to Mrs. Patmore’s satisfaction, though.
–Finally, at the bottom of the barrel is Edith, whom even the servants feel sorry for. Like Bates, and now Baxter, Edith seems to have been put on this earth (or in this series) for the sole purpose of suffering. Of course she brings in on herself. Visiting little Marigold once a week instead of once a day and weirding out the mother would have been a better strategy. And what’s going to happen to the baby when Michael Gregson returns from Germany, as he’s bound to do by the rules of “Downton Abbey” storytelling. Are they going to snatch the baby away like they snatched her away from that poor Swiss family?
Speaking of Mrs.Patmore, let this be your daily dollop of wisdom: Sympathy butters no parsnips.