TV review

How to Marry in ‘Downton Abbey,’ Guest of Honor: The Wizard of Oz

The Daily Beast

January 17, 2016

By Jove, there was to be a wedding at Downton Abbey. Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes. Finally.

Of course, there were problems, such problems—principally, that Mr. Carson quite rightly fancied a do in the drawing room of the Abbey, and Mrs. Hughes, for her own upstanding reasons, did not want to feel like a servant on her wedding day—even though she wouldn’t be, I still can’t really get this labored plot-point—wanting the reception instead in the chilly-looking schoolhouse.

There was also the not insignificant matter of Mrs. Hughes possessing a wedding dress that looked like a tablecloth. A washed out, shapeless tablecloth. A tablecloth beyond even Mrs. Bates’ saving.

But the real surprise of this episode was Cora: not since that moment where she slipped on that evilly-placed bar of soap and miscarried, had Lady Grantham had so much to say and do.

She was set against Dame Maggie Smith as the Countess Dowager—on especially brilliant form and wielding her walking stick as if in a fencing match—on the matter of the local hospital remaining independent or part of the local health authority.

In this micro-saga, which the actors look as baffled to be playing out for drama as we are watching it, Isobel Crawley freaked out on poor Dr. Clarkson, slagging him off as “just one more local doctor,” and later apologized for saying so.

Cora was inevitably exhausted by this incivility, and could not think of anything useful to say, but took her leave. She had a headache.

The issue of the hospital has now stretched to four interminable weeks.

The stressed-out Lady Cora also interrupted the triumvirate of Mrs. Patmore, Mrs. Bates, and Mrs. Carson as they tried on frock coats in her bedroom to replace Mrs. Carson’s hideous wedding dress.

This was Lady Mary’s idea, but she failed to tell her mother, meaning Cora had a meltdown about finding servants in her bedroom, just after getting a headache because of Local Hospital-ghazi.

Dizzying plotting, am I right?

Then Cora apologized for having a meltdown to Mrs. Hughes and gave her the coat.

Agreed, this was not the fight for Ewing Oil or Kimberley blowing up Melrose Place, but if you weren’t weeping a little over Cora’s apology, then you have no heart, and are hereby instructed to watch Beaches until you are a sobbing heap.

Lady Edith, as her brilliantly shade-deploying sister Mary noted, went to London “in a dust of drama,” to take charge of the magazine she owns. She fired the editor (good), and then—against a 4am deadline, and having no editorial experience—put the magazine together.

Her professional skills on display included scattering pictures over a double-page spread, alongside mimsy little captions.

Eat your heart out, Anna Wintour. Who needs editorial expertise?

Of course, Lady Edith was aided in her Devil Wears Prada japes by a suddenly loved-up Bertie Pelham, who is so lithe in his overcoat I’d say was an early 1920s adaptor to hot yoga. He’s all into her as a feminist and running her own magazine, and was keen to feed her sandwiches and coffee as she threw her overcoat down on minions’ desks and told us all about why the color blue was of earth-shattering importance.

OK, OK, she didn’t. But I give it a week.

Another odd portent of changing times came with a letter from Branson, the ex-revolutionary chauffeur turned establishment gentleman, from Boston, Amurrrica.

He said he was missing Downton, and that his eyes were “filled with tears” as he remembered the romantic walks under trees that he took there with pigeons cooing in the trees.

Any Englishman knows to avoid cooing pigeons, because these ugly flying rats crap everywhere.

The formerly evil and now just careworn servant Barrow, who Mr. Carson continues to be a total bastard to, went off to a British Grey Gardens, and a sweet-seeming aristocrat lost in the mists of a grander era.

Walking through his once-splendid home, now littered with scattered stag-heads, threadbare sofas, and clothes drying next to the fire, he recalled glamorous evening balls with ladies and their twinkling jewels.

Barrow, a little freaked out by this gentleman’s living in the past so resolutely—and his belief that those grand times would return again—took his leave. Fair enough: this was just after the lost-in-time aristo had growled, “I can’t risk a Republican in this household when anyone might call.”

Only the goodly Baxter is showing any sympathy to Barrow over his as yet-futile pursuing of new servant Andy, who did seem a little warmer to his pursuer this week. But still: nothing, and Baxter gently advised Barrow, “Don’t go fishing when they’re not going to bite.”

Mrs. Carson had her say to the whole house about wanting to have her wedding day celebration in the coldest, most morally unyielding venue of the schoolhouse (where she could have a “solid meal at proper tables”—yawn, someone show this woman the glory of a good salmon pinwheel).

Everyone understood Mrs. Hughes’ rigid disavowal of luxury and soft furnishings, except us, who would freaking die to have our wedding reception in Downton’s reception rooms, preferably with the Countess Dowager swiveling menacingly on her walking stick and being vile about everybody.

Lady Mary, for reasons still completely puzzling to this viewer, accused her mother of being a snob.

This fretting took place alongside Denker, the Countess Dowager’s sneaky ladyservant, figuring out that Spratt, her butler was hiding something—namely, a nephew on the run from the law. Will she shop him?

While Lady Edith’s tedious voyage of proto-feminist self-discovery ended with her refrain of wanting to “find a purpose”—hasn’t she found one?—the real power duo of Downton is presently Lady Mary and Mrs. Bates, who spend most of their time in Lady M’s boudoir plotting to right every wrong in the storyline.

After having her lady-bits inspected by Harley Street’s finest last week, Anna Bates is suddenly pregnant, but isn’t going to say anything to Mr. Bates until Lady Mary takes her again to London to have the safe carrying of her baby confirmed officially in a few months’ time.

This means there is definitely time for something miserable to happen to Mr. and Mrs. Bates, that could conceivably end up with one of them in jail for a murder they didn’t commit. It’s been an odd week and a bit without that hanging over their heads.

The saga of Mrs. Carson’s wedding outfit solved by Lady Grantham’s kind donation of her hideous coat-thing, and her gentle and sweet apology for being a cow, took us to a lovely and brief set of scenes of Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes retiring for the night before their wedding, and Baxter trying to stitch the wedding coat into serviceable shape for Mrs. Hughes.

The warmth of the next day even melted Mr. Carson’s chilly manner towards Barrow to let him have one of his rose and heather buttonholes. He and Mrs. Carson exchanged simple vows, and then it was on to the sparsely, morally upstandingly decorated schoolhouse, where the Countess Dowager continued to dole out the zingers.

She’d had an especially vinegary episode, up until her final observation that “A peer in need of reform is like a turkey in favor of Christmas,” about Lord Merton coming round to changing how the local hospital was managed.

(Please, enough with the local hospital’s management.)

Mr. Carson said Mrs. Hughes entrusting her happiness to him “passes all understanding.” Sigh/weep. Will she now be known as Mrs. Carson? I guess so.

At which point, ta-dah, Branson reappeared with little daughter Sybbie, freshly returned from Boston, Amurrica, to stay for good if Lord Grantham would have him.

Everyone said they would have him happily, and so would we.

And then, in the episode’s most crazily-cheesy moment, Branson had his own Wizard of Oz moment, reciting what he had learnt about ‘home’ in exactly the same way as Dorothy would tell Aunt Em a few years later after awaking from her dream of Oz, the Wicked Witch, the Tin Man et al.

“I had to go to Boston to figure something out—that Downton was home, and you’re my family,” he said. “I didn’t know that before I left and I know that now.”

All Branson was missing was a pair of ruby slippers to tap together—but he’d realized the most important thing, the same warm knowledge us fans bathe in every Sunday night: there’s no place like Downton.