TV review

The Blood and Guts of ‘Downton Abbey’: Season 6, Episode 5 Recap

The Daily Beast

February 1, 2016

Mrs. Patmore’s vegetable consommé cannot be blamed.

Downton Abbey fans know that. Lord Grantham’s stomach has been rumbling ominously for three weeks now. Whatever was lurking down there—and three weeks of tummy-gripping seemed to imply a distant cousin of Sigourney Weaver’s Alien pal—was not going to be pretty.

And when the Lord G.’s ulcer burst—Dr. Clarkson’s memory of the condition and diagnostic skills were both lightning-quick here—the scene quickly transformed into a very upper class Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with blood sprayed all over the best china.

In the presence of Neville Chamberlain—then health minister, and later the British prime minister at the time of the outset of World War II—Earl G. reared up, and spewed blood over his wife and immaculate tablecloth. Twice. Then he collapsed, and still the blood kept coming.

This immediately joined the pantheon of “WTF” Downton moments, especially as Lord G. managed, while the red stuff flowed, to tell his wife, Cora (as ever, she seemed totally in the clouds and unbothered), “If this is it, know that I love you very, very much.” (My favorite gif of this moment has him saying, “If this is it, delete my browser.”)

Eloquence never fails Downton-ers, even at moments of high stress.

Chamberlain was visiting because the dowager countess wanted to get him on side in her plan to keep Downton’s hospital on track to run its affairs rather than cede to the local health authority. He was related to the family, she said—although this was not the whole story.

The hospital storyline just refuses to die. This is the storyline that is rumbling threateningly like one of Lord G.’s stomachaches. There is still, now six weeks on, no answer to who will run Downton’s hospital.

Away from the blood and guts of Sunday night, Mr. Mason was about to move on to his pig farm, and Mr. and Mrs. Carson’s married life was not settling down easily.

Mrs. Carson was trying to be a good wife and put a meal on the table for her man, and so she enlisted Mrs. Patmore’s help.

Mr. Carson suddenly transformed into the worst kind of patriarchal grump, and Mrs. Carson into a concerned fusser.

When Mr. Carson suggested Mrs. Patmore teach his new wife how to cook, you may have seen an object from my couch be thrown at the screen, and the sentence “Cook it yourself!” exclaimed with some force.

Serve him raw toad, Mrs. C.

Edith and Mary were back to sniping at each other, which was fun. When Lord G. said Edith had a date, and Edith demurred, “I don’t,” Mary’s “Of course not” was pricelessly mean.

Both sisters seem presently only gently interested in their supposed conquests—Mary’s racecar-driving swain, Henry Talbot, and Edith’s sweet and respectful Bertie Pelham. The car race we saw involving Pelham—all swooping cameras, and not very fast vintage cars—was an unintentionally very funny mini-episode of Top Gear, circa 1925.

In York, it was time for Mrs. Baxter to attend the trial of the unseen villain who stole her heart or mind, or something we’re not clear about.

Molesley was by her side as usual, and in one of those curious Downton moments, it fizzled to naught when she wasn’t required to be a character witness by the cops, after all. Said villain had pleaded guilty off camera. (I did like Mr. Carson’s grumble about when would the police stop turning up in the servants’ quarters.)

Is that it? Or will this rumble on like the hospital?

Downton’s creator and sole writer, Julian Fellowes, seemed more keen to explore the future of Andy, the hot young footman, who has been mean to Thomas Barrow for weeks (for fear that Barrow wanted to get into his knickers—true; and that Barrow is as all bad as he had heard—not strictly true, but kinda true).

I hope that Bertie Pelham’s “Cousin Peter,” merrily taking pictures of the beautiful men of Tangiers, somehow finds a way to connect to Barrow.

Ex-city boy Andy has decided his future is in pigs, which, as well as racecar driving, formed a surreally overdramatized part of this week’s episode.

“I’m top at pigs” and “I want to train to care for pigs, m’lady” were among the most ardently spoken lines of the episode, as Andy declared he would give his spare time to the porcine business of Mr. Mason.

However, Barrow figured out that Andy couldn’t read the pig-rearing books he had been given and offered to teach him, and Andy apologized for being an asshole to Barrow. Barrow said his antipathy hadn’t been the worst he had faced, and was there a hint of sexual-something in Andy’s face as Barrow left the room?

Relationships can progress this glacially in Downton, and Branson was playing guiding matchmaker for Mary and Henry Talbot, even though the pudgy-cheeked ex-chauffeur seems to have more in common with Mary than anyone else.

He told Mary that he and her dead sister, Sybil, had equality in their relationship, as every good relationship should. She told him the family had learned to stop being so stuck up to accept him. She, however, would not “marry down.” (Later, Keats’s “La Belle Dame sans Merci” was invoked in describing her.)

Mary, like Edith, is assuming the reins of professional power (Edith said she didn’t want to “dawdle” in her sister’s wake)—Mary at Downton, and Edith at her magazine, where, looking for an editor, she alighted upon a bright candidate born the same year as her.

Soon they had a great features idea, something about women like them throwing off the restricting yolk of the Victorian Age. I love Edith’s way of editing: Sail into the office, self-congratulate, and then commission.

Bubbling more menacingly, lady servant Denker took her loyalty to the dowager countess a little too far when she insulted Dr. Clarkson for betraying her over the cottage hospital, the actress Sue Johnston spouting her character’s vinegary insults about him “eating porridge in the glen with your mammy” with relish.

The Dowager C.—on fantastic, bitchy form this week—told Denker she had overstepped the mark, possibly because she had seen “too many moving pictures.” It wasn’t Denker’s place to have opinions on Dr. Clarkson, much less express them.

This fired the Dowager C. up over her plan-heavy Downton dinner with Chamberlain, and lobbying the poor chap over the village hospital: “When we unleash the dogs of war, we must go where they take us.”

Denker runs her own pack of dogs, and she threatened her hapless fellow servant Spratt that she would reveal he had aided his criminal nephew if he didn’t help stop her from getting fired. She then said she would continue to hold this information over him. Poor Spratt.

Before Chamberlain’s arrival at Downton, Mr. and Mrs. Bates took a walk—clad in their customary cheery black—to remind the audience they have good news (she is pregnant), but to also remind us that this good news has occurred to two of the unluckiest people on television.

Anna was nervous that Mr. Bates was so happy, and that this could tempt disaster. In order to ward this off, they opted to shout “Bad harvest,” something farmers would apparently shout to mislead the gods into believing the crops had failed, so the gods wouldn’t grow jealous of their (in reality) successful crops.

It was a suitably complicated, mystifying thing for the Bateses to sign up to. And really, only the Bateses would decide to wind the gods up and defy the ill-fortune most likely about to befall them.

At the Downton dinner, where the ulcer did explode most bloodily, m’lord, Chamberlain confessed he did not have the courage to refuse the Dowager C.’s invitation.

“I was trained in the hard school, and I fight accordingly,” she said, beadily changing the place names of the supper table so she could further lobby Chamberlain.

But as the argument rumbled on at the table, Lord G. puked blood in a perfect projectile arc, then collapsed.

Off he went to the hospital, the incident soon becoming a generator of some completely batshit, hushed philosophizing.

Carson: “Life is short. Death is sure. That is all we know.”

Mrs. Patmore on Carson to Mrs. Carson: “There is a man who has to be shaken to the roots of his soul. Everything he has based his life on has proved mortal after all.”

My favorite moment of the episode followed. Mrs. Carson told Mrs. Patmore, hey, enough of the musing; what could they do to help?

Mrs. Patmore, roused from her deep-thinking interlude: “Let’s send up some coffee.”

Great idea.

Lord G.’s recovery was underway, but not before Mary both overheard something about a secret and Marigold.

She had thought Edith had adopted the girl; she still doesn’t know Marigold is her biological daughter but is edging closer to the truth—and what will she do with the information?

And this just at a moment when the sisters seemed to come closer together after Lord G.’s collapse…
Mary told Branson they would take over Downton properly now, to help her father avoid further stress, and he told her: “So long live our own Queen Mary.”

The two things that resonated at the end of the episode showed Fellowes at his most writerly. First there was Carson looking stricken at Lord G.’s ulcer explosion. Then there was the fictional use of the very real Neville Chamberlain.

Events superseded the Dowager Countess’s plans to lobby Chamberlain directly on the hospital.

But it turns out it wasn’t just a familial connection that brought him there. He had once, Chamberlain revealed to Branson, been a prankster who had taken part in digging up a road that caused chaos. The Dowager Countess had threatened to give him away. Accepting her dinner invite seemed a good way to avert her making good on her threat.

In other words, Chamberlain came to Downton Abbey as an exercise in appeasement, which of course, later as British prime minister—and faced with Hitler—became Chamberlain’s darkly defining political legacy. Intended or not (and it must have been), this was a perfectly drawn historical aperçu.