‘Downton Abbey’ Recap: Altared Estates

by | January 14, 2013 at 9:22 AM | Downton Abbey, Xfinity On Demand

(Carnival Film & Television Limited for Masterpiece/PBS)

Raise your hand if you thought Lady Edith would finally get her happy ending with Sir Anthony Strallan. I thought so. Still, I was hoping she’d get a nice wedding and a honeymoon in Paris before the whole thing went to hell. But in this episode (season 3, episode 2), the soapiest of installments of “Downton Abbey”’s entire run thus far (and that’s saying something), Edith’s position as the unluckiest Crawley daughter was reaffirmed – for now, at least.

It’s been a long road for Edith and Sir Anthony. In season one, their budding romance was a casualty of Edith’s catfight with Mary who, after learning that it was Edith who wrote to the Turkish embassy about her ill-fated one nighter with Mr. Pamuk, turned the tables on her sister by scaring off Sir Anthony who’d come to Downton’s garden party to propose. When Mary gleefully lied and told him Edith was making fun of him behind his back and planned to turn him down (then raised her crystal champagne flute to Edith from across the lawn. Snap) Sir Anthony scurried off not to be seen again until the end of season two after he returned home injured from the war. By that time, the kinder, more mature Edith had taken temporary leave of her senses and had a brief flirtation with a farmer (she drove his tractor for him for goodness sake!).

After that ended when the farmer’s wife spied them kissing and Edith was banished from the farm, she found herself falling for a disfigured burn victim who turned up claiming to be her cousin Patrick (but the kind you could marry if you’re a British aristocrat) and Downton’s rightful heir. He snuck away when things got hairy leaving on a note and Edith’s broken heart behind. No wonder the poor girl decided she wasn’t going to Sir Anthony get away again once he invited her for tea and called her “lovely.”

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Now back to the present – er, I mean, 1920. As Edith watches the staff prepare the house for the reception, she is glowing with happiness that finally something at Downton was “about me.” No matter that Lord Grantham is broke and they’re all about to lose their home, someone seems to have found a secret stash to pay for the beautiful flowers, champagne and lobster being prepared downstairs for the big day. Perhaps Granny picked check for the whole affair. (It would explain why she wanted all the uneaten food sent to her house, wouldn’t it?) After all, she’s said she would have been willing to pay for a ‘Patou’ creation for Edith but Lady Cora was happy her daughter has opted for a more elegant choice in wedding dresses instead of “looking like a showgirl.” All I know it fit a heck of a lot better than Mary’s did. Admit it, she looked prettier than she did, too.

Lord Grantham, who’d thought he’d put a stop to his daughter’s romance with Sir Anthony until Shirley Maclaine, excuse me, Martha Levinson, meddled into his family’s affairs decides to give up trying to break up the romance and just go with it. (Speaking of Ms. Maclaine, are we to assume that her guest starring role was for a mere two episodes? Certainly being such a strong supporter of Edith she would have been at the church if she were still at Downton) The night before the wedding, he gathers his sons-in-laws together for some after dinner male bonding.

What a difference an episode makes. Branson (sorry, I just can’t get used to calling him ‘Tom’) looks like he owns the place in his tuxedo and doesn’t even look annoyed by Lord Grantham’s patronizing comments when he calls his Fenian son-in-law “our tame revolutionary.” After new BFFs Branson and Matthew go off for a game of billiards, Lord Grantham tells Sir Anthony, “We’re getting used to Tom and I hope you will, too.”

But Sir Anthony has more important matters on his mind. By the way, is it me or did this character age ten years overnight? We all know he’s pushing 100, but in this episode the makeup department seemed to be working overtime and made the actor look positively cadaverous. It reminds me of what they did to Dan Stevens when a grief stricken Matthew returned to Downton after Lavina died and he looked as if he were auditioning for the British version of Twlight.

READ: “Downton Abbey” season premiere sets PBS ratings record.

The rapidly aging Sir Anthony tells Lord Grantham that he knows that he’s far from the ideal husband for Edith being “far too old” and with only one good arm and all. Ever the gentleman (whose disparaged his son-in-law to be in front of everyone but the groom himself) Robert dismisses his concerns. Still, Sir Anthony presses on to see how he’ll be received in the family once the couple is finally wed.

“Are you happy?” he asks rather absurdly.

“I’m happy that Edith is happy and I’m happy you mean to make her happy. That’s quite enough happiness going on,” replies Lord Grantham who clearly doesn’t ever really expect to be happy himself (Remember his comments on the subject to Jane when she asked him the same question – “I’m not unhappy and that’s almost the same’”)

Before going off to bed to dream of taking care of a man old enough to be her father for the rest of her life, Edith asks Lord Grantham for a few minutes alone with her future husband. He agrees but admonishes, “Don’t tell your grandmother.” By now Strallan is starting to look pretty nervous and I’m pretty sure the final nail in the coffin comes when Edith looks lovingly into his eyes and says, “I don’t love you in spite of your need to be looked after, I love you because of it. I want you to be my life’s work.” Not exactly the kind of sweet nothings that inspire wedding night passion.

But Sybil, who unfortunately had very little to do this episode, took care of that the next morning when all the Crawley women (except Isobel who is no doubt trying to save yet another ungrateful lady of the evening) are helping the bride get ready. Sybil kids her sister about saving her strength for the wedding night and is scolded by the Dowager Countess for her saucy remarks. “Sybil, vulgarity is no substitute for wit.” But Sybil, who long stopped living by her family’s rules volleys back, “Well, you started it.” Take that, Granny.

There’s a tender moment between Mary and Edith before the wedding when Mary tells the woman who was largely responsible for her having to put up with that dreadful Sir Richard Carlisle for most of season two in order to keep the Pamuk scandal secret, that she wishes her good luck. Maybe it was a curse in reverse. The sisters take a photograph together to commemorate this special occasion before Lord Grantham tells Edith it’s getting late and shoos them into the church.

We get a close up of Sir Anthony and he looks positively panicked. This is not lost on the Dowager Countess who observes to the Reverend, “He looks as if he’s waiting for a beating from the headmaster” to which the holy man offers some retort with a thinly veiled reference to performance anxiety. Uh oh.

Edith arrives at Sir Anthony’s side and says, “Good afternoon” to her beloved. “Good afternoon, my sweet one,” he replies. I’m just sick over what I know is coming. Just as the vows begin, Sir Anthony cries out “I can’t do it.” Even though I saw this coming my jaw still dropped open. Hasn’t Edith endured enough?

Evidently not, because Sir Anthony’s extremely ill-timed decision to bail on this wedding becomes something of a family discussion in front of the entire congregation. If you thought you didn’t get to see enough of what went on in the church for Mary and Matthew’s wedding Julian Fellowes more than makes up for it this week.

Sir Anthony tells Edith, “I can’t let you throw your life away like this. “

A disbelieving Edith pleads with him, “We’re going to be so terribly, terribly happy.”

Lord Grantham, who, it should be noted, bears more than a little responsibility for this debacle, tries to intervene, tells Anthony, “It is too late for this.”

Then the Dowager Countess gets up from her pew, puts a protective arm around Edith finally puts a stop to it once and for all. “Let him go,” she tells Edith. “You know it’s over, don’t drag it out. You know he’s right – it’s the only sensible thing he’s done in months.”

READ: 5 Things to know about “Downton Abbey” season 3.

Sir Anthony, who has by now turned so white he looks like a statue, inexplicably thanks Granny and walks out of the church and, I’m guessing, will not to be seen or heard from again. The whole thing was downright painful to watch as Edith really did love the old chap. She returns home, throws her veil off the balcony (So that’s what that was about in the trailer) and banishes her happily married sisters from her bedroom as they are once again reminders of all those things in life she doesn’t have. The always steady, always reassuring Lady Cora can only offer: “You’re being tested. Being tested only makes your stronger.” What else is there to say?

Newlyweds Matthew and Mary are hardly the picture of wedded bliss. Still seething over Matthew’s refusal to accept his inheritance from Reggie Swire, Mary doesn’t let an opportunity go by to remind Matthew that she does not understand decision. I have to agree with Mary. If he got over his guilt over Lavina’s death to marry Mary than what’s with his sanctimoniousness over the damn money? Matthew is feeling so badly about coming into yet another undeserved inheritance that he can’t even bring himself to read a letter from Lavina’s father that accompanies the ill-gotten loot that’s just arrived from his lawyer.

In the meantime, Lord Grantham has told the family the move out of Downton is eminent so the Crawleys pack up for visit to see their smaller house (where they’ll make do “economically” with eight servants says Lord G) with footman Alfred in tow to serve champagne for a garden lunch while they contemplate Downton style downsizing. Lady Cora (the true voice of reason this season is charmed and has christened the country house any hedgie from Greenwich would kill for ‘Downton Place;’ the rest of the family is horrified at living in anything other than a castle). “You do realize for most people it looks like a fairy palace,” says Branson who is back to his man-of-the-people mode for the afternoon.

While walking the grounds and complaining about the impending lack of square footage Mary asks Matthew if he’s read Reggie’s letter yet. When he says he can’t, Mary can take no more of this wimpy behavior and reads it herself. That night, before bed (note to Matthew: burn that bathrobe, it’s hideous) Mary tells Matthew of its contents. It turns out that Lavina, while dying of Spanish Flu, managed to dash off a letter to her father telling him of her wish to call off the wedding but Reggie, clearly a kind hearted gent, is willing to focus only on what happiness Matthew did bring to Lavina and wants him to have “no guilt” over how things turned out and take the money. The writers of “All My Children” would be proud.

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Matthew, angered by Mary’s actions, accuses her of forgery for a second before correcting himself by saying someone must have forged the letter. Boy, is the honeymoon over. Mary is hell-bent on discovering who posted Lavina’s letter and is relieved to discover it was Daisy (which explains why Lavina chose to communicate with the kitchen maid from the great beyond the night Matthew proposed to Mary. Ah, Julian Fellowes you are a wily one). And just like that Downton is saved from the brink. In case there’s any doubt, Mary tells Matthew: “If you try to find one more excuse not to accept the money, I’ll have to beat you about the head.” You and me both. This storyline was getting on my nerves.

In one of those great panoramic shots of the grounds, Robert and Matthew are standing outside the house when Matthew tells him the family doesn’t have to move, he will give him Reggie Swire’s inheritance. At first Robert, balks at taking the money but then he comes up with the brilliant idea to make Matthew an investor – a co-master of the house — which is just ducky considering Matthew stands to inherit the whole shebang anyway.

In other news:

The war between Thomas and O’Brien has reached the danger zone. Forget about a few stolen shirts and nasty words exchanged in the servant’s hall. Thomas starts a bad game of telephone meant to push O’Brien out. Mr. Moseley (who not longer drinks after his ill-fated evening serving in the dining room) became an unwitting pawn in Thomas’ scheme to start a rumor that O’Brien was leaving. This results in Cora being annoyed and feeling betrayed and while untrue, just might have weakened O’Brien’s position (hardly a favorite of Lord Grantham and Mary’s) with the family. O’Brien quickly sees Moseley was duped and is surely plotting something dastardly in retaliation for her humiliation. Buckle your seat belts, it’s going to be epic.

Mrs. Hughes’ health crisis is over, but not before she learns just how valuable she is to the house. Lady Cora, who learned the news from Carson, who got it out of Mrs. Patmore, tells the housekeeper she is not to worry about anything. If the worst happens, she will not go anywhere and will be cared for at Downton. While I’m glad to see this storyline resolved, it did provide two lovely moments in this episode. The exchange with Lady Cora (played perfectly by the undervalued Elizabeth McGovern) was tender and moving. Mrs. Hughes’ conversation with Carson where she relayed how touched she was by Cora’s kindness was terrific especially when she told her dear friend, “As you know, I don’t worship them like you do.” And how great was it when Carson was so happy at the news that Mrs. Hughes was not ill that he broke out into song? Sweet. Is there a romance brewing between Carson and Mrs. Hughes? I think that’s best left to our imaginations, don’t you?

Isobel continues her quest to help the county’s prostitutes and Ethel, a truly sad character, can’t bring herself to ask for the help she needs even when Isobel shows up on her doorstep. I’m guessing that Ethel doesn’t want to learn to sew (and neither do the women who have come to Isobel’s center for the free food) and she’s trying to screw up her nerve to ask her to find a home for little Charlie. That’s going to be a four hankie episode and I pray she doesn’t give the tot to that blowhard of a grandfather.

Finally, the dreary Bates in prison storyline limps (no pun intended) on. While walking in circles out in the yard, Bates gets a tip from a fellow prisoner that his cellmate has planted something in his bunk. I have no idea what it was and honestly, I don’t care. A contraband cigar? Some pot? The whole prison set up reminds me of those Capital One commercials. Wouldn’t be hilarious if they all broke into song? Enough already, although I can’t imagine what over the top scenario Julian Fellowes has in store in order to free Bates. I loved the quiet, dignified valet Bates but I don’t know about Prisoner Bates. Even more confusing: Anna doing her best Nancy Drew visits Mrs. Bartlett, a friend of Vera Bates, and hears some pretty convincing stuff about Vera being afraid of him.

Before the episode got underway, I was glued to the Golden Globes which was having its best year ever thanks to Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s brilliant comedy and some of the best gowns in years. It was heartening to see that even if best actress nominee Michelle Dockery didn’t win a statuette, she did snag best dressed honors for the night and is finally dressing like the star she’s become. Of course, Dame Maggie Smith won. The rest of the actresses in her category needn’t bothered showing up. The last thing she needs is another award for the mantel and she didn’t make it to the ceremony but no matter. Nothing succeeds like excess.


Watch “Downton Abbey” with XFINITY On Demand the day after it airs. Click here to set your TV.

Diane Clehane is a New York Times best seller author and journalist who writes on her many obsessions: television, fashion, pop culture, parenthood, the British royal family, and Downton Abbey. She will be recapping Downton’s entire season.