Note: Do not read on if you have not yet seen Season 3, Episode 6 of PBS' "Downton Abbey."
Early in tonight's double episode -- which originally aired in the UK in two parts -- the Dowager Countess accuses Isobel of surrounding Downton "with a miasma of scandal." That may be so, but Isobel is hardly the only one.
Thomas is kissing boys and getting caught. Cousin Rose is dancing to jazz with a married man. Edith is flirting with another married man. Matthew and Mary are sneaking around behind each other's backs. Branson's disgracefully Irish brother won't stop drinking beer. On and on it goes! No wonder Alfred took matters into his own hands and decided to call the cops.
It's enough to make you forget that it's only been a month since poor Sybil bought the farm. At least, that seems to be the case for everyone on the show.
But enough foreplay. Let's talk about Thomas, Jimmy, Alfred and O'Brien. Wicked old Mrs. O'Brien really left nothing to chance, did she? Thomas knows better than to swallow her lie about Jimmy telling Alfred he's interested, but he can't help himself. I don't know about you, but I was squirming in my seat as the big moment approached -- until I realized it was going to end with Alfred walking in, not Jimmy beating Thomas to a bloody pulp.
Even then, O'Brien keeps driving the action, first urging Alfred and then Jimmy to demand the most punitive response possible from Carson. I'm not sure why exactly -- isn't she punishing him for telling Mr. Moseley that she was going to leave Downton? That was so much less extreme than this. Then again, this is the woman who killed Her Ladyship's unborn baby, so perhaps we're supposed to accept that she's evil incarnate.
As expected, Carson proves to be less than open-minded about the incident -- "I do not wish to take a tour of your revolting world," he informs Thomas -- but his chief concern is to protect Downton from scandal. He's more than happy to send Thomas away with a nice recommendation, especially since this solves the redundancy problem created by Bates' return.
When Jimmy threatens to go to the police if Thomas gets said recommendation, Carson gives in -- again, avoiding scandal is his No. 1 priority. "You've been twisted by nature into something foul," Carson tells Thomas, giving the latter a chance to make an inspiring declaration of self-worth. But here's the problem: I would be very surprised if someone in Carson's position viewed homosexuality as something ordained by "nature." Publicly, at least, homosexuality was viewed as a crime and a manifestation of mental illness.
I find the comparatively blasé attitude of the aristocrats more convincing. I literally lol'd when His Lordship busted out this gem: "I mean, if I'd shouted blue murder every time someone tried to kiss me at Eton, I'd have gone hoarse in a month." And I savored the nuances at play when the Earl talked Alfred out of reporting Thomas to the police: Sure Robert wants to protect Thomas from imprisonment, but he also wants to save Downton from yet another scandal and fortify his cricket team and hang on to a reasonably competent servant. What's a little valet-on-footman action compared with all that?
I have a feeling Bates will regret coming to Thomas' aid, but it was the right thing to do. And was I the only one who had a feeling that order has been restored to the Downton universe now that His Lordship has a valet he can trust to give him the real scoop of what's going on while he dresses for dinner?
Not that Robert's decision-making shows any signs of improving. This is a man who literally wants to invest with Charles Ponzi, so I'm not sure his decisions to promote Thomas to under-butler (or whatever) and Jimmy to first footman are bound to yield great rewards.
Meanwhile, Matthew's crusade to reform the estate continue, with predictable egg-breaking results: Jarvis quits, Robert caves, Branson signs on as the estate agent and agrees to play cricket and decides to let baby Sybil grow up in the house after all. I don't know why that had to be so hard, unless the message was that Irish people are impossibly stubborn.
Oh, but wasn't it great when Tom's brother showed up? Yeah, not really. This must be the least funny hilarious person in the history of British television. When we first meet him, he's cracking up the staff, but we never get a glimpse of the rough diamond's inimitable wit. Instead, we hear him ask for a beer and then make a face like he farted. And somehow, that's enough to persuade the Dowager that he's a "drunken gorilla."
Hey, it only took the producers one week to find another cute young actress to fill the hole left behind by Jessica Brown Findlay. Lily James cuts quite an alluring figure as Rose, the unrepentant flapper who lures Matthew and Edith into "the outer circle of Dante's Inferno." (If you ask me, just seeing Matthew and Edith step inside a jazz club was worth the price of admission this week.) I don't have a lot to say about this subplot, but I found it pretty hysterical when Matthew intoned, "I'm on the side of the downtrodden."
Elsewhere in London, Edith finds herself in the cross hairs of yet another older man -- this one married, Mr. Rochester-style, to a committed crazywoman. But is her editor telling the truth, or has he been reading too much Brontë? I can't tell, but I wish someone would teach Edith some new slang. Every time she says something is "jolly nice," an angel loses his erection.
The Ethel subplot was as boring as ever, but I did enjoy the jousting between Isobel and the Dowager Countess. The D.C. scored first, defending her decision to place an ad behind Isobel's back by saying, "I knew you wouldn't agree -- I know how you hate facing facts." But Isobel gave as good as she got after the D.C. tried to claim credit for reuniting Ethel with her son. "Of course, if you had had to sell Charlie to the butcher to be chopped up for stew, you would have done that," Isobel said. To which the D.C. replied, awesomely: "Well, happily it was not needed."
And then there were Mary and Matthew both going to the same fertility doctor. Turns out Mary needed a small operation, and now she's ready to pump out some heirs. What could possibly stand in the way of their plans to build a new kingdom while making their little prince?
Anybody else get a good laugh when they randomly introduced two "hall boys" at the servants' table in order to fill out Robert's cricket team?
If you cut all the reaction shots out of this show, each episode would last no more than 15 minutes.
"All sorts of toffs are writing for magazines these days." HA!
Am I the only one who thought of George Dubya Bush when Robert started ridiculing Catholics for "all that crossing and bobbing up and down"? It's "more like a gymnastic display, hehehe!"
This was also hilarious: "What's the betting we'll have a chorus of 'Molly Malone' before we finish?"
I'm using this line first chance I get: "Get back in the knife box, Miss Sharp."
This one, too: "That is an easy caveat to accept, because I am never wrong."
Oh, and "Mr. Stick It Up Yer Jumper"? I don't know what that means, but it rules.
The second half of tonight's episode originally aired as the Season 3 finale, which means next week's installment is the so-called Christmas Episode. FYI!
"Downton Abbey" airs on Sundays at 9 p.m. EST on PBS.