‘Downton Abbey’ Recap: Season 5, Episode 1

By Julia Ricci

After the deaths of two major characters in the third season and a dull fourth, Downton Abbey was in serious need of a pick-me-up and with this week’s Season 5 premier, however, the show appears to be back on track. Quite a lot happened in this episode, so take off your hat, pour yourself a cup of tea, and let’s get to it.

Warning: Here be spoilers!

“I feel a shaking of the ground I stand on”

It’s 1924, and the Labour Party has been elected into power, much to Lord Grantham and Carson’s chagrin. Carson channels Carole King when he laments to Mrs. Hughes about the changes taking place, but much of the downstairs gang, however, is pleased that there are people in office who support the working class. Even more ground shaking occurs when the town’s war memorial committee chooses Carson as its chairman. Their reasoning is that Carson knew more of the men who fought in the war, but that doesn’t stop Lord Grantham from feeling a bit hurt. Carson, however, feels uncomfortable about being placed ahead of His Lordship, especially since the committee only wants to use Lord G for the money and land.

Rubbish At Numbers

After Mrs. Hughes tells her that the Grantham’s 34th wedding anniversary is approaching and a cake is to be made, Daisy starts to wonder where she’ll be in 34 years. She doesn’t see herself in service the rest of her days and is worried she won’t be able to handle a new life after and if she leaves service. She wants to learn more math so she can be able to run her father-in-law Mr. Mason’s farm, but she doesn’t have the confidence to teach herself. Debbie-downers Carson and Mrs. Patmore don’t see the point of a kitchen worker learning algebra, but Mrs. Hughes supports Daisy’s aspirations and tells her, “It’s good to have more than one string to your bow.” We love you, Mrs. Hughes.

Baby Drama
As you may recall, last season Lady Edith decided to have the child she conceived out of wedlock with her editor boyfriend Michael Gregson, took the baby back from the Swiss family that originally adopted her, then placed the child in the care of nearby tenant farmer Tim Drewe so she could keep her close by without everyone knowing her shame. Lady Edith has been frequently visiting the child (named Marigold) at the Drewe home, and Mr. Drewe’s wife Margie is rightfully annoyed and suspicious. Margie thinks Marigold is the daughter of Tim’s friend who died and thinks it’s odd that Edith is taking such a strong interest in the child, who is now assimilated into their family. On top of that, she thinks Edith may have a crush on Mr. Drewe. It’s a truly heartbreaking situation on both ends, but perhaps more so for Edith, who has to watch her own daughter grow up in another family because the social constructs of the time would make her even more of an outcast if word got out.

Edith gets another kick in the stomach when Mrs. Hughes brings her a German primer that belonged to the missing Gregson. Everyone assumes the man is dead, a fate which is becoming more likely by the minute. It’s really a shame: Gregson was a likeable, upstanding character, despite that the reason he went to Germany was to obtain citizenship so he could divorce his current wife, who is conveniently locked away in an insane asylum. Now that I think about it, why hasn’t the crazy wife plot been explored more?

Ultimately, Mr. Drewe reveals to Edith that although she originally told him that the baby belonged to a friend of hers, he had known it was Edith’s all along and he won’t judge her for it. He wants to help her spend time with her daughter, and profoundly states, “We need to find a way to for you to live the truth without telling the truth.”

Matchmaker, Matchmaker
The ever immortal Dowager Countess (seriously, how old is she supposed to be?) has been trying to set up a match between Isobel and the dashing Lord Merton, despite Isobel’s protests. The Dowager sees through this and arranges for Merton to come over for luncheon. But after realizing Isobel’s status in the county will rise if she marries Merton, she decides to shake things up a bit by throwing Dr. Clarkson and the widowed Lady Shackleton into the mix. At the luncheon, Merton reveals his academic interest in medicine, to the surprise of everyone except Isobel. Clarkson tries to convince Isobel that they’re not part of the lord and lady “tribe,” but it does not seem to work. There was a hint of romance between Clarkson and Isobel in Season 3, but Clarkson’s feelings went unrequited. That seems to be the case here as well, as Lord Merton is emerging as the more likely candidate for Isobel’s affections.

“…You Know.”
While there were significant political changes taking place in the 1920s, there were also evolving attitudes toward sex, or as Lady Mary calls it, “you know.” She hasn’t made a decision about which suitor–Tony Gillingham or Charles Blake–she’ll choose, but is leaning towards the incredibly dull, yet super hot Tony. She confides in Anna quite openly, pointing out that when choosing the person with whom to spend her life, she wants to be sure “that side of things is right before we tie ourselves to someone forever.” Mary doesn’t want to have any regrets or dread the future, but I have a feeling one or both of these may happen in this situation. To be frank, Mary and Tony don’t have much chemistry, so it probably won’t work out. #TeamBlake

Downstairs, Jimmy has been corresponding with Lady Anstruther, a former employer who has the hots for him and wants to see him again. Thomas advises him to put a stop to things before they get out of hand, but Jimmy’s cockiness results in Lady Anstruther basically inviting herself to Downton so she can get her cougar paws all over him. Coo coo ca-choo, Mrs. Robinson. More on this later.

Secrets Revealed
Baxter is still being bullied by Barrow, who believes she may know something about the Bateses in relation to the mysterious death of Mr. Green, Anna’s rapist. Because Barrow’s lifeblood is blackmail, he threatens to tell Baxter’s dark secret to Lady Grantham that night if she doesn’t reveal the Bates information by dinner. But the joke’s on him: Baxter confides in the steadfast Molesley, who suggests she should tell Her Ladyship her secret before Barrow does. Baxter does this, revealing to Lady G that she served three years in prison for stealing a few pieces of jewelry from her previous employer. Her Ladyship is not thrilled about this, but believes there is more to the story than what Baxter told her. Disappointed that Baxter won’t reveal her motive, Lady G tells Baxter that she needs to know the whole story in order to make a decision about her future at Downton, but will keep her on for now.
As for Barrow, he gets what’s coming to him. He’s not fired, but when he attempts to tell Lady G about Baxter, she goes all Walter White on him, upset that he would suggest Baxter for the job in the first place when he knew damning information about her past. She makes it very clear to the conniving little sneak that his position at Downton is just as likely to be terminated as Baxter’s for his trickery. At this point, his best course would be to tread lightly.

Oh, Molesley!
Speaking of poor, sweet Molesley: he continues to be the Edith of the downstairs staff in a rather humorous sub plot in which he darkens his hair in attempt to look younger—with shoe polish, of all things. His newly-blackened locks are the subject of several comments from passerby, but the most amusing is this exchange with Baxter, after he tells her the reason he dyed his hair:

Molesley: “How old…do you say I am?
Baxter: “I don’t know…maybe…52?”
Molesley: No…
Baxter: Why? How old are you?
Molesley: (Indignantly) 51.

After Lord Grantham and the Dowager take notice, Carson finally tells Molesley that he cannot go upstairs until he washes the goop out of his hair, so we last see the poor fellow crouching over the bathtub trying to rinse it all out. *Sad trombone*

Happy Anniversary?
Although Tom seems to be assimilated into the Crawley family now, he still feels out of place. In one of her usual attempts to be helpful, Rose invites Tom’s budding love interest Sarah Bunting, a local schoolteacher, to Lord and Lady Grantham’s 34th anniversary party–unbeknownst to all three. Lord G already dislikes Miss Bunting because Barrow found her and Tom alone in the house in the Season 4 finale while the family was in London (nothing untoward happened), so her presence at this party really shakes things up. Because it wouldn’t be dinner at Downton without an argument, the politically-minded Miss Bunting announces her support of the Labour prime minister, then criticizes building a memorial for a “pointless” war. As one can expect, this does not sit well with Lord Grantham AT ALL. Miss Bunting retorts that if he wants a memorial so much, then he should be on the committee. Ouch. Carson quickly interjects by saying the committee would like Lord G to be a patron, and later reveals to Mrs. Hughes that he wouldn’t have taken the chairman position if Lord G couldn’t be a patron. Awww!

After dinner, Lord Grantham tells Tom that he thinks Miss Bunting will be a bad influence on him and make him a rebel and a “hater” again. Tom assures him that he’s not either of those things, but I suspect we’ll be seeing more of Miss Bunting in the future, whether Lord G likes it or not.
This. House. Is On Firrrreeee!
After everyone is in bed, Barrow and Jimmy prowl the upstairs corridor. Barrow encourages Jimmy to give Lady Anstruther what she wants so that she’ll keep quiet and leave Downton in peace. As they’re walking, they see Tony sneak into Mary’s bedroom. GASP! Tony clearly did not watch the first three seasons of this show, because he wouldn’t have entered if he had known that the last two men who entered that bedroom are now dead (RIP Pamuk and Matthew).

Tony has decided he doesn’t want to passively wait for Mary to make up her mind about him.  He asks her to go away with him on a short “vacation” where they’ll spend the days talking, and the nights doing… “you know”. She agrees to be lovers, but on the condition that no one can find out, since her reputation is at stake. Of course someone will find out, Lady Mary. This is Downton Abbey, for goodness sake.

While this is all happening, Edith, in sorrow over Michael Gregson and Marigold, tearfully flings his book across the room where it accidentally lands close enough to the fireplace to catch fire. Still upstairs to cover for Jimmy, Barrow smells smoke and finds Edith asleep with her room up in flames and sounds the alarm. As everyone evacuates, Lord G goes door to door alerting everyone and discovers Jimmy and Lady Anstruther in bed together.  The indecent Jimmy is sacked in the aftermath, but will leave with a good reference to avoid scandal. Barrow gets away scot-free (for now), redeeming himself in Lady Walter White’s eyes because he carried Edith to safety.

Thankfully, no one was hurt and the fire damaged only Edith’s room. Mr. Drewe, who also happens to be chief of the fire brigade, finds Edith and tells her he has a plan to help her see Marigold more often but still keep the secret, but Mrs. Hughes appears out of nowhere, ending the conversation, and it is unclear how much she overheard. Dun. Dun. DUN!

Well, that’s it for Episode 1. That was a lot to process, but several good story lines were set up, so hopefully they’ll develop more in the coming episodes. Stay tuned next week for a recap of Episode 2.

Stray observations
Little Sybbie calling Lord Grantham “Donk” is hilarious. More of the children, please!

Baxter and Molesley are adorable. I love the way they confide in and support each other. They’re not a couple yet, but what should their ‘ship name be? Bolesley? Maxter? Baxley?

Speaking of Baxter, between her and Mr. Bates’s jail time, Downton is pretty much a home for ex-cons.

I’m not certain if it’s because of the ridiculously funny George Clooney charity sketch, but I’m beginning to notice that this show might be more of a farce than a drama. Exhibit A: Lady Mary announcing, “I’m going upstairs to take off my hat.” This is probably the most Downton line of the entire series, so bravo, Julian Fellowes; you’ve really outdone yourself.

Best Lines
“Principles are like prayers: noble of course, but awkward at a party.”- the Dowager Countess

“There’s nothing simpler than avoiding people you don’t like. Avoiding one’s friends—that’s the real test.”- the Dowager Countess

“Molesley, you’re looking very Latin, all of a sudden. Do you have Italian blood?”- Lord Grantham on Molesley’s dark hair

“I love you too, you know, in my cold and unfeeling way.”- Lady Mary to Tony Gillingham