Monday, January 25, 2016

Stomach Pains and Upward Mobility

The big news from last night's Episode 4 of Downtown Abbey's 6th Season is that the scriptwriter's sadistic persecution of Mr. and Mrs. Bates has ended (or at least so it seems so far). When Anna started having stomach cramps and seemed to be facing yet another miscarriage, Mary (who has an acknowledged soft spot for her faithful Anna) rushes her to London for a quick procedure that saves Anna's pregnancy - bringing long awaited joy to both Anna and her long-suffering husband (when he eventually gets let in on at least some of the secret). There are still five more episodes in which to ruin Bates and Anna's lives, but let's hope it really is over with! 

Bates and Anna may be safe, but unfortunately the police can't seem to let go of Downton. Last week it was Sprat. This week it is Baxter. Will they ever leave Downton in peace?

But the week's big surprise was when former housemaid Gwen, who had left Downton before the war to become a secretary and has kept moving up in the world, returns to Downton as Mrs. Harding to have luncheon with the family in the dining room and discuss women's education. Anna and Tom joyfully - and Barrrow jealously - recognize her, but the rest of the upstairs family doesn't - until Barrow manages to mention it in the dining room in a transparent attempt to embarrass her. As with most of Barrow's schemes, this backfires, and instead the family is touched by  her story - especially when it is revealed that the late Lady Sybil played such a prominent role in encouraging and helping Gwen to move on. And the mention of Sybil makes Mary more conscious of how different she is from her dear, dead sister and starts her reflecting on her life, and she becomes (at least briefly) a little nicer - even to Edith. Meanwhile, apart from Barrow, everyone - upstairs and down - seems happy for Gwen, who is lauded as an exemplar of upward mobility. And the incident inspires Edith to reflect on how it is that someone can work for the family for years and never be spoken to. The old system really does seem to be breaking down!

But there is upward mobility and there is upward mobility. Despite her modest status, Daisy is actually well positioned to become a successful cook somewhere some day, but her increasing descent into class warfare keeps clouding her judgment. About to create yet another scene on behalf of her father-in-law, she escapes disaster when Lord Grantham tells her that Mr.Mason will get the Drews' farm after all. But it was less Daisy's going to the barricades that got the farm for him, than old-fashioned noblesse oblige

The silly quarrel about the hospital continues. Frustrated, Violet makes an argument about the aristocracy as the defenders of liberty against an all-powerful State that could have come straight our of De Tocqueville's The Old Regime and the French Revolution. But her argument is wasted on the others. Tonight the constant quarrel mainly serves to bring to Downton handsome Henry Talbot (whom Lady Mary had been somewhat taken with at the end of the last season.) He's a car-racing enthusiast, something Mary has no interest in. (After her last experience, I should think she might want to steer clear of any man who likes cars!) But will this finally be the romance Mary needs to end the series with another wonderful wedding? 

Personally, I'd like to see multiple marriages to end the series - in good old-fashioned fairy-tale style! Besides Mary and Henry, how about Edith and Bertie? And Baxter and Mosely? And maybe even Daisy and Andy? And perhaps Branson will finally find someone better than Miss Bunting?

But Downton is about decline and fall, and it can;t have a completely happy ending. Maybe Edith will succeed in business but remain personally unfulfilled? Without his old socialist fire, will Branson just fade into dullness?

And what about Lord Grantham's recurring stomach pains? Anna's pains had a happy outcome, but was Lady Rosamund being a prophet when she suggested that their mother, the Dowager Countess, might be attending Robert's funeral someday, rather than the other way around?

Finally, you just couldn't help but feel sorry for Barrow! His chance to be interim Butler during the Carsons' honeymoon could have been a time to shine and build greater credit toward a stellar reference from the family. Instead, he remains - as Baxter reminds him - his own worst enemy. But he poignantly admits how he's unhappy in that role and would rather be liked. Who wouldn't? But, of course, when you have never really been loved, it's hard to act the way those who do get loved learn to act!

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