Downton Abbey S5 Ep1-Flux

Downton S5E01 Mary

Change is in the air on Downton Abbey as it enters into its fifth series.  Then again, change has always been in the air at Downton.  The best Downton drinking game for getting good and squiffy is to take a shot anytime someone mentions that the world is changing.  The second best is to take a shot whenever Tom Branson reminds us he’s an outsider amongst the upper crust.  The series begins strong with the usual amount of sauce, wit, and downstairs scheming at which Downton excels.  If there’s one thing Julian Fellowes can do narratively, it’s deliver on a first act, even if his follow through is sometimes lacking.  Series  four started off well and went south, though it was perhaps due to the departure of regulars Dan Stevens and Jessica Brown Findlay.   One hopes he’s got his mojo back.Downton S5E01 Edith

This season, Carson isn’t wrong when he senses “flux.”  There’s a Labor government in power now.  Downstairs, the working class lads like Thomas and Jimmy are pleased about this particular development. “Up the workers!” Jimmy says.  Carson, of course, isn’t so happy about it.  So bound is he to tradition and the hierarchy, he forsakes his appointment as chairman for the upcoming WWI memorial in favor of Robert, just to show up the outspoken and anti-war  Miss Bunting at the Crawleys’ anniversary dinner.  Upstairs, Robert is feeling threatened, not least because his butler is getting more respect than he is (perhaps the memorial people remember the way Robert wouldn’t stop whining when he didn’t like the job he was given during the war itself).  Given his terrible record with handling the finances, one could understand why he’s wary of anyone looking at the aristocracy too closely.  He would do well to study up on his arithmetic with Daisy. She is struggling to further her education in preparation for one day running Mr. Mason’s farm and fast becoming the modern woman of the downstairs set, as opposed to the more traditional Anna.

Social change is reflected in the sexual politics. Tony Gillingham visits Mary’s room in the night to suggest an entire week alone with her.  Mary hardly blinks.  The scene mirrors her  one-off with Kemal Pamuk, the Turkish diplomat in series one.  Back then it was unthinkable.  Mary has since been wed and widowed, but she is now single and so is Gilliingham.  Yet the very fact of his being there does not terrify her as it did in 1912.   Other ladies are even less concerned with appearances.  The daft cougar, Lady Anstruther, barges into Downton hoping for some action with her one-time footman, Jimmy Kent, and cops a feel in plain sight.  Jimmy, still tragically chasing skirt instead of Thomas’s livery, is embarrassed by her attentions but he just can’t resist.  He says as much to Thomas, who is still in love with the little flirt.  Thomas does what any best friend would do and helps his buddy get laid.  Jimmy’s dalliance with Anstruther was foretold in his introduction, but its real culmination is in some lovely moments of friendship between him and Thomas.  Unhappily for Jimmy, premarital sex is never to be had on Downton without some blowback.  When a fire breaks out near the end of  the episode, Jimmy is caught out by His Lordship, who tells Carson to have him sacked.

Downton S5E01 Thomas and Jimmy

While the kids play at bedroom farce, Isobel Crawley and the Dowager are the as-ever adorable frenemies.  Violet is first amused then threatened by Lord Merton’s interest in Isobel, once she realizes they might become social competitors.  The Dowager is always funny, but when brought up short she’s fantastic.  Now she’s thoroughly Team Clarkson, even if her staunchly anti-middle class butler,  the hilarious Mr. Spratt, all but refuses to serve the good doctor cake.

On the plot-hole ridden end of things stands Edith Crawley.  Her would-be husband, Michael Gregson, remains missing in Munich, his mad wife holed up in an asylum somewhere and forgotten. Edith’s journalism career just as absent.  Worse, the entire family has failed to put two and seven together and get nine months following her “language lessons” in Switzerland.  It’s at least lucky for Edith that farmer Drewe’s wife is so brainless she imagines that Edith is taken with her husband, even as she blithely raises Marigold,  Edith and Gregson’s love child.

Other ongoing mysteries include Lady’s Maid Baxter’s past.  Encouraged by the enamored Mr. Molesley to come clean with Cora before the scheming Thomas can use it against her, Baxter confesses that she once stole jewelry from a former employer and served time for it too, though she refuses to say where the money for the fenced jewels ended up.  Thievery is believable as a huge strike against Baxter, but it’s irritating that the secret was kept for so long from the audience while Thomas repeatedly twirled his mustache. It’s one of the weaknesses of Fellowes’s insistence on times skips; we’re required to believe that Thomas has been intimidating Baxter for nearly two years and getting nothing, yet hasn’t followed through on any threats.

Cora’s on the fence as to Baxter’s future, but she’s even angrier that Barrow knew all along…until he heroically rescues Edith in the fire, bravely stumbling into his usual blind luck (you’d need it to be gay in the Edwardian era).  The mystery of Mr. Green’s murder also continues from series four.  We’re meant to think it was Bates.  But will Fellowes really allow his noble martyr a murder, even as revenge for his wife’s rape? A dark horse suspect is Tony Gillingham, and we now know they weren’t in on it together, as they dance around the subject while Bates serves him as borrowed valet.  One hopes he’s guilty this time – a second murder accusation of which Bates is innocent would beggar disbelief even more than his disappeared limp.  Presumably the Green murder will be the major plot of the downstairs; I just hope it’s more interesting than the literal circles Fellowes had Bates walking in for series three.  More importantly, lets all hope the gay guy finally gets some this year.