Downton Abbey S5 Ep2 – Sex and the Wireless

Downton Abbey S5Ep2 Mary

Everybody is getting some action upstairs this week, excepting Rose who only has eyes for the wireless.  Bricker (Richard E. Grant), Charles Blake’s art collecting buddy, is flirting with Cora.  More importantly for Robert, he’s flirting with Isis, Robert’s beloved Golden Lab, and a man can only take so much.

But while Cora subtly shows a bit of irritation with Robert (“You’ve made that joke before,” she says, when he likens the Abbey to a hotel) and Bricker makes eyes, her eldest knows just what she wants.  Mary is going off on holiday with Gillingham, and declares to her loyal confidant, Anna, that she’s not getting sucked into some two-bit marriage with a man who can’t deliver in the sack.  She’ll take no chances this time (is this a knock at the late Matthew’s prowess?) and that also means investing in some family planning options as advised by birth-control advocate, Marie Stopes, in her book, Married Love. Mary has a copy just as that scheming Branson-seducer, Edna Braithwaite, did before her.  Mary knows enough not to depend on men for safe sex options and for that she’s farther ahead in time than possibly anyone on Downton.  But she does rely on Anna to go buy the stuff for her; though precisely what “it” is, we are never shown in typically discrete Fellowesian fashion.

I don’t think Downton Abbey has ever been so timely as when Anna walks into the local drug store and is shamed by the woman shop keeper for daring to procure birth-control even as a married woman.  Ninety-years later and the experience is still much too familiar.  Anna complains about this injustice to Mary and claims she’ll go back to buy a “baker’s dozen.”  “Suppose I was a working woman with eight children and didn’t want anymore? Wouldn’t I have the right?” Anna says.  The subtext being: A working woman with eight children who enjoys sex.  Kudos to Fellowes for this one. Though it’s ironic given how often he punishes characters for enjoying just that.  On the downside, her kiss shared with Tony near the end of the episode is lacking in luster (though her coat and hat are magnificent).  Her chat with the jealous Charles Blake about what a ninny Tony is, on the other hand, is full of spark.  At least Blake can say the word “sex.”

Downton Abbey S5Ep2The second great romance of this episode is Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes.  There are slow burns and then there’s this pair who’ve been flirting since 1912.  It’s now 1924 and their relationship is progressing-a promise to the fans sealed with their hand-entwined jaunt into the sea at the end of series four.  Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson are already betrothed in a perfect working marriage, but they do share a great affection and compliment each other in their ideological disagreements. Though too often, Mrs. Hughes is right about whatever their disagreement is, as she is too often right about everything. This time she’s right about the placement of the war memorial being in the village instead of Downton’s cricket green.

Robert’s right about the war memorial too, but as usual, his motives are crass: NOT THE CRICKET GREEN!

At least Robert’s right as far as the wireless- he’s finally persuaded by Rose’s news that King George will be making a speech on the radio, and everyone stands at attention for the event.  Robert declares the wireless a fad.  It’s the kind of cutesy snark towards the past that Downton doesn’t often do, like Billy Zane saying that nothing will become of Picasso in Titanic.  But again there is a parallel to our times, just like Anna’s trip to the druggist: Isobel and Violet discuss the lack of mystery and power around a king when you can hear his voice on the radio.  Heeey, Fellowes,  I see what you’re doing there.

Meanwhile, the former firebrand, Tom Branson, seems to be getting his fire back thanks to some encouragement from his gal pal, the liberal Miss Sarah Bunting, who’s now tutoring  math-poor Daisy in the kitchens. Seeing Tom fight it out with Robert on politics again is refreshing, even if his tired dialogue about where he belongs is anything but.

Tom has a special friend, but Thomas has lost his. The under-butler’s beloved Jimmy Kent has been summarily dismissed.  They share a heart-felt goodbye during which the two seem almost equally shattered at having to part (I’ll miss Ed Speleers on this show; he had a wonderfully natural style).  Thomas immediately takes his anger out on Baxter who quickly becomes Bates 2.0.  He relates her past to Molesley and Baxter tells Cora. They both want to know her motives which are likely rooted in some tragic backstory, but she’s keeping mum as any noble martyr would. Yawn.

Downton Abbey S5Ep2 Robert Over in Team Clarkson’s camp, Violet is still shoving Isobel into the doctor’s corner by sparking his jealousy whilst dragging her from Lord Merton.  It’s a little bit like last season’s love shenanigans with the kids downstairs (Daisy, Ivy, Alfred, Jimmy…), except this time everybody’s motives make sense and it’s actually entertaining.  Isobel seems a little more taken with Merton and she did turn down Clarkson’s almost-a-proposal over a lemonade back in ‘21, but far be it from Violet to actually ask Isobel what she wants (not when she has a throne to protect).  It does seem unlikely that Isobel has designs on marrying Merton when she’s often so proud of her middle-class ways as well as her autonomy.

At Drewe’s humble abode, a little show is put on for the benefit of his wife.  Edith is to become a kind of patron to Marigold.  Both Robert and Drewe’s wife worry that she’ll become bored with the little thing as she would a kitten or a yo-yo.  They both continue to keep it all a secret from the wife in Fellowes’ tradition of not saying things that have no reason not to be said for the good of the plot.

But finally, a solid enough episode ends with the promise of either future thrills or intense boredom when a policeman calls on Mr. Carson (Thomas announcing his presence with particular glee).  The murder of Mr. Greene had a witness.  Questions shall be asked.  Bateses shall brood.