Downton Abbey Series Blog: Episode 7

The penultimate week of Downton Abbey should mean delicious tension ratcheted up before a grand finale, leaving us panting with anticipation/raising one quizzical eyebrow over a cup of Darjeeling in the small library.

Instead, this week’s episode saw each of the more tedious plot strands and characters get way too much air time.

First there’s Ethel. A combination of hard-faced misery and blinkered desperation may be de rigeur on the X factor, but in Edwardian Yorkshire it will only get you so far. It also it wouldn’t have hurt to give her some likeable trait for us to be condescending about.

So when she bursts into the family’s dinner (supper? High tea? Masqued sex banquet?) as they host the parents of deceased bounder Major Bryant, it’s as awkward for the viewer as it is for the guests. Poor Ethel is summarily dismissed by the most apoplectically bristling moustache we’ve yet seen.

And, of course, there’s Thomas. At least he’s a recognisable trope, though you get the feeling that he perfected one particularly triumphant sneer in series 1 only for the wind to change.

His black market scam had potential; but the opportunity for slapstick (“Cousin Violet bites into flapjack made of fag ash and trench foot”, LOLs all round) was inexplicably passed over and what should have been a genuinely hubristic scene -Thomas flailing about covered in white powder like Ray Liotta in Goodfellas- was hurriedly stuck on the end of the programme.

And then there’s Sir Richard and Mary. Dump him already, love, and make us fall for your frosty but passionate charms all over again. Lord knows Lavinia’s romping ahead right now in the Matthew’s winky stakes and I just don’t feel you’ve got that spurt in you to take what’s rightfully yours.

Indeed, Lavinia seems home and hosed. She and Matthew are to be married! At Downton! While rubbing Lady Mary’s face in horse shit! Huzzahs all round. The reason for this turnaround is the Lazarene resurrection of Matthew’s meat and two veg legs from the dead. His spine was just shocked, not severed (is Major Clarkson even a real doctor?), and the celebrations reverberate through the Abbey, every other scene featuring ripples of spontaneous applause as Matthew stands, cartwheels and pole dances for our delectation.

Now that the war’s over, there’s no need for the Granthams to host the convalescing officers any more. The biggest change in the Abbey is the demise of Sir Hugh’s uniform fetish. Fortunately he doesn’t have the nerve to wear the newfangled “dinner jacket”, which the Dowager Countess declares is no better than a pair of pyjamas (I feel equally uncomfortable in both, so I know how she feels).

But Lord G’s problems go beyond fashion. He’s a haunted man these days, publicly declaring he has no place or value. And his increasingly tetchy relationship with the increasingly demonised Lady Cora has an unexpected effect, pushing him into the arms of the conveniently attractive, widowed maid shoehorned in halfway through the series whose name I can’t actually remember. Or maybe it was just an opportunistic “art imitating life” moment the writers couldn’t resist.

Either way, Carson’s spotted them together twice. Awkward.

Sybil’s elopement (uh, spoiler? Hardly, it’s been telegraphed more than the sinking of the Titanic) with Branson is a damp squib. When Mary and Edith discover what’s happened, they dash to a hostelry on the Gretna Green road and find the pair in the throes of passion. By which I mean sitting a couple of feet away from each other, fully clothed. Hot!

Within 30 seconds she’s agreeing to go back to Downton. Branson doesn’t even try and pour soup on anybody. Meh.

Plot areas still to be tied up include Bates and Anna’s roller-coaster ride to marital bliss. Even as Vera conveniently tops herself, Bates remembers he bought the arsenic she ingested. Does he tell the fuzz?

And of course there’s the big main massive narrative: Mary or Lavinia? The Dowager Countess shares wise words with Matthew: “you may live 40, 50 years with one of these women – make sure you choose the right one.” Though I notice her departed husband found a blessed way out. Just saying.

I don’t know about you, but I HATE the little “on Downton next week!” teasers. So I’m not going to make mention of any of them. Especially not the one about Spanish flu. So you’ll just have to read next week’s review.

Or you could watch it, I suppose.

Sign of the times of the week. After dealing stoically with death, rejection, and the undermining of their very way of life, the mere utterance of the word “bastard” is, apparently, “one shock too far for the ladies”.

Broken record of the week: Poor old Branson. Now that Sybil’s said yes, maybe the writers will give him more than one line. On the other hand, every time they go out to dinner, ever time they go to the supermarket, whenever he says “have you made your decision” they’ll both have the same horrible flashback.

Sisterly comparison of the week: how things change. Edith is “far nicer than she was before the war”, but Mary is “an uppity minx who’s the author of her own misfortunes”. Next week: Sybil smashes up a beerhall and starts wearing red and black jodhpurs.

What kind of measures need to be taken? of the week: “Draaaahstic measures.” Lady Sybil’s not completely thrown off her poshness, then.

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You can follow @Biondino on Twitter here, and Tellysquawks there.

Rent out the fantastic first series of Downton Abbey today at lovefilm.com, LOVEFiLM offer a huge range of movies and tv shows that can be delivered to your door and also let you watch films online using their streaming service, visit the site now to sign up.

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