‘Downton Abbey’ recap: Power struggles and longing

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While the people who bring us ‘Downton Abbey’ were off collecting awards last night, the 20th century continued to unfold on PBS. Recuperating soldiers -- officers only -- are moving into Downton Abbey, and there are struggles for power on all fronts. Home fronts, that is. It’s Cousin Isobel versus Countess Cora, Robert Crawley versus the guy in charge of the hospital, Mr. Carson versus returning sly servant Thomas, Lady Mary versus Lavinia. These are mostly battles in struggles that promise to last a while.

As Cousin Isobel marches around officiously, ordering bed placement and taking over rooms, Lady Edith wanders. Her sister Sybil, in her oh-so-crisp nurse’s uniform, tells her she should find something she’s good at, because ‘It’s doing nothing that’s the enemy.’ Well, Lady Edith was doing something (someone?), but she’s not allowed to see her farmer anymore.


The dowager countess, who seems to be getting fewer zingers this season than last, comes around with that cousin from London. They’ve got dirt on Lavinia! They are plotting to unseat Lavinia from Matthew Crawley’s affections so he can be with Lady Mary, where he belongs. Apparently awful newspaperman Richard Carlisle, who is wooing Lady Mary and had words with Lavinia in the garden, once got Lavinia to secret him information. She betrayed an uncle and sparked a scandal that Carlisle broke in his papers.

The Countess’ plan however, has two key flaws: first, it’s Lady Mary who must secure Lavinia’s trust to get the whole story. When the two talk, Lady Mary, who had expected to hear of an illicit love affair, discovers Lavinia did it all to save her father. Hmm, isn’t that kind of like what Lady Mary had done? As Mary gets the story firsthand, she winds up respecting Lavinia, just when she’s supposed to be in high sabotage mode.


The seceond flaw in the plan is that the older ladies want Lady Mary to deliver the dirt to Matthew. Will she do it?

Wait, before all that, there is more going on downstairs. Heartsick Anna thinks she sees Mr. Bates in town, and Lady Mary says she’ll get Richard on the case. I don’t know how or why a Rupert Murdoch-like newspaper magnante would care about the whereabouts of a former butler, but he tracks him down. Mr. Bates bought the pub in town and has been hoping, waiting, to encounter Anna. He has a plan to divorce his wife. She offers to be his mistress but he turns her down, saying she’s above it. So much longing!

Meanwhile former footman William comes by Downtown before shipping off to the front. If this were ‘Star Trek,’ I fear William would be wearing a red shirt: with his earnest goodness, he seems entirely doomed. Sadly, that’s what Daisy may wind up hoping for; his puppy-like pursual of her ends up in a proposal, that she accepts after Mrs. Patmore badgers her into it. How can she ship a man off to war with nothing to hope for, is the cook’s argument, and she can break off the engagement after he gets home. But he’s ready to close the deal before he leaves, which may leave Daisy in a marriage she doesn’t want.

A general comes to take a tour -- he’s a friend of Robert Crawley’s, of course -- and as he lauds Cora over Isobel, he praises Lady Edith for her work with the men. Her talent is listening, apparently, and being helpful and kind. Perhaps she used up all her evil while scheming to ruin her sister Mary’s life?

Our revolutionary driver Tom, recruited to serve as a footman -- Downton is now chronically short of footmen -- carries a loaded soup tureen into the dining room, his sights set on the general. As disaster looms, a note he left for Lady Sybil is discovered by Anna, and according to proper hierarchy she brings it to Mrs. Hughes, who brings it to Mr. Carson. Never mind that they’re trying to stop an assassination: protocol must be observed. Just in the nick of time, Mr. Carson prevents Tom from lifting the soup tureen lid.

Which did not contain a gun, as everyone feared, but a mess of smelly slop he intended to throw on the general. Anticlimax.

Similarly, Lady Mary fails to discharge her weapon. She keeps a lid on it.

Next week: Will the convalescing officer who looks like Omar Sharif get together with flirtatious Ethel? Will Lady Edith’s closeness to the officers land her a proper beau? Will Matthew take William as his in-the-field servant, and will that keep him out of harm’s way? Will Thomas and/or Cousin Isobel wield new power at Downton? Will Maggie Smith finally get some lines worthy of her magnificent presence?

No gown count this week: the competition from the Golden Globes was too dazzling.


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-- Carolyn Kellogg