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Downton Abbey recap: Episode 2

Charles and his friend, an art historian named Simon Bricker, visit the estate, Edith becomes “godmother” to Marigold, and Robert and Mr. Carson move forward with the memorial.

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Nick Briggs

Downton Abbey

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
Hugh Bonneville, Brendan Coyle, Jim Carter, Maggie Smith

Last week’s season premiere focused largely on changing times, the collision of old and new. It got off to a pretty promising start, creating a nice framework for the rest of the season. This week’s episode very much continues in line with that general theme, but it also focuses on relationships (romantic or otherwise), and the secrecy (or lack thereof) that surrounds them.

The most secretive relationship of the group, perhaps, is that of Mary and Tony. Everyone knows they’re interested in each other, but, nobody, albeit Mary’s trusting lady’s maid, Anna, knows that Mary isn’t about to go off on a sketching trip with a friend. No, she is going to spend a week with Tony… as his lover. This rendezvous, however, is complicated by two things: birth control and Charles Blake. First, Mary doesn’t want to have any “consequences” after spending time with Tony. Afraid of being recognized, she sends Anna to town to buy contraceptives for her. The experience is, in short, incredibly awkward. (The judgment on the shopkeeper’s face alone is enough to make you keep it in your pants.) Still, Anna makes it out with the goods in hand.

Second, there’s Charles Blake, Mary’s other love interest. He writes to Cora, saying that he has a friend, an art historian named Simon Bricker, who’d like to see a Piero della Francesca painting in their possession. The pair come to visit, and Mary and Charles have the talk: Who did she pick, Tony or Charles? She needn’t answer. Charles confesses he’s upset, that it’s obvious that he isn’t “the lucky winner.” Even so, he’s not giving up. Later, he tells Mary that he’ll be happy for her if she’s truly happy, but asks that she’s absolutely sure before making a final decision.

Charles’ case against Tony: “You’re cleverer than he is,” Charles says. “That might have worked in the last century when ladies had to hide their brains behind good manners and good breeding, but not now.” This really gets under her skin. “I’m not some overheated housemaid drooling over a photograph of Douglas Fairbanks,” she says. Charles implies she might be when it comes to sex.

“Are we talking about sex or love,” Mary asks. “That is the question mankind has been wrestling with since the dawn of time,” Charles responds. Despite all this, Mary still makes her way to Liverpool to be with Tony—actually to “make love all night… as long as either of us has any stamina left,” according to her newfound lover—but one has to wonder if he’ll be the one in the end.

[Aside: After last week’s episode, I was Team Tony, but this episode has me thinking Charles might, and should, be the winner of Mary’s heart. He’s clever and challenges her, pushing her in a way Tony doesn’t. Perhaps the week with Tony will make her absolutely sure that he isn’t it. Back to the recap…]

The estate’s other visitor, Simon, strikes a flirtation with Cora. He says everything at Downton is beautiful, clearly alluding Cora. Robert can tell that something is going on, prompting him to tell Cora that Simon needs to stop flirting with Isis. Again, a clear allusion to Cora. (Aside: I demand more Isis this season! That lab is right up there with the Dowager Countess as far as my favorite characters are concerned.) Not much happened beyond a few small exchanges, but Richard E. Grant, the actor who plays Bricker, is set for four episodes on the show. It’s probably safe to assume that this flirtation, and subsequent strife, will continue on.

NEXT: Edith comes up with a plan to hide her secret—in plain sight