Set to the tune of very familiar trumpets, and framed by a word—MASTERPIECE—the pages of a book quickly turn and John Lunn’s intro theme commences, signaling something long-awaited: The Crawley family, and company, are back.
Last season was received with mixed reviews; the show struggled to find its footing after Matthew Crawley’s untimely season 3 death—and of course the way it handled the biracial love story and sexual assault didn’t help. But with season 5, Downton Abbey has a chance to start fresh, and so its premiere episode does, pinning old and new worlds against each other with any and all things concerning sex and politics, and even a bit on the education front.
The show opens with Lady Edith going to visit her daughter, Marigold, who she had out of wedlock with the still-missing Michael Gregson. When she left Marigold with local farmer Tim Drewe last season, Edith said she was the child of a friend. But Tim knows the truth, which isn’t a problem. What is a problem? His unknowing wife thinking Edith has a crush on her husband. (Hey, it wouldn’t be the first time Edith got down with a farmer.) By the episode’s end, Tim suggests Edith show a slow and careful interest in Marigold, presumably to eventually “adopt” her. The whole thing is shrouded in secrecy because if anyone were to know Edith had premarital sex, and a child, it would bring shame to her and her family.
Times, however, are a-changing. Just look to Lady Mary. After months of going back and forth between Charles Blake and Tony Gillingham, Mary gets much closer to a decision. She tells Anna that she finds it odd that you decide to marry someone without really knowing them, emotionally, sure, but also intimately. When Tony comes to town—he’s in for personal reasons but also attends Robert and Cora’s 34th wedding anniversary party—Mary tells him that she loves him, but that she wants to be entirely sure that whoever she marries next is the right person for her. Later, alone in her bedroom at night (scandal!), Tony proposes that they spend a week together as each other’s lovers (so much scandal!). Acting on what she had discussed with Anna, she agrees, under the condition that it must be kept a secret.
So many secrets in this house. Edith and Mary are both desperately trying to fit into their old-world upbringing when they are very much acting on new world ideas of what is appropriate for a woman’s behavior. Something tells me we’ll see more of this push and pull as the season continues.
Even Jimmy, the footman, gets some. His former employer and now the widow of a much older husband, Lady Anstruther, writes to him, he calls her, and suddenly she’s at Downton, declaring car trouble, but we all know it’s a ploy to be with Jimmy. After a series of flirtations, the pair wind up in bed together, only to be discovered by Robert when he goes to every room announcing that there is a fire in the house (Edith caused it; more on this later). The incident led Jimmy to be fired, certainly because it was unprofessional, but it also reinforces what we already know about this time period’s feelings about s-e-x.
NEXT: First comes sex, then comes politics