I’d like to think that in the 19-oughts — before the Titanic, World War I, and Isobel’s disapproving eye — the Crawleys would have a hell of a Christmas. You couldn’t walk without tripping over a gift. Sybil always had her face in a plate of plum pudding (her favorite). Robert and Cora let themselves get a little too competitive during The Game (don’t you dare call it charades). Pharaoh, who was still around, enjoyed an all-you-can-eat plate of mutton. Edith and Mary only engaged in mild hair pulling while decorating the tree. Rosamund was weighed down with jewels from Marmaduke. Violet smiled. Below the stairs, O’Brien terrified Daisy’s predecessor with the planchette, while Mr. Carson, Mrs. Hughes, and Mrs. Patmore each had two glasses of wine. It’s a necessary fantasy, because I doubt the holidays during the war were any good, and this one was pretty abysmal for the Crawleys and their servants. But for me, it was Downton Abbey in top form — delivering tears, cheers, jeers and even a little closure in those final, snowy moments.
Everything started out perfectly fine, with Thomas in his livery shouting orders and Daisy stopping in the great hall to gape at the Crawleys’ monstrous Christmas tree. (Christmas lights at the time would have actually been colored, but Fellowes and company decided white looked nicer.) Lady Rosamund pulled up to the manse with her new lady’s maid, Miss Shore, who looked at Downton with awe through the car window in a shout-out to the opening of Fellowes’ Gosford Park when Kelly Macdonald did the same thing. Violet turned her nose up at one of many unsatisfactory Christmas cards. And the servants lined up for their presents. Carson responded to Lord Grantham’s gift of a book on European royal families with his own restrained version of unbridled joy. Daisy smiled after receiving what looked like a blanket, and Anna got a bit of cloth for a dress, a special heart-shaped gold pin from Mary, and a boatload of sympathy from everyone else for having to spend her first married Christmas with her husband in jail.
Later, the workers played with their Christmas crackers in the servants’ hall while Mrs. Hughes and Carson picked at their holiday lunch, unable to enjoy themselves under the cloud of Bates’ trial. I can’t decide who had the better reaction when Miss Shore shamelessly chimed in about Bates’ misfortune, assuming that he was guilty: Carson with his pursed lips or Mrs. Hughes with her death stare. Upstairs, the Crawleys fended for themselves, as is their Christmas tradition. Richard rubbed Mary the wrong way by constantly complaining about the lack of servants, while the rest of the family pretended not to notice their bickering. Violet barely bothered to pretend that she liked her gift from Isobel and Matthew, no matter how appropriate a nutcracker is for the only woman in Downton who cracks nuts on a daily basis. Edith expressed her disappointment that Sir Anthony Strallan wouldn’t be attending Downton’s first New Year’s shooting party since the war. And Robert mentioned that Rosamund asked him to invite her new beau, Lord “Jinks” Hepworth, much to Violet’s surprise (Hepworth’s father had chased her in the late 1860s). In short, the stage was set for more conflict and heartbreak than you could shake a stick at.
NEXT: Richard very nearly spontaneously combusts