Looks like the Countess has been holding out on us—her past with Prince Kuragin comes to light.

By C. Molly Smith
January 26, 2015 at 03:00 AM EST
Nick Briggs
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In the world of Downton Abbey, marriages are often strategic, not romantic. Throughout the series, many couples came together because they made a good, proper match. In some cases, love grew—but not always. This episode explores that fragility in relationships, but it also looks ahead, optimistically. Much of season 5 has been about changing times, and you can bet your bottom quid that that translates to the world of love and marriage.

Hugh “Shrimpy” MacClare, Rose’s father and Robert’s cousin-in-law, visits Downton to tell his family that he and his wife, Susan, are getting divorced. And, you know, in 1924 Edwardian society, divorce is kind of a big freaking deal. Rose takes the news as a valuable learning lesson and tells her father that she won’t be bullied into a suitable marriage. (Basically, she doesn’t want to end up like her parents.) Rather, she only wants to marry if she’s totally, absolutely in love.

It seems Mary is in this camp as well. Just a couple episodes back, she thought Tony could be the one. She even decided to go on a romantic rendezvous with him, risking her reputation to explore her feelings. The trip made her sure all right—sure that he’s not the one. This episode, Mary headed to London to attend a dress show with Rosamund. While in town, she met with Tony to call things off, and he doesn’t take it well at all. He thinks Mary’s trying to tell him he’s bad in the sack, but it’s quite the opposite. Mary doesn’t think he’s a bad lover. Instead, she thinks that there isn’t much there between them aside from sex—they just don’t have enough in common. Not to mention, he’s too vanilla, too nice, until he isn’t. “I refuse to believe that a woman like you, a lady, would give herself to a man without first being certain that he’s the one,” Tony says, shocked by the blow. He declares that they’ll just have to work through it. And the discussion ends there, but odds are this can’t, and won’t, be resolved.

Charles, suitor no. 2, taking Mary out the night before certainly didn’t help Tony’s case. Mary ran into him while at the dress show, and the two flirted like there was no tomorrow. (Cut to Charles winking cheekily toward a model walking down the runway in a fashionable wedding dress.) After the show, he promptly asks her to dinner where he once again tries to prove that he’s moved on, though we all know he hasn’t. They have such great chemistry!

“I was never the type to die of a broken heart,” Charles says. “I’m sorry if that offends you.” Mary’s just fine, but she has her card to play: “On the contrary. I only hope Tony feels the same.” Charles’ interest is piqued. Mary tells Charles that there’s nothing wrong with Tony. “I want him to be the godfather of my children, just not their father.” (Again, too nice!) Charles says that there’s a way to soften the blow. Is he suggesting that Mary declare Charles the winner of her affections?

[You’ll recall, I’m team Charles, but Mary needs to make a decision, stat. This storyline, and quite a few others, have been playing out for far too long.]

Back at Downton, Tom and Sarah struggle to maintain their friendship. Sarah attends another dinner at the estate, even though we all know it’s not going to end well. Tom asks Sarah to be nice to Robert. “I know you don’t like him, or any of them much, but you forget one thing: They are good to me, in their way, and I love them.” What it comes down to for her: “I can’t bear for you to waste your life propping up a system that’s dying.” Sooo, she’s not going to be nice? Don’t hold your breath.

At dinner Robert brings up Daisy’s lessons and Sarah accuses Robert of not knowing Daisy’s name. He retaliates by accusing her of disrupting Daisy and Mrs. Patmore. Sarah suggests that they defer to the subjects at hand, and Robert takes the bait. Ultimately, Daisy says that Sarah’s teachings have opened her up to a whole new world of possibilities. Robert says he’s pleased, but Sarah continues on. “Are you actually pleased, Robert?”

Mary tells her to give it up, that she’s proved her point, but Sarah persists. Here’s where it really gets ugly: “All I’ve proved is that Lord Grantham would like us serfs to stay in our place from cradle to grave,” Sarah says. Robert stands up and screams at her to never come back. Later, Robert apologizes to Tom, who explains that it was nice to be friends with someone with similar beliefs, but alludes that their friendship might be over now.

NEXT: More trouble for Robert 

Things aren’t looking so hot with Cora either. Like Susan and Shrimpy, he and Cora are also struggling with marital problems. The problem at hand: jealousy. Simon returns to the estate to compare the Crawley’s Piero della Francesca painting to a later work by the artist. This very well could be the reason for his visit, but let’s not kid ourselves. He’s also vying for Cora, a thought that is reinforced when Simon drops lines like this: “I think everything about Downton is beautiful, including its mistress.” Subtlety isn’t his strong suit. Still, Cora is flattered and appreciates his interest in her opinions about the works (take note, Robert). Simon’s continued presence, and blatant flirting, has created an ugly, jealous monster out of Robert. (Simon sucks, but Robert cheated on Cora with Jane back in season 2. It’s a little hard to be sympathetic.)

But poor Edith has it worst of all. She’s unlucky in maternal and romantic love. What’s more, she gives these relationships everything, but it just isn’t working out. She’s no longer welcome around her own child. Tim tells her she needs to back off for a bit, but Edith can’t keep away. She goes to the house to visit Marigold, and Margie literally and figuratively shuts the door in her face. Tim explains that Margie believes Edith’s presence is disrupting Marigold.

Oh, and there’s a Michael Gregson update: Michael had gotten into a fight with a group of thugs, and the leader of the group is headed to trial in Munich. At long last, we might finally get some answers about what happened to Michael. Robert thinks it’s better to know, but Edith is struggling with the news. “As long as I don’t know for sure, in a way I’m keeping him alive,” she says. “I hate to let go of that.”

I hope I haven’t completely depressed you, readers. I’ve always been the bad-news-then-good-news-type, so here it goes. Alternately, some relationships in this show are anything but fragile. In fact, they’ve thrived. Violet, though she hasn’t admitted it, has a love that’s spanned decades. Accompanied by Isobel, Violet goes to visit Kuragin where the refugees are being held, and where Rose is volunteering. The three of them, also joined by Count Rostov, sit down to discuss the refugee situation. Kuragin talks of how much his life has diverged from Violet’s. She was once a beautiful countess and now she’s a great lady. He, on the other hand, does not have the thousands of acres or golden palaces that he once did. “That man does not exist, not anymore,” he says. Even so, his connection with Violet is undeniable. The conversation turns to his wife, Princess Kuragin. She and the prince had been arrested together, but she was exiled a year prior to him. Now, he has no idea where she is. Violet wants to help, but the odds of finding her aren’t looking very good. Isobel says he can’t give up, but Kuragin maintains that no one wants to help the losing side in a revolution.

It’s important to note, here, that one of the best things about Violet is her sassy, biting nature. That’s why I have a section in this recap devoted to her best lines. Smith, however, is much more than comedic relief. This storyline allows her to go beyond teasing Isobel, and really lets her show off her dramatic chops, like, for example when she reveals to Isobel that Kuragin had asked her to run away with him. She didn’t, of course. Lord Grantham, in his own very subtle way, asked her to stay by giving her a frame with two photos of the children in it. “I saw sense,” she says, but even after all these years, there’s still something palpable with her and the prince. Downton is at its best when they let Maggie Smith take flight.

She continues to look into Princess Kuragin’s whereabouts and seeks the help of Shrimpy, who works for the foreign office. He discovers a lead: A number of Czarist sympathizers ended up in Hong Kong, where they found work as servants, taxi drivers, milliners, prostitutes, etc. “I will not suggest which of those callings the Princess Kuragin was most suited,” Violet snarks, prompting Isobel to ask if she hates the princess so much, why is she trying to find her? Violet simply says that she owes it to her. I, for one, think something happened between Violet and the prince, and Violet feels guilty.

Other news in the world of love: Lord Merton finally proposed to Isobel. This, of course, was expected, but what he had to say was not, in the best way. Merton, a widower, wanted to set the record straight: “I’m not speaking out of loneliness, or with a view to my comfort.” Isobel says she’s sure, but he persists, knowing his reputation. “No, you’re not. When men of my age marry, that’s usually the reason, but my proposal is a romantic one. I state freely and proudly, Isobel, that I’ve fallen in love with you. I want to spend what remains of my life in your company. I believe I could make you happy. At any rate, I should very much like the chance to try.” Isobel doesn’t know if her answer will change, but he asks her to think about it, and she agrees. No answer yet, but I think Isobel might make a 180. At any rate, it’d be nice to see her have a change of pace in storyline.

NEXT: Other Things of Note

Mabel Lane Fox

We finally meet Tony’s ex-fiance, the one he dumped for Mary. While attending the dress show, Mary runs into Charles, who is joined by Mabel. Mary had imagined her quite differently, thinking she’d be meeker and more virtuous. On the contrary, she’s quite the eccentric character!

Thomas’ Meds

Thomas returns to Downton after visiting his father who was “on his deathbed,” and he looks very sickly. Later, Baxter hears Thomas yell out from inside a locked room. She rushes to help him, but he refuses her. Still, in the brief time she’s inside, she sees a needle and some sort of drug (looks like heroin), which Thomas has clearly been using. Baxter later discovers the ad that Thomas had called about before he left. It features a man and a woman and says “Choose Your Own Path.” It’s a safe bet that Thomas is undergoing some kind of treatment that he believes will “cure” him of his homosexuality.

Suspicions of Anna

Up until now, Bates has seemed like the prime suspect in Green’s murder, but this episode questions whether Anna had something to do with it. While in London with Mary, she goes to drop off a letter at Tony’s home. A detective sees her there and follows her to Piccadilly, to the exact spot where Green was killed. At the end of the episode, Sergeant Willis returns to ask about it, and while Mrs. Hughes can explain Anna’s appearance at Tony’s home, she can’t explain her dropping by the murder spot. Sergeant Willis then asks if she and Mr. Carson are absolutely sure that Anna was at Downton the day of the murder. They presume she was, but was she, really? It’s also important to note that Anna continually asked Bates about the murder. But, let’s say she did it, she could just be trying to cover Bates’ tracks and make sure he doesn’t get arrested for what she did.

Patmore’s Protest

Robert confronts Mrs. Patmore about why she’s been so upset lately. He discovers that Archie has been left off of the memorial for cowardice. Mrs. Patmore says he volunteered for the war and wanted to fight for his country. Robert explains that there are laws that would stop him from adding Archie to their memorial, but he is truly sorry for her trouble and wishes he could do more. That’s comforting to Mrs. Patmore, who is still upset about Mr. Carson’s reaction (he’s sorry that she’s upset, but wouldn’t want Archie on the memorial). By the episode’s end, Daisy convinces Mrs. Patmore that they should write a letter to the war office.

Pips Corner

Robert wants to turn down the offer to make 50 modern houses at Pips Corner. He doesn’t want to block all development. Instead, he wants to build while also preserving the beauty of the estate. “I intend to expand without spoiling,” he says. “I’m going to make a plan and find a solid builder who can fit into the village and not ruin it.” That’s a plan I, and Tom and Mary, can get behind.

The Dowager Countess’ Best Lines:

“One kind word and your judgment takes flight.”

“I never take sides in a broken marriage.” 

“I won’t take sides, it’s true, but I don’t think I could ever be described as neutral.”

Episode Recaps

The war is over, but intrigue, crisis, romance, and change still grip the beloved estate.
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