The thing about TV engagements is that there’s typically disappoint built right into them. Yeah, it’s great that Character A and Character B finally decided to tie the knot, but now we have to wait months or (I’m looking at you,The Office) more than a year for the damn nuptials.
To that, Downton says, “Screw it. How’s next week?” To which we all say, “Yes. Yes. Anything to take away the Isis memories.” The betrothal of Lady Rose MacClare and the Honourable Atticus Aldridge takes place exactly when everybody who watched last week wanted it: ASAP. But that means preparation, and there’s nothing that the folks of Downton Abbey do better than prepare for stuff.
Rose, days away from becoming Mrs. Aldridge, is having a bittersweet engagement, thanks to the absence of her mother and all-around bunch of sour grapes, Susan. The bride-to-be tries on her wedding ensemble—the first, a more modern frock and hat duo for their official wedding at the registry office—without her mother, who is still traveling back from India with her estranged and hilariously nicknamed husband, Shrimpy. Absentee parents, however, are just the beginning of the potential snags. There’s still the grumblingly traditional Lord Sinderby, who requires more than a synagogue blessing to be won over. But just when you’re thinking, “I sure wish that the dowager would chime in with some uplifting wisdom,” Violet lays this fat one on us. “Love may not conquer all,” she says, “but it can conquer quite a lot.”
Before we can move onto the happiness of the ceremony, the residents and staff of Downton Abbey have to take care of all the usual preparations: baking a cake ahead of time, hiring an extra footman (poor, innocent Andy) for the guests, oh, and answering some questions from that nosey London detective, Mr. Vyne. Yep, this subplot just won’t go away. Baxter once again volunteers to swear she saw Mr. Bates’ return ticket to London in one piece, but that’s not going to help anyone. The detective reveals that a new witness testimony rules out Bates, so that ticket situation we obsessed about for weeks doesn’t actually matter. According to the witness, the person who argued with Mr. Green before his entirely deserved tumble in front of a bus was shorter than him. More than that, Mr. Vyne has also learned about Green’s status as a horrible p.o.s./serial rapist. All of which is to say, suspicion has shifted off Bates and directly onto Anna, who will have to come into Scotland Yard later in the week when everyone is in London. Some bad story lines just never die.
And yet some amazing story lines continue to blossom and grow, specifically those from the house of the dowager countess. Prince Kuragin has decided to drop by for a casual “I’ll leave my missing wife if you agree to run away with me” chat with Violet, totally unannounced. The least he could have done was telephoned and said, “Remember how you were having Shrimpy look for my missing wife? You can pump the brakes on that. Want to talk about it over tea?” That would have been polite, at least. Instead, he comes by, and it’s up to Denker to save the day by figuring out another outfit on the fly. But don’t give her too much credit yet. Spratt certainly isn’t. He goes as far as trying to ruin his Ladyship’s trip to London by “forgetting” one of her cases under the bed, but Denker sabotages his sabotage when she spots the missing case, which is an example of what is technically known as the Denker Double Dupe.
NEXT: Here’s Susan!
Once the whole party has arrived in London, it’s almost immediately ruined by the arrival of Rose’s mother and part-time Jeff Dunham puppet, Susan MacClare. Since she and Shrimpy are on the outs, she refuses to share a room with her estranged and nicer-than-she-deserves husband. Things don’t get any sunnier when Rose is finally reunited with her mother. How’s this for a response to your daughter’s engagement? “And you’re quite, quite sure?” Now, before you start thinking this is what any mother would wonder before her daughter’s wedding, know that what Susan really meant was, “And you’re quite, quite sure you’re going to force me to ruin this wedding?” The first step in her evil plan is to act like an embarrassing wretch at dinner. “What a peculiar name,” she says after first meeting Atticus, before walking away without another word. “I always think of you as nomads, drifting around the world,” she says, sharing her misguided imaginings of what Jewish people do. She’s really great.
And though Susan is a true terror of classism and racism (Larry Grey’s long-lost mother?), Lord Sinderby isn’t helping matters. According to him, Rose’s intention to receive a blessing in a synagogue is thoughtful, but naïve, as no temple will perform such a ritual without her conversion. Combine that bad news with his declaration that “divorce signifies weakness, degradation, scandal, failure,” and things look like they’re off to a great start. Don’t you just love weddings?! Things can only get better though, right? “Love conquering a lot” and such? We’re not quite there yet. There’s still Atticus’ stag party to get through.
I’m sorry— I meant, STAG PARTY!?! Whoooo!
For those of you who aren’t familiar with stag parties, they’re just like bachelor parties, but everyone wears tuxes and yells. It looks like a blast! And Atticus was responsible enough to know his limit. He cuts himself off, bids his chaps farewell, and retires to chambers. That’s because Atticus is a genuinely good dude, but even genuinely good dudes can fall prey to sabotage. In the elevator up to his room, a “tart” makes her best move on him, which he deflects like a pro. The attacks continue in his room, where the same woman knocks on his door announcing herself as room service. She enters, removes her dress straps, and leaves without ever laying a finger on Atticus. To say that he’s confused about the encounter is a grave understatement, but he will understand soon enough.
The very next morning, Tom, Edith, Rose, and Mary all have lunch together to celebrate Rose’s wedding and also because the four won’t have much more time together. It’s certainly a bittersweet affair, especially as Edith, left alone with Tom for a moment, admits that he’s the only one who understands what it’s like to lose the person he loves most, so I guess now would be the time to acknowledge that while she has definitely made major mistakes this season, she is Downton‘s ultimate victim. How about a good Edith season next year, Julian?
When Rose and Mary return, we have a mystery on our hands. Someone has set poor old Atticus up. Obviously, the four don’t know that the photos of Atticus and his female pursuer delivered to Rose at lunch are an elaborate ruse, but we sure as hell do. The bride-to-be naturally loses it. She might have gone full catatonic if it weren’t for Tom’s fast advice, and she leaves to phone Atticus at once.
NEXT: Damn you, Morrissey
Seems bad right? Worse than a surprise criminal line-up though? That’s exactly what Anna and Bates walk into when they go to Scotland Yard at Mr. Vyne’s request. The cops drag Anna into a row of women, all of whom presumably have been attacked by Mr. Green. In no way do I support vigilantism, but doesn’t it seem like a bit much to put all of these women through another traumatic experience, just to find out who took a serial rapist off the streets for good? Anyway, some guy who looks like Morrissey walked down the row, looking each suspect up and down, and gave a nod to Mr. Vyne. Ugh, this story line.
Across London, Daisy, Molesley, and Baxter are having a much nicer afternoon at the Wallace Collection. The museum has opened Daisy’s eyes to the possibilities of her life, but also its current limitations. “I feel as if I’ve been down a coal hall, and someone’s opened the lid and brought me into the sunlight,” she puts it so eloquently. Downton is her home, but it’s also keeping her from experiencing more of the world. Rose and Atticus, who Daisy, Molesley, and Baxter find not far from the musuem, momentarily interrupt the thought. The two appear to be in an argument about the photos. Atticus swears he’s been set up, either as a joke or sabotage, and Rose believes him, though she suspects the latter more than the former. Atticus already has his suspicions as to who might be guilty.
And we, of course, have ours. Who stands to benefit from Rose calling off the wedding? Who could be despicable enough to harm the perfect Rotticus? Could it really be one of Rose’s or Atticus’ parents? Well, as Violet succinctly put it, “My dear, love is a far more dangerous motive than dislike.” Let’s take a quick look at the suspects.
Daniel Aldridge, Lord Sinderby
Evidence for: Atticus’ father hasn’t exactly made a secret of his disapproval of this “little shiksa,” but it’s more than that. Marrying Rose would effectively end the line’s ties to Judaism, since any children wouldn’t be Jewish. Also, he defended the actions of Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer in the Amritsar massacre. Not a good look, Sindy.
Evidence against: Despite all of his grumpiness and snobbery, Lord Sinderby loves his son, and he says that to accuse him of sending the photos implies that Atticus doesn’t know his own father. He also gives his word that he didn’t do it.
Susan MacClare, Lady Flintshire
Evidence for: Where do we start? She’s anti-Semitic and therefore didn’t approve of the wedding on principle. There’s that mysterious “check” she had to mail the day of Atticus’ stag party. Also, she definitely did it.
Evidence against: To be honest, she’s not the type of person who seems capable enough to pull off such an intricate scheme.
Larry Grey, Lord Merton’s son
Evidence for: This guy ruins everything.
Evidence against: He has no personal stakes in the wedding, was likely nowhere near London, and probably had nothing to do with it. We just really don’t like him.
We don’t have to wait for an answer long, as Detective Shrimpy is on the case. He traced the payment Susan mailed out the previous day. He knows that she is responsible for the photographs, and if she’s going to try to further sabotage the wedding, Shrimpy will reveal all to Rose, more than likely ending what’s left of the mother-daughter relationship. Susan tries her darnedest to justify the deed. The family has lost almost all of its money, and once Rose marries Atticus, Susan fears that she too will be an outcast. But it’s all garbage.
NEXT: Goin’ to the registry office. Gonna get married.
Yet not all marriages are emotional toxic waste dumps. Robert announces that he’s going to sell the della Francesa to fund the cottage renovations. He explains further that his once-prized possession only brings him shame now, thanks to the Mr. Bricker episode. Cora blames herself, but Robert rebuffs her. It’s not that the painting reminds of the time he found a man in his bedroom and slapped the shit out of him, but that the scene caused him to no longer trust his wife, a mistake he won’t make again. Not every marriage involves extreme ultimatums, just most of them.
The day of the wedding finally arrives, but we’re not clear of the drama quite yet. It’s astounding that a person as miserable as Susan could have raised one as lovely as Rose. To see the wide spectrum of decency, look no further than how either handle their dramas on the day of the wedding. Susan, believing that she’s been bested by Rotticus’ love and Shrimpy’s care for their daughter, makes a pronouncement in the middle of the registry’s office. She and Shrimpy are getting a divorce and are therefore harbingers of weakness, degradation, scandal, and failure in Lord Sinderby’s eyes. Before he can do anything to stop the wedding, however, Lady Sinderby steps in. Either Lord Sinderby shuts the eff up and lets the marriage proceed or she’ll leave him. (To all the kids reading out there, this is just how marriages work.) Foiled again, Susan. “I don’t believe it,” she says to her aunt Violet, stunned. “Is that it? Am I just expected to be a good loser?”
“It’s too late for that, my dear,” the dowager says. “Far too late.”
Rose, on the other hand, has come to terms with others not wanting the best for her. While Shrimpy is walking her into the hall, he tells his daughter that he has discovered the culprit, someone Rose doesn’t know. She says that she doesn’t want to know because at the moment, she couldn’t be happier. It’s honestly a miracle that Rose isn’t a monster like her mother. Let’s all take a moment to be thankful for Shrimpy, truly the most undervalued character of the entire season. He’s been running around finding missing princesses and saving marriages, all the while his marriage is falling apart. And who is thanking this man, if not us?
Leave it to Lord Sinderby to speak for us all after the wedding. “Well, well, the thing is done,” he says. “Let us go forward in hope.” Amen, and despite it all, Rose has been classy throughout. She even acknowledges that such an attack as underhanded as the photos wasn’t Lord Sinderby’s style, and she stood up to her mother without resorting to justified physical violence like snapping her tiara, like we all wish she had.
All’s well that ends well, right? Nope. We still have some story to get through in this jam-packed episode. Remember Ms. Denker’s little excursions into the city with the new footman Andrew? Well, they turn out to be not as fun as a night out with a salty old maid would seem. Barrow, looking out for Andy for no other reason than he’s a nice guy now, suspects that Denker is using the lad to get drunk. On their final night out, Barrow invites himself along to a gambling joint called the Velvet Violin. There he finds out that Denker has been enjoying free drinks while Andy gets his ass handed to him at the table, but Barrow has a trick up his sleeve. He plays for Andy instead, and he’s able to win back the money the footman lost. On their way out, Barrows tells the proprietor of the classy establishment that Denker is playing him for a fool. While I fully acknowledge that my enjoyment of Nice Barrow requires Mean Barrow to be around most of the time, I really like Nice Barrow.
NEXT: Anna in chains
Boy, good thing nothing came of that line-up Anna stood in. If Morrissey had picked her as the one who killed Mr. Green, it sure would have prolonged an unnecessary story line, just for the sake of inventing conflict when most people on the show and in the audience would love to forget any of this had ever happen.
Well, guess what. Mr. Vyne shows up, acts like a jerk to everyone, and arrests Anna. Everyone in the house is upset and swears that they’ll free her soon. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Let’s talk about this for a second. For some reason, Downton Abbey has turned Anna and Bates into narrative sacrificial lambs, innocent creatures that can be poked and prodded for the sake of drama and high emotional stakes. Ever since the will-they-won’t-they aspect of their dynamic ended, it’s been nothing but a parade of awfulness for the couple. Having bad things happen to characters we like isn’t the only option when trying to make compelling television, and with this latest act from a cruel God named Julian, it’s become increasingly apparent how cheap this kind of writing it is.
The crazy thing is that there are examples of better, more complex conflict elsewhere in this very episode. Take a look at Mrs. Patmore’s subplots. Downton’s cook had a real rough go in the penultimate hour of the fifth season. First, an empowered Daisy decides she’s going to hand in her notice, and then Lord Grantham insists that she come to the unveiling of the war memorial, even though her nephew, a deserter, won’t be on it. In both cases, Patmore’s views on a situation are in direct conflict with those of another character, but everyone’s feelings are realistic and serviced in rewarding ways. She doesn’t want Daisy to leave, even though she knows it’s for selfish reasons, and she thinks her nephew deserves remembrance, even though others stood and fought when he did not. And both conflicts are resolved in ways that feel honest to the characters. Daisy decides to stay at Downton, at least until she passes her exams, because she sees how loved she is there, and Robert dedicates a separate memorial to Mrs. Patmore’s nephew, because he too volunteered to fight. See, no manipulation, no manufactured outside conflict. Just real, good Downton.
Heading into the Christmas special (in name only for US viewers), change is afoot. Tom has decided to leave for America after the holiday. Isobel doesn’t know whether to marry a man whose sons don’t approve of her. And Robert, who has been plagued by déjà vu because of Marigold, pulls the ultimate Columbo at the end of the episode. “Just one more thing, Cora.” He’s realized who the girl reminds him of: Michael Gregson. He’s right, and Cora admits as much, but she begs for him to keep it a secret. Of course, he will because Robert’s great, and he’ll love her to boot.
There’s one more episode to go in a season that has been largely a return to form, apart from the continuing Mr. Green story line, which has hung around like a bad aftertaste. Let’s see if maybe, finally we can be done with the matter next week.