Mary reconnects with Tony, Mr. Carson receives an interesting proposal, and Cora and Robert celebrate their wedding anniversary.

By C. Molly Smith
January 05, 2015 at 03:15 AM EST
Nick Briggs
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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

Then, there’s politics. The beginning of the episode sees Robert lamenting the new Labour government, prompting a “here he goes again” look from Tom to Mary. Robert continues, saying that he’s concerned that this kind of government wants to destroy people like him and his family and everything they stand for. Old and new collide when Sarah Bunting attends Robert and Cora’s anniversary party. Hold for more details.

Also on the politics front, Robert is approached about a memorial to commemorate the local men who had died in the war. Prior to the meeting, Robert had been discussing how he might not be best suited for the job (that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have taken the gig). Turns out the acting committee couldn’t agree more. They offer Mr. Carson the opportunity to oversee the project, and simply ask Robert for the land to build the memorial. Ouch. All of this makes Mr. Carson very uncomfortable with his traditionalist ways.

“I feel a shaking of the ground I stand on, that everything I believe in will be tested and held up for ridicule over the next few years,” he later says. With any luck for audience members, these ideas will be challenged, not ridiculed. The upstairs-downstairs drama is much more interesting when there’s a little less certainty about one’s exact place in life. Don’t you think?

Back to Sarah: A naïve Rose invited Sarah, unbeknownst to Tom and Robert, to attend the anniversary dinner after meeting her at the local school. Rose wants Tom to have his own life, which is very well meaning, but the surprise guest certainly shakes things up: Sarah announces her support of the Labour party prime minister, much to Robert’s dismay. Then, she criticizes the memorial, and this really pisses Robert off. Sarah suggests that if he’s so into the idea of a memorial then he should be on its committee. Ouch, ouch, ouch. Suddenly, Mr. Carson steps in and reveals that the committee would like Robert to be a patron. (He later tells Mrs. Hughes that he wouldn’t be on the committee without Robert as a patron because, again, he’s very much about respect and tradition.)

When Tom apologizes for being so vocal about politics at dinner, he bluntly tells Robert that he and Sarah are not lovers. Robert had assumed that they were after Thomas had spotted the pair in the house together, alone. With that awkward conversation out of the way, Robert tells Tom he fears he’s heading back to his radical, political ways. Tom assures him he’s not, but I don’t imagine this is the last we’ll see of Sarah, her political views, and her and Tom together.

Lastly, there’s academics. With the big anniversary coming up, Daisy starts thinking about her future—where will I be in 34 years?—and purchases some mathematical reading material. She thinks she isn’t bright, and that learning a bit of math will help her transition into adulthood along with career options. Mr. Carson, Mrs. Patmore, and Mrs. Hughes later discuss Daisy’s new interest and are very divided about the issue. Mr. Carson thinks it’s impractical; Mrs. Patmore doesn’t necessarily hate the idea, but thinks the learning process is hurting Daisy’s confidence; and Mrs. Hughes supports her.

This push and pull between old and new has been certainly seen on the show before, but as the show moves forward in history, the tension builds. New school thinking is casting a big shadow, but old school definitely isn’t going down without a fight. There’s a battle of beliefs ahead, leading to should make for more promising storylines and a better season.

NEXT: Other Things of Note

Baxter’s Secret

One of the biggest revelations this episode is Baxter’s secret finally coming to light. Thomas helped her get a job at the estate with the understanding that she would spy for him. After refusing to tell Thomas what she knows about Anna and Bates, Thomas threatens to tell Cora her secret. With a little encouragement from Molesley, Baxter tells Cora before Thomas gets the chance, believing that it would be much better to tell her first. Her secret: She had stolen jewelry from her previous employer and went to prison for it. Cora tells Baxter she can stay for the time being, though her employment at the estate is up in the air. Later, when Thomas approaches Cora to tell her Baxter’s secret, Cora gets upset with Thomas for bringing a convicted felon into her home, and questions his future at Downton.

Molesley’s Hair

For some comedic relief, the running joke throughout the episode is Molesley dying his hair, seemingly with the hope of looking younger. It catches everyone’s attention, even Robert and Violet. Eventually, Robert tells Mr. Carson that Molesley must remain downstairs until he rids of his new do.

Violet’s Luncheon

Violet plans a luncheon that would bring Isobel and her admirer, Lord Merton, together. After Robert jokes that if Isobel were to marry Merton, she would be of high status, Violet’s intentions with the luncheon seem to be questionable. She invites Dr. Clarkson, who also is totally crushing on Isobel, and Lady Shackleton to attend as well. There, Dr. Clarkson tells Isobel that she’s unlike Merton. Meanwhile, Shackleton chats with Merton all day. Was Violet trying to lead Isobel to Dr. Clarkson? Or, was Violet trying to make Isobel jealous, and lead her to Merton? Isobel seems to be in the latter camp, later explaining that Violet was trying to set her up.

The Fire

Mrs. Hughes gave Edith a book of Michael Gregson’s that had been found in the house. Later, while alone in her room, Edith looks at the book and is clearly upset. She throws the book across the room in a state of anger. Unbeknownst to her, it lands in the fireplace, causing fire to spread throughout her room. Thomas, who was keeping an eye out for Jimmy while he was in bed with Lady Anstruther, sees smoke coming out of Edith’s room, rushes in, and saves her from the flames. Cora tells Thomas that while she was upset with him about the Baxter situation, his bravery is cause for him to stay at the estate.

Suspicions of Bates

Last season, Tony’s valet, Mr. Green, died mysteriously, just after Bates had discovered that Green had sexually assaulted his wife, Anna. Mrs. Hughes and Mary believe it to be Bates’ doing after discovering a train ticket in his coat pocket that put him in London the same day Green died. In the episode, Bates fills in as Tony’s valet while he’s at the estate and asks him about Green. Later, when Bates and Anna show up after the scene of the fire to check on everyone, Anna tells Mary that Bates gets in a state about things, to which she responds that she can imagine. With so much unknown, and hints at what might have happened, this plotline will most likely play out over the season.

The Dowager Countess’ Best Lines:  

“You should write a book: Daughters-in-Law and How to Survive.”

“Principles are like prayers. Noble, of course, but awkward at a party.”

***

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