PBS: ‘Downton Abbey’ returns and it’s all about Edith

Let’s call the opening episode of Season 5 of “Downton Abbey,” “All About Edith.” Of course, with the upstairs and downstairs unresolved threads, the audience isn’t just shown Lady Edith Crawley, but she plays a key role. “Downton Abbey” premieres its Season 5 on Sunday, 4 January 2015.

Lady Edith Crawley (Laura Carmichael) is the middle daughter, not the pretty one and not the baby. Her awkwardness marginalized her with her own class and she finally found her soul mate in Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards), editor and publisher of a London-based society magazine “The Sketch.” Gregson had initially offered Edith a chance to write a column for  his magazine after a letter she wrote about women’s rights was published in a newspaper. This is where “Downton Abbey” borrowed from “Jane Eyre.” Michael is married but his wife is insane and he cannot divorce her. Gregson takes an early honeymoon with Edith before he leaves for Germany where, if he becomes a German citizen, he can divorce his wife because Germany, like Greece and Portugal, recognizes insanity as grounds for a divorce. He leaves Edith in control of his publication.  He disappears  1922 (Season 4) and by the Christmas Special, we have leaped ahead to 1924 with Edith back from her trip to Switzerland and the baby, Marigold, has been adopted by a tenant farmer, Mr. Drewe.

At the beginning of this episode, we see Edith cycling. She’s going to visit Mr. Tim Drewe (Andrew Scarborough) and his family.  She will continue to visit the family and dote on Marigold. Mrs. Margie Drewe (Emma Lowndes) believes Edith is sweet on her husband.

In the national news, Robert Crawley, Lord of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), and Carson (Jim Carter) are both upset with the social changes, most ostensibly visible in the election of a Labor government. The change is reflected also in a villagers who want to build a war memorial and ask to see Robert and Carson. Robert and the household, both upstairs and downstairs, assume the committee is going to ask Robert to chair the committee: They only want Robert to grant them land and want Carson to be the chair. This scene is filled with socially contradictory humor.

Carson later confides to Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) that “I feel a shaking of the ground on which I stand on.”

Within the Grantham family, Tom Branson (Allen Leech) himself represents the social change.He began as the chauffeur and married the youngest Grantham daughter, Lady Sybil Crawley Branson (Jessica Brown Findlay). Sybil died soon after giving birth from eclampsia (Season 3) in 1920.

Last season, Branson have given a tour of the upstairs gallery to a school teacher, Sarah Bunting (Daisy Lewis). Nearly four years has passed since Tom has been widowed. Nothing happens but our downstairs villain, also a Tom but we call him Thomas (Rob James-Collier), implies to Robert Crawley that something did, leaving Robert with a low opinion of Bunting. For Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) and Robert’s 34th anniversary, Cora allows the Mary and  Rose (Gwen Dawson) to invite Ms. Bunting, unaware that this will displease Robert.

Violet (Maggie Smith) has noticed Lord Merton’s (Douglas Reith) interest in Isobel (Penelope Wilton) and arranges a little get together that includes a local doctor. Violet’s butler Spratt (Jeremy Swift) is also somewhat unable to cope with the changing times and attempts to snub a local doctor who is also a guest, but Violet rebukes him in a way that only Maggie Smith’s Violet can.

Love is also in the air downstairs at Downton Abbey. Moseley (Bernard Gallagher) continues to show interest in Miss Baxter (Raquel Cassidy). If you recall, it was the scheming Thomas who brought Miss Baxter to Cora’s attention when Cora needed a new lady’s maid. Thomas is blackmailing Miss Baxter and is particularly insistent now–he wants to know what might be the link between Green (Lord Gillingham’s butler–played by Nigel Harman–who raped Anna), Bates, Anna (Joanne Froggatt) and Mary. Moseley, who has dyed his hair an unfortunately blue-black to impress the anxious Miss Baxter, advises her to tell Cora whatever the secret is so that whatever happens, Thomas will lose his power over  her. Jimmy(Ed Speleers)  is being pursued through letters by Lady Anstruther (Anna Chancellor) who insinuates herself into the anniversary party.

At the anniversary party, Miss Bunting shows us just why one should discuss politics at the dinner table. Tom supports her. Lady Anstruther unwisely shows her interest in Jimmy. Lord Gillingham continues his pursuit of Mary, decidedly breaking with tradition thinking that sex before marriage is highly advisable. You’d think Mary, after Season 1, would have realized how a slight indiscretion can lead to long-term problems. Of course, considering the misery that Lady Edith caused Mary over the same indiscretion, you’d think that she would have known better and that Gregson could have been more careful. Wisdom and too much caution makes for little drama or, as in the case of Carson and Mrs. Hughes, a poignant sensible slow-moving romance.

At the end of the party, Robert realizes that Thomas has been manipulating him with half-truths and insinuations to discredit a member of the family, Tom. Cora also realizes that Thomas didn’t tell the complete truth about Baxter and suspects no good.

However, Thomas and Jimmy are upstairs, where they shouldn’t be. They see Lord Gillingham enter Mary’s room, but Jimmy is there to meet the carnal embrace of Lady Anstruther. Tom assures him that he will give a warning, but when a fire breaks out in Lady Edith’s room, Tom isn’t able to prevent Robert from discovering the two together as he attempts to warn everyone to leave the building and fight the fire.

Yet because Thomas saved Lady Edith, he won’t be sacked and while that might seem like an unwise move by the Granthams, it is a wise move for fans of Downton Abbey. The path of the two Toms–Tom and Thomas will continue as they both make decisions about life and class and how to forge a better life.

Lady Edith again proves that one stupid move after another brings on complications for all  involved. It’s all about Edith.

“Downton Abbey” Season 5 premieres Sunday, 4 January 2015, 9/8c. Check local listings.

 Recap of Seasons 1 & 2:

Recap  of Season 3:

Recap of Season 4:

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