This episode is about witnesses to the changing times and changing situations.
The episode begins with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), Carson (Jim Carter) and Tom (Allen Leech) heading out with their hats on. Then we see Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) and Anna (Joanne Froggatt) looking at Lady Edith’s (Laura Carmichael) room. If you recall, in the last episode Lady Edith found a book that had belonged to her lover, the still missing Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards), and fell asleep without putting out the fire in her fireplace. The book she tossed in the fire spreads the fire into her room while she was sleeping. Her bit of carelessness brings witnesses to the scene of a social crime and there were consequences.
Back in this episode, Jimmy (Ed Speleers) apologizes to Thomas (Rob James-Collier) as he says goodbye. “You’ve been a good friend…If anyone had told me I’d be friends like a man like you, I wouldn’t have believed them,” he confesses. “I’m sad to see the back of you.” Then he adds, “I hope you find some happiness. I do truly.”
If you recall in the first episode of the season, Jimmy was caught by Lord Grantham in bed with a guest. Quite improper. The lady made a quick exit and unfortunately Jimmy was sacked. Remember Thomas wanted to warn Jimmy but couldn’t because of the presence of Lord Grantham, especially in the face of a direct order. Yet Jimmy and Thomas witnessed a social indiscretion as well. More on that later.
With Jimmy gone, there is no first footman. Is that a chance for promotion?
“Do I take it now that I am not the first footman,” Molesly (Bernard Gallagher) asks hopefully Carson. Molesley had once been a valet to Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), but Matthew’s death during season 3, Molesley was without work and doing odd jobs until returning to Downton Abbey as a footman.
“We’re getting to an end of such distinctions,” Mrs. Hughes comments.
At breakfast, the morning after the fire, Mary doesn’t show Edith much pity. There’s a bit of snippiness between the sisters at the breakfast table. Mary comments, “Lady Edith chose to set fire to her room, but otherwise, we’re fine.” Of course, Edith isn’t fine, suffering secretly from the consequences of her affair with a married man and her inability to publicly claim her child as her own.
And yet the very night of the fire, Mary edges toward her own illicit affair and not without witnesses. At breakfast, Mary says she’ll be off sketching with Annabelle Portsmith and yet we know that she’s actually going off to have sex with Lord Gillingham. Last night, Gillingham had slipped into her room just before the fire was discovered AND before Jimmy slipped into Lady Anstruther’s room. Jimmy and the scheming Thomas both saw her and suspected the worst. Gillingham went uninvited but made it clear he’d like to have sex with Mary even if she hasn’t said yes to marriage.
You would think Lady Mary would have learned after her Season 1 very brief affair with the Turkish diplomat Kemal Pamuk (Theo James) in 1913. He died in her bed and yet her misery lingered. But this is not 1924. The widowed Mary is ready for some discrete wildness.
Breakfast also saw Robert and Tom get into a small disagreement about the Russian aristocracy who have fled the revolution. The Imperial family were assassinated. No rumors here at this point about Anastasia. Robert feels the whole concept of aristocracy threatened by the common rabble and Tom just happens to be part of that rabble (and what of Cora?) and Tom’s class identification was re-awakened by Miss Bunting (Daisy Lewis) at dinner the night before.
Robert is also at odds with Rose (Lily James), yet Rose is more subtle–too subtle for Robert. Rose is keen on getting a wireless, but it’s Isobel (Penelope Wilton) who mentions that someone has donated a wireless to the hospital. “I can’t tell you how it brightens things up,” Isobel mentions.
Robert and Carson are against the wireless, but their support of the aristocracy will soon defeat their resolve.
Through Carson’s machination, Robert is now part of the committee about for a war memorial for the fallen soldiers of World War I. We see the group walking on a cricket field.
“But how will it be funded,” Robert asks. The committee wants to have the cricket field into a garden, “a fit place for mourning,” as one woman puts it. Other villages are using a place in the village. Carson is against Robert, supporting the other villagers. If that weren’t unsettling enough, Carson also finds that Mrs. Hughes sides with Robert and feels the memorial should be in the village.
Mr. Drewe (Andrew Scarborough), who was one of the fireman who came to put out the fire in Lady Edith’s room, has a plan for bringing Edith into Marigold’s life. Yet Mrs. Drewe (Emma Lowndes) is a bit resistant. Watching Mr. Drewe and Edith at the table together, Mrs. Drewe gets the wrong idea. Mr. Drewe suggests Lady Edith become “a sort of godmother” to Marigold, but Mrs. Drewe quickly reminds them both that Marigold already has a godmother. What a generous person Mrs. Drewe truly is. To her Marigold is her daughter.
If Mr. Drewe is trying to help Lady Edith avoid scandal and yet fulfill her maternal longings, Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) asks Miss Bunting to tutor Daisy (Sophie McShera), and is willing to pay for the lessons. Unfortunately, Bunting is only available during Daisy’s busiest times, leading Patmore to exclaim, “I think I’ve been a damned fool and doubled my workload.”
Before Mary leaves for her rendezvous with Lord Gillingham, she meets with her other suitor, Charles Blake (Julian Ovenden). Blake is invited back to Downton Abbey because his acquaintance, art historian Simon Bricker (Richard E. Grant) is interested in a painting at Downton. Blake comes with Bricker and this is a two-fer. A double romantic twist. Blake admits defeat to Gillingham, but warns Mary that she is much smarter than Gillingham and that might have been well enough in a different era when women hid their intelligence. It’s a sad testament that even today this happens.
Bricker might also be considered a two-fer. Bricker flirts with Cora, but angers Robert because Bricker also is too friendly with Robert’s yellow Labrador retriever, Isis. Damn it man…one’s wife is one thing, but one’s dog! Unforgivable.
After revisiting her attraction to Blake, Mary continues to prepare for her test drive of Gillingham. Mary is smart and asks Anna to visit the pharmacy and get her a contraceptive device because Anna is married and thus respectable. Anna is terribly embarrassed by this and the chemist/pharmacy isn’t exactly a friendly place that makes such things easier. Remember, this is 1924. The first permanent birth control clinic has only been established a few years prior–in 1921 by Marie Stopes with the Malthusian League in London. Contraception is still not widespread and accepted as part of smart economic family planning.
Anna’s main concern about Mary’s rendezvous, aside from the shocking morality, was that the clothes would be simple to wear and not require so much fuss. Mary has countered that Gillingham would be there to help her get dressed.
In Liverpool, we see further proof of Blake’s assertion. Gillingham has arranged for adjoining rooms and they have registered under their own names, but that means there is a paper trail and that at least the manager knows some kind of hanky panky is going on. Gillingham hasn’t quite mastered the notion of the clandestine affair and the rising power of the scandal-mongering press.
As this episode draws to a close, the conflict between Robert and Carson is resolved by a chance encounter in the village. The conflict between Robert and Carson and the advent of news media advances (the wireless) is resolved by the king (George V is voiced by John Glover) bowing to pressure and making a broadcast from the British Empire Exhibition. As supporters of the Royals and the aristocracy, Robert and Carson find duty in witnessing first hand the King’s first radio broadcast.
The radio somehow makes the King seem more real, declares Isobel. Is that a good thing or a bad thing our Downton Abbey inhabitants wonder.
We need a good cliffhanger and we get one. A sergeant arrives because a witness to Green’s death has been found and people now must be questioned. Green (Nigel Harman) was Gillingham’s valet who raped Anna. Anna, Mrs. Hughes and Lady Mary suspect that Anna’s husband, Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle), murdered Green in 1922 (Season/Series 3, episode 8).