‘Downton Abbey’ Season 6 Episode 4: Courts and courtship and the shadow of Sybil

In ‘Downton Abbey’ when the police arrive it is always politely and without the breaking down of doors. When did the world get so militant?  This time it is not for Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) and his bride Anna (Joanne Froggatt), but for Baxter (Raquel Cassidy). And a different court takes a dim view of Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier). The courtship for this episode is of Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery).

First, we must deal with the business of Tom Branson’s (Allen Leech) return. Ever so polite, he says what we were all thinking, “I hope I didn’t steal their thunder,” referring to the happy and finally married couple, Mr. Carson ( Jim Carter) and Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) who is not Mrs. Carson in the house.

Tom explains his return at the breakfast table, by saying: “My cousin was good to me, but in the end it was another country and I’d moved away one time too many. And besides, I’d taken Sybbie away from you.”

Robert (Hugh Bonneville), the happy grandfather, says, “I think it gave it an added lift.”

Edith (Laura Carmichael) starts the subtle quarrel asks, “What will you do, Mary, now that Tom’s home?”

Mary gives her a look and says, “Exactly what I was doing. Why?”

Edith, ever the almost feminist replies, “Well, surely he’ll go back to being the agent.”

Robert tries to calm things, “Can’t we allow Tom a few days to settle in before we start fighting?”

Tom quickly adds, “You’ll get no fight from me. I want to do what’s right for everyone.” Mary later suggests, “Now we’re out of Edith’s earshot, what do you really want? To be joint agents? I wouldn’t mind.”

Tom confides, “Maybe. But if I am to live out my life here, I need to find something to do that isn’t just about the estate.” He continues, “I’ve changed since I’ve been away. I’m still not a traditionalist. The king should not rely on my support. But I don’t feel the same about capitalism. Not American capitalism, anyway, where a hardworking man can go right to the top all the way in a single lifetime.”

Of course, this sniping between Mary and Edith is relatively tepid tea but there’s promise of more later tonight. Lady Grantham has sent Mr. Spratt over with a message for Robert and Cora. She wants to bring over Lady Shackleton.

Robert warns, “Mama is an old intriguer. She will use tears or terror with equal facility.” Lady Shackleton is bringing her nephew, whose name Robert and Cora don’t know, but when the scene changes to Violet and Lady Shackleton, we understand the man is Henry who is “only up here now to look at some horrid racing car.”

Violet also instructs Prudence, “Now, you understand the job on hand? We’re to persuade Lady Grantham to oppose all change at the hospital….To oppose change that takes control away from us.”

Yet we already here a slight problem to Violet’s campaign when Prudence asks, “Forgive me, but why, if it means more modern and varied treatment?”

Violet complains, “How could the interests of the village be protected if every decision is made in York? …Are you are you here to help or irritate?”

Prudence replies, “To help, of course.”

Violet confirms, “Then there’s no more to be said.”

Downstairs, with Carson gone, the under butler, Thomas Barrow gets to be butler, but the other servants don’t really look up to him. Mrs. Patmore answered the phone and spoke with Sgt. Willis, but didn’t run it by Barrow before inviting him over. Barrow warns, “Next time, run it past me, Mrs. Patmore, before you issue an invitation. I am the butler now.”

Mrs. Patmore only replies, “For the next five minutes until Mr. Carson gets back.”

Barrow stiffly retorts, “And don’t let’s forget it.”

Even when the police officer comes, Mrs. Patmore takes him to Carson’s room to speak with Baxter and says “Mr. Carson won’t mind.” Mrs. Patmore means to take Mrs. Hughes’ place, but Baxter prefers to have Mr. Molesley. We get to here the full story.

Willis says, “You’ll know who I mean by Mr Peter Coyle. He’s currently on bail for theft. That doesn’t seem to surprise you. He’s accused alongside a young woman who worked in the same house, and I’m afraid that most of the evidence will count against her. He’s pleading innocence but our records show that while he’s never been convicted, he’s been close to several crimes in the past. Always carried out by women and he’s escaped prosecution every time.
We know he worked in the same house as you and that he left on the day that you stole the jewels from your mistress. And those jewels were never found and you’ve kept silent, but we believe he profited from the theft.
We want you to testify to that effect as a character witness. We’re only trying to protect vulnerable young women from him in the future. He’s ruined several lives. I’ll leave you now, Miss Baxter. Please consider my request.”

Baxter is reserved and says little but Molesley says, “I dare say this Mr Coyle was a handsome devil.”

Baxter replies, “He was a devil all right.”

Molesley continues, “I know it’s not my decision, but I think you should do it.”

Baxter comments, “You don’t know what you’re asking.”

Molesley replies, “All that’s needed for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing.” That quote is often attributed to Irish politician Edmund Burke (1729-1797): “.  He is considered the father of modern conservatism. Burke did write: When bad men combine, the good must associate, else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle” in his “Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents.” Others claim the quote is taken from a translation of “War and Peace.”

Dinner brings Lady Shackleton, Henry Talbot (or “the nephew”), Rosamund, Cora, Mary, Edith, Tom, Robert and Isobel together. On the drive over, Lady Rosamund speaks with Edith. Lady Rosamund has something in mind for Edith and aks,  “Have you heard of a place called Hillcroft? It’s in Turperton. A college for women from modest backgrounds, but clever women with potential. I’m a trustee.”

Edith comments, “How interesting.”

Rosamund replies, “I knew you’d think so. So I’m going to suggest you as a trustee, too. Oddly enough, our treasurer lives up here. It’s one of the reasons I’ve come, so I can meet him while I’m at Downton. We’ll ask him over.
What’s his name? John Harding. I like the sound of him. Self-made, clever, successful and nearer your age than mine.”

At the dinner Mary realizes that the nephew is Henry Talbot.

Violet eyes Henry and sizes him up asking, “What sort of Talbot is he?”

Prudence replies, “Shrewsbury, but he’s nowhere near the earldom. About 40 strong men would have to drop dead.”

Violet is ever the optimist and replies, “Well, nothing is impossible. Without it, what are his prospects?”

Prudence replies, “Adequate, but not overwhelming.”

Robert admonishes the ladies, commenting, “Honestly, listen to yourselves.”

Violet replies, “Lady Shackleton is quite right. Mary needs more than a handsome smile and a hand on the gear stick.”

Robert quips, “I’m surprised you know what a gear stick is.”

Violet quickly adds, “I know more than you think. Really, Robert? You paint me as such a schemer.”

Robert replies, “No one has sharper eyes than a loving son.”

Violet replies with a subtle put-down, “You read that somewhere.”

Robert objects, “Why do you never think I can make anything up?”

Tom does envy that Henry racing at Brooklands. When Violet begins her campaign, Mary comments, “I won’t explain, since every village argument is the same.”

Henry exclaims, “Really? I’m not a village boy.My father was in Parliament so we lived in London.
Except for the summer and then we’d shelter with various hunting, shooting and fishing relations.”

Violet complains, “You’ve muddled your priorities!”

Edith replies, “I suppose cousin Isobel is entitled to put up an argument.”

Violet explains, “Of course she is, she’s just not entitled to win it.”

Downstairs, Daisy has been stewing, but mostly she has been punishing the potatoes. Daisy has been making out that taking over the Yew Tree Farm has been decided and that it was totally up to Cora. Yet Barrow informs Daisy that they are talking about farming it themselves. Remember, Mr. Molesley told her it was possible and from the look on Cora’s face at the wedding, it should have been plain. Mrs. Patmore comments, “You couldn’t be harder on those potatoes if you wanted them to confess to spying. I feel so let down. They’ve got Mr Mason’s hopes up, let him think he had a future, and now what?

Mrs. Patmore tries to get Daisy to see reason noting, “To be honest, Daisy, wasn’t it you that put his hopes up?”

“Only because I was sure that’s what she intended.  She’s led me on,” Daisy says of Cora.

Mrs. Patmore explains, “Maybe it just wasn’t possible.”

Daisy replies, “Not possible? Don’t give me ‘not possible.'”

Mrs. Patmore comments, “All right, Madame Defarge, calm down and finish that mash.” Madame Defarge is a fictional character in the Charles Dickens’ novel “A Tale of Two Cities.” She wanted revenge against the Evrémondes. In this case, it isn’t against crimes committed by the current generation (Charles Darnay, his wife Lucie Manette and their child), but for past crimes that resulted in the deaths of her nephew, sister and brother, brother-in-law and father. Charles Darnay and his parents gave away their lands to the peasants, but his uncle then became the Marquis St. Evrémonde.  Sidney Carton bears a striking resemblance to Darnay and it is British barrister Carton who because he loves Lucie dies in Carton’s place by the guillotine during the Reign of Terror. (“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”)

The arrival of Mr. Harding and his wife Gwen to discuss the college only makes Daisy angrier. Barrow, Anna and Tom recognize Gwen. Mary does as well, but when she asks, Gwen pretends not to have met Mary. She notices that Tom speaks with Gwen.

Gwen came to Downton in 1912.  She and Anna were roommates. Lady Sybil befriended her and helped her get a job. It was Tom who got the message about Gwen getting the job. He, Sybil and Gwen celebrated together. We hear about her again during Series/Season 4 when in 1922, the servants learn that she is to be married.

Isobel asks, “I want to hear Mrs Harding’s story”
Gwen says, “It was the telephone that changed everything for me, too. You see, I was a secretary before I was married for a telephone company back when everyone was getting connected at the start of the war.

Gwen’s husband John says, “Then she moved into local government and that’s where we met.”

Gwen continues, “But if I’d had more education, I might have gone further, if that doesn’t sound too vain.”

Isobel comments, “No. Many women from all backgrounds feel that. I know I did. I was a nurse, but why couldn’t I be a doctor?”

At the table, Rosamund says, “We have to find ladders to help them achieve their potential.

Gwen continues, “We can’t afford to waste working women  by not educating them.

Mary says,  “It’s lucky Carson isn’t here.”

Gwen’s husband asks, “Carson?”

Robert explains, “Our butler. He’s a traditionalist.”

Barrow interjects, “You recall Mr Carson, madam, surely?” and the room falls silent.

Cora asks, “What do you mean, Barrow?”

Barrow replies smugly, “Mrs Harding used to work here…She used to be a…”

Before he can finish, Gwen says,  “Thank you, Mr Barrow. I can tell it. I used to be a housemaid here for a couple of years before the war.”

Her husband is surprised, “Here? In this house?” He knew she had been a maid.

Mary exclaims, “I knew I’d seen your face.” Edith later apologizes that she didn’t recognize Gwen at all, even though Gwen had been at Downton for two years.

Robert comments, “Why didn’t you say?”

Gwen humbly comments,  “I don’t know. Well, I was going to.” We can’t be sure that is really true.

Mary asserts, “You had every opportunity.”

Isobel accentuates the positive, “So you found an opportunity and took it. Bravo.”

Gwen then explains,  “I didn’t find it. Lady Sybil found it.

Mary is surprised that her beloved sister kept secrets like this, saying,  “Sybil helped you?”

Gwen replies,  “Yes. She did everything. She looked out for the jobs, lent me clothes, drove me to the interviews.
One time I remember the horse went lame and we both got stuck in the mud. Oh, the talking we had to do when we got back!”

Cora recalls,  “I remember we were so worried, but she never said a thing about you.

Gwen continues,  “It was our secret pact and then one day she cornered the man who was installing the telephone here and  that’s how I got my first job in business.”
Robert remembers that day, saying,  “She wouldn’t let me enter the library while you met him. So that was you?”

Tom asks,  “Did you keep in contact?”

Gwen replies,  “Christmas cards and such. And then I heard the news. I’ll never forget her. Her kindness changed my life.”

Rosamund comments,  “What a lovely way to remember her.” And this is a lovely way for Downton Abbey to recall its first season.
Tom then adds, “She was a lovely person.”

Mary adds,  “Darling Sybil. Thank you, Barrow, for reminding us of Mrs. Harding’s time here.” As Gwen Dawson, Gwen appeared in Series/Season 1 Episodes 1-7.

Robert, however, isn’t fooled. When Gwen and the rest of the family go downstairs so that Gwen may meet with her old friends, he tells Barrow, “I’ve an idea that when you mentioned Mrs Harding’s connection with us you were trying to catch her out. I don’t like to see such things, Barrow. I don’t care for a lack of generosity. Do you understand me?”

Anna has been experiencing pains and Mary confides in Tom who drives her and Anna to York to catch the last train to London. Bates doesn’t understand the urgency, but he suspects Anna is hiding something. Mary has

Edith pities Tom because she believes it is just Mary “being dramatic.” Yet with Tom and Mary gone, Robert, Cora and Edith decide not to do what makes business sense, but what makes loyal sense: They will give Yew Tree Farm to Mr. Mason, mostly on Cora’s recommendation.

Downstairs Daisy has become increasingly angry, saying that “Her Ladyship has cheated Mr Mason of his farm and I’m going to have it out with her.” She adds, “Look at Gwen. She’s thrown off the yoke of service to make a good life.”

Yet the decision has been made and before Daisy can say something truly horrible to Cora, Robert tells her the good news. “Will you tell Mr Mason the news or should we?  He’s got the farm if he still wants it. Isn’t that why you’re here?” Daisy is too shocked to say much more, but Baxter smoothes things out and says, “What wonderful news.”

Daisy can only repeat, “Wonderful.”

In London, Anna gets an operation and the baby is saved. Mary lets her rest as they stay at Rosamund’s place. She takes time to meet with Henry Talbot. He takes her to the Royal Automobile Club. Mary asks Henry, “I hope this means you’re boiling up to make a pass before we’re done.” That somewhat shocks Henry, who replies, “Probably, but will you accept?”

Typical of Mary she says, “No, but I shall enjoy the process enormously.”

At the end of this episode, the Carsons return and a decision is made. Carson explains to Lord Grantham, “Well, now, m’lord, this is the thing: Won’t it be confusing if we’re to be called Carson and Mrs Carson? Rather as we resisted Anna being Mrs Bates, would it be very irregular if we continued to be Carson and Mrs Hughes?”

The fourth episode of the final season of “Downton Abbey” was broadcast on PBS Masterpiece on Jan. 24 and is available online on Masterpiece.

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