Downton Abbey, Episode 3.3
Directy by Andy Goddard
Written by Julian Fellows
This episode of Downton Abbey dealt with an onslaught of separations. The most obvious is the unfairly enforced, and getting tedious, divide between Anna and her imprisoned husband, Bates. Bates has made enemies in prison, and they have decided to withhold his mail, both ingoing and outgoing. His visits have similarly been suspended, and after weeks of silence, neither wife nor husband know exactly what to think. Both fear their respective spouse has given up on them. After Bates learns of the conspiracy against him and puts things right, the resulting scenes when the letters finally get delivered does make for a rewarding catharsis, but this dead horse of a storyline has been sufficiently beaten. It’s long past time to provide a real resolution to the Bates problem.
Bates isn’t the only character separated from his wife by legal difficulties this week. Branson reenters the picture, having absconded from his native Ireland without his expectant wife. It seems Branson involved himself with some revolutionaries who burned down the home of an Anglo-Irish family to protest English rule of their homeland. When the former chauffeur is implicated in the crime, he has no choice but to flee, knowing he’ll never receive a fair trial. Sybil remains behind to close up the flat and intends to follow later, which her father considers an egregious neglect of Tom’s responsibilities. Reluctantly Robert negotiates a deal for Tom to remain free, but the conditions require that he never return to Ireland again. So even though the Bransons reunite by the end of the episode, this Irish freedom fighter will likely never set eyes on his home again.
As if two separations weren’t enough heartbreak, the final one endured this week involves a mother and child. The Crawley’s former maid Ethel has fallen on tough times and turned to a career of prostitution to support herself and child. As luck would have it, cousin Isobel’s newest crusade aims to help the fallen women of England get back onto their feet. Isobel and Mrs. Hughes attempt to come to Ethel’s aid, but instead of accepting their help and the financial assistance her child’s grandparents offer her, Ethel is convinced the only hope for her little boy is to give him to his father’s parents to raise. Ethel has earned her reputation for bad decisions well over her tenure as a recurring character, and this latest sacrifice doesn’t necessarily signal a course correction but it does indicate a less selfish side to Ethel’s behavior.
Of course, this most recent chapter also offered its fair share of joyous and less ominous developments as well. Edith, who is fresh off her own estrangement from her intended, has an editorial letter published in a prominent newspaper. Not everyone in the family supports her journalistic endeavors, but there’s a glow of accomplishment on Edith’s face that won’t be so easily erased by the stuffy disapproval of her elders.
Also, Mrs. Hughes’ acquisition of an electric toaster sets Carson up for two delightful scenes and a handful of quips that insert some very welcomed comic relief into a mostly dour episode. Despite all the excitement at Downton this week—repentant prostitutes, prison politics, revolutionary crimes, etc.—it’s the quaint moments like two servants eloquently quibbling over something as simple as an electric toaster that make the show for me.
– Kenneth Broadway