Downton Abbey: Oh, well played!

(Series 3, ep.8)  The annual House v Village cricket match was a hot topic in the final episode of the series, and who was chosen – or agreed – to play was a key indicator of who was in and who was out.

For most of the episode it looked like Thomas would be very much out. Out of Downton altogether, that is, and possibly even out of the country (India and America were mentioned at various points). But not out of the closet, because as far as most of the members of the household were concerned he was never in. This didn’t stop O’Brien from being able to whip young Jimmy into a frenzy of homophobic fury, leading him to demand that Thomas was let go without any references, otherwise he, Young Jimmy, would go to the police and tell them exactly what kind of man he was.

It was interesting that most of the other members of the household were fairly cool about Thomas’s sexuality. Even Lord Grantham, hardly a beacon of liberal thinking, was pretty comfortable with it, having spent his years at Eton apparently besieged by boys wanting to kiss him. I admit I spent the rest of the episode trying to imagine that and failing, but never mind. It was a testament to Rob James-Collier’s acting that Thomas finally became a sympathetic character – partly because we hopefully now live in more enlightened times, but largely because when things aren’t going Thomas’s way is when he shows his humanity and a grace that he lacks when he’s feeling smug and superior.  

An unlikely champion emerged in the form of Mr Bates, the man with no first name (I know it’s John, but even his wife calls him “Mr Bates”), who applied pressure on O’Brien to apply pressure on Jimmy, by uttering the magic words, “Her Ladyship’s soap.” So it looks as though Thomas will be staying, which was just as well because he’s pretty useful at cricket.

Cricket also symbolised Tom’s decision to accept life at Downton. Not only did he join the cricket team, but he’s going to continue living there with Baby Sybil. Will Baby Sybil have a little cousin to play with as she grows up? Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley spent the episode privately fretting about their fertility issues and ended up bumping into each other at the same private clinic. Poor Matthew had been worrying that his temporary paralysis might have permanently affected his Manly Prowess, but it turned out that Lady Mary had had a little operation to sort her tubes out a couple of weeks ago and there’s no reason why they won’t have a little crawling Crawley very soon. In fact, I’m expecting an announcement in the Christmas episode.

A flighty young cousin we haven’t heard about before was parachuted in to cause a minor scandal when she was found to be having an affair with a married man. This foreshadowed a bit of a dilemma for unlucky-in-love Lady Edith, who discovered that her latest admirer, her editor at the newspaper she writes for, was already married. His wife is technically a “lunatic” and lives in an asylum, but he’s not legally able to divorce her. This will be just one more thing for Lord Grantham to get shouty and sulky (he’s a terrible sulker) about in the next series.

The best line of the episode came, as usual, from the Dowager. In answer to speculation that the only contact she’d had with her children when they were small was to spend an hour with them after tea when they were all spruced up and starched, she gave one of her trademark withering looks. “Yes,” she agreed, “But it was every day.”

Oh, I’m going to miss Downton.

Posted by PLA     (other Downton-related blog posts here)


Filed under Downton Abbey

11 responses to “Downton Abbey: Oh, well played!

  1. Martin Rosen

    “Lady Mary had had a little operation to sort her tubes out a couple of weeks ago”
    How did you know that? She said she couldn’t even discuss it with her husband what the operation was !

    • pauseliveaction

      You forget I have a degree in televisual medicine from Holby University. Presumably it was something gynaecological, anyway.

      • They didn’t have laparoscopic surgery back then, so it wasn’t a tubal problem or Mary would have been cut from side to side! Her “little surgery” likely had more to do with her hymen or the opening to her cervix.

  2. inkface

    Bit of a silly episode this one, albeit with some cracking lines. Liked the jazz club scene, it was amusing, but the parachuted-flighty-cousin story was lifted straight out of PG Wodehouse.

    And can someone explain why Edith (and Thomas for that matter) are never allowed someone hot to canoodle with?

  3. remotecontrolled (kopitron)

    I was a little surprised that over the last few weeks prostitution was contagious but in 1920s manor house, everybody had apparently deduced their valet was gay, happily accepted it for years despite everyone disliking him and weren’t throwing him to the wolves in a fit of hysteria when he pounced on one of the footmen. Especially as last week Ivy got an ear bashing for wearing rouge. I guess Ivy is just no good at cricket. I’m glad though – I like Downton tolerance as it stops you from disliking characters but I do hope it was vaguely in line with changing attitudes of the time rather than a crow-barred in plot device. You know, because the rest of Downton is so realistic. I put up with the randomness of the cousin storyline purely because of how Good ole Dowager managed to sweep the rug out from 3 characters in one fell swoop. Beautiful bit of play there 😀

    Overall though I have loved this series. Encore!

  4. HolbyNut

    The Edith / married man storyline was just a bare-faced steal from Jane Eyre, no? Next we’ll find out the editor’s surname is actually Rochester!

    • Bluebird

      I immediately thought Jane Eyre too but the initial story is so Pride and Prejudice. There are only daughters and no male heir except a distant cousin, Matthew. Matthew turns out to be Mr. Collins and Mr. Darcy. Mary overhears Matthew insulting the daughters which leads to a bad meeting between Mary and Matthew. Matthew is quite taken with Mary despite her being so challenging. The writer’s last name might as well be Austen.

  5. Whatanutta (Nut farmer!)

    As a medical practitioner (GP), I’m still perplexed about what that little operation was that fixed Lady Mary’s fertility. I don’t think that tubal surgery was that flash in the 1920s. So what was the little fix? Any gynae opinions our there?

    • Jubilee

      Not a Gyn, but as a psychiatrist, I deduce that she had a hymenectomy or hymenotomy. Not an intrusive procedure, but would still require a period of abstinence for recovery, and would explain why Matthew thought he had a performance problem likely due to difficulty penetrating.

      • Thank you for this. This “little operation” has perplexed me for weeks. My own mother had to have a hymenectomy so it makes sense. Funny, though, that Matthew didn’t figure this out on his own. How inexperienced people were about their own bodies back then.

  6. Roz

    Lady Mary underwent artificial insemination to conceive a baby, you can take that to the bank. It is the perfect scandal set up for the next season. In those days, there weren’t a lot of reproductive technologies that could help infertile couples. Typically the woman would be blamed for being barren, but in the many cases where it was the man’s problem due to impotence or sperm issues, artificial insemination would be the solution. The doctor treating Mary at the reproductive clinic would know this and may have inseminated her with or without her knowledge. It may even have been the doctor’s sperm and not that of an anonymous donor.

    This makes perfect sense. How else would the doctor be so sure about the success of the procedure? And also, what are the odds that Lady Mary would suddenly be diagnosed with a specific cause to her infertility and have it corrected so easily with absolutely no down time? She was ship shape even after leaving the clinic following her “little operation”.

    In those days, way before paternity testing, the only thing that would have mattered was helping patients to get the baby, or heir, they desired. Artificial insemination by an anonymous donor was probably an easy, hush hush solution for childless couples where the man was the source of the infertility. In this case, Matthew wasn’t impotent, so of course he would assume that he was the father. His masculinity would be reaffirmed and Downton would have an heir. The real question to be asked is: does Lady Mary know the truth or does she really think she underwent a “little operation” as she said?

    The stage has been set for a massive scandal in the upcoming season when the truth leaks out that Mary’s baby is not a legitimate heir. Scandal city! There’s little hope that the personnel at the reproductive health clinic will understand the importance of patient confidentiality. Stay tuned…

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