We started off with a shady figure leaving some goodbye notes before stealing out like a thief in the night. As dawn broke, so did the news – Miss O’Brien had only gone and unexpectedly quit! For a good five minutes almost every character uttered a variation on the theme of, “How could she? Without any notice? What shocking behaviour!” Was this Julian Fellowes’ way of taking a pop at departing actress Siobhan Finneran?
With O’Brien’s departure, there were several vacancies – Lady Grantham was obviously in need of a lady’s maid – unthinkable that she could dress herself! Thomas was in need of a partner in crime (though there had been a rift between him and O’Brien in the last series). And Downton was lacking a single female character who smokes. I’m expecting Lady Edith to leap into this latter breach, as she’s quite getting to grips with the roaring twenties down there in London with her married boyfriend, the fast thing.
The other keenly felt absence was that of Matthew Crawley, and Lady Mary was not herself at all for most of the episode. Her grief took the form of wearing nothing but black, giving her trademark terrifying eyebrows a complete rest, and ascending and descending the stairs uttering doom-laden sentences like our beloved Lady Mary had been replaced by a Mary-Bot 2000 (Bereavement Model).
Tom, Anna, Carson and her wonderful grandmother all tried to gee her up a bit, but her father Lord Grantham, whose attitude to women is all paternalistic Victorianism, thought she needed to be left alone to grieve for as long as it took.
Meanwhile, he would look after the estate on behalf of Matthew’s son and heir, Little George. Practicality, and belief in Matthew’s more progressive land-owning ideas, prompted Mary finally to put away her widow’s weeds, put on something a bit more colourful and get back to business. And the eyebrows suddenly rediscovered their ironic powers.
Meanwhile, Lady Edith’s married beau has discovered that if he becomes a German citizen he can legally divorce his mentally ill wife and marry Edith, who has taken to wearing rather flamboyant headscarves and is looking rather less dowdy than she used to now she’s mingling with the metropolitan literati. He could also have become a Portuguese citizen to achieve the same results, so I’m hoping the choice of Germany doesn’t mean that Lady Edith is going to go all Unity Mitford on us.
Back at Downton, Thomas wasn’t pleased about being treated as a mere servant by the children’s nanny, and we know by now that you don’t get on the wrong side of Thomas. He decided to make trouble for her by telling Lady Grantham that she was mistreating the children – and would you credit it, but he was actually right! She was nice as pie with the son and heir George, but her attitude to half Sybil/half chauffeur Little Sybie was not so generous. Thanks to Thomas’s tip-off, Lady Grantham was lurking and witnessed her nasty behaviour. Nanny received her marching orders and Thomas earned the gratitude of Lady G. I’m sure he wouldn’t dream of using that to his advantage.