Downton Abbey

'Downton Abbey' doesn't love all its daughters equally

Jan. 14, 2013 at 12:31 AM ET

Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham) prepares to give away daughter Edith (Laura Carmichael) at her short-lived wedding.

Warning: Lots of spoilers for Sunday night's "Downton Abbey" follow, and it's a good one, so don't read if you're saving it to watch later.

"Downton Abbey" does not love all its daughters equally. Lady Mary, the eldest, someday to be Countess of Grantham and inherit the estate though husband Matthew, is the golden girl. Even Carson's eyes welled up in the season premiere when he saw her in her wedding gown. 

Youngest girl Sybil, in the style of youngest children everywhere, is accepted even when the path she takes (running off with the family's Irish chauffeur) is one that would have been unimaginable for Mary.

And what of middle daughter Edith, she of the now-viral "Edith With Googly Eyes" Tumblr? Ohhhh, Edith. It's not an easy road for you, is it? Sure, no one's fond of Sybil marrying a past employee, but they seem even less fond of you demanding a relationship with Sir Anthony Strallan, he of the advanced age and disabled arm.

Even though Edith hasn't always behaved well (that letter to the Turkish Embassy!), who could resist longing for her to be happy despite family opinion? Her father already tried to talk the groom out of marrying her and her grandmother thinks she's beginning a life as "an old man's drudge." But Edith is thrilled by the fuss around her wedding, marveling, "Something happening in this house is actually about me!"

Edith looks stunning in sleek Grecian gown 

Yeah, for about five minutes. Until she's jilted at the altar, for no real clear reason except that Sir Anthony obviously took to heart Robert's refusal to accept him. And you've got to love Cora here. "You are being tested," she tells her devastated daughter. "Being tested only makes you stronger." Edith doesn't buy that, but really, what is there to say? We wish she could just hand Thomas a crossbow and send him out after Sir Anthony. You just know that, in olden times, men who dumped the daughter of an earl would have been treated worse.

Edith's devastating jilting was far and away the most hypnotizing plot of this episode, but not the only one. Poor Mrs. Hughes had to worry about whether she had breast cancer right up till the last minute. (The tumor was benign, or so Mrs. Patmore told Mr. Carson, sending him off on a singing spree so unlike him that we have to wonder if a Carson-Mrs. Hughes romance is in the air.) And kudos to Cora for telling Mrs. Hughes that "I don't want you to have any concerns about where you go or who will look after you, because the answers are 'here,' and 'we will.'" 

The feud between onetime conspirators Thomas and O'Brien heated up, with poor Moseley getting fed false information that O'Brien was quitting and unintentionally spilling it to the family. This led to one of the best exchanges of the night, when Lord Grantham said he would "watch (O'Brien's) departure with mixed emotions" and Mary snarked, "Mine are fairly unmixed."

Perhaps the most inevitable plot of the episode was whether Matthew would accept the money left him by Lavinia's father and save Downton from Robert's poor financial decision. We know they can't lose the house -- it's the bloody title of the show! -- but had to play out the endless rehashing. Blah blah blah receive huge fortune and give it away blah blah blah Mary's furious blah blah blah Daisy saves the day by admitting she mailed Lavinia's letter blah blah.

Best tidbit of that whole storyline: Matthew actually suggests that Mary might go as far as to forge a letter to save her family's estate, which ... NOT A BAD IDEA. But she didn't, of course. Downton is saved! May we all be so lucky to have another giant fortune drop in our laps with no strings attached when we gamble away the first one on a bad investment.  And Downton Place, the home the family considered moving to, is no shack, either. Eight servants, tops. Very economical!

Don't mess with Bates. He may have spent a lot of time among the cultured and wealthy but he can sure handle himself in prison.

In Bates' jail subplot, Anna's dogged detective work helps her find Vera Bates' best friend, who calls Anna a "trollop" and then for no apparent reason decides to give her information about Vera's final day. And Bates proves once again that he's a man who can handle himself in prison. Discovering that his cellmate Craig is trying to set him up, he finds the contraband hidden in his bunk in time to hide it in the wall. (What was that contraband? Drugs? A tiny shiv wrapped in a bamboo placemat?)

Matthew's mother, Isobel, is working with England's fallen women, and sure enough, one of them is former maid Ethel, the single mom. She's seeking help, but not for herself, so one can only assume it's for her young son. Those who've seen "Les Mis": Ethel is no Fantine, but life has still killed the dream she dreamed.

And finally, Alfred, O'Brien's nephew, may not be the best at fixing tailcoats, but he said what the entire household was thinking at the servant's table, dissing Sir Anthony for leaving Edith at the altar. "She could do much better than that broken-down old crock," he announces.

Carson tries to reprimand him, saying Sir Anthony does not deserve to be addressed in such a manner, but it's Mrs. Hughes who gets it right when she says, "Oh, I think he does, Mr. Carson. Every bit of that and worse."

Best Dowager Countess quotes:

  • "At my age, one must ration one's excitement." --To Edith, who can't wait to wed.
  • "Aren't you a wild thing?"  --To Isobel, who risks life and limb by sitting in the front of a motorcar.
  • "But I want the pleasure of saying 'I told you so.'" --To Robert, moaning about Edith's choice of groom.
  • "If the poor don't want it, you can bring it over to me." --Upon learning the wedding food will be donated.
  • "He looks as if he's waiting for a beating from the headmaster." --Upon seeing Sir Anthony's tortured look at the altar.

References we had to look up:

  • When discussing Edith's wedding-night lingerie (!), the Dowager Countess says she'd pay for a Patou, but Cora responds that "Lucile was safer" because she doesn't want her looking like a chorus girl. Lucile is a British lingerie brand founded by a "Titanic" survivor, and the mention on the U.K. "Downton" broadcast reportedly helped boost sales. (Jean Patou was a racier designer who also created Nancy Reagan's favorite perfume, the pricey Joy.)
  • What's that song Carson is singing when he finds out Mrs. Hughes doesn't have cancer? It's "Dashing Away With the Smoothing Iron," a 19th century British folk song about a man who loves a woman who's doing household chores. FORESHADOWING?
  • Just how bad would breast cancer have been for Mrs. Hughes considering the state of medicine in 1920? Our health writer, Diane Mapes, investigated.

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