A friend of mine seems surprised that so many people like Downton Abbey. Why do so many people love a show where nothing happens, she asks. Define nothing. A country estate of lords and ladies, away from the big bad world we only hear about – post-war 1924. In that context, I am not always sure what exactly people expect.
Episode two of the fifth season opens in Edith’s bedroom where Anna and Mrs. Hughes make a small discovery while making the bed. The damage from last week’s fire appears to be minimal, and things go back to normal. Robert, the Earl of Grantham, and Mr. Carson now differ in opinion on whether or not the World War I memorial ought to be built on the cricket pitch.
Richard E Grant turns up as Mr. Bricker to view a painting. He flirts with Cora, which goes unnoticed by Grantham. The Earl instead quips, “People think we are some sort of hotel that never presents a bill.” Cora retorts that he has already made that joke, and his grouchy sarcasm falls on deaf ears. Bricker also happens to be acquaintance of Mary’s second choice suitor Blake. The world of Downton Abbey continues to feel like a very small world.
In preparation to her secret rendezvous with Gillingham, Mary kindly requests that Anna pop to the shop for certain preventive items “so there aren’t any consequences.” It sure was lucky that Mary had a book that tells Anna everything she needs to know.
Meanwhile downstairs, James bids a sentimental farewell to Thomas and is candid about their friendship. Is that the last we see of James? Afterwards, Thomas is still being smugly hostile (especially to Miss Baxter, who is awaiting Cora’s decision about her role at Downton). Daisy remarks “Why do you have to make things sound nasty all the time?” – an excellent question and one we, the audience, consider as well. Daisy proves smarter than she gives herself credit, accentuated by Mrs Patmore’s request of Rose for Miss Bunting to tutor Daisy. The final sequence has the arrival of the police Sergeant on pressing business regarding certain events in London.
Elsewhere, at Lord Merton’s residence, Violet and Isobel again provide some of the back and forth humor – there is likely going to be a juicier subplot emerging there. Farmer Drewe is far from subtle in suggesting Edith act as a kind of godmother to the child. Unsurprisingly his wife is displeased.
Rose shows an interest in attaining a wireless, Robert, of course, is all “No. No.” and “That it will not last.” Didn’t he say that about the telephone? I look forward to the Christmas episode where he will no doubt be playing The Grinch. He caves in eventually, partly influenced by a public address broadcast by King George V (the king played by Michael Gambon, not Colin Firth, in a certain Oscar-winning film but voiced here by Jon Glover) to which the entire ensemble listens. It’s a nice moment, making for a perfect setting with the upstairs and the downstairs uniting for a moment of peace away from slow-burning tension and intrigue.
So to say nothing happens in Downton Abbey is not strictly accurate. It is a fine show, steadily paced, but perhaps an acquired taste. There appear to be plenty of secrets simmering on the surface, and for the sake of audience attention, it might just be a question of how soon it will be before the secrets boil over.