Downton Abbey – Episode 3-8 Review – “Her Ladyship’s Soap”
by Jill Mader on November 9, 2012

Only eight episodes, and it’s all over. OK, not really, there’ll be a Christmas special. And you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll be having a Christmas cookie-swap viewing party with my ladyfriends for that. (I’m reading that it doesn’t air until actual Christmas, though. I was really hoping it would be more like early December.)

A lot has happened in this season, and the final episode was packed with drama, suspense, gossip and manipulations. It was a delicious end to what’s been an excellent season for the show.

Here’s your requisite spoiler alert – please only click through if you’ve seen the episode which most recently aired in Britain! Otherwise, I’ll see you in 2013.

 

Everyone in cream for the cricket match! Gorgeous.

There were a lot of different threads in this episode, so let’s break them down.

Edith

I’ve just loved Edith this season. The war made her kinder, and the one-two punch of being left at the alter and Sybil’s death made her stronger and more interesting. She no longer takes on the role of the victim, pitying herself as she lives in Mary’s shadow. I love the flirtation between Edith and her editor, and the reveal that he’s married to a woman in an insane asylum makes that even more interesting. It’s 1920, so he can’t get divorced and she won’t get well. It’s possible Edith could take up with a married man, which would be a very modern thing to do – and the thing she chastised her young cousin for.

Yes, cousin Rose. Her presence in this episode distracted from the main storylines a bit, but I liked the drama enough to feel OK with that. Her misbehavior gave Matthew a chance to be stern and fatherly, and gave the Dowager Countess an opportunity to be devious and manipulative. It was perfect. Plus, as much as I know it’s improper to be carrying on with a married man (especially when you’re nobility), the flapper clothes are just to die for and the jazz bar looked like loads of fun. Those clothes are literally the only thing I miss about Boardwalk Empire.

Mary

Meanwhile, Mary’s storyline reminded me of the less glamorous aspects of 1920. To think, a woman would have a surgery and not tell her husband. We still need to make a lot of progress in women’s health as a society, but I’m glad things don’t work like that anymore.

The good news is, it looks like Mary and Matthew should be producing an heir within months. Do you think they will? I still think it may be more interesting if Baby Sybil is the only heir, particularly since it looks like the estate may be able to self-sustain under Matthew and Tom’s new plan.

The Estate

I liked that Tom, instead of Matthew, was able to persuade Robert to take a more active, supportive role in revitalizing Downton. Matthew was not an ideal choice for heir, but the Irish chauffeur was even less welcome in their lives. It’s unexpected that Tom would be the one eloquent and sensitive enough to connect with Robert – I’m glad the show didn’t go a predictable route, with Tom running back to Ireland or bringing shame upon the family in some way. I hope Tom and Matthew’s plan to have Downton make enough money to survive works.

Downstairs

A big storyline in this episode was Thomas, and the ups and downs and gossip and manipulations of that plot were some of the best I think the show has done. It’s that soapy scandal that makes us love the show.

Carson was going to allow Thomas a good reference – I’m glad, because as traditional a man as Carson is, he needs that sensitive side. But O’Brien interfered and convinced Jimmy to demand that Thomas be given no reference – otherwise, she told him, people would think he’d enjoyed Thomas’s advances.

I liked that Bates was the one to come to Thomas’s aid, because it showed that prison had changed him and added a little value to what was one of the drearier storylines this season. And, of course, the fact that it all came back to the sickening incident with the soap was just perfect. I didn’t need to hear what Bates said to O’Brien to know what it was, and it was well played. Bates and Anna don’t know what the threat meant, and O’Brien was completely, visibly shaken by it.

Leave it to Robert to mess everything up, though. Whether it was out of pity or the desire to win a cricket match, he decided to keep Thomas on. Even after Alfred, doing what he considers the moral thing, called the police on Thomas. Bates and Alfred are worse for the wear, since Thomas’s new job title, “Under-Butler”, might give him rank over Bates, and because Robert promoted Jimmy to first footman to appease his discomfort with Thomas staying on. Slimy old Thomas, he always comes out on top. I might have pitied him this week, but I know those feelings won’t last. I’m glad he’s not going though, he’s too good a villain for the show to lose.

The one thing I think Downton didn’t do well is really explain why O’Brien had such a beef with Thomas. She went too far in trying to ruin his life for it to simply be about Alfred getting a promotion. I feel like I need to go back and watch all the previous episodes to pinpoint when their relationship changed. I still think it was the soap – Thomas was the one who lied and convinced O’Brien that Cora was going to replace her, inspiring her to move the soap.

Stray thoughts:

  • The cricket match was a great background for the episode, especially how poor Mosley kept practicing only to completely choke when it was his turn.
  • Ethel’s storyline concluded on a happy note both in that her situation greatly improved, and that it was a much better story than I expected.
  • Carson telling Mrs. Hughes about Thomas, which she of course already knew, was a highlight.
  • The fashions in this episode were outstanding, so I’ve included some highlights below.
Rose’s flapper style was a breath of fresh air, even if stuffy old Matthew described the jazz club as “Dante’s outer circle of hell.”
Love the comb, hate the coat, love her with a baby.
This era is kind to Edith, I don’t think she’s ever looked better.



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