Old traditions die hard in this episode as the inhabitants of Downton Abbey prepare for the Annual Downton Village Flower Show. Countess Violet always wins the Grantham Cup for the “Best Bloom in the Village”, but Isobel Crawley questions whether the Dowager Countess wins first prize out of merit, or simply out of old English tradition.
While Isobel Crawley and Countess Violet continue to butt heads, Lord and Lady Grantham worry if Lady Mary is also breaking tradition by not entering the institution of marriage. Lady Mary has denied all of her suitors, and she is becoming something of a lost cause to the other members of her family. What is worse, Lord Grantham has received word that there are rumors around London that Lady Mary is unsuitable for marriage. To put these rumors to rest, Lord and Lady Grantham decide to invite yet another potential suitor to Downton for dinner. But Lady Mary is tired of being setup with potential suitors. To her own surprise, she is becoming more and more attracted to Matthew Crawley. However, she has denied Mr. Crawley once, and it is unknown whether he will give her a second chance.
The arrival of Sir Anthony Strallen, Lady Mary’s potential suitor, brings further chaos to the sisters of Downton. Mary finds her potential suitor boring, but her sister Edith finds him genuinely interesting. The two sisters quarrel over the attention of Mr. Strallen after dinner, and begin to place a bet as to which sister can effectively capture his attention. While the two sisters fight over Mr. Strallen, Matthew Crawley is left alone, and he soon realizes that he is not really wanted by any of the Downton sisters. Thus, it is in this portion of the episode, that we learn that Lady Edith’s and Lady Mary’s rivalry may have greater implications.
My favorite illustration that best explains the sisterly rivalry between Lady Mary and Lady Edith occurs in the beginning of the episode when Mrs. Grantham is reflecting on the difficulty of raising three young women. She starts to compare bringing up three young daughters to the literary classic Little Women, but instead notices that “they are at each other’s throats from dawn until dusk”.
The rivalry between Lady Mary and Lady Edith therefore becomes central to the theme of the episode, as their distaste for one another carries on through the Annual Downton Village Flower Show. Lady Mary finds that she can no longer capture the attention of Matthew Crawley, and she uses her frustration to insult Lady Edith about her clothing. Lady Edith takes Lady Mary’s cruel words to heart, and begins to plan revenge. Though the competition between the two sisters seems immature and ugly, it reminds me of the sibling rivalry I share with my two younger brothers. Though we may not fight over potential suitors, we definitely compete for the attention of our parents.
But the quarrel between Lady Edith and Lady Mary is not the only surprising development in this episode. After waiting several episodes to determine the true nature of the relationship between Anna and Mr. Bates, Anna finally tells Mr. Bates she is in love with him! I never thought that their relationship would amount to anything, but it was a great distraction from all of the fighting going on between Lady Mary and Lady Edith.
The final surprise in this episode occurs when Countess Violet engages in an unlikely change of heart. When the Dowager Countess realizes that she is always given first prize at the Annual Flower Show out of tradition instead of merit, she decides to award the Grantham Cup to Bill Molesley, a lonely gardener who lives in Downton village. Perhaps this means that the Dowager Countess will not be so cold in future episodes to come.