There never seems to be a dull moment at Downton Abbey. The horrors of World War I have finally hit the Downton household, and both the servants and the Crawley’s are doing their best to keep the estate running.
Thomas has conveniently returned from war, but he does not waste any time establishing his new role in the Downton Village. William, on the other hand, has announced that he will be leaving his responsibilities at Downton to fight in the war. All of these unexpected changes greatly affect Lord Grantham, as he begins to see his role in the war as nothing more than “cutting ribbons and making speeches”. Though Lord Grantham’s role in the Great War is clearly symbolic, the women in the house are doing more than their fair share to aid in the war effort.
Lady Sybil has completed her training as a nurse, but she can no longer go back to her life before the war. Now that she finally feels useful, she no longer has the same appreciation for the aristocratic rules and beliefs that govern everyday life at Downton. Lady Edith has also found her calling, as she has decided to help out on the Drake’s farm. Though she is not exactly helping with heavy labor, she is using her new-found driving ability to help out with the tractor on the local farm. Unfortunately, Lady Edith’s time on the farm is cut short when she has a brief affair with Mr. Drake. In my opinion, Edith’s termination is rather confusing because I do not understand whether Mr. Drake was married to Mrs. Drake, or if he was actually her brother. Either way, the termination of Lady Edith’s job further illustrates the bitter division between the upper and lower classes during the war.
But Lady Mary is still the only daughter without an occupation. To be honest, I’m not sure if she is lazy, or if she is just remaining true to aristocratic tradition. Although she has finally realized her feelings for Matthew, she has decided to pursue Sir Richard Carlisle. Mr. Carlisle owns a few newspapers in London, and although he is extremely rich, he has no personality. The lack of chemistry between Lady Mary and Mr. Carlisle is painfully evident when Matthew Crawley enters the equation. Though Matthew is engaged to Miss Swire, it seems as if Lady Mary still thinks she has a chance. But Sir Carlisle’s arrival also provides a startling twist when Carson collapses on the floor during dinner. Even though Carson did not have a heart attack, he is not healthy enough to continue his duties in the dining room. However, Carson’s collapse provides an ideal situation for Mary to speak with him in private. Carson is one of Mary’s most beloved servants, and she uses this opportunity to receive some advice on one of her most private desires-Matthew. After speaking with Carson, Lady Mary realizes that she must tell Matthew how she feels. If he marries Levinia, or dies while he is away at war, she will always regret it.
Yet Lady Mary is not the only character who is experiencing regret. Although Thomas is back in Downton, he begins to regret his ridiculous act of cowardess when he befriends Junior Officer Courtney who is suffering from gas blindness. He visits the hospital to tell young Courtney to have faith, and teaches him to walk, but Courtney commits suicide with a razor blade when he finds out he will be transferred from the hospital. This horrific act not only changes Thomas’ outlook on life, but it also spurs the idea that the Downton estate should become a hospital for recovering soldiers. Though the Dowager Countess is not thrilled with this charitable suggestion, Lady Sybil is certain she can sway her parents opinion.
While the Crawley family is deciding whether to transform part of the estate into a hospital for recovering soldiers, Lady Mary decides she must talk to Matthew about her feelings. However, when she wanders into the garden to speak to Matthew, she is interrupted by a crying Levinia Swire. Matthew’s fiancé confesses to Lady Mary that she would be lost without him and that she fears he will never come back after the war. But Matthew interrupts their conversation, and Lady Mary attempts to express her romantic feelings...but fails.
Towards the end of the episode, Mary’s frigid politeness results in a proposal from Sir Richard Carlisle. He clearly does not have any room in his life for romance, but he does believe in the power of a strategic marriage. For once, Mary must decide whether she marries for love, or for the sake of lifelong wealth.
Overall, this episode opened up a great deal of questions surrounding the future of the Grantham estate. Since Matthew is engaged to Levinia Swire, perhaps Lady Mary will accept Sir Richard Carlisle’s proposal and leave Downton to start her own family. But it seems as if Mary might find the courage to tell Matthew her true feelings...or at least by the end of the season! While I’m still keeping my fingers crossed, there is also some sort of secret between Miss Swire and Sir Richard Carlisle that is left to be revealed. Whatever the outcome, the acting in this episode left me hanging on the edge of my seat! Once again, the effortless delivery of Maggie Smith’s quick-witted comments was brilliant! I can’t wait for the next episode!