Every week for the fifth season of PBS's period drama Downton Abbey, Sophie Gilbert, Katie Kilkenny, and Joe Reid will discuss the intrigues, upstairs and downstairs, of public television's favorite Yorkshire manor.
Gilbert: A slow clap for Shrimpy, please. And, though it burns me to say it, for Lord Grantham, because even a stopped clock is right twice a day, as the Dowager Countess might say. The penultimate episode of Downton’s fifth season saw the (second) most pompous man in Yorkshire finally peel off some of his prickly aristocratic armor and do a very kind deed for Mrs. Patmore, honoring the cook’s nephew with a specially designed memorial stone in the village. He also finally twigged that Marigold bears an uncanny resemblance to someone—not Edith, his own child, who, as we know will be ignored until the world stops turning, but Michael Gregson. All it took was Cora to gently confirm his suspicions, and suddenly the Crawleys have a new grandchild to fuss over, or a replacement for Sybbie, anyway, since Tom seems hell bent on moving to Boston. I hope he has snow shoes.
There was an awful lot to unpack in this episode, which once again blended moments of comedy and tragedy with the kind of surging string crescendos normally reserved for Nicholas Sparks movies. Those who predicted Lord Sinderby would be enshrined as the season’s villain before the wedding was out were disappointed—the true snake in the Aldridge grass turned out to be Susan, Rose’s mother, who paid a “tart” (as Mary put it) to pose as a prostitute in Atticus’s hotel room, allowing a photographer to capture the moment and send the (misleading) evidence to Rose. Downton loves nothing more than a person doing malevolent deeds for no good reason, from Thomas (more on him later) to O’Brien to the first Mrs. Bates to Edna the saucy housemaid. Is England really so full of sociopaths? I understand that the show needs drama, but it does get exhausting watching villains try to ruin everything all the time, and there’ve been Disney baddies who’ve had more psychological clarity and motivation than the poisonous Susan.