Downton Abbey: El Contagion

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Downton Abbey S02E07 and S02E08: "Episode 7" and "Episode 8"

It was back to life as usual at Downton Abbey on Sunday, sort of, in a two-hour episode that began with a title card informing us the year is 1919. The convalescing soldiers had vacated the premises, but that doesn’t mean the spectre of death was no longer looming over the estate. On the contrary, the Spanish Flu was about to snip down a perfect flower in her prime. But before Lavinia could shuffle off to Whistleblower Heaven, a gasp-inducing moment: The supposedly paralyzed Matthew stood from his wheelchair to catch her in his arms after she tripped on a footstool while reaching for a tea tray. (That was actually the third-leading cause of death in 1919 England, believe it or not.) Yes, Dr. Clarkson had to admit he dozed through the parts of medical school that dealt with spinal cord injury, and when he found a second doctor’s opinion that Matthew’s injuries might be reversible, he did the logical thing and chose not to mention it.

Hooray! A celebration ensued, and Matthew, who spoke enthusiastically and often about the remarkable tinglings beneath his waist, chose to renew his and Lavinia's engagement, requesting to have the nuptials at Downton itself. Yay for Mary! (Not so much, really, as her betrothed Sir Richard has been upping the moustache-twirling villainy since his threatening makeout session of last week, going so far as to ask Anna if she would consider taking a job as her personal Mary-shadowing spy.) Robert of course said yes, Cora was aghast, and the Countess found the turn of events so reproachable, she cornered Matthew in his room to convince him to marry Mary. No go: Lavinia was willing to love him in paralysis; now she would get to love him in his full, limb-and-penis-functioning glory. What could possibly go wrong?

Anna, loyal Anna, went straight to Hughes and Carson with Richard’s offer to pay her to secretly report on Mary, and Carson, aghast at his Rupert Murdochian ways, told the couple he would never work for such a household. But there’s no accounting for haughty, scorned lady tastes, as Mary chose to turn on Carson and Anna, and pledged her undying love to Richard, sort of. (Actually, her words were something to the tune of, “Would I ever admit to loving a man who preferred someone else over me?” But that’s Mary’s version of a love sonnet.) So enjoy your evil, threatening, spy-hiring new husband, Mary. You two make a lovely couple.

And soon Downton met a houseguest even less welcome than deformed cousin Patrick: the dreaded Spanish Flu, which struck just about the entire household on the eve of the big wedding. Poor, poor Lavinia, sweating it out upstairs as Matthew, now capable of doing a fairly fluid box step, cozied up to Mary and kissed her. Lavinia, of course, saw it all, and whether or not that was what pushed her into the open arms of the Grim Reaper we shall never know. But dance with the Bony One she did, in a bed-ridden death scene even sadder than the passing of poor William. They’re dropping like flies around here! Spanish Flu flies!

Now, if I was Matthew at this moment, I’d be pretty happy. I’d have the use of my legs back, the use of other essential functions back, and the girl of my dreams in my arms, waiting to run off with me. But Matthew is what you might call a “good person,” and Lavinia’s passing crushed him. Mary was completely over it. “Richard! Get over here. Let’s do this,” she didn’t say, but essentially did.

Meanwhile, back in Ethelville, everyone’s least favorite extraneous Season 2 character was thrilled to learn that the parents of her deceased baby daddy were coming to Downton. Mrs. Hughes arranged for Ethel to bring her baby to the estate to meet its biological grandparents, and the meeting looked as though it might not happen. “Heeyyyyyll to the no!” Ethel didn’t scream, but essentially did, storming into the dining room with the little pooper under her arm and announcing, without so much as requesting a kind moment of their time, that she has birthed their bastard heir. It didn’t go so well at the time, but the couple later approached Mrs. Hughes to arrange for a baby-bartering deal: They’d take the kid off her hands, if she promised never to see him again. Ethel’s Choice. Ethel chose to keep the child.

Back to the little Agatha Christie mystery surrounding the death of Vera. At the top of the show, we learned that the official cause of death is being ruled a “suicide by arsenic.” (As if.) Bates—who you’d think would be a prime suspect by now except this isn’t Prime Suspect it’s Masterpiece Theater—admitted to Anna that he had bought some arsenic once. You know, to get rid of a bitchy ex-wife rat infestation. Later, a missive written by Vera shortly before her death said Bates’ behavior made her fear for her life. Anna began to suspect the man she loved of murder. God knows he had a good motive! And angel that she is, she insisted they marry immediately before anything more could be revealed. They did, and finally consummated their union in a room at Downton that conveniently had a heart-shaped bed in it and a mirrored ceiling. Was it worth the wait? I don’t know, Anna seemed a little underwhelmed by the valet’s footman, if you ask me, but no matter. Love is love, and not a moment too soon: Bates was carted off for the MURDER of VERA BATES. (He totally didn’t do it.)

Speaking of marriages, engagement Number 3 quietly happened in the horseless carriage stable. (Wait, it’s 1919. We can call it a car garage now, right?) Yes, Sybil accepted the handsome Branson’s proposal, and they too finally consummated things—but only with a kiss. Then both of them hijacked the family car and hightailed to to Scotland for a quickie elopement. “Something old, something blue, something haggis, something bagpipes.” Except they got only so far as a nearby inn before a sistervention stopped them in time. If Sybil and Branson were truly to wed, it would have to be announced officially, so that the Countess Dowager could clutch her hand to heart and then collapse, dead as a doornail. Tradition dictates. And while that didn’t actually happen, the news certainly wasn’t met with huzzahs and the popping sound of champagne corks. But Robert eventually came around, and gave Branson, who got a job as a journalist in Dublin, his blessing, though with a strong caveat that he would back over him with the Rolls should he ever break Sybil’s heart.

And what of Thomas? Poor Thomas. None of his evil plans seem to be panning out this season. So much for his plot to sell black market groceries during the post-war food shortage. Except his stuff was “bunk,” as they say on the street. It’s like when you buy cocaine and get flour instead, except this was Mrs. Patmore buying what she’d hoped was flour and getting plaster! Humbled and penniless, Thomas begged Carson for his job back. Sweet comeuppance! Savor it, Mr. Carson. You can’t put a price on something like that.

Best Lines:

Violet: “I’ll stick to the chaise longue.”

Violet: “Wasn’t there a masked ball in Paris when cholera broke out? Half the guests were dead before they left the ballroom.”

Violet: “Don’t be defeatist dear, it’s very middle class.”


– What did you think of the episode? Is Downton back on track after last week’s soapy episode?

– Are you rooting for Sybil and Branson, or do you find him not good enough for the perfect baby daughter?

– What do you make of the case against Bates? Who do you think committed the crime?

– Mary and her father both had moments of unexpected villainy this episode, what with her cruelly turning on Anna and his shameless come-ons to Jane. What do you think of those turns of events?

– Are you relieved sweet Lavinia is finally out of the picture, so we can see Mary and Matthew get their kiss on under the mistletoe in the upcoming Christmas episode?

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