The second 90 minutes of Downton Abbey did not disappoint. Blackmail, seduction, Grand Dame power plays, a mysterious death, and WHOA NELLY – a scandalous machine – keep everyone at Downton Abbey in a dither last night.
A Mysterious Stranger from Carson’s past approaches him and blackmails him for a place to stay, food and cash. He provides the place to stay and the food, but won’t hand over any cash, because he realizes he’ll just be saddled with the blackmailing leech forever and his shocking secret may come out. May I just say that Carson is a TERRIBLE criminal? He is seen going into the local pub to meet his blackmailer, he steals food from the kitchen right in front of Anna, and then frets and worries that she’s told on him. When the Mysterious Stranger shows up at the house he winds up spilling the dire secret – back in the day, before he took up buttling, Carson was on the music hall stage as part of the Cheerful Charlies act - he sang, he did a little soft shoe and what, told jokes?. In his deep shame, he offers his resignation to Daddy Earl, in front of Bates, Anna, and Daughter #3 (that would be the least bitchy one, Sybil. Actually, she’s not bitchy at all, more on that later.) Daddy Earl tells Carson to simmer down, now, and sends the blackmailer away with 20 pounds and a flea in his ear.
Bates, the Most Excellent Valet, buys a Limp Corrector, a primitive device that may help him with his leg. It may also cause him the loss of said leg. He spends most of the show pale, sweaty, grimacing, and noticeably not right. It leads to about a dozen conversations like this:
“Good God Bates, what’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing Sir/Ma’am/Mrs. Hughes, I am absolutely fine. Please ignore my pallor and the sheen of sweat on my brow. No problem at all.”
“Hmmm. Bates, you are lying like a rug, but I cannot force you to tell me what’s wrong.”
When we finally see what the Limp Corrector has done to his leg, it’s obvious that a limp is preferable to losing your leg from gangrene, so the Limp Corrector is given the old heave-ho. It’s the stern-but-fair housekeeper Mrs. Hughes who finally gets to the bottom of this, and the moment when she closed the door and turned to face Bates, trapping him in a bedroom, I got the nervous giggles, wondering if she was going to de-pants the poor Valet. Luckily he realized that to save his manly modesty he’d have to come clean.
Remember last week I mentioned the Maid with Pretty Red Hair and her secret correspondence? Gwen’s big secret turns out not to be a man at all, it’s a machine! A typewriting machine. She purchased it with her own money and has been secretly teaching herself to type, hoping that one day she can leave service and become a secretary. Anna snoops through her things, finds the shocking machine, but decides she’ll keep the secret. The Horrid Ladies Maid O’Brien doesn’t, she most certainly does not. When she realizes there’s a secret being kept, she rats Gwen out so fast it makes your head spin. Gwen comes into the kitchen to find all the servants standing around looking at the typewriter as if it was a bomb - dangerous and unpredictable. The new that she wants to leave service and become a Typist/Secretary is greeted just as if she had announced that her Life Goal was to become a Dirty French Whore.
The Family Upstairs is told about this and the older members are shocked, SHOCKED I tell you, and there is general discussion of How the Underclasses Don’t Know What’s Good for Them. Grand Dame Grandmother Maggie Smith basically espouses slavery-for-their-own-good. Sybil lets Gwen know of a good typing job and offers to stand as a glowing reference.
Lady Mary and Edith are the eldest and middle daughters of Lady Cora and Daddy Earl. Essentially, they are exactly like Marsha and Jan Brady. Lady Mary/Marsha is the beautiful eldest daughter who needs to marry well (and preferably to marry the heir to her Daddy Earl’s goods and holdings), but she makes Extremely Bad Choices in men. She’s not terribly smart, but she’s purty. Edith/Jan, while not unattractive, is not as purty as her older sister. She’s pathologically jealous of Mary/Marsha and is constantly looking for ways to stick a knife in her back. She’s also not terribly smart.
Sybil, the third daughter, is nothing like Cindy Brady. She’s attractive AND intelligent. She’s more worried about what’s going on in the outside world than her sisters, and seems to be the only one in the family to realize that in the Greater World outside the gates of Downton Abbey – the times, they are a’changing.
MaryMarsha invites a potential beau to come Hunting with the family. She thinks he’s a nice if boring, young man, whose charms include: 1. He has money. 2. He has a title. 3. He is not her cousin Matthew, who she says she finds Revolting. When Boring Beau shows up he brings an Interesting Foreign fellow, Mr. Pahmuk of Turkey, with him. Mr. Pahmuk is hot. Really hot. He’s all tousled hair, pouty lips, and bedroom eyes, and the minute MaryMarsha sees him, the Boring Beau becomes chopped liver.
MaryMarsha isn’t the only one who thinks Mr. Pahmuk is Hotty McHotterson. Gay Thomas, the Scheming Footman decides he won’t mind “serving” Mr. Pahmuk one little bit. Gay Thomas has the WORST taste in men. Last week it was the duplicitous Bisexual Duke, and this week it was Mr. Pahmuk, the Heterosexual Seducer of Young English Virgins. Gay Thomas, why don’t you go find a nice virile farmhand who would rather shtup you than a bunch of ewes?
Mr. Pahmuk blackmails Gay Thomas into showing him the way to MaryMarsha’s room and enters therein. Gay Thomas retires for the night. At first, MaryMarsha tries to defend her virtue, but Mr. Pahmuk has a golden tongue and a winning way with the ladies. When he assures her they can have lots of fun that will still leave her virgo intacta, she decides to see what all the fuss is about. Again I had the giggles and speculated what kind of highjinks Mr. Pahmuk had in mind. It's times like this that Thomas pretends he doesn't know me.
Next, and I must tell you I DID NOT SEE THIS ONE COMING, Mr. Pahmuk seems to have had a heart attack, mid-stroke as it were, and is now dead in MaryMarsha’s bed. In panic she ropes in Anna, and Mummy Cora to help her fix this up. The three of them wrestle the corpse of Mr. Pahmuk back into his own bed, dress him, and tuck him up. Cora informs Mary that she is Severely Displeased, and will only not tell Daddy Earl, because he would die of shame knowing that his daughter was such a dirty, dirty slut. Then all three women retire, happily unaware that dumb Daisy the scullery maid saw them hauling Mr. Pahmuk into this room.
In the morning, Gay Thomas is the one that finds Dead Mr. Pahmuk. He tells O’Brien, the evil ladies’ maid that when last seen by him, Mr. Pahmuk was alive and intending to board Lady MaryMarsha. They wonder when and how he died, and what MaryMarsha’s role in it was.
You do NOT want O’Brien on your bad side, and as of now, she and Gay Thomas have a hate on the Family. O’Brien and Gay Thomas didn’t appreciate one bit when Lady Cora chewed them out for talking about the new heir. It was instructive to hear her little sermon when she “put them in their place.” No matter how much it seemed that the family was kind to their servants, they are still servants, and not allowed to forget it. Now O’Brien has something she can use to hurt the family. I have a feeling she’ll be using that knowledge.
The Boring Beau, realizing that MaryMarsha didn’t love him, heads off, feeling sad about his chum Mr. Pahmuk.
The Heir, Cousin Matthew, is slowly, slowly, starting to feel his way into the job. He’s being nicer to his valet, trying to be civil to MaryMarsha (who I think he has a crush on), and being kind to Ethel-Jan, who is trying to get her hooks into him.
His Mama, Mrs. Crawley, helps the local doctor find the courage to use a revolutionary treatment to save a farmer who is dying of dropsy. She knows about nursing from the war (whether that was the Crimean or the Boer war, I’m not real clear) and from helping her husband, and she wants to help in the local hospital. Mrs. Crawley uses the Iron Hand in the Velvet Glove approach, and successfully goes against Grand Dame Lady Maggie Smith in the matter of these revolutionary medical treatments. In the end these two feisty old ladies are going to have to work together to oversee the hospital, and the looks on their faces is priceless. No one can express sour disgust the way Maggie Smith can, she looks like a lemon who was weaned on a pickle. Mrs. Crawley is slyly pleased and confident in her abilities.
Dumb Daisy the scullery maid has a fruitless crush on Gay Thomas and is cheerfully friendly to Good William the friendly Footman, not realizing that he has a crush on her. Oh Daisy, you really are dumb.
A constant theme of the episode is that everyone has secrets. Some of them are deep dark secrets, and other ones seem more laughable when you find them out, but we all guard them carefully, and NO ONE wants their secrets found out. Carson was afraid that his authority as the Butler par excellence would be diminished if everyone knew he’d been a Cheerful Charlie. The look on Gay Thomas face when Mr. Pahmuk threatened to report him was both pathetic and terrifying. Gwen’s secret was harmless, but she rightly feared to expose her dreams to the harsh gaze of her fellow domestics. Bates, the wise Valet, tells Anna that once you know someone’s secrets, even the silly ones, you never look at them the same way again. Anna stoutly vows that nothing could change the way she felt about Bates and you know that by the end of the show, we are going to find out what Bates’ secret is, and that it will be a good deal worse than a typewriter or the Cheerful Charlies.
Daddy Earl also has a new chauffer, who is Irish. He’s interested in history and politics. And probably whiskey, ‘cause that’s what the Irish are always on about, history, politics and whiskey.