Chef: More than just food


I was unable to attend the premiere screening of Chef at SXSW this year, much to my chagrin, so I’ve spent the ensuing two months on tenterhooks, waiting for it to open here in Austin (I was all set to see it when it opened in limited release on May 9, even going so far as to book a babysitter, but it didn’t open here until the 23rd).  So, once it opened here on the weekend, I got my butt in a seat as soon as was humanly possible. On the whole, I thought it was a very pleasant movie, if not a little formulaic. While many folks have mentioned the visceral delight of the food porn on display (which, frankly, I found a little distracting — Jon Favreau’s character makes this enormous, gorgeous meal alone in his apartment for no one, which made little sense to me. But it sure was pretty to look at!), I saw some other things going on as well, points of interest that I don’t think should be overlooked even though this film 100% capitalizes on this current food-obsessed cultural moment. _DSC9959.NEF There are very few things I find more delightful as a consumer of culture than watching Jon Favreau’s semi-autobiographical characters tear themselves down into a broken, ego-bruised mass, usually via an epic meltdown, then slowly rebuild from a place of abashed humility. The first time I saw Swingers, I couldn’t sit still while watching the answering machine scene; it made me so anxious, I was pacing back and forth in front of the TV saying, “no, no, please god no, don’t do that, just stop for the love of … he’s not going to stop, is he?” There is a similar meltdown in Chef, only his shame isn’t private — it’s viral. It’s through this mechanism that Favreau communicates his particular brand of vulnerability, one that provides a counterpoint to all the puffed-up masculinity on display in the rest of his celluloid life.

There’s no small amount of dick swinging in Chef, and the showdown between Carl Casper, whom we are to understand is a creative culinary mastermind, and Dustin Hoffman’s irascible, inflexible restaurant owner is but one particularly aggressive example. Carl’s banter with his loyal sous chef Martin (John Leguizamo) is simultaneously macho, semi-filthy, and respectful (the chemistry between the two actors is as refreshing as a watermelon paleta on a blazing summer’s day), and together they do the work of teaching Carl’s son, Percy (Emjay Anthony) the intricacies of being a man, from applying cornstarch to one’s “huevos” in humid climes to learning the hierarchy of the working world to the profound responsibility imbued in a chef’s knife. mmmmm And it’s that male-centric view that troubles this film. Typical of most Hollywood movies these days (I guess technically this is an indie? But it’s got Robert Downey Jr and Scarlett Johansson in it, so it can’t be THAT indie), there are women present, but only in relationship to the man and his needs. Por ejemplo, Johansson’s sultry sommelier serves only to warn Carl that the boss is coming, provide calm encouragement to spread his wings and fly, and moan lasciviously over a mouthful of pasta he’s prepared for her while she lounges on his bed. Inez (Sofia Vergara), Carl’s ex-wife, offers friendly support, encouragement, as well as gentle chiding when Carl lapses in his fatherly duties. As likable as Inez is, she’s something of a cypher. Why does she have that amazing house with the huge staff? Why does she have a publicist (brilliantly and skeevily played by Amy Sedaris)? We know nothing about Inez other than that she adores her son, clearly still cares deeply for Carl, and has a famous Cuban musician for a father. Put another way, the three women in the film are essentially there to reflect Carl back to himself in one way or another. (For a brilliant and devastating takedown of The Amazing Spider Man 2 along these same lines, check out Amanda Ann Klein’s “The Postfeminist Gift of Gwen Stacy [SPOILERS!!!])

In addition to the film’s “woman problem,” Favreau is blind to his economic privilege in telling this story. Despite the fact that Carl kvetches that he’s broke, he magically receives an apparently no-strings-attached truck from a Miami connection of Inez’s (she’s so useful like that!), then proceeds to max out his credit cards outfitting that truck to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars, not to mention secure the appropriate permitting in each city they visit on their drive from Miami to LA, have startup cash to purchase ingredients (and beer and cigars). Yes, it’s a feel-good story about implementing your own creative vision in the interest of living your best life, but it was extremely difficult for me to suspend my disbelief when it came to Carl’s overnight success as a food truck operator.

But there are things that I appreciate in the film, too. People of color in the movie aren’t depicted as comic relief, they are the main characters. And I think that’s particularly interesting considering the dominant discourse of celebrity chefs, which tends to privilege white males. I like that Cuban food is the link to Carl’s identity and reignites his creative fire without any anxiety about being Other, and I also like that in each city he visits, he effortlessly crafts a hybrid sandwich reflecting that city’s culture (po’boys and beignets in New Orleans, brisket sliders in Austin). He embraces an easy fusion, a subtle argument for food as the vehicle for inclusiveness.

I also loved the role of social media in the film, particularly as it concerns Percy. It’s through his son that Carl discovers the possibility of connection — and the destructive power — of social networking. Percy, a digital native, negotiates the truck’s viral marketing and is instrumental in his father’s success. It’s also the boy’s technological savvy that helps Carl connect to his son — just as Carl teaches Percy how to be a man, Percy teaches Carl how to get out of his head and be of the world. While I am uncomfortable with the idea of my own son, who is close to Percy’s age, being so comfortable with how to talk to people on the internet (I require my son to turn off the chat function when he plays Minecraft, and he will not have an email address, Twitter account, Instagram, Facebook, etc until he’s a few years older), Chef makes the argument that parents should learn to stop worrying and love the bomb, so to speak, because on the other side of that worry is true connection.

Ultimately, Chef is an enjoyable narrative of a man’s quest to rediscover his creative voice. The theme of pursuing your own vision in service to a professional endeavor resonated with me deeply. I laughed frequently and heartily, and drooled obediently on cue at the food porn scenes. I just wish that the women had been more than just set dressing while the men were busy learning from one another.

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Notes on Film: August: Osage County and Nebraska


I frequently talk and think about cultural products in pairs. When I taught Women’s Popular Genres (a sophomore-level literature class) at UT-Austin, I taught Dracula alongside Twilight: New Moon (race, xenophobia, transgressive sexuality!), Jane Eyre alongside The Nanny Diaries (domesticity and women’s labor!), The House of Mirth alongside Shopaholic (conspicuous consumption!). Indeed, I am all about putting cultural products in conversation with one another. I think that people should watch Django Unchained as a double feature with 12 Years a Slave, and Dallas Buyers Club with How to Survive a Plague. When you experience texts along a common theme, they can illuminate each other in compelling, sometimes provocative ways.

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That’s why I was so excited to realize that Nebraska and August: Osage County are ripe for this treatment. They are both set in the Great Plains, both prominently feature parents with substance abuse issues, and explore parent-child relationships. Both films, when I think of them together, raise some questions about gender and parenting, gender and anger, and what it means to be loved. (Oh, that sounds so cheesy.)

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First off, I really loved both movies. Alexander Payne hasn’t made a movie yet that I didn’t like (Sideways, The Descendants, Election). When I walked out of Nebraska, I remember thinking, “well, that was a nice little portrait of midwestern masculinity” and feeling really good about the lengths that a son goes to in order to help his father make a little meaning out of his life. Along the way, we see that neither man fits the mold of what’s expected of the midwestern male: Woody (Bruce Dern) was a questionable provider, due in large part to his alcoholism. David (Will Forte) has a lame career as a stereo salesman, can’t sh*t or get off the pot when it comes to making a commitment to his girlfriend, and, according to his hulking, ex-con, bullying cousins, drives too slow. By contrast, David’s older brother Ross (Bob Odenkirk), squares with what is expected of him as a man: he’s married, has kids, and is enjoying a comfortable career as a local news anchor. He’s mostly there as a foil for David and Woody, frequently as exasperated by them as the matriarch, Kate (June Squibb) is.

(I’ll admit: I wasn’t blown away by Squibb’s performance as Kate. I was expecting a scene-stealing performance, but I didn’t see much beyond rote line recitation. Some of those lines were funny, but I don’t get the fawning over her.)

There is a lot of repressed rage in this film, but it takes the form of the laconic male. Woody and his phalanx of brothers have perfected the art of silence, with only perfunctory answers given to queries both superficial and probing. (At least, I like to think of it as repressed rage — maybe they’re just a bunch of dummies with no inner life or subjectivity at all.) We see that David is a lot like Woody, but he struggles with wanting to be a little more in touch: he is genuinely ambivalent about marriage and children, but he’s not welcome to talk about it with his family, who belong to the “this is what you do because it’s always been done” generation. Meanwhile, he is too paralyzed by his ambivalence to talk about it with Noel (Missy Doty, who was also in Sideways), his estranged girlfriend. David is a New Man adrift in a school of traditionally masculine men. But it’s through this journey across the landscape of Nebraska with his father that helps him maybe, just maybe, negotiate a little of this ambivalence. I can’t help but smile when I think of David looking up at his dad in the cab of the truck at the end, smiling at how happy and proud his dad is in that moment. It’s an affirming portrait of a family that loves each other despite all the dysfunction.

Strangely enough, though, it was August: Osage County that made me want to be a better person.

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I had a very strong emotional reaction to this film, probably because I recognized some stuff in there that was ugly and messy and made me sad. But I also loved it because I love Margo Martindale and Benedict Cumberbatch and Ewan McGregor and … well, just about everyone in the cast. (I saw this movie referred to not inaccurately as Acting: The Movie, and there is a fair amount of scenery chewing, but that doesn’t bother me except when it does.)

There’s lots of rage in this film, too, but it’s not suppressed. At all. These people loathe each other and it’s no secret. Where the men of Nebraska keep themselves to themselves, the women in August: Osage County are all acid tongues and sharpened claws, reducing each others’ psyches to rubble with just a sentence or two while the men look on, baffled. Just look at this poster:

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Look at this chaos! Here you see the two main female characters, played by Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, engaged in battle. Martindale and Julianne Nicholson attempting to intervene, while most of the men hang back, unsure of what to do. Compare this to the stark isolation of the Nebraska poster above and you’ll see my point: men are meant to stay bottled, while women are emotional to the point of destruction. (At the same time, women aren’t meant to rock the boat; when they do, they ruin dinner.)

I’m a little uncomfortable with the portrayal of every single woman in this movie as angry, bitter, conniving, grubbing, caustic, cruel, selfish, and/or pathetic. Except, of course, for Johnna (Misty Upham), the Cheyenne woman hired as a live-in cook and maid. She alone nurtures (we see this mostly through her cooking) and protects (“tuning up” a character with a shovel when he gets a little handsy with a young relative), and she is virtually silent throughout the film. Because of course she is, she’s a brown person — you can’t get much more subaltern than a Native American woman when it comes to Hollywood.

Which is why I am so intrigued by these two films set in the Great Plains. It’s hard for me to articulate at the moment because I’m pretty well removed from my Native Studies coursework, but this region of the United States is so fraught, in terms of its significance in 19th century American expansion/exceptionalism, the genocide and forced relocation of millions of native peoples, extreme poverty in the Dust Bowl years, and ecological devastation wrought by an industrialized agricultural system. (I don’t think it’s any accident that Marc Maron described Nebraska as a “Dorothea Lange photo brought to life.”) Ghost towns dot the midwestern landscape, and within the worlds of these two films, urban spaces are places that you must travel to, an “out there” that is both magical and inconvenient. The dramas on the screen are small, confined to individual families, but set against the broader context of a region universally dismissed as “flyover states” utterly devoid of culture. These films make an argument for a closer look at the culture of the plains and what they can tell us about ourselves.

There is more to say here, but I want to extend this conversation beyond my own head. I welcome your thoughts in the comments!

Downton Abbey recap: Season 4, Episode 2


Welcome back to another episode of Downton Abbey, now with more DOG BUTT .

It’s a house party, y’all, which means all the storylines, old and new, converge on Downton along with a cadre of opera singers, card sharps, sexy young lords, and friendly rapists.

How the Granthams party.

How the Granthams party.

Mary: Antony Foyle, otherwise known as the young Lord Gillingham, has been invited. Despite the fact that he is engaged to “the greatest heiress of the season,” there is a palpable chemistry between them. He’s dark and dashing and is a giver of good advice to Mary regarding the tax bill, suggesting that she meet with the tax people and making the best deal she can in order to keep the estate intact. But then she gets a sad when she sees Matthew’s gramophone, which Rose has unearthed from the attic. Back up into her mourning cave she goes, if only for one night.

Edith: Promises that Michael Gregson will get to know LG better during the house party, but can only watch in dismay as LG gives Gregson the cold shoulder. It’s only when Gregson outsmarts Mr. Samson, a card sharp who has been gleefully separating the men of the party from their money, that LG warms to him. We get a whiff that Gregson is maybe not the most honorable man on the planet but, you know, he’s Edith’s boyfriend so I’m sure everything will work out just fine.

Poor Molesley: Jimmy hurts his wrist showing off for Ivy and is unable to serve at dinner, so Carson calls Poor Molesley, who has been working as a delivery boy for the grocer, to fill in as footman. “I’ve got me career backwards,” bemoans an aggrieved PM, while also acknowledging that he can’t be a choosy beggar.

Nothing good can come of this.

Nothing good can come of this.

Branson: Tom is also experiencing an intense identity crisis, from his discomfort with the white tie formal attire to committing a faux pas by accidentally addressing a duchess as “Your Grace” instead of “Duchess,” only to turn around and be scolded by Thomas for addressing him by his first name rather than as Barrow. He’s a fish out of water and feels like a fool. He’s low-hanging fruit indeed for Edna.

The Edna problem: Not only is she quite big for her britches, telling Mrs. Hughes she might not have time to tend to the maid-less Lady Raven, but she’s back to trying to get her claws into Branson. She does this primarily through preying on his impostor-syndrome anxieties and also through giant tumblers of whiskey that may or may not be roofied. It’s unclear exactly what’s going on when she enters an upstairs bedroom, whispering “are you still awake?” but it’s certainly nothing good, considering it’s Edna we’re talking about.

Anna: Our affable downstairs heroine strikes up a passing friendship with Lord Gillingham’s valet, Mr. Green, which doesn’t sit well with Bates, who smells a rat, but maybe he’s just jealous because Mr. Green is quite flirtatious with Anna. But no, he’s pretty much a rat. While just about every still-living character from the show listens to Dame Nellie sing Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro” — an ode to love — Anna repairs downstairs for some headache powder and encounters Mr. Green, who violently beats and rapes her. Afterwards, she hides in Mrs. Hughes’ room, explaining to the housekeeper that Bates mustn’t know because he’ll certainly murder the culprit. When it’s time to go home, she tells Bates she wants to walk alone. Oh, this doesn’t bode well for their fairytale relationship.

Quite frankly, Julian Fellowes’ use of this tired soap-opera trope is straight-up lazy. He’s proven he can elevate the genre, so why fall back on the same-old devices? Boo.

Odds and sods: We learn that the guest rooms in Downton have names like “the Portnoy,” “the Chinese,” “Princess Amelia,” and that despite his own rather low class status, Carson is as classist as his boss, tutting over the fact that Lady Raven has no maid and lives in an old house “north of the park.” He also gets in hot water with Cora and LG for arranging for Dame Nellie Melba (played by real-life world-famous opera singer Kiri Te Kanawa), the world-famous opera singer, to have dinner in her room as opposed to rightfully acknowledging her status as an honored guest and arranging for her to dine with the rest of the party. Meanwhile, Mrs Patmore, who apparently has never cooked for a large party during her long tenure at Downton Abbey, is freaking out and has an anxiety attack, allowing Alfred to step in and prepare the sauces for the meal. Alfred later confesses that cooking is what he wants to do, an interesting inversion of the gendered labor roles in this particular universe. Some of the fetishistic detail of upper-class life reappears, in the form of staff measuring the distance between the chairs and the dining-room table. More of this, please, and less rapey bullshit.

Dowager Countess Zinger Count: 8. To Branson: “If I were to search for logic, I should not search for it among the English upper class.” To Mary: “Don’t use me as an excuse. If you don’t want to dance, tell him.” “You can always rely on Puccini,” to Isobel, who replies that she prefers Bartók. “You would.”

 

Downton Abbey season premiere, part two


(Reblogged at the Austin Chronicle Screens blog)

The second half of Sunday’s Downton Abbey premiere was actually episode two for the season, but ties up and/or carries through many of the plot lines from the first episode. Picking up where the first half left off, seemingly the morning after Cora shit-canned Nanny West for abusing Sybbie. Cora praises Thomas in front of LG for alerting her to his concerns about the Nanny. (Which we all know was not coming from a place of good intentions because Thomas.) “I just had a hunch that she wasn’t quite all Sir Garnet,” he smirks smugly. We’ll come to realize that now that he’s got Cora’s ear, shenanigans will ensue.

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Lady Mary is masterful in mauve

The bulk of the episode centers on Mary’s post-Matthew life. Clad in an elegant mauve dress, she arrives at the tenants’ luncheon, where Branson gives up his seat so that she may take her rightful place at the table, which becomes a through-line for this episode’s plot. A box arrives from Matthew’s office, including a letter he had written before their holiday trip to Scotland. The letter states that he intends Mary to be his sole heiress and that he will have a will drawn up before the baby is born.

Now the question is to whether the letter is legally binding. In the meantime, Mary expresses an interest in taking on a more involved role in managing the estate and LG very obnoxiously smacks her down — at dinner, no less — attempting to put the ignorant little lady in her place. Violet correctly assumes, and says as much, that LG hopes that the letter isn’t valid because heaven forfend he have to share control of the estate with a woman.

Violet suggests to Branson and Mary that the former instruct Mary in the daily running of the estate, necessarily behind curmudgeonly LG’s back. This turns out to be a good plan, as word comes back that Matthew’s letter is legally binding and Mary owns half the estate. Let’s all brace ourselves for a protracted power struggle between Mary and LG, especially over how to pay the death duties. As Branson astutely puts it, “You won’t keep her quiet, not now that the bit’s between her teeth.” Ah, the woman-as-horse metaphor. Gotta love it.

Edith: Clad in a hideous red and black dress (she seems committed to deviating from the purple color palette of Downton Abbey when she’s in London), Edith reckons Mr. Gregson needs to meet the family, the rationale being that he’s “nearly German and nearly divorced.” Before catching the 3:00 train, she invites Mr. Gregson to an upcoming house party, and also finds it increasingly difficult to decline his invitations to “stay a little longer,” if you know what I mean. (She later arrives late for dinner, which makes me wonder whether she actually did stay for a little afternoon delight with Mr. Gregson.)

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Ugh. This lady.

The Edna Problem: Anna spies Edna and Thomas chatting in the hall and advises the former to keep her distance from Edna. Honey Badger Edna don’t give a dang. Edna ruins a blouse of Cora’s, and Thomas helps her out by cooking up a story that Anna was the culprit and was bullying Edna out of jealousy because she’d been hired into a more senior position. Ugh, why are they basically making Edna’s character into O’Brien 2.0? That’s not interesting.

The Charlies: Carson is still not interested in having anything to do with Charlie Grigg, who is still under Isobel’s care. Isobel manages to get Mr. Grigg a position as a stage door keeper at the opera house in Belfast. Turns out that Carson had been in love with a woman named Alice who broke his heart. Mrs. Hughes, who found out that Alice had left Carson for Mr. Grigg, reckons Carson should make his peace with Mr. Grigg so that he’s not walking around with an open wound. This must have hit home, because Carson arrives at the train station to see off Mr. Grigg, who informs Carson that Alice is five-years dead, but had professed her preference for Carson and had been a fool to leave him. The Charlies part as friends.

Poor Molesley: Anna spots Poor Molesley working as a blacktopper. He confesses that he owes money all over town, to the tune of 15 to 20 pounds. This upsets Anna deeply, and she says as much to Mr. Bates. Bates approaches Violet and asks her for money for Poor Molesley, then forges Poor Molesley’s signature onto a fake promissory note. At tea later that evening, Mr. Bates “repays” a befuddled Poor Molesley 30 pounds, which pleases Anna but also confuses her.

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Bored Lady Rose is bored.

Cousin Oliver Lady Rose: Lady Rose wants to go to a thé dansant in York and asks Anna to accompany her. They go, Rose pretends to be a housemaid and attracts the attention of Sam, an under-gardener from a nearby estate. Ugh. Boring. We get it, Rose is a rulebreaker, y’all.

Dowager Countess Zinger Count: 3. To LG: “When you talk like that, I’m tempted to ring for Nanny and have you put to bed with no supper!” To Bates, when he refers to Poor Molesley as Mr. Molesley the Younger: “You make him sound like a Greek philosopher.” To Mary and Branson, when she’s told that she still must refer to Branson as Tom: “I see I’m beaten, but oh how I sympathize with King Canute.”

Downton Abbey recap! Episode 1


(Programming note: If you want to see this with prettier pictures and having been edited a bit, please visit the Austin Chronicle‘s screens blog.)

When we left our beloved Downton, Matthew had just perished in a car accident, leaving behind Mary and newborn son George. As such, the opening moments of season 4 of Downton Abbey are cold, dark, and melancholy.

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Someone’s packing, leaving notes on a mantelpiece. Meanwhile, a baby cries as a nanny bustles down the night-darkened hall. Mary lies in bed, awake. The dark figure exits the Abbey quickly, suitcases in hand.

The title card appears over a shot of a misty morning at Downton Abbey. Where is my beloved DOG BUTT? That is a damn shame. I hope the traditional title sequence isn’t gone for good.

Mary is sitting on the edge of her bed, not doing anything. Anna goes to an empty room in the servants’ quarters, switches on the lights, and discovers the two notes on the mantlepiece. It appears O’Brien has exited stage left. The household staff does the 1922 version of #obrienpeacedout, gossiping in the foyer and halls.

Lady Grantham is shocked, but Lord Grantham isn’t. “Sneaking out like a thief in the night. Fits O’Brien to a T,” he grumps. [I grew up a church kid and it always makes me giggle when people are described this way, because it’s the way the bible describes Jesus’ return. So, in my feeble brain, O’Brien = Jesus in this scenario. Which I’m sure she’d appreciate.] Cora is pissed because Lady Flintshire ganked her lady’s maid. Edith thinks it’s disgraceful, too. Boo-hoo. Your servant is now someone else’s servant.

Mary stares glumly out the window, as Anna offers her a purple shawl to wear on a potentially chilly walk. Mary wants the black one, as she’s committed to her widow’s weeds. Nanny brings in baby George and wants to know whether Mary would like to join them for a walk. Mary says no, kisses her son and says, “poor little orphan.” Nanny leaves and Anna says, “he’s not an orphan, he’s got his mother.” (Technically.) “He’s not poor either, come to that,” Mary replies. Sheesh, lady. Emotional vampire much?

Violet approaches Poor Molesley’s father (who I believe is the groundskeeper) outside; they exposition that it’s been six months since Matthew’s death. Also, Poor Molesley, who was Matthew’s valet, has been unable to find new employment. Out front, Thomas greets Sybbie in her stroller, sparking a power struggle between himself and Nanny West, who doesn’t want him touching the children without her permission.

Branson and LG are walking the estate. Seems they owe taxes on Matthew’s death and LG wants to sell off land to pay it off. Because the way he ran the estate was going so well before Matthew took over. If nothing else, this episode reinforces what an arrogant boob LG is. Also, we are told through exposition that because Matthew died without a will, Mary has a one-sixth interest in the estate, while Baby George owns the rest of one half, making him majority co-owner with LG.

Carson tells Poor Molesley that the gravy train is up and he’s got to hit the bricks. Meanwhile, Edith is going up to London to see Michael Gregson, Cora is supportive and LG is not (shocker!). 

Lady Rose (Lady Flintshire’s daughter) wants to advertise in the town for a new lady’s maid for Cora because she has a guilty conscience. Edith visits Isobel, who is in the same fog of grief as Mary. “You see, when your only child dies, you’re not a mother anymore. You’re not anything, really. That’s what I’m trying to get used to.” Oy vey. Do you not have any books?

Carson gets a letter that makes him grumpy, which piques Mrs. Hughes’ curiosity. She plucks the letter out of the wastebasket after he leaves the room. (This storyline reinforces my notion that Mrs. Hughes loves Mr. Carson, but I’m too lazy to write any slash fiction about it.)

We see in the post office that Edna Braithwaite (the housemaid who tried to seduce a recently widowed Branson in the 2012 Christmas special) would like to respond to the advert for a lady’s maid (who needs to be good at doing hair, apparently). Nothing good will come of this.

It’s Valentine’s Day, which gives us an opportunity to revisit that ridiculous love rectangle of Jimmy-Ivy-Alfred-Daisy. Ivy and Daisy both receive anonymous cards — who sent one to whom?!? We may never know. (J/K we’ll totally know in a few minutes.)

Mary skulks down the stairs in black, as Edith ascends, reading her Valentine’s Day card (Edith’s card is like four times the size of the servants’ cards because rich people). The exchange between the two sisters is awkward, and Michelle Dockery’s version of playing grief is, basically, to be as wooden as possible and stare off into the middle distance always. No eye contact for widows, no sirree! She and Edward Cullen should hang out.

Mrs. Hughes visits a workhouse and finds Charlie Grigg (you’ll remember him from the first season as Carson’s former partner in the song-and-dance business who tried to shake Carson down for money). He’s in a bad way and has reached out to Carson, who is “very busy,” for help.

Edith arrives in London, where Michael tells her he can get a divorce in Germany. Does she want to come with? Because that’s a great idea, given Germany’s world reputation post-WWI.

Violet is visiting Isobel and they’re talking about Isobel’s lack of purpose in life. Poor Molesley arrives and asks for his old job back, but Isobel demurs, claiming that she doesn’t need a butler as, “these days, I’m just an old widow who eats off a tray.” “Just because you’re an old widow, I see no necessity to eat off a tray,” Violet retorts. (And there’s our Dowager Countess Zinger Count initiated: 1) Violet has now taken it as her project to help Poor Molesley out.

Mr. Carson is mad at Mrs. Hughes for reaching out to Mr. Griggs. An electric mixer has arrived in the kitchen downstairs. Daisy and Ivy are excited about it, but Mrs. Patmore worries that gadgets like these will soon make her redundant. More twittering about the Mystery of the Anonymous Valentines. NO ONE CARES, Y’ALL.

Another battle between Thomas and Nanny West. Exposition about interviewing Edna for the lady’s maid position — they’re interviewing her in Ripon because she can’t get away due to caring for an aunt. Branson wants Mary to take an interest in something, while LG thinks she should focus on feeling better. Yes, because marinating in your misery is just the ticket to recovery, you paternalistic boob.

Mrs. Hughes wants Isobel to take in Mr. Grigg. At first Isobel resists, saying that she’s not strong enough in her present state. Mrs. Hughes cuts her off, saying, “But you are. If you could just set aside your grief and use that strength for another’s good.” And that’s Isobel’s lightbulb moment.

Similarly, Branson approaches Carson to help bring Mary back into her life. Meanwhile, Daisy is making a mousse with the new mixer. Mrs. Patmore instructs her to make a soup to have on standby in case it doesn’t work out. More turf wars between Thomas and Nanny. Carson approaches Mary. Thomas, up to his old manipulative shenanigans, puts a bug in Cora’s ear about Nanny West, planting a seed of concern that she’s neglecting the children. Cut back to Mary’s room, Mary is going all ice queen on Carson, telling him he’s overstepped the mark in approaching her about working with Branson to run the estate.

At dinner, a discussion of whether Mary should attend the tenants’ luncheon becomes the linchpin for her to melt down over Matthew’s death and her reluctance to come out of her grief-cave. She leaves the table in a strop (and rightly so, really, because the family kind of did a group sticky-beak into her business, even if it was well-intentioned). Violet shuts down further conversation about private family matters in front of the servants by complimenting the mousse. “I suppose [Mrs. Patmore] hasn’t bought it in,” jokes Cora. Oh, irony! We haz it.

Poor Molesley is having an existential crisis. His dad gives him a pep talk. And because the upstairs folk are JUST LIKE the downstairs folk, Violet pops into Mary’s room to give her a pep talk. Mary worries that all the good that Matthew saw in her was only in his imagination. Violet says, “you have a straightforward choice in front of you. You must choose either death or life.” Violet thinks Mary should choose life, then gives her a gentry-style hug (which translates into an arm awkwardly draped across a shoulder).

Mrs. Hughes tells Mr. Carson that Isobel is taking in Mr. Grigg, because it’s the right thing to do and a tasty way to do it. Violet and LG talk in the foyer, LG crapping on paternalistically about how it is their job to keep her safe from the world. Violet disagrees, stating that it is their job to bring her back to the world. “While I will overlook Mary’s poor judgement, I find it hard to overlook yours. GOOD DAY SIR.”

Oh, and she wants Edith to come to luncheon on Friday to help make things a success. “We are selling Poor Molesley to Lady Shackleton,” she explains. “As a servant?” Cora asks [HERE’S THE SETUP, FOLKS!]. Violet pauses. “No … as a Chinese laundryman.” Zing! (Dowager Countess Zinger Count: 2)

Jimmy got Ivy drunk at the pub. Mr. Carson and Isobel talk about how she’s taking in Mr. Grigg — seems she’s a bit perkier to have gotten in touch with something beyond her grief. Lady’s got a purpose now! Hooray!

Cora interviews Edna, and offers her the job, particularly on the strength of a glowing recommendation from Mrs. Hughes from her days as a housemaid at Downton. “But what about your aunt?” Cora asks. “My aunt?” asks Edna, forgetting her lie. She didn’t want to do the interview at Downton because she knew Branson and Mrs. Hughes would kibosh the prospect. RED FLAG, CORA. Oh, never mind. Cora’s not the sharpest knife, is she?

Violet’s butler is threatened by Poor Molesley’s presence at luncheon, and is a hilariously genteel boor, menacing Poor Molesley through clenched teeth. He, of course, sabotages Molesley during the luncheon, providing some comic relief in an otherwise bleak episode.

Image

Edith is back in London and meets Mr. Gregson at the Criterion wearing a dress that is decidedly va-va-va-voom (and therefore un-Edith-like). The strapless bodice is beaded to suggest a peacock, while the flowing green chiffon skirt has a slit up to the knee. Her hair is folded into soft finger curls — the stylists are deftly communicating Edith’s evolution into a modern woman with this look. Please also note that this is a break from the purple color palette worn by the upstairs women at Downton Abbey. To hit this point home, she says, “It feels so wild, being out with a man, drinking and dining in a smart London restaurant. Can you imagine being allowed to do anything of the sort five years ago, never mind ten?” Apparently, it wasn’t done for ladies of a certain status to eat in public in the fin-de-siecle. Interesting.

Gregson can get a divorce in Germany. “You’d join the most hated race in Germany for me?” says <strike>Jan</strike> Edith. Gregson reckons he’d become an Eskimo in order to marry Edith. This calls for a kiss! In public! SCANDAL!

Mrs. Hughes is shocked to learn that Edna has been hired on as lady’s maid, but can’t be forthright with Cora about why it’s not a good idea. Cora isn’t impressed. Daisy dithers about the Valentine’s Day card to Mrs. Patmore (seriously, how long has it been since Valentine’s at this point?). Mrs. P makes Alfred confess to Daisy that he sent Ivy a card, and Daisy is confused about who sent her her card. Mrs. Patmore tells Daisy that she sent her the card because she didn’t want her to be left out. D’awwww. “I might not have a follower, but at least I’ve got a friend,” replies Daisy. D’AWWWWWWWW.

Branson, Mrs. Hughes, and Branson discuss The Edna Problem. They determine that there’s nothing they can do but keep an eye on her. Sure. We’ll go with that. Also, O’Brien’s departure has left Thomas without a foil, which deprives the plot of its soap opera machinations.

Cora takes the opportunity to lurk in the hall and watch Nanny West, observing her fawning over Baby George, who is fussing. “There, there, my precious boy. Don’t let that chauffeur’s daughter disturb you any more.” Then, hissing at Sybbie, who is cowering in her corner crib, “Go back to sleep, you wicked little cross-breed.” GAME OVER. Cora storms the castle, ringing for Mrs. Hughes, dropping some ice-cold real talk on Nanny West: “I want you to pack tonight and leave first thing in the morning. Please put Master George back in his crib. You are not to touch the children again.” Mrs. Hughes arrives, confused. Cora, the portrait of chilly patrician rage, explains that Nanny West is leaving in the morning and could you please find her a maid to sleep with the children and a bed for Nanny West? “Your values have no place in a civilized home,” she seethes to the nanny. Mrs. Hughes, god love her, is utterly gobsmacked.

Mary and LG talk a bit about Edith’s relationship with Mr. Gregson. “Is it serious?” LG asks. “He’s not bad looking, and he’s still alive, which puts him two points ahead of most men of our generation,” replies Mary. She asks if she’s wanted at the tenants’ luncheon, but LG doesn’t think it’s necessary, because he wants to manage things in his own way. Here’s where you can see a little crocus poking through the frost of Mary’s soul. She starts to head up to bed, but instead goes to see Carson and apologizes for shutting him down when he was trying to help. Mary says she’s spent too long in the land of the dead, then collapses in tears and has a good cry in Carson’s arms. Finally some real acting from Michelle Dockery. Carson says that Mary is strong enough to the task of what’s ahead, but Mary reckons LG doesn’t think so. Carson says Mary owes it to Matthew to see his vision through, and that he believes in her.

Mrs. Hughes hears a great crash from the kitchen. Mrs. Patmore is attempting to use the mixer, but has broken it in the process and is fretting mightily that her inability to use it means she’s stuck in the past. Mrs. Hughes dons an apron and helps her friend clean up the mess. “Who needs sleep?” We pan out on them gossiping about Nanny West, confessing that they never really liked her, and so on.

Okay, that’s it for episode one! Stay tuned for episode two!

Meal Plan: Week of 9/29/13 (and other things)


I am crazy busy this week, with a glut of papers to grade and freelance deadlines and meetings and whatnot. This weekend was incredibly busy with family and birthday stuff, so I kind of threw together a meal plan on the fly. I say all this because I really want to process the Breaking Bad series finale here, but I just don’t know if I have the time. I’ll see if I can dump something at the bottom of this post.

OH! And Barb K has still not claimed her prize, so if I haven’t heard from her by the end of the week, I’ll draw another winner.

cake

Sunday: My birthday party, so chips and salsa, charcuterie, cheese, crackers, green bean pate brought by a friend, wine, and the amazing cake pictured above. That cake, made by Kendall Melton (pastry chef at Contigo), was a total fetish object at the party. It consisted of supermoist chocolate cake, perfect peanut butter buttercream, and was topped with candied cashews. Incredible. I may have the one remaining slice for lunch. 🙂
Monday: Sloppy joes, sweet potato fries, broccoli. (I’m the only one in the house who likes sweet potato fries, so I’ll probably throw some regular potato fries in there.)
Tuesday: Coconut curry with rice noodles and tofu.
Wednesday: Leftovers (we’re still miserable at leftovers, and I’m throwing away too much food).
Thursday: The BK has baseball, so I will charge The Husband with feeding himself and the boy. LK and I will dine out with friends.
Friday-Sunday:  I’ll be covering ACL fest, so I’m not sure what the meal plan is for the weekend.

Ok, here is what I will say about the Breaking Bad finale [SPOILER ALERT]: My heart was in my stomach the first time I watched it, and I was so anxious that it didn’t really sink in. And then I watched it again, listening very closely to the closing song (“Baby Blue” by Badfinger), and I’m devastated. Yes, much of it was inevitable and unsurprising — just like we knew Hank wasn’t going to make it to the end, it was also clear that neither would Walt walk off into the sunset. But that final scene was so profoundly devastating, to think that after everything and everyone who was sacrificed in Heisenberg’s wake, Walt died alone with his one true love: an unfinished batch of his blue meth. He forfeited his right to say farewell to his son, his baby daughter would never know him, his genial boor of a brother-in-law paid with his life, and his protegee spent months as a meth slave (and I really hope that Jesse made it to Alaska or Portland or whatever and is making a fortune with his artisanal wooden boxes). So much ruin and misery and in the end we see that he always loved the meth and making more than he loved his family, friends, and community. And that, to me, is deeply, deeply sad. So I don’t see it as a victory that Walt went out on his own terms because, on balance, his terms were crappy. And that is why Breaking Bad is such a devastating morality tale.

(And now I’m crying again. Which means it’s time to grade papers.)

Meal Plan: Week of 9/8/13


I didn’t get much sleep last night, and I blame Breaking Bad. I stay up late on Sunday nights so that I can watch the DVR’ed episode after everyone else has gone to bed (can’t have the BK and LK wandering in to something horrifically violent or even marginally menacing, and the Husband finds the show boring). But last night’s episode was so deeply upsetting that I was extremely keyed up afterward and not even a comedown via a streaming episode of New Girl could help me simmer down. So, I lay in bed until well past one a.m., tossing and turning, and running over that final sequence in my mind, trying to figure out any possible way that my two favorite characters in the show could possibly make it out of that situation alive. I also found it to be a bit poetic that this showdown on the To’hajiilee reservation featured the four people who were present at Walt’s entree into the meth-cooking game: Hank, Gomie, Jesse, and Walt.

Suffice it to say, I haven’t been able to concentrate on the many other things I need to be doing today, because I am short on sleep and also fabricating lots of theories for what will happen over the next three episodes (the series finale falls on my birthday — HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME).

Anyhoo, one of the things I don’t have to do today is prepare dinner. The BK has baseball practice and I’m teaching an evening class, so the Husband is in charge. This week is looking very much like a Week of Sandwiches (much like last week was inadvertently the Week of Rice).

Sunday: Slurpy Pan-Asian Noodles (from Kin O’Donnel’s The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook, recipe below)
Monday: baseball (but I have put together a picnic for the LK, who will enjoy a rare weeknight playdate while her big brother is at practice: popcorn tofu from Wheatsville, a poppyseed bagel from Rockstar bagels, mini-chocolate chip cookies, a string cheese, and some apple slices; I’m sure the menfolk will get something from Top Notch or Thundercloud or something similar)
Tuesday: Chicken salad sandwiches
Wednesday: Crockpot sausages and peppers + bolillos (I didn’t get to make this last week because laziness)
Thursday: homemade pizza, per the BK’s request. He will help make it. Probably also some steamed broccoli or salad
Friday: TBD. We usually grab tacos or something easy after a long week.
Saturday: TBD. I can’t plan that far in advance. I think we ordered pizza this past Saturday.

slurpynoodles

 

Slurpy Pan-Asian Noodles
(adapted slightly from The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook)

When the BK was a newborn, we ordered a lot of takeout, especially from Pei Wei. The Husband’s preferred dish back then was Dan-Dan Noodles. That is, until I kicked him out of our bedroom (where we ate most of that takeout) one night in a hormonal rage because they sounded too squishy. So, when I told him last night what I was making, he asked, “Am I going to have to eat them in another room?” Poor guy.

Because I let the BK help me with the stirring near the end of the cooking process, he was more inclined to eat them EVEN THOUGH OMG ALL THE VEGETABLES. I might not be able to get away with packing the leftovers in his lunch, though. Which is fine with me, since I loved these a real lot. While I made this as a vegan main, you could easily toss in some tofu, chicken, or any other kind of protein.

16 ounces udon noodles
2/3 cup soy sauce (I recommend using low-sodium; I didn’t and the dish was a little on the salty side)
8 t rice wine or sherry/sake/vermouth (I used white wine)
1 T hoisin sauce (I didn’t have any on hand, so I subbed in a t each of sesame oil, chili oil, and peanut butter)
6 T vegetable oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 carrots, cut into matchsticks
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 orange bell pepper, chopped
6 bunches baby bok choy, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup snow peas
1 T sesame seeds

Boil the noodles for about 8 minutes, drain and set aside.
Place the soy sauce (minus 2 T, which you will set aside for later use), wine, and hoisin sauce (or my crazy substitute) in a small bowl and whisk until smooth.
Heat the oil in a wok over medium heat. Cook the ginger and garlic gently for about 30 seconds.
Add the carrots and pepper and cook for about 5 minutes.
Add the bok choy and snow peas and cook until all the vegetables are a little softer than al dente.
Add the reserved soy sauce and sesame seeds and stir to coat. Remove the veg from the wok and set aside.
Pour the sauce mixture into the wok and bring to a simmer. Add the noodles and coat them thoroughly with the sauce. Stir until the noodles are hot.
Return the veg to the wok and stir to combine.
Serve hot.

Downton Abbey recap! Season 3, episode 5.


Previously on Downton Abbey: Isobel hired a hooker (to work as her maid/cook). Bates and Anna grokked Vera’s Evil Suicide Pie plan. Sybil had a baby girl. Sybil died. Violet sobbed raggedly. Cora blamed LG for Sybil’s death.

Dog butt.

Black-clad people depart from Downton Abbey. Matthew tells Tom that he and Mary want to help in any way they can. Tom, looking glazed and robotic (and, frankly, this is the first time I’ve noticed that he’s a Rather Handsome Man [TM]), says, “My wife is dead. I’m past help.” Weep weep weep. LG enters and tells Cora that some of their guests had been looking for her to say goodbye. Cora responds in a perfect blend of sweet curtness, “I was here,” then looks away. Isobel takes this as her cue to GTFO, as does Violet. LG offers that they stay for dinner, but Violet declines, saying, “Grief makes one so terribly tired.” (TRUTH. When my mom died, I slept forever. About a week after her funeral, I remember waking up one day long after Matt went to work, realizing it was noon and thinking, ah, fuck it and slept for another three hours.)

Violet advises Cora to try to get some rest, “now that it’s over.” “Is it over? When one loses a child, is it ever really over?” says Cora.

This calls for some Jeff Buckley.

Downstairs, Alfred mentions that grief seems to have given the upstairs folks a hearty appetite. “Tee hee,” titter some New Maids. “Ex-squeeze me?” says Carson, outraged at their cheek. Anna, ever the kind soul, explains to the New Maids that even the downstairs folk loved Sybil, so even though they’re the help, they’re sad too. Carson barks, “if you want to do well here, you should understand that without being told.” These kids today and their unwillingness to feel blind obeisance to their masters!

Actually, the conversation between Hughesy and Carson here is interesting. Carson: In the old days, their mothers would train them in the basics before they came to the Big House. Hughesy: Maybe their mothers don’t want them to go into service anymore. Carson: What are they supposed to become, bankers and lawyers? Hughesy: Why not? THE TIMES, THEY ARE A CHANGIN’. I think it’s cute that Hughesy thinks that the class system in Britain can be transcended; this moment is mostly meant to demonstrate that Carson remains an old fuddy duddy, while Hughes is optimistic and willing to change her attitudes with the times.

Thomas haz a sad. Jimmy says that Thomas’ sadness speaks well of him. Thomas gets touchy feely in response.

thomasthankyoujimmy

Isobel tells Ethel, who identifies with Cora in her loss of a child, that she wants to have Cora and “the girls” over for a luncheon to help them with their grief. Ethel says she can cook something special, giving Isobel a start. “Well, we don’t have to decide that just now,” she says, panicked.

Mary and Anna talk about Bates and I don’t care.

Cora reads in bed. LG comes in and asks to move back in. Nope, says Cora. LG defends his choice to listen to Tapsell, who has a reputation as an expert. Cora counters with the fact that Dr. Clarkson knew Sybil’s history and, as such, was an expert on Sybil. “You believed Tapsell because he is knighted and fashionable. … You let all that nonsense weigh against saving our daughter’s life, which is what I find so very hard to forgive.” Cora makes it clear in no uncertain terms that the blame for Sybil’s death lies solely on LG. LG peaces out.

At breakfast, Edith asks after Cora. LG has no reply. Tom enters, Carson hands him a plate, rather than making him fetch it himself. Mighty big of you, Carson. Tom envies the baby because she has no idea what’s going on. Tom says he’s not staying, he’ll look for a job. Edith and Matthew wonder what’s the rush, LG says that Tom needs to think of making a life for himself. Edith says it’s time to think of a christening and asks what Tom would like to call the baby. “Sybil,” is his response. NOT MAUDLIN AT ALL, DUDE. (Side note: isn’t Edith being so sweet and lovely?) Tom also announces that because the baby is Irish, she will be Catholic. LG throws up in his mouth a little [I’m sorry; I know that phrase is so tired, but I think it applies here] and peaces out.

Ethel runs into Mrs. P on the street and asks for help with the menu for the lunch party. Mrs. P explains that Carson has forbidden folks from the Big House to consort with her. Ethel says surely Mrs. P doesn’t think she will be corrupted. “Of course not!” declares Mrs. P. “Then why not show a little kindness?” says Ethel. Side note: it was made clear to me this week that calling Ethel an unnecessary plot device is not fair or accurate. Rather, she is a depiction of the invisible casualties of war in the early 20th century, women whose lives were ruined by dalliances with itinerant soldiers. So, I now sort of like this storyline, which maybe recuperates some of these women’s fates and gives their communities a chance to redeem themselves, too.

Bates walks in circles and I don’t care.

Mary tells LG that he needs to unclench on the Catholic thing; also, she disagrees that it’s ghoulish to call the baby Sybil.

Isobel tells Ethel to just get some ham in town and make a light salad for the ladies’ luncheon. Ethel wants to make an effort to show their sympathies; Isobel wants to play it safe.

Violet wants to know what LG’s plan is for baby Sybil, and also what’s up with Cora and warns him that “people like us are never unhappily married.” Then what, wonders LG. “In such a circumstances, the couple is unable to see each other as much as they’d like,” says Violet. “Or she could go to New York and visit That Woman.” LG can’t make sense of any of it. Violet puts on her mom hat: “My dearest boy, I seldom speak of the heart because it is rarely useful to do so, but I know well enough how painful it is when it is broken.”

Alfred and Ivy and Daisy enact their little love triangle. Mrs P busts up the party. Jimmy says that Ivy isn’t his type. O’Brien will probably use this statement to her advantage in trying to convince Thomas to make a real move on him; if Thomas makes a pass and Jimmy calls the cops, O’Brien is shot of Thomas AND has her revenge for starting the rumor that she was leaving Downton.

Mrs. P brings some recipes for Ethel and a shopping list. Ethel is dubious about making salmon mousse. “Anyone who has use of their limbs can make a salmon mousse,” says Mrs. P haughtily. God, I love her. Mrs. P, c’est moi.

mrs-patmore-and-ethel-pbs

Isobel invites Cora and “the girls” for luncheon. “Do I count as one of the girls,” asks Violet, previously unseen. Cora doesn’t want to come, fearing she’d bring her troubles with her. Mary and Matthew enter and Mary accepts the invitation.

Downstairs, we learn that Daisy is going to go visit Mr. Mason at the farm.

Upstairs, the youngsters grill Mr. Travis, who reckons there’s something “un-English about the Roman Church.” Tom’s response, being Irish: “and that’s a problem because …?” Travis has a problem with bells ‘n smells, and reckons it displeases God. Tom: So he’s displeased with the population of France and Italy? [And, uh, parts of England?] Edit: South America, Portugal? Mary: The Russians? The Spanish? Matthew: The non-Christians? The entire Indian subcontinent? Isobel: How about the British empire? [Some really fascinating troubling of British-Anglican national identity here, y’all.]

LG doesn’t think baby Sybil should be baptized into the wrong tribe. Mary reveals that Sybil wanted the baby to be Catholic. LG is flabbergasted. Cora says, “Not everyone chooses their religion to satisfy Debrett’s [a lifestyle guide for the peerage].” ZING!!!!

Downstairs, the staff discuss religion. Anna doesn’t want to talk about it.

Upstairs, Mary and Matthew discuss facing death and not taking things for granted. Matthew wants LG to see that he shouldn’t take Downton for granted. Mary says, “we should never take us for granted. Who knows what’s coming?” A giant anvil falls through the ceiling and lands at the foot of their bed. Matthew: “One thing I will take for granted, that I will love you until the last breath leaves my body.” Another anvil lands on top of the first one. Mary: “OMG, me too, darling. Totes.”

Boring stuff about Bates.

Ivy Alfred Jimmy love triangle + foxtrot.

Daisy arrives at Chez Mason. Mr. Mason wants to bequeath the farm to Daisy, who is dubious because she’s a cook and a woman and always thought she’d spend her life in service. Jaysus, Daisy, can you think outside the box for once? Do you want no good things to happen to you? Financial independence? Sheesh, I just want to shake her.

Violet tries to convince Clarkson to communicate to LG and Cora that there really was nothing to be done for Sybil, in the interest of their marriage.

Matthew consults with Tom about how best to make Downton more efficient, because “there’s a country boy inside the revolutionary.” These two are the future of Downton, I reckon, and it hinges on convincing Tom to stay there with the baby.

Ethel is grateful to Mrs. P for helping her with the luncheon. Carson sees Mrs. P leaving Crawley House.

Bates is boring.

Luncheon. Isobel is stressed because Ethel made real food, not ham and salad.

frolicker

Carson confronts Mrs. P about her helping Ethel, against his strict instructions to give the place a wide berth. Hughesy takes up Mrs. P’s case. Carson is outraged and speechless that Mrs. P would allow a woman of the streets to wait on members of our family! Hughesy reckons he won’t be speechless for long.

Matthew: bad management! LG: fiddle dee dee, we’ll think about that tomorrow. Carson: LG, we need to talk, now.

At the luncheon, the ladies are pleasantly surprised by how tasty the food is. Edith reckons she should learn to cook, which brings up the topic of the column, which gives Cora the opportunity to state her position that LG makes decisions based on archaic values. Mary says that she and Matthew support Edith in her writing career. LG bursts in and, underscoring Cora’s point, insists that the ladies leave, because Ethel is a filthy whore and they are being exposed to scandal. Just then, Ethel brings in dessert and Cora says, “Oh, is that a Charlotte Russe? How delicious.” Ethel explains that Mrs. P helped her with it. “I’m glad to know that Mrs. Patmore has a good heart and does not judge,” says Cora, glaring at LG. LG really must insist that they leave at once, but Cora resists, and Violet wants some of that Charlotte Russe.

pudding

LG peaces out.

Bates walks in circles, boringly, then yanks his former cellmate out of the circle walking, holds a shiv to his neck and says, “don’t interfere in them finding me innocent or I’ll murderize ya, see?” Then he gets back in the circle and walks, boringly.

Carson and Hughesy discuss the luncheon scandal; Carson is miffed that none of the women left, while Hughesy sees it as a sign that the world is becoming a kinder place. Carson reckons it’s weakness and a lack of discipline. “Well, if the Dowager and Her Ladyship can visit Crawley House, I reckon you won’t mind if I do,” says Hughesy. Carson won’t forbid it, but he won’t like it. “But you disappoint me,” he says. “I didn’t think of you as a woman with no standards.” She shoots him a “ninja, please” look and departs.

Mary visits LG and asks how productive it was for him to throw a tantrum about Ethel at Crawley House; she reckons he’s just pissed because the world isn’t going his way. He’s also pissed that Matthew is taking over Downton, and also the christening. “I’m never against you, but you’ve lost on this one,” Mary says. She reminds LG that Sybil loved Tom very much and that they should honor her wishes as far as the baby goes. “I keep forgetting she’s gone,” says LG. “I’ll read something in the paper that would make her laugh. I come inside to tell her that her favorite rose is in bloom, and then suddenly…” Mary implores him to tell Cora that, but he doesn’t think she wants to hear it from him.

Mary and Matthew visit Tom and the baby in a totally stilted and awkward scene.

downtown3_6__span

Poor Molesley is shocked that the ladies stayed at Crawley House after they learned that Ethel had cooked their lunch. “Even Jesus ate with Mary Magdalene,” Hughesy reminds him gently. “We’re not sure of that, but we know she washed his feet,” replies Poor Molesley. “Well, we’ll have to tell Ethel she’s in for a treat, then,” Hughesy shoots back.

Jimmy plays piano, Ivy gets busted for wearing rouge (Mrs. P calls her “Miss Hussy”!), Thomas gropes Jimmy some more. “He’s always touching me,” Jimmy complains to O’Brien. “I’m going to tell Carson. I’d tell the police if it got him to stop.” O’Brien excuses herself to fetch some linen … and to scheme. Daisy tells Jimmy that the music is nice, but it makes her sad because it makes her think of William.

O’Brien runs into Thomas in the hall and tells him that she thinks Jimmy has a crush on him. “Well, he’s got good taste,” says Thomas.

Alfred asks Daisy to teach him the foxtrot. Oh, Daisy. Don’t give your heart – or dance lessons – away.

Anna runs across the grounds to Mary and Edith (really?) to let them know that Mr. Bates will be released and will be home in a couple of weeks. Mary encourages Anna to let LG know to raise his spirits.

Cora brings a note from Violet inviting them over, but she hopes that it’s not a lecture on marital harmony. LG chuckles, then realizes that she wasn’t kidding. They’ll go, but not stay long. “You look lovely today,” says LG feebly. “Don’t try and flirt with me, dude,” says Cora. Awkward. Exeunt Cora. Anna bursts in with Mary and Edith to report that Bates is coming home. LG practically squees.

Jimmy interrupts Daisy and Alfred’s dance lesson and calls out Alfred on only trying to learn foxtrot to impress Ivy. He then takes Daisy in his arms to show him how it’s done. (Does Jimmy like Daisy?) Of course, Carson walks in and tears Jimmy a new one.

keepcalm

Cora and LG arrive at the Dowager’s house to find Dr. Clarkson waiting for them. Clarkson tells them that the chance of Sybil’s survival was “infinitesimal,” that eclampsia is almost always fatal, and that even if they’d done a C-section, she would have died and in great pain. LG and Cora embrace and cry, while Violet looks away discreetly. Poor Dr. Clarkson. Poor Cora.

The end.

Everyone’s Crying Forever: Downton Abbey recap (S. 3, Ep. 4)


Welcome to the saddest episode of Downton Abbey ever.

36h6xe

Sad dog butt.

Dr. Clarkson is checking on Sybil while Cora, Mary, and Ethel look on. He gives her the all clear, all are relieved. Dr. Clarkson explains to the menfolk, all standing in the hall with rumpled hair and clad in shiny robes, that the pains were simply “the womb preparing itself for birth.” LG, because he is apparently not a GROWN ASS MAN, turns a little greenish, prompting Cora to interject: “Dr. Clarkson, Lord Grantham doesn’t enjoy medical detail. Can we go back to bed?” Yes, all can go back to bed. LG informs Dr. C that Sir Philip Tapsell will be around in the morning. (My memory for details like this is not so great; Dr. C looks irritated by this information, which leads me to believe that there is a tension there. Anyone?)

Tom needs reassurance that nothing is wrong with Sybil. He narrowly misses being struck by the anvil that falls out of the sky and lands on the floor behind him. “Pshaw, Paddy,” says Dr. C. “She’s perfectly healthy and everything is PERFECTLY NORMAL I MEAN IT.”

Downstairs, baby talk. Or, rather, don’t talk about having babies at the dinner table. Oh That Thomas smirks lasciviously at The Mentalist Jimmy, while O’Brien looks on. Carson declares that Sybil is in a delicate condition, so everyone use your inside voices on the gallery. Meanwhile, Daisy is being a total bitch to Ivy, the new kitchen maid. U mad, Daisy?

Matthew kvetches about when to talk to LG about the mismanagement of the estate, and tells Mary that in order for them to enjoy Downton and for their kids to enjoy it, they have to be good stewards of it, which is not currently happening. Mary takes breakfast in bed; cut to Cora receiving breakfast in bed. Someone explain this breakfast in bed thing to me. Once you are a married woman, your legs stop working and you don’t have to shift your arse out of bed to lift some tea and toast to your exalted lips? Sitting in bed like a passive lump, waiting for a jangly tray filled with hot liquids and sticky things just waiting for me to spill them all over my skin and my sheets, just does not sound all that awesome. I mean, they didn’t even have Morning Joe back then, so what would they do? Just sit there alone and eat? How about a crossword puzzle? Words With Friends? You have to eat breakfast in isolation in your nightie while everyone else gets to go downstairs and have adult conversation? YO NO LO COMPRENDO.

Anyhoo. LG wants Sir Philip because he has doctored His ‘n Her Highnesses; Cora worries that Dr. C will be offended, and not to discount his expertise just because he misdiagnosed Matthew’s war injury. Oh, and he also totally missed the warning signs that Lavinia’s flu would take a turn for the deathy. Whatevs. The dead can’t sue for malpractice, and Matthew’s weiner works again, so everyone wins! (Well, except Lavinia, of course.)

The Mentalist has been asked by Carson to wind the clocks, which O’ Brien says is a good sign that he will ascend to first footman rapidly. The Mentalist doesn’t know the first thing about clocks (really? Nothing? Don’t they just have a key that you turn until it gets really hard to turn and then makes this really horrific clicking noise and then you walk away really fast?). O’Brien, ever the schemer, suggests that The Mentalist enlist the help of Oh That Thomas, because he used to wind the clocks. In fact, The Mentalist would do well to keep in with OTT, since he has LG’s ear. I see what you did there, O’Brien.

Upstairs, Sybil explains to Mary that her back hurts, her ankles are swelling, and her head aches. “Honestly, I can’t recommend this to anyone,” she says. Mary’s all, “Whatevs! I can’t wait to get knocked up, myself! I know I will just KILL being pregnant!” Sybil goes on to tell Mary that she wants Baby Branson to be christened a Catholic per Tom’s wishes, since she doesn’t really believe in God but she super loves Tom and wants what he wants.

Oh That Thomas gives The Mentalist an incredibly creepy lesson in clock winding. Meanwhile, in prison, Anna and Bates FINALLY suss out (two episodes after the rest of us have) that Vera deliberately poisoned herself in order to set up Bates. At Crawley House, Ethel explains to Isobel that she’s had a hard time finding a jeorb because of her history as a prostitute. Isobel offers her a job helping out Mrs. Bird. Back at prison, Bad Guard and Evil Ex-Cellmate scheme against Bates some more, because that worked out so well for them before.

Mary and Matthew stroll the estate, Matthew explaining beep boop boop boop there’s been no investment blergh. Matthew reckons LG doesn’t give a good gosh-darn about the way Downton is being managed because it’s so very middle class. But because Matthew is middle class, he will SAVE DOWNTON. Starting with setting up a Kickstarter and a Cafepress t-shirt shop.

At dinner, Sir Philip turns out to be a total blowhard who thinks that it’s not necessary to have the local doctor present at the birth of Baby Branson, as he is an Expert at Birthin’ Babies. I WONDER HOW THIS WILL TURN OUT. After dinner, Matthew pulls Sir Blowhard aside and asks whether he may have any residual fertility issues from his war injury (a bruised spine); he is concerned because he and Mary have been knockin’ da boots for a few months and nothing seems to stick. Sir Philip says that if they would just relax already they would get pregnant. ORLY? says every infertile couple everywhere.

Anna tells LG that they’ve figured out Vera’s plot; I assume that he’ll pull whatever strings the gentry pull in order to free their valets from prison. Edith gets a letter offering her a column, LG says hell to the no, Matthew says unclench already, LG says “when you’re a father, you’ll understand the urge to protect your children from making a fool of you themselves.”

So, as an aside, I think the major theme of this episode is parenting.

Mrs. Bird is quitting because she feels that working with a prostitute is beneath her, and that she may be thought of as also being a prostitute. Lie down with dogs, fleas, etc. “No one could look at you and think that,” says Isobel. Snerk. Isobel tells Mrs. B that she’ll get a month’s wages in lieu of notice (bounced!); Mrs. B says she’ll go to Manchester to be near her sister, and that there is plenty of work for a plain cook there. “And they will find one in you,” says Isobel. OH DAMN!!!!!

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Meanwhile, Alfred and The Mentalist flirt with Ivy. Love triangle, y’all! Daisy comes in, bitches at Ivy, and leaves again. During dinner prep, Alfred – who has grokked that Ivy fancies The Mentalist instead of him — deliberately curdles the hollandaise sauce in order to give Ivy the chance to look good in front of Daisy and Mrs. P (who gently advises Daisy that Alfred won’t like her more for bullying Ivy).

Upstairs, the family is unimpressed with Edith’s new career prospects. (Damn those women and their typewriters! I blame Mina Harker.) “When should we expect her debut on the London stage?” snarks Violet. Poor Edith. And, true to form, one of the other sisters takes precedence as we learn that Sybil is Officially In Labor.

Dr. Clarkson is concerned because Sybil’s ankles are swollen and she seems … muddled. Sir Philip asks Dr. Clarkson to step out into the hall. The Granthams talk about the tension between the doctors. LG is in Sir Blowhard’s corner, while everyone else wants to be respectful of Dr. Clarkson. Meanwhile, Sir Blowhard and Dr. C have a medical pissing contest in the hall. Sir Philip tells Dr. C to bakdefukup.

Sybil is in labor, going back and forth between lucidity and hallucinations. Everyone in the room is deeply concerned, apart from Sir Blowhard. Naturally. Dr. Clarkson, suspecting a problem, wants to test Sybil’s urine. He reports to LG that there are too many warning signs: the swelling, the small size of the baby, the confusion, and a high amount of protein in her urine. He wants to transfer her to hospital and deliver the baby by C-section. Sir Blowhard says that this is all malarkey, that pre/eclampsia is very rare, yadda yadda. Mary’s all, “Shouldn’t the decision be up to Tom?” Word.

When presented with the options, Tom – who is an idiot, at the end of it all – is frozen with indecision. He wants to keep Sybil safe and is confused by the conflicting reports from the doctors. Sybil cries out, and they all rush to her. It’s too late – baby’s coming.

Waiting, talking, Mary announces that the men and Violet can come up, that the baby is a girl. Sybil is sweaty, the baby gurgles, Tom loves them, Sybil is tired. Cora is glowing. Sir Blowhard declares that everyone should go to bed. Downstairs, Carson declares that everyone can go to bed. Oh That Thomas is chuffed, which surprises The Mentalist. Thomas explains that he and Sybil worked together in the hospital and that she is a lovely person. He then manhandles TM in a creepy way, then leaves. TM tells O’Brien that Thomas is awfully familiar. She says that it’s a good thing, but she hopes he’s not suggesting something unseemly is going on. The Mentalist, knowing what’s good for him, and also knowing that he is now between a rock and a hard place (tee hee), says, nope, G’nite!

Later that night, Mary bursts into Cora and LG’s room and says something’s wrong with Sybil. She is in distress, hallucinating and crying out in agony with pains in her head. Dr. Clarkson explains that this is eclampsia. Sybil starts seizing. Sir Blowhard tries to save face. Dr. Clarkson says nothing can be done. Tom and Cora are begging Sybil to breathe. This part kills me, they’re both so desperate. Sybil goes still. Everyone else just stands there, stricken. Dr. Clarkson checks Sybil’s pulse; when he turns away, we can’t see his face, but Edith can, and that tells us everything we need to know. The baby cries in another room.

The people downstairs are heartbroken. Thomas in particular is gutted. Nice of the writers to endow him with some humanity. “The sweetest spirit under this roof is gone,” says Mrs. Hughes. Weep.

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Cora sits alone with her youngest daughter, promising her that they will take care of Tom and the baby. To me, this is the purest expression of the bond between mother and daughter, and I don’t even care that they ripped it off from Steel Magnolias. Mary pops in and tells Cora that she should go to bed. Without taking her eyes from Sybil, Cora tells Mary that she’s not done saying goodbye and also that LG should sleep in the dressing room.

LG’s lawyer (?) arrives to talk to Anna about the Bates situation. Matthew wants to talk to him later. Totally appropriate.

Mary and Edith say goodbye to Sybil before the funeral home people take her away. I have to admit that the “let’s love each other now, as sisters should” exchange between M & E clunks a little here, but I get the idea behind it. Sybil was who made those two beasts human, and now she’s gone. Tom says goodbye to Sybil, too heartbreaking to even dwell upon. Ugh, I can’t.

Mary walks in on Matthew discussing the issue of the management of the estate with the lawyer and flame broils him for it, rightly so.

Mrs. Hughes reports to Carson and Mrs. P that a woman in the village will nurse the baby, and the Mrs. P will feed the baby according to the percentage method. Everyone is so desperately sad. Especially when Violet arrives. “Carson, we’ve seen some troubles in our time,” she says. “But nothing could be worse than this.” “Nothing could be worse, m’lady,” he replies. And then Maggie Smith gets her big Acting Moment: she walks slowly, black-clad, across the foyer (and because I am Southern, I want to spell that the way it sounds in my head, “foy-yay”), stopping to brace herself on the wall while she sobs, her cane tapping softly on the rug. She lifts her black veil before entering the sitting room.

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Stuff about the baby nurse, stuff about Tom, who “wants his wife back, which is the one thing he can’t have.” Mild-mannered Cora is on the warpath, mild-manneredly. She gets up to go write a letter of apology to Dr. Clarkson, because if they had listened to him, Sybil might still be alive, but Sir Blowhard and LG knew better and as a result, Sybil is dead. LG is almost suitably chastened. Violet tells him not to blame himself (HE SHOULD TOTALLY BLAME HIS PATRIARCHAL SELF), that Sybil has died in childbirth like too many women before her and all they can do is cherish her memory and her child.

Shot of Tom in the window, holding the baby, looking out the window mournfully.

That is all. I am throatsore and tear-drenched. But maybe you might be interested in reading this. See you next week. Weep, weep, weep.

 

 

 

 

Downton Abbey recap: S3, Ep3! (Better late than never!)


It’s Friday night at the end of a long and very eventful week. My friends came over to drink wine and play cards and eat brownies, but now they’ve gone home. My family are all in bed. I’m sitting in my living room, eating Bugles (lord, the SALT!) and finally grabbing a spare moment to re-watch and recap last Sunday’s episode.

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(Why am I eating Bugles at 10:30 on Friday night? Here is what I’ve eaten today: a little bit of pear-apple-cranberry crisp for breakfast, two vaqueros on corn from Tacodeli for second breakfast, a pulled-pork torta and a small piece of homemade carrot cake for lunch, two Thin Mints while tidying the house this afternoon, a bacon cheeseburger and fries at Five Guys for dinner, plus a bushel of peanuts while waiting for MA and BK to meet up with us, a brownie, and two small glasses of prosecco. There is absolutely no reason for me to be eating Bugles other than that they are here, being crunchy and cone-shaped and salty and tantalizing. I’ve had so much salt today I can barely bend my fingers. STOP ME BEFORE I BUGLE AGAIN.)

Anyhoo. Downton. Dog butt. Downstairs, Anna is hurt because she’s not gotten a letter and even stupid Thomas has one. “Nothing for me, Mr. Carson?” “No, Anna, yet again, nothing for you.” Geez, Carson. Way to tact.

Prison: No letter for Bates. Bates has a sad.

Matthew and Mary beep boop boop boop Anna stiff upper lip.

Mrs. Crawley visits Mrs. Hughes downstairs and explains that she’s seen Ethel the Unnecessary Plot Device again; Ethel has been working as a prostitute. Mrs. Hughes recoils at the word because Victorianism  and says, “My my, that’s not a word you hear in this house every day,” she pearl-clutches. Oh, come off it Hughesy.

Upstairs, Carson wants to know if he has two daddies now. Matthew explains that he’s merely made an investment in the estate, but nothing else has changed. Carson wants to get the staff back up to snuff, bringing on a housemaid, a kitchen maid, and a footman. Matthew walks back his previous statement and puts his oar in about the relevance of a large staff, prompting Carson to climb up on the cross. “Well, I would like to return to my duties as a butler, but if you would prefer for me to continue also doing the work of a second footman…” LG defuses the situation, smoothing Carson’s ruffled feathers.

So, apparently some time has passed because the big dinner with the archbishop referenced in the previous scene is now the same night. Edith is having breakfast with Matthew and LG; Matthew asks why Edith isn’t taking breakfast in bed. “Because I’m not married,” she whines. Really? Is that a thing? Does marriage entitle you to breakfast in bed? If so, I am owed a LOT of back breakfast-in-beds. LG reads in the paper that Tennessee is going to ratify the 19th amendment, giving women the right to vote. “Boy, I sure wish I could vote,” says Edith. “You should write a letter to the Times,” teases Matthew. “Maybe I will,” says Edith, the Accidental Feminist. Here’s my problem with this: Edith only seems to be turning toward suffrage because the whole marriage thing hasn’t worked out. It’s like, Plan B. To my mind, feminism isn’t something you take up because you weren’t able to follow the script. It’s an ethos, not a punt.

Mary has summoned Matthew to the nursery, which she has commandeered for their sitting room. Matthew was confused, because Mary had been to the doctor earlier and now they are meeting in the nursery. Nope, hay fever meds. “But what shall we do for a day nursery, should the need arise?” he asks, suggestively. Mary looks mildly alarmed, but brushes it off. TENSION, Y’ALL.

Edith has brought Violet a bottle of perfume. Violet’s worried about Edith after her jilting, and suggests that she keep busy. “There must be something you can put your mind to,” says Violet. “But what?” whines Edith. “Gardening?” “Well, no, you can’t be as desperate as that,” Violet retorts (this caused me to guffaw). “Then what?” “Edith, you’re a woman with a brain and reasonable ability. Stop whining and find something to do!” Violet just took Edith to CHURCH, y’all!

Carson is taking Alfred under his wing. Anna is weepy because she zzzzzzzzzz. In prison, Bates’ ally explains that he’s a target or whatevs. Bates is just relieved to understand why he’s not been getting letters.

Back at Downton, Alfred can’t even tell the difference between a soup spoon and a bouillon spoon. WHAT A MAROON.

At Crawley house, Ethel tells Hughesy that she wants to give up Charlie for adoption to his paternal grandparents (remember that Ethel’s babydaddy was an officer convalescing at Downton in S. 2, then went and got himself killed near the end of WWI). Mrs. Bird, Mrs. Crawley’s maid, refuses to help Ethel with her coat. Mrs. Crawley says, surprisingly pleasantly, “Some manners wouldn’t go amiss.” Have I mentioned that I LOVE Mrs. Crawley? She’s my second-favorite character behind Violet.

At the dinner, LG tells the archbishop that the Catholics are like foreigners. Wha? Edith takes a cryptic phone call from Sybil. Someone knocks on the door. It’s Tom. Mary sends him upstairs and covers for him back at dinner. Ok, I’ll be honest: I am not following what’s going on with Tom and setting someone’s house on fire and … LG shouts and makes Tom cry? I know it has something to do with the Irish war of independence, and to do with the fact that Tom is a Republican, but really, zzzzzzz.

In other news, Hughesy has treated herself to a toaster. Carson is scandalized. Meanwhile, a handsome young man who looks like that guy from that show arrives to interview for the footman job. The maids all look like this:

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Thomas comes in, peeps Jimmy, and is like:

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Only Hughesy has it together enough to move things along. We learn that Jimmy had worked for some dowager who’d moved to France and begged him to come along. Jimmy;s a player!!

Ethel gives up her boy. This was a hard scene to watch. Not quite sure why this storyline was in here. (Although it looks like Mrs. Crawley hires Ethel next week, which I’m sure Mrs. Bird is really excited about!)

Sybil arrives at Downton. Cora, wearing a hella-dowdy hairdo, fusses at Tom for abandoning Sybil. If you ask me, of all the Grantham girls, I think Sybil is the most suited to shift for herself. She ain’t no hothouse flower. Mary is pissed at Tom because he burned her some other debutante’s house down. A telegram arrives from LG; Cora and her bad hair tell Tom and Sybil that they are not to leave Downton.

Thomas comes upon Jimmy getting dressed (Jimmy manscapes!) and does an unsubtle

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(My friend Elizabeth wondered on Facebook why the villain on the show a predatory gay man. I had the same thought; it’s such a lazy trope and it seems like we’re in a progressive enough moment to think up new, more responsible ways to portray gay people. Apparently, the issue is resolved in later episodes.)

Matthew tells Mary he’s been going over the numbers and realizes that the running of Downton could be much more efficient and less wasteful. Beep beep boop boop whatevs. Tom can’t return to Ireland. Violet wonders why all the Irish rebels are so well born. Tee hee. At dinner, the family is mildly scandalized to learn that Edith has written to a newspaper. LG doesn’t think it will be published. The upstairs folks are amused by how handsome the new footman is. Matthew gingerly tries to tell LG about how badly the estate is being run, but is brushed off.

Prison. I skipped over the part earlier where Bates got his revenge on his cellmate for planting drugs in his bed. This gets Bates back in the guards’ good graces and is handed a hefty packet of letters from Anna.

Toaster shenanigans. Silliness

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Sybil takes a stand with Tom and insists that they stay at Downton for their baby’s sake. Edith’s letter has been published in the paper denouncing the limitations for the women’s suffrage bill. Matthew and Tom are impressed and supportive. LG is incensed. Carson grunts his disapproval. (Ugh, Carson. You turd.)

Daisy’s about to confess to Alfred that she lurves him, but Mrs. P brings in Ivy, the new kitchen maid, who is cute. Alfred is googly eyed and Daisy is disappointed.

Matthew seeks advice on how to handle the mismanagement of Downton from Violet. Violet advises him that there’s no way he can address it without misaligning people’s noses. The only way out is through, I guess. I smell a showdown at the Downton Corral!

The episode ends with Anna and Bates reading their backlog of letters. Aw, bless. GET OFF MY TV YOU MOST BORING PEOPLE WHO EVER BORED ME.

Ok, that’s it for this week! Look for another recap soon (Tuesday?), unless I die of a salt overdose between now and then.