Downton Abbey Series 3 – New Obstacles and Double Standards

Downton Abbey Series 3 Episode 6 is all about weighing up and balancing chances against expectations and life-changing events. If you don’t want us to spoil it for you please don’t read on. Once again the Dowager Duchess Violet comes to the rescue. She is busy for much of the episode encouraging the local Doctor to talk to Lord Robert and Lady Cora, who have been forced apart by the circumstances surrounding the death of their beloved daughter Sybil. She wants him to help them surmount the obstacles that stand in their way from seeking comfort in each other’s arms and finding a way forward together.

The story starts with the aftermath of Lady Sybil’s funeral, which has indeed been an awful event for all involved, one the viewers cannot help but be drawn into reports our British correspondent, due to some splendid performances. Duchess Cora is still in a very unforgiving mood and refusing Lord Robert from returning to her bed. Everyone is overcome with so much grief, none more so than Sybil’s husband Tom.

He is still struggling to come to terms with his beautiful wife’s dreadful death from a distressing medical condition of pregnancy that has the patient progressing from convulsion to confusion and from coma to cardiac arrest if steps are not taken quickly and concisely. Pre-eclampsia and eclampsia are collectively called ‘the Hypertensive disorder of pregnancy and toxemia of pregnancy’. It’s a very rare condition that can still occur today.

Matthew is standing firm at his side endeavouring to support Tom Branson as he struggles to find a new way forward with his thriving baby daughter, whom he wants to call Sybil after his much loved and adored wife.

The next hurdle and obstacle to overcome will be his parent’s in law’s approval of the name and the babies christening. Lady Crawley however could be just throwing another curve by deciding to give a luncheon party for all the ‘ladies’ to help them discuss what has happened and come to terms with their loss.

Anna is still standing by Bates as Lord Robert’s lawyer endeavours to confirm the new evidence Anna has discovered that will prove Bates’s innocence and secure his release. However there are new obstacles in the way and double standards being employed in this episode, both upstairs and down.

The staff are busy championing the man in prison while condemning and harshly judging the housemaid Ethel, who is trying hard to turn her life around after being given a second chance by Lady Crawley. They believe they know Bates is innocent, after all he is one of them and his word is to be trusted.

On the other hand Ethel admitted she lapsed, conceiving a baby out of wedlock and then indulging in prostitution, trying to earn money so that she and her baby would not starve on the streets. She has paid the price and given her baby away to give it a greater chance of a better life.

Bates has to resolve the obstacles put in his way in prison by threatening to kill another inmate he believes is thwarting his efforts to prove the truth about his innocence.

Ethel meanwhile is grateful for the chance Lady Crawley has given her to redeem herself and find a new life. She enlists the aid of the Downton cook Mrs Patmore to help her brush up on her cuisine preparation skills. She wants to cater the best she can for the luncheon and show the ladies her respect and support in hard times.

While Mrs Patmore doubts why she is there to assist, Ethel assures her it is because she is a kind person.  Ethel knows she has to overcome her demons and using the recipes Mrs Patmore has supplied and assistance provided pushes ever forward. Those double standards rear their ugly head again when Lord Grantham invites the local Vicar to dinner in his endeavour to influence the christening of Tom and Sybil’s baby and where it will take place.

He wants the baby christened in the Church of England, while Tom is insisting on a Roman Catholic ceremony. The debate rages over the dinner table where the Vicar 0bserves that there might be something ‘un English about the Roman church’? to which Tom retorts that ‘as he is an Irishman’ it’s certainly not likely to bother him. Travis pushes on regardless ‘I cannot think bells and incense’ and other aspects of the pagan rituals ‘pleasing to God’. Tom fires back so is God not pleased by the population of the French or Italians, to which the reply is ‘not as pleased as he is by the Anglicans’. Ethel and Mary come down on Tom’s side, along with Matthew and Lady Crawley they prove that religion is a subject to be avoided at all times, especially when it ensures heartburn.

The Duchess chimes in and observes that one of her dearest friends is the Duchess of Norfolk, who is ‘more catholic than the Pope’. The Norfolks are certainly a famous family that has, over the centuries, been one the most renowned Catholic housesholds England. Duchess Violet is comfortably fence sitting, wanting to show them all that there are two sides to every story, however they are not hearing her message.

Lord Robert doesn’t feel its helpful for the baby to be baptised into a different ‘tribe’, but Tom insists if she is then she will be baptised into his tribe.

Mary cannot contain herself another minute and finally reveals Sybil’s last wishes. They were given to her on the day she died when Sybil had made Mary promise that the child would be christened Catholic like its father.

At this time the Oxford Movement of 1833, a powerful religious reawakening was in full swing in England, which in brief wanted to take the English church back to the time pre Henry VIII, when the English ‘Catholic’ Church had been viewed by Rome as a rare jewel in our lady’s crown. According to Julian Fellowes the movement seemingly hadn’t reached Downton Village, by the 1920’s, which is in many ways surprising, especially when it had a Lord who prided himself on being an ‘enlightened’ man.

The renaissance of spirituality, theology, scholarship, liturgy, music, art, architecture, and the revival of religious orders and communities (monks and nuns), which the Oxford Movement began in the Church of England, goes under the name of the Catholic Revival. To this day in the early twenty-first century, there is not a parish church in the Anglican Communion around the world that has not been affected by it in some way or other. The bells and smells of the mass are very much part of Anglican ritual and ceremony, even if only on special occasions. And the word ‘catholic’ itself simply means universal in extent; involving all; of interest to all.

The Lord is ‘flabbergasted’ that his cherished daughter would have left such an instruction about her baby being christened a catholic. Lady was Cora retorts that not everyone chooses their religion to satisfy ‘Debrett’s’, a reference to one of the oldest English publications listing the members of the British peerage and their genealogical details. Founded in 1769 being listed as a person of distinction in ‘Debrett’s certainly during the time Downton Abbey is set, was the penultimate acknowledgment of a families success and Carson for one would have certainly been pleased to see his ‘house and family’ listed.

Downstairs Carson is busy expressing his own views at the staff dinner that ‘Catholics can hardly be loyal to the Crown’. He’s being frightfully ‘snobbish’ and entirely judgmental right throughout this episode and he makes your blood boil, showing just how powerfully Fellowes plugs into everyone’s emotions with his writing on this most glamorous of all ‘soap opera’s.

Carson is also hot on the trail, having seen Mrs Patmore while he was down in the village exiting Lady Crawley’s house. He now has to get to the bottom of the reason why because he has forbidden anyone in his team to talk to or even acknowledge poor Ethel, who is in his eyes a fallen woman and one that can never be redeemed. He is conveniently forgetting that it takes two to tango and produce a baby, and one of those is always a man!

Having retired Matthew and Mary discuss that perhaps Sybil already knew when she made Mary promise that she would support the baby’s christening in the Catholic faith. Matthew in reminiscing over the period of the war, which is now fading behind us, that he should be used to people dying young, although he’s not.

Matthew also expresses the view that he wants Mary’s father Lord Robert to realize that he wasn’t given Downton by ‘God’s decree’ and without good management they could face losing it, despite all the money he has invested.

‘We have to work if we want to keep it’ he says’. This makes them both realise that they should never take each other for granted and they re-confirm their love and commitment to each other. As they have been bickering a lot lately, its good to hear.

Thinks are definitely looking up for our Daisy who has been invited by her deceased husband William’s father Mr Macy to come and spend the weekend on his farm. She finds out that he wants her to come and live with him there. He also tells her he is leaving its tenancy, its stock, his tools and all his money to her as his heiress when he dies.

So Daisy, the humble kitchen maid, who thought her whole life would be spent in the drudgery attached to service, is about to become richer than she could have ever dreamed possible all because of one man’s kindness.

‘But I’m a woman’, she says to him, scared stiff of what it all might mean. Could she possibly contemplate another sort of life?

The Dowager Duchess asks Dr Clarkson to correct the division and rupture he has caused between her son and his wife so that they can bear and face their grief together. Will he succumb to the will of this his most supportive patron? Can he twist the facts in a way that they can all accept and live with? Lie is a so unmusical a word, the Dowager observes as she struggles to find out if they have something in common.

Matthew is showing Tom the farming property belonging to Downton and finds out that there is a ‘country boy inside the revolutionary’, a piece of information that may be useful for Matthew to know as he endeavours to tackle the huge issues surrounding making the land pay its way in the future.

Lady Crawley is busy greeting her guests to lunch when all hell breaks loose. Carson finally finds out that all his ‘ladies’ are going to being eating a meal cooked by a ‘prostitute’. He erupts into a fit of indignation and pompous posturing and hastens to tell all to Lord Robert who he knows will come down on his side. Down in the village Lady Crawley is frankly flabbergasted at the marvellous meal Ethel has prepared for her guests, who are all enjoying the occasion. She observes to them all that she may have underestimated Ethel and her abilities and they are just discussing Ethel’s hopes for the future when Lord Robert suddenly burst with rage into the room where they are all enjoying Lady Crawley’s hospitality. He demands that they all leave, because Lady Crawley has set his family up to be ridiculed by exposing them to scandal. When they hear the facts surrounding this decision and his outrage Lady Cora refuses, glad to know Mrs Patmore has helped Ethel noting that at least she has a ‘good heart and does not judge’, which is what being a practicing Christian is supposed to be all about.

Downstairs debate at the servant’s dinner table brings up the inevitable Mary Magdalene reference and Jesus’s relationship with a ‘renowned prostitute’. While it cannot be confirmed that Jesus ‘ate’ with her, we do know that he allowed her to wash his feet observes Mr Molesley. Amused at his parallel Mrs Hughes wonderfully observes right back that Ethel will be pleased as she might yet have ‘a treat in store’.

James the new footman, continually worried about all Thomas’s attempts to ‘touch him’, once again tells Mrs O’Brien.They have all discovered ‘Jimmy’ can play the piano and he takes the opportunity to reveal that he can also do the quickstep, dancing with Daisy who has been trying to teach Alfred how to dance. Caught by Carson they are all admonished for daring to enjoy such a light moment in such distressing times and Alfred fails to back up his colleague, a weakness of character not to be admired.

The end comes with Anna rushing to tell everyone the news, when she receives a telegram, of Bates imminent release causing much joy. Ethel bravely arrives with flowers at Downton Abbey for Mrs Patmore, confronting all her accusers. What will they all do? Lady Cora and Lord Robert are being summoned by the Dowager Duchess to have a word with Dr Clarkson and we can only hope that after this encounter things will start to regain their equilibrium at Downton Abbey for the babies christening.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2012




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