New York Times, February 8, 2015
Isis? Isis, can you hear me?
It looks ominous, Abbots. The yellow lab with the perky haunches now lies prostrate on the Crawley rug. No pep in her step, no wag in her tail.
Now it may simply be that she's grasped how old she is. Some 70 dog years have elapsed, after all, since she came to the Abbey (succeeding Pharaoh) and Downton has always been much a tougher place on animals than humans.
By Julian Fellowes's own reckoning, the Earl of Grantham is now 65, yet he looks just as flinty and tweedy as when he was squandering his wife's money in Season 1 (and Hugh Bonneville, the actor who plays him, is a mere 51).
Isis, by contrast, has spent all this time stalking vermin and lying round in drafty hallways and wagging her tail on cue—not to mention absorbing and filtering the human toxins of longing, loneliness, rage. No wonder
Time's winged chariot is flapping in her ears.
Not that anyone seems to care. The only Crawley who expresses concern at first is Isis's sometime romantic rival Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), who wonders if maybe the dog has "picked up a germ," sweetly conjuring a world in which bacteria move singly.
"She's quite fat," observes that fount of solicitude, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery). "Perhaps she's pregnant."
The only other diagnosis Mary brings to the table is that Isis has swallowed a dead squirrel. I think it more likely that she's swallowed Michael Gregson, so swiftly and completely has he vanished from the "Downton" plotline. And don't tell me about his "remains" turning up somewhere in Germany. After a year or so of moldering, one Englishman looks pretty much like the next.
Well, having finally received confirmation of her beloved's death, Edith (Laura Carmichael) bestirs herself to march over to the Drewe household and, brandishing Marigold's birth certificate and more than a hint of droit de seigneur, drags her little girl away to the haven of some dreary London flat.
Maybe she keeps a little Prozac in her bag, too, because Marigold makes nary a squawk at being lateraled, although she does look a little wary when Edith coos, "I'll order some ice cream and a glass of champagne, and we'll be as jolly as you like." I think we've just learned the two components of the Downton Abbey baby formula, and if indeed all the Crawley babies were weaned on it, so much would be explained.
(Crawley babies. Ha! Get it?)
In making sense of Episode 6's other plot threads, we might usefully borrow a categorization scheme from Alice Munro.
Loveship. Blink twice, and suddenly Lady Rose (Lily James) is on the brink of something permanent with Atticus Aldridge (Matt Barber). The young man's Jewishness appears to be only the slightest of hitches—Cora's half-Jewish, after all—and all that remains to be seen is whether the two little Cheshire cats will ever stop flashing their perfect, white, un-Englishy teeth at each other.
But can loveship persevere at the Abbey? With Robert sulking in his dressing room over his wife's recent flirtation, Cora is the one who has to step up (again). "If you can honestly say you have never let a flirtation get out of hand since we married," she says, "if you have never given a woman the wrong impression, then by all means stay away. Otherwise I expect you back in my room tonight." Robert recalls, perhaps, the time he was snogging with a maid while his wife lay perilously ill with Spanish flu and hies himself back.
Hateship. Here I hope you'll permit me a moment of gloating. The thing is, Abbots, I never cheat and watch ahead, no matter what's happened on the other side of the pond, but as soon as Mary Crawley's contraceptive device was introduced, I knew in my heart of hearts that, like Chekhov's gun, it would "go off."
And so it has. Bates (Brendan Coyle) thinks Anna (Joanne Froggatt) is using birth control because she doesn't want to have babies with "a murderer." And with that, it all comes out—or at least some of it. Bates bought a ticket to London with the thought of killing Green but didn't go through with it because then he'd be sure to hang and he couldn't do that to Anna, so if they can just find the ticket he bought to London and show it wasn't torn, oh, but the ticket was in his coat and now it's missing and ... my aching head.
Abbots, the Death of Mr. Green has been investigated more thoroughly than the Iran-Contra scandal. The manpower alone: Scotland Yard detectives and local constables and plainclothes officers stationed just on the chance that someone will walk by. Was Mr. Green a Belgravian duke? A Prussian anarchist? What can explain this harnessing of the national-security apparatus?
More to come, of course.
Friendship. The snake oil that Hissing Thomas (Rob James-Collier) has been injecting in his veins turns out to be nothing more than unsterilized saline solution, which accounts for the fever and the seriously nasty abscess on the right buttock. Dr. Clarkson (David Robb) tells the underbutler there's no cure for what ails him and advises him to "accept the burden that chance has seen fit to lay upon you and to fashion as good a life as you're able."
And who should be there with a friendly clap on the shoulder but Baxter (Raquel Cassidy), who concludes that Thomas's course of electroshock and dubious chemicals and self-help literature is, on the whole, brave? Me, I'm still waiting for him to hook up with Noel Coward or the young John Gielgud. Choose your own path, indeed.
Courtship. Or, as Mary Crawley likes to call it: War.
She's trying to offload hot-but-dim Tony Gillingham (Tom Cullen), but rather than make herself mousy or dumpy, she descends on her hairdresser like Achilles strapping on armor and emerges with the most au courant of bobs. Even her competitor, the delicious and please-let-her-stay-forever Mabel Lane Fox (Catherine Steadman), is impressed enough to call Mary "a cross between a Vogue fashion plate and a case of dynamite."
Mabel and Mary are riding in some kind of point-to-point horse race, and what with the men in the mix, too, and all those armbands and steeplechases, didn't you assume that death or serious injury lay in wait? Surely one of those aristo necks would snap like melba toast? But no, they all get home safe and sound, and Tony is enamored enough of his ex's equestrian abilities to call her "a positive centaur." We will label that a compliment and hope that the romantic maneuverings of Charles Blake (Julian Ovenden) come to some kind of fruition. For somebody.
Best scene: I can't remember having my heart quite so punched as when the stricken Mrs. Drewe hands Marigold's stuffed bear to Edith. "She won't sleep else." Kudos to Emma Lowndes for showing us a mother driven to extremes of rage and tenderness. Thomas Hardy would have written a whole book about this woman, and heaven help Edith as she tries to top this maternal gold standard.
Best line: I love how the bons mots of Violet, the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) are beginning to smack of senile free association. "All this endless thinking. It's very overrated. ... I blame the war. Before 1914, nobody thought about anything at all...."
This week's drinking game: A Dubonnet cocktail on ice for every time Spratt (Jeremy Swift) rolls his eyes.
I Google so you don't have to: Pola Negri. Polish-born silent-film star who flung herself on Rudolph Valentino's coffin. You're welcome.
Department of other stuff....
Didn't Earl G look cute with the grandkids?
Prince Kuragin (Rade Serbedzija) says, if his wife were dead, he'd ask Violet to run off with him right now. Uh, where? Give him credit, though, for being Violet's most perceptive critic: "You think to be unhappy in a marriage is ill bred."
Putting the cart before the horse, Carson (Jim Carter) asks Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) if she'd like to ... invest in a property together. "As a business venture," he quickly adds." "Go and ring that gong," advises Mrs. H, and if it gets any smuttier, I may have to get parental controls. (Have we ever once heard the gong?)
Isobel (Penelope Wilton) has confided that she plans to marry Lord Merton (Douglas Reith). Which, she should know, is the clearest sign it will never happen. Never, never, never.
So what do you think, Abbots? What's going to block Isobel's path to the altar? What's going to tumble out of Molesley's (Kevin Doyle) 5th volume of Cambridge Modern History? What's that gas-station tumbler that Prince K is serving tea out of? Will Isis be tumbling through Heaven's doggie door before season's end?
And when Violet says Spratt "rules us with a rod of iron," she doesn't ... I mean, it's not....