“Are you here to help or irritate?” – Downton Abbey 6×04
And it’s classic Violet again, giving us the title of this week’s blog post.
I’ve been watching Downton Abbey since the beginning, and I only just noticed how elegant its opening titles are. There’s no cold open, just a very proper and leisurely introduction. So fitting.
We start the episode with breakfast for the upstairs and downstairs folk, setting up the main events for this week. Aunt Rosamund is coming for a visit, and Baxter has some police business to take care of.
Whatever happened to the Molesley-Baxter storyline? They’ve been teasing us with it for a long time, but it seems to have just petered out. What is taking so long? It seems to me that Downton is going to end with Baxter having spent all her time being morose and dejected.
I promised never to talk about Daisy again, so I won’t. Even if she was characteristically annoying in this episode, rushing Lady Cora upstairs – upstairs! The nerve of that shrew. But no, I won’t talk about it.
I won’t talk of that impertinent bully Mary, either. Or her newest suitor, Henry Talbot. (Sorry, I think I blacked out there from excessive eye-rolling.) What do you call that accent? Is it Posh? Lazy? Novocaine? Seriously. But no, I will not talk about that.
Aunt Rosamund is visiting because of her connection with a certain Hillcroft College. She’s a trustee, and she wants Edith to join the board too. She’s invited Mr. Harding, the treasurer of the college, and his wife to lunch at Downton to meet with them and talk over such lofty goals as educating women. It’s Edith who picks up Aunt Rosamund in the car, and I love how this scene between the two ladies shows us so casually that Edith is actually the Crawley daughter who is moving on with the times.
Mr. and Mrs. Harding’s visit was undoubtedly the highlight of the episode, because guess who Mrs. Harding is – it’s Gwen! Gwen the housemaid! The same Gwen who was helped by the angelic Lady Sybil to go after her dreams and leave service! That Gwen!
At first no one recognizes her, except that smarmy Barrow at his smarmy best. It sets up a poignant scene at the table, as the family finally finds out who Gwen is and she tells her story of being a former housemaid in that same house. Everyone is shocked at first, but it does not stop that impertinent bully Mary from throwing major shade at Gwen. After everyone has collected themselves from the initial shock (and embarassment), Gwen assures them that she meant to mention it at some point. To which the bully replies, with all the snark and snobbishness in her arsenal, “Oh you had every opportunity!” FOR SHAME, Mary. For absolute shame.
The dining room scene also gave us the Sybil memorial we needed. As Gwen recounts how Lady Sybil helped her apply for jobs and all the shenanigans they got into with the horse going lame, and how eventually Lady Sybil just strong-armed the telephone company man to take Gwen as his secretary, you could see the faces of the family just lighting up with the dawning comprehension of just how freaking awesome Sybil was. It was also a subtle yet awesome flashback device for all of us loyal viewers, because we could all picture that Season 1 scene in our minds as clear as day. Lady Cora’s “Welcome back!” was so sincere and heartfelt. Repeated watchings of this scene also give a chance to see everyone’s expressions and how they’re remembering Sybil. This was, hands down, my favorite scene and at one point
I might even have teared up there was a tree branch in my eye.
I loved Gwen coming back. She represents the changing of the old guard, which is the overarching theme of Downton’s last season. Gwen is a classic rags to riches story, and her coming back to Downton as one of the “upstairs” folk could have made her unlikable. But the character was written beautifully and played perfectly by Rose Leslie, that she was able to handle the inevitable awkwardness of seeing the servants and the family she served. She could have been condescending or proud, but thank goodness she was none of that. She comes across as someone who knows where she came from and has not forgotten, who can still chat unreservedly with the servants, but who has moved up enough in the world to dine with the nobility.
Two other personalities were highlighted by this scene. Who else could have outed Gwen to the Granthams? Barrow, that’s who! As Anna put it, he tried to wrong-foot her by pointing out to everyone that she was just a housemaid there, but guess what, Barrow! Your nefarious scheme backfired on you! Harrumph. Why oh why must you insist on being such a douche, when we know that you are actually capable of being a good man, as you have shown in some instances? Why? The Earl’s putdown was on point. You were well and truly found out, Barrow.
The other highlight? Branson. From the beginning, while everyone was exchanging pleasantries in the drawing room, he showed how nice a guy he was by the way he talked so comfortably with Gwen. His delivery of the line “I’m one to talk. I married the boss’ daughter” was heartwarming. I cannot possibly do justice to his expression at the table as talk turned to his darling Sybil, so I will just show you what he looked like. Try not to tear up:
We close out the episode with a small shindig to welcome back the Carsons. The Dowager Countess had little screen time again, but there was an unexpected laugh in her exchange with Cousin Isobel about going down to the kitchens: “Have you got your passport?”
To Carson and Mrs. Hughes!