Monday, February 1, 2016

Downton Abbey 6x05 (Bad Harvest) [Contributor: Hope]

“Episode 6.5”
Original Airdate: January 31, 2016

We’ve known that Lord Grantham has been sick for a while now, and his illness has been hanging over the show like a fog of anxiety. When I watched the season five Christmas special, I didn’t enjoy the episode until the second time around. Watching the episode for the first time, I was constantly worried about him. First, they went shooting; then they were all happy at Christmas. And I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. It never did... until this week. Lord Grantham’s illness retroactively overshadowed everything else that happened in this episode, and it wasn’t until I watched it a second time (bless PBS and its early-release DVDs) that I could write this review.

On the upside — and it’s the only upside other than Violet probably backing off from the whole hospital drama — there are another four episodes left to bring the happy endings. The further toward the end his illness was put off, the worse I would have feared for the outcome.


Well, it turns out that Mr. Mason is actually a pro pig farmer (has that EVER been mentioned before, or was an A+ example of retcon?), so he was right at home. Daisy, Mrs. Patmore, and Andy helped him to move in, and Andy revealed that he wants to not only live in the country, but also be a pig farmer himself. If this isn’t leading to Daisy and Andy ending up together, then I don’t know what’s going on here. The group of four made a pleasant little family, and the scenes were enjoyable.

However, it turns out that Andy can’t read, so the pig farming books Mr. Mason lent him were useless. (Someone go back and watch how Andy read his magazines in previous episodes, and figure out if it looks like he’s just looking at the pictures. I don’t want this to be another retcon.) I thought maybe Daisy would find out and tutor him... but instead it was Thomas who realized what was happening and offered to help. He was almost kind of Carson-y and fatherly for a moment there? I don’t know how else to describe it. THIS is why the other characters are loyal to Carson — because while he’s not exactly the warm and fuzzy type (like Thomas), he does have a softer side that comes out when others really need it.


“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a husband...”


Let me put this out there, without knowing if this is popular opinion or not: I’m not feeling this whole Mary and Henry thing. The problem is that it’s so late in the game that it’s going to be really hard to sell this. And I’m not very interested in buying. I’m not a huge fan of Mary. I think she’s an interesting and complex character, but I’m just not all that invested in her. It would have been more organic of a storyline had she fallen for one of “Mary’s Men” (if the competition of Tony, Charles, and Evelyn didn’t epitomize that paraphrased quote, I don’t know what does). Mary and Tom had a lovely heart to heart about how a marriage should be between two equals — one believed between equals of personality and character, the other in equals of fortune. I’ll give you one guess who said what.

Henry might, in fact, be too much her equal in personality. Matthew was her opposite. He brought out her softer side and when she was with him, she was a kinder person. She wasn’t a saint, but she tried to live up to his opinion of her. He saw more to her than her snobbery and pointed comments. He saw a person underneath — someone who could be set free if only Mary let herself. I was imagining what the series would have been like if Dan Stevens hadn’t decided that he wanted to leave. Maybe she would have experienced major character growth. Matthew died and she regressed back to her old self. Fellows could have also played it a different way, however. George (who looks like a miniature Matthew, by the way — good job, casting department) could have been her light, the one to continue to bring out a more good-natured side of her character.

Something Fellows has done, however, is make Tom a character who helps to soften her. Their conversation was warm and genuine, and you could see the cracks in Mary’s attitude. Tom is a good observer and understands situations as a bit of an outsider, and it shows in how he sees Mary. He obviously sees how harsh she can be, and the underhanded comments she slings at Edith, but he also knows there’s another side to her.

So now we come to Henry, who is still largely unknown. He carries himself in a way that isn’t totally unlike Mary, but I just can’t pin down what exactly it is about him. Maybe it’s a strand of arrogance and confidence, mixed with that inability to actively pursue someone. Maybe that’s the difference — Tony, Charles, and Evelyn all vied for her attention (when they mentioned Evelyn, I thought how funny it would be if they ended up together now). Mary and Henry would have to both put in effort to make this work. She doesn’t vie... or at least she hasn’t unless it was for money. Remember back in season one? Mary's purpose was to find a rich, preferably titled husband to marry. It wasn’t about love. Now, it is about love, and she isn’t going to pursue anyone or settle for anyone because she has been in love and doesn’t need to marry again if she doesn’t want to. I would have rather Fellows NOT base her happy ending on finding love again. If the (Edwardian) point of the early series was that she had to marry, the (almost modern era) ending could have been her (with her son) basically in charge of the estate and certainly in charge of herself. Maybe she would find love again, and maybe she wouldn’t — that would be open-ended, and she would be fine with it. It’s in line with her character. And after all, she had told her father she didn’t want to marry again unless she met the perfect person. I would have rather not had that “perfect person” appear shortly after.

However, I’m not minding the execution of this story as much as I thought I would. That is, in large part, due to Tom, who played matchmaker with them and who just wants Mary to be happy. So I’ll allow it. But really, do we have to have the irony in the fact that Henry races cars?


If Downton’s objective was to make Robert’s medical emergency as emotionally traumatizing as they could, then goal achieved! Was that much blood necessary? Really? (My question is, did they really film that scene at Highclere Castle or instead replicate the room very well? Because that was a lot of fake blood to risk splattering all over priceless artifacts.) I guess they just wanted to shock us, and since we knew something was coming, they figured they’d double the shock? It was awful. At least Dr. Clarkson was present and jumped right into action. So did Tom, actually. He practically lept backwards out of his chair. Kudos to the cast for looking just as freaked out as I felt.

I don’t really want to dwell on this part, because although it was a huge aspect of the episode, I don’t have much else to say and I just don’t want to even think about it. What I will talk about is what happened afterward, when the ambulance was arriving. Cora and Violet stopped to have a conversation in the hallway, and it wasn’t the best timing for it. Sure, Cora was trying to put an end to at least one source of Robert’s stress once and for all, but both of them had bigger things to think about. What gets me though is that Cora said she thought “they should be honest with each other,” and demanded they have “no more secrets,” the second part of which had next to nothing to do with their conversation. Were there secrets involved with the hospital thing? Violet had been very vocal about it, and the only secret was that she had blackmailed their guest... which wasn’t even that much of a secret. The closest line to draw between Violet and secrets was a line earlier in the episode, when Cora compared Violet to the Sphinx. That’s it. It was a little quip that had nothing to do with the conversation at hand.

So why have Cora say such a random thing? Because Mary was standing in the archway and heard her grandmother reply, “If this is about Edith...” Okay, so this actually was a logical response on Violet’s part, because it was the last secret Cora could be referring to. But this line was said purely so that Mary could overhear it and start to suspect that Marigold is actually Edith’s daughter. This revelation was completely shoehorned into the episode and it just wasn’t very organic. It was trying to be organic, but it was clunky and took attention (the character’s, and attempted to take ours) away from the fact that Lord Grantham just almost died.

Fingers crossed that the rest of the season/series goes uphill from here. It’s not that the rest of the episode was bad or anything... but I need the image of that scene washed from my mind, and I need everyone to make it out of the series in one piece, please and thank you.

Odds and Ends:
  • Dr. Clarkson looked so uncomfortable in this episode.
  • “Racing cars and pigs, who can top that?”
  • “I think the correct response is to say ‘men’ and ‘sigh.’” Geez, Carson was picky about his food.
  • “Shall I go back in and ask him to plead not guilty after all?” Molesley and Baxter are perfect. I don’t mind that nothing came of the trial, because it gave them more bonding time and let Baxter deal with some past issues. 
  • “You don’t have to marry him, but you do have to let him enjoy this moment.” Find the happy medium, Mary!
  • “I’ll make a pig man of you yet!”
  • Edith was born in '92... 1892. That puts things into perspective, doesn’t it? 
  • “Victorian babies grown into modern women.” “And the price they’ve had to pay.”
  • Edith and Bertie didn’t have enough screentime to warrant their own section, but I’m very glad these two seem to be on their way to a happy ending. *knocks on wood*
  • Denker was almost fired after she yelled at Dr. Clarkson (the look on his face was priceless). She got Sprat to save her by blackmailing him. Is the drama between these two going to amount to something? It wasn’t a bad storyline, but I feel like they’re taking up a good share of screen time. 
  • “These are some of the places Donk and I have visited.” I LOVE that it’s his nickname and all the children are probably going to start calling him that now, thanks to Cora. 
  • “The Sphinx is a creature of secrets that she never reveals.” “Rather like Granny Violet.”
  • “BAD HARVEST!” Token Bates scene. If less screentime means less troubled storylines, then continue on, show. 
  • “If this is it, know I have loved you very, very much.” How was Cora that composed? How was everyone that composed? I’ve seen it the last ten minutes three times now, and I’m more traumatized than they all seemed. “Seemed” is the operative word, though. Look how quietly shaken Carson was. 


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