(Weekly grumpy reminder to go away if you’re not caught up, etc.)
So who else practically lost consciousness at some point during this episode? Great balls of fire, people. OK, let’s calmly deconstruct this whirlwind, by which I mean TRY TO REIN IN THE SQUEE-ING.
Boy, y’all, how do we feel about Branson right now? I mean, Sibyl actually received medical training and is a certified nurse, right? And has been consistently calm and efficient and great as said certified nurse, right? So Branson decides that his best come-on is to disparage her seriously countercultural career choice, dismissing it as “serving hot drinks to a lot of randy officers”? NOT COOL, Mr. I-Drive-The-Man’s-Car. NOT. COOL. I felt like this was a pretty grim Switcheroo, from Poor But Worthy to just Poor, both Pecuniarily and Personally (heyyy, alliteration). Sibyl’s not going to run off with him as long as he cops that attitude.
The other Switcheroo would, of course, be Edith, who in last week’s episode was beginning to discover that she was, in fact, born with a beating, pumping human heart. This week, much to everyone’s surprise, including her own, she discovered that not only was she born with a heart, but it hasn’t utterly atrophied from disuse! Can you believe it? She behaved decently the entire episode, not scheming or backstabbing or cooking up scandal ONCE! I mean, dig: She plays the piano, for other people? She relishes her newfound role of Steppin Fetchit/Alluring Yet Altruistic Postal Delivery Girl? She doesn’t hate Mary with every fiber of her being? Who knew? The scene of her wrestling with her conscience and ultimately deciding to tell Mary that Matthew had gone missing was so touching because it was Edith realizing that she actually has a conscience!
The theme of conscience-wrestling is becoming my favorite thing about the show. The characters we hate (or who annoy us) are the simplistic ones — out for revenge, protecting their territory, parroting a party line — while the ones we love are the ones who recognize the complexity of the world and are striving to be good and right and honorable in the midst of that complexity. Lord Grantham, Matthew, Anna, Bates, and now even Edith, all experience some degree of anguish over a difficult moral decision. They don’t always make the right call (HELLO MATTHEW ENGAGED TO NOT-MARY HELLO) but they labor toward the right call.
I do definitely want to punch O’Brien in her stupid face, however. One of my fellow watchers, as O’Brien watched indigent ex-soldiers stream through the Crawley’s gate, tut-tutted, “She is such an unhappy woman.” What a miserable existence, to be constantly watching out for an opportunity to ruin someone else’s life, over a perceived slight! What must it be like to be so eaten up with bitterness! I had hoped that we might see a bit of softening in her this season, given her terrible remorse over causing Lady Grantham’s miscarriage, and her sympathy for poor shell-shocked Lang, BUT NO. NOW, she’s decided that it would be a SIGN OF WEAKNESS or something stupid like that to ALLOW Bates to go unpunished for whatever blah blah blah vindictive cow.
OK NOW. NOW we can talk about the SQUEE-est moment of the entire episode. So, background: Matthew and his trusty batman William are missing, and there’s a lot of consternation but people are trying not to worry. (Side note: could a guy like Lord Grantham really pick up the phone and find out the sitch on a couple of MIA soldiers JUST LIKE THAT? I mean, dang, I know there’d been some pretty important technological developments in the last decade or so, but it seems slightly crazy that the War Office would a) talk to him about it at all, b) be able to get information from the battlefront in a matter of, like, a day, and c) be allowed to pass that information along. Anyway.) Mary and Edith have loaded some of their personal baggage into Downton’s tack room long enough to put on a Charming Period Musicale including a number about being the Only Girl In The World etc., for the convalescing officers. (Side note 2: how about that for a brilliantly throwaway Chekov’s gun, when Edith laments in passing how much nicer the song would sound as a duet with A MAN HINT HINT?) Everyone in the crowd is looking exceedingly Stiff Upper Lip during this when who turns up but MATTHEW FREAKING CRAWLEY WHO IS NOT DEAD THANK GOD, looking all lean and tanned and I’ve-Been-Trapped-Behind-Enemy-Lines-For-Days-You-Guys-NBD. Mary, of course, goes white and stops singing, which is the cue for Our Man to (*swoon*) pick up where she leaves off as he walks down the center aisle toward her, all “Buckle! Swash!” which (*swoon*) gives her the strength to finish. (Male friend watching with us: “OK, that was a little too much for me.” His wife and me: “NO WAY *SWOON*”)
The look on Mary’s face! Look, people, she loves him and he loves her and it would be criminal for them to marry someone else, so OF COURSE next week’s preview makes it look like Matthew is going to die and Mary is going to succumb to Sir Richard. (I’m guessing that’s not what’s going to happen, because Julian Fellowes is a cynic about many things, but Love Overcoming All Obstacles ain’t one of them. I’m guessing all the hubbub is about Sibyl running away with Mr. Hypocrite.)