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'Downton Abbey' recap: The aftermath of war

February 6, 2012 |  7:15 am

Red, red, red. Red dresses, red dressing rooms, an insane red suit worn by Maggie Smith, red rising to the cheeks of an angry Lady Mary convinced that the story being told by a new soldier convalescing at Downton Abbey is not true. But you'll have to wait -- there's more about that after the jump.

Because first, the other big news: the war is over! Lord Grantham interrupts the servants' dinner to make the announcement. Wine flows! Toasts! Happiness all around. Later, everyone gathers to mark the end of the war with a solemn ceremony. Mr. Carson compliments him on it, and it's a sad moment, because Mr. Carson has agreed to depart Downton for the new estate that Sir Richard Carlisle is buying for himself and Lady Mary.

In case you're ever in this situation, you should know that poaching servants is considered bad form.

Although we're told the estate is massive, all we see of it is a deluxe balcony around what appears to be a center atrium or stairway. The series doesn't shoot on many locations, and it may well be part of Downton's real counterpart, Highclere Castle, where most of the series is filmed. This seems to have crept into the dialog, when Lady Mary dryly remarks that the estate has a better stairway than Downton's. That may be all we ever see of it, because Lady Mary is busy deepening her relationship with Matthew, by tending to him without being overly tender. She wheels him around, puts up with his whining, jokes with him with a deliciously dark humor.

Their closeness has got Sir Richard in cahoots with Lady Grantham. Cora seems so sweet, so smiley, so whispery, doesn't she? But that Elizabeth McGovern can be just as slyly manipulative as anyone else at Downton. Sir Richard thinks it's time to put a wedge between Mary and Matthew -- a Lavinia-shaped wedge -- and Lady Grantham agrees.

Why on earth Lavinia would go anywhere with Sir Richard is anyone's guess. Doesn't she hate him? But maybe her love for Matthew is too strong; maybe she regrets leaving. She shows up, and guess what? She's wearing red (well, reddish-brown).

Lady Grantham also orchestrates, with the help of the Dowager Countess, the distraction of Cousin Isobel to other urgent social matters so that Downton can be returned to its peaceful state as a private residence. I would tell you the details, but I was too distracted by Maggie Smith's gravity-defying hats.

Beware, after the jump there be spoilers.

Downtsairs at Downton, Daisy mopes around, wearing a black armband but insisting she isn't a war widow. In case you didn't get that she didn't love William, not that way, she repeats it again. Seven times? Eight? It's a storyline that really has nowhere else to go, but it keeps banging on like a broken toy.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Hughes finally gets busted for bringing food out to unwed mother Ethel, who is living in the darkest, most miserable hovel in all of television. Lady Grantham decides the best thing to do is invite the Omar Sharif-like father back to Downton for a visit, at which point they'll pressure him into doing the right thing (there she goes again!). Unfortunately, he's been killed in the war, so Ethel is now a miserable single mother who is a war widow except for the whole not-married  thing. Start again, lady! Google won't be invented for about 80 years; your secret is safe until then.

Mr. Bates and Anna are on track to be married, but his malevolent wife has figured out another way to block the divorce. In one nice scene where all the servants are eating together, and Mr. Carson and the chauffeur are arguing about whether postwar Germany will be a monarchy or a republic, Bates and Anna have their own conspiratorial conversation going on that we don't hear, we just see them speaking privately amidst the hubbub. Eventually, Mr. Bates has to go back to London to deal with marriage matters.

So what was Lady Mary upset about? A much-scarred, much-bandaged soldier has made the extraordinary claim that he is Patrick Crawley. This is huge: the death of Patrick Crawley on the Titanic is what set the whole series going. He was the heir to Downton Abbey and Mary's nearly-betrothed, and with him gone, Mary was free (to be seduced by a Turk with a weak heart), and Lord Grantham went searching for the next heir, finding Matthew. [Updated at 1:20 p.m.: An earlier version of this post mistakenly called the heir Peter Crawley and has been corrected.]

So why aren't they happy? No one is certain of Peter, except for the eternally uncool Lady Edith, which I think ups the odds of him being an imposter. Lady Mary is convinced of that; she finds his memories of his youth at the estate as nothing more than fortune-teller-style trickery. Reasons to doubt him: He now goes by Peter Gordon, speaks with a flat North American accent, claims to have had amnesia after being rescued from the Titanic, and then having his memories return after he was injured by a blast in the war. The injuries, conveniently, also made his face completely unrecognizable.

If he really is Patrick Crawley, Mary could be pressured to marry him instead of Sir Richard. She might be better off, as we see for the first time that Sir Richard does not like to be crossed. He threatens Mary, reminding her that he could ruin her, and then kisses her coldly. Except that Lady Mary is not interested in the terribly burned leftovers of Peter, no matter what his last name is. Since Lady Edith doesn't mind, couldn't she just marry him and all their worries would be over?

She's certainly hoping so, but he disappears and dashes her hopes.

Meanwhile, Matthew has felt something. Could his paralysis be reversible?

Anna and Mr. Bates' hopes may return because his wife can no longer be an obstacle to them: she's dead. But wait: Did Mr. Bates' London visit coincide with her demise?

Dum dum dum! We will find out next week.


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Photo: Elizabeth McGovern in "Downton Abbey." Credit: PBS