DOWNTON CHRISTMAS SPECIAL! As I said approximately a half-dozen times over last week’s recaps, this episode is a treat. A present under the tree, if you will. I believe they didn’t cut out a single second from the version as it first aired on the 25th of December, and my mother, who somehow got her hands on the program only a few hours after it debuted in England, and has watched the British version “over a dozen times” in the past six weeks, agrees with my assessment.
So what happened? So many lovely, lovely things. We begin as Thomas is overseeing the loading in of an enormous Christmas tree into Downton’s great hall, servants and Crawleys alike are decorating it.
Rosamund is come for a visit, bringing with her a new ladies’ maid.
The Crawleys distribute presents to their staff, Cora tells Anna that they’re all praying for Bates. (Let us remember, there was over a month-long break between the season finale and the Christmas special, so the audience was in need of refreshing.) Anna’s worried, Bates is on trial for his life. Mary’s given Anna a piece of jewelry, which I’m assuming is Bates-related? It’s heart-shaped, anyway.
Downstairs, the staff is having their Christmas feast – they’ve got crackers! Mrs. Hughes and Carson defend Bates to Rosamund’s new maid.
Upstairs, Sir Richard is being a jerk. He wants to know why they have to serve themselves, why they’re letting the servants have a party when they ought to be working.
Cousin Isobel gives Violet a nutcracker as a present, and everyone else on the Internet finds this hilarious, but I don’t quite get it? Is it just because Violet is something of a nut-cracker herself? Unsure.
There is, apparently, to be a hunt on New Year’s Day, and Edith asks after Sir Anthony Strallan – remember him?! He was the one who was about to propose, until Mary was horrible? Way back at the end of Season One? He doesn’t want to come to the hunt. Rosamund also insisted on inviting SOMEONE, whom Violet apparently knows and doesn’t think highly of. Violet knew SOMEONE’s father, “in the late “˜60s” – let’s remember she means 1860s.
Mary comes upon Matthew, who is heading back to London because Lavinia’s father is dying. Talk turns to the trial, and Mary explains that her father, as well as some of the servants, will be testifying at Bates’ trial. Richard’s in the background for this scene, and there’s a subtle “who’s better, Matthew or Richard” thing going on, but that answer is so obvious as to be laughable.
DINNER GONG! I would like to be called in to dinner via gong at least once in my life. Or cook a dinner that is announced via gong, at least. Someone buy me a gong?
Downstairs, Daisy finds a prototype Ouija board – O’Brien calls it planchette, and explains that it’s “not a game, more a method of communication.” I am baffled as to how a Ouija board has somehow been chilling out in the servant’s hall and no one’s noticed it til now. Deus ex machina, quite literally.
At dinner, Sir Richard isn’t very charitable about Bates, and neither is Rosamund. You can see everyone stiffen at their lack of support.
O’Brien and Thomas are playing with the Ouija board, along with two unnamed maids, and Daisy is quite taken in by the game. O’Brien leading a sÃ©ance seems like a recipe for something, most likely disaster.
Upstairs, they’re all playing charades! Or, as Violet says, “This isn’t Charades, this is the game” – this is the only game they play, apparently? Mary does a fantastic job – anyone else suddenly overcome by the urge to play Charades? Sir Richard doesn’t like how everyone makes fools of themselves playing, but Violet puts him in his place. As it’s his turn to act something out after Mary, I can’t help but wish we had seen his attempt at The Game.
Instead, we go see Bates for a second. Christmas in prison must suck especially hard. Quickly back to Downton, where Carson floats the idea of Thomas becoming the new valet if Bates, you know, is hanged. Robert says hell no.
Downstairs, Rosamund’s new maid tells Daisy that, based on what she’s seen her cook, Daisy could be a cook in her own right, more than just a kitchen maid. Daisy doesn’t know what to do with this.
Ooh, Violet’s house! She’s invited Edith to tea, and also, Sir Anthony Strallan! Who now has a chauffeur, even though he used to love driving. We learn he’s been injured in the war – he’s lost the use of his right arm. Damn. Sir Anthony asks about Sybil’s wedding, and Violet quickly goes, “We were all ill! Isn’t it sad?” in perhaps the least convincing tone ever. Sir Anthony is both desperate and happy, and it’s a bit hard to watch – no stranger to awkward myself, it’s hard to see it on the screen.
Speaking of hard to see, Anna goes to visit Bates. Bates wants Anna to prepare for the worst.
Ah! And now we meet Lord Hepworth, Rosamund’s potential new beau.
And a letter from Sybil. SYBIL IS PREGNANT!!!!!!!! They’re not to tell anyone. They’re to have a Fenian grandchild! (Hooray for vaguely-racist history references!)
Lord Hepworth is reintroduced to Violet, who would like to talk about his father and his mansions. Violet is starting to get so blunt, I almost think it’s too campy? Every damn line is gold, but that makes it all the tiniest bit less believable.
Ah! Miss Shaw is the name of Rosamund’s lady’s maid, and she lets slip that she hasn’t been a ladies’ maid for long – she’s only been with Rosamund for two months, anyway.
Thomas realizes that he’ll never get promoted because Robert doesn’t trust him. O’Brien suggests that Thomas hide something Robert loves, and then find it and give it back. Thomas makes eye contact with Isis, the dog, and we get a bit of ominous music.
Mary and Sir Richard bicker again, ugh. Lavinia’s father has died, and Matthew was there with him at the end. The clock strikes twelve, and it always strikes me – all they’ve got is the clock. No Dick Clark, not even a mention of a radio – the clock has marked the end of World War One, and the end of the year, too. It’s 1920!
Anna sees Miss Shaw speaking to Lord Hepworth.
Hunting! Mary stands with Matthew for the first round, despite Sir Richard’s attempts to claim her. Matthew is not very good at shooting, and it’s adorable, per usual. Also, I want her hat. Mary confesses that Sir Richard is starting to get on her nerves. Sir Richard doesn’t like that Mary and Matthew were laughing.
Mr. Mason comes to visit Daisy. It’s a bit remarkable how much the actor looks like William, aged 30 years.
Edith goes to visit Sir Anthony Strallan. He tells Edith that he’s too old for her, and he doesn’t want to hold her back. Edith does not want to give up on someone who calls her lovely (which might be a more common occurrence if she were not THE WORST for that long while there).
And now, tea with Daisy and Mr. Mason! Daisy thinks now is the time to explain to Mr. Mason that she didn’t love William the way he loved her, and she gets halfway there and then bails. She instead says that it took her a while to realize she felt the same, and resists his offer to come to the farm.
Sir Richard and Mary, fighting again. Sir Richard would like to be free of Matthew, and Matthew strolls up to interrupt the yelling. Between the hat and the gun, he’s quite the dashing figure.
And then there’s a ridiculous “shooting lunch” with good silver and a long table. Isobel volunteers to attend Mr. Bates’ trial as emotional support, which, frankly, I can’t help but think she’d be rather good at.
Matthew is going to be burying Lavinia’s father’s ashes at Lavinia’s grave. Mary says she’d like to be there.
Violet has Lord Hepworth for tea, and much like Lavinia several years earlier, she pretty much gobbles him up. The Hepworth family fortune is gone, which Violet clearly knows, and Rosamund doesn’t. Violet worries that Hepworth is only after Rosamund for her money, and insists that he come clean to Rosamund about how broke he is.
Sir Richard would like to set a date, and keeps grabbing Mary by the arm, a habit of his that’s been annoying me for years. Matthew offers to help, and tells her she doesn’t have to marry him. Mary says she does, and STILL won’t tell Matthew why.
Thomas and O’Brien are at it again with the Ouija board, and apparently some spirit from beyond the grave is tellings Mrs. Padmore that she’s too fat. Lovely, Thomas.
Oh ho! Robert notices how much Mary seems to hate Sir Richard, and asks Cora if there’s any reason why Mary might feel as if she’s forced to marry Sir Richard. Cora FINALLY tells Robert about the Mr. Pamuk situation. Which, let us remember, was SEVEN YEARS AGO. Think of how much more sense his life must make, now! This is the sort of payoff I look for in a Christmas episode! Although, again, they cut off the scene before Cora actually tells him everything, and I would’ve like to see his reaction.
Downstairs, Bates’ attorney is prepping Mrs. Hughes and O’Brien for the trial, a bit. They’re both summoned for the prosecution, and neither of them are comfortable with that. Anna, as Mr. Bates’ wife, can’t be compelled to testify, which is probably a good thing.
AHHHHH BATES’ TRIAL! WIGS! The obvious difference between serving class and aristocracy, as demonstrated by hats! O’Brien tells the court that Bates came back from London with a scratched cheek, and that the final meeting between Bates and his late wife went incredibly badly. Mrs. Hughes testifies that Mr. Bates called his wife a bitch – and a murmur runs through the crowd! At this point, I can’t help but wonder how the hell the prosecution knows all this. Did Bates really give them this much incriminating evidence? Why would you tell people this?! They had to have heard all of this from him! Anna feels betrayed by Mrs. Hughes, and I must say, Isobel is as good as her word in terms of support. Robert testifies in support of the defense, and it strikes me – this trial isn’t about evidence and alibi and the sort of things those of us used to the American legal system would see on an average episode of Law and Order. It’s Bates’ character that is on trial here, whether he’s the sort of person capable of murder, not whether he actually did it. Robert speaks highly of Bates, and clearly tries to lie in Bates’ support, but the fact that Bates once said he wished his then-wife was in fact his late wife may well have made things worse, rather than better. Again, this was a conversation between Robert and Bates – how did the prosecution hear of this conversation? Why would Bates relate this entire conversation to the police or prosecution? Anna looks heartbroken through all of this. Mrs. Hughes and O’Brien, speaking to Isobel while the jury’s deliberating, feel guilty as hell.
I love Bates. You know this, right? And this is very serious. But I’m so consumed by the spectacle of the British legal system that it distracts me from the fact that one of my favorite character’s life is at risk right now. But anyway! The jury is back.
MISTAH BATES IS FOUND GUILTY OF MURDER! Anna yells. The judge puts on a funny sort of hat, and speaks in what seems to be an unnaturally deep voice as he condemns John Bates to be hanged by the neck until he is dead.
(Aside, for the Terry Pratchett fans in the crowd: the judge, as he pronounces the sentence, sounds exactly the way I’ve always imagined Death sounds. Which is appropriate, I suppose.)
Anna stands up and starts crying and yelling – this is wrong! Bates calls out for Anna as he is led away. Rosamund and Violet have tea? breakfast? and discuss Bates’ trial. There’s been nothing in the papers about Bates’ trial, which we assume must be due to Sir Richard’s protection. I suppose we’ll give him half a point for that. Violet lectures her daughter as to Lord Hepworth, calling him a fortune-hunter.
And then we’re in a pub, with Isobel, Anna, Matthew, Mary, Robert, and the attorney. Apparently the next step is to get the death sentence changed to life imprisonment, and then they can start to challenge the case. For perhaps the first time, we are reminded that Matthew is, in fact, an attorney.
Mrs. Hughes and O’Brien come back and tell the staff how the day went. Both, again, express regret.
And that’s where we’re going to end thing, kids. This episode was an hour and a half, and we’re just about at the halfway point. Stay tuned tomorrow for the thrilling conclusion! SERIOUSLY IT GETS SO GOOD IT’S GONNA BE AN ALL-CAPS PARTY. Also, I will give you some of the best Downton Abbey things the Internet has produced in the past two months, which you have not been able to see, because they would have spoiled you!