Downton Abbey – “Her Ladyship’s Soap”

Only eight episodes, and it’s all over. OK, not really, there’ll be a Christmas special. And you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll be having a Christmas cookie-swap viewing party with my ladyfriends for that. (I’m reading that it doesn’t air until actual Christmas, though. I was really hoping it would be more like early December.)

A lot has happened in this season, and the final episode was packed with drama, suspense, gossip and manipulations. It was a delicious end to what’s been an excellent season for the show.

Here’s your requisite spoiler alert – please only click through if you’ve seen the episode which most recently aired in Britain! Otherwise, I’ll see you in 2013.

Everyone in cream for the cricket match! Gorgeous.

There were a lot of different threads in this episode, so let’s break them down.

Edith

I’ve just loved Edith this season. The war made her kinder, and the one-two punch of being left at the alter and Sybil’s death made her stronger and more interesting. She no longer takes on the role of the victim, pitying herself as she lives in Mary’s shadow. I love the flirtation between Edith and her editor, and the reveal that he’s married to a woman in an insane asylum makes that even more interesting. It’s 1920, so he can’t get divorced and she won’t get well. It’s possible Edith could take up with a married man, which would be a very modern thing to do – and the thing she chastised her young cousin for.

Yes, cousin Rose. Her presence in this episode distracted from the main storylines a bit, but I liked the drama enough to feel OK with that. Her misbehavior gave Matthew a chance to be stern and fatherly, and gave the Dowager Countess an opportunity to be devious and manipulative. It was perfect. Plus, as much as I know it’s improper to be carrying on with a married man (especially when you’re nobility), the flapper clothes are just to die for and the jazz bar looked like loads of fun. Those clothes are literally the only thing I miss about Boardwalk Empire.

Mary

Meanwhile, Mary’s storyline reminded me of the less glamorous aspects of 1920. To think, a woman would have a surgery and not tell her husband. We still need to make a lot of progress in women’s health as a society, but I’m glad things don’t work like that anymore.

The good news is, it looks like Mary and Matthew should be producing an heir within months. Do you think they will? I still think it may be more interesting if Baby Sybil is the only heir, particularly since it looks like the estate may be able to self-sustain under Matthew and Tom’s new plan.

The Estate

I liked that Tom, instead of Matthew, was able to persuade Robert to take a more active, supportive role in revitalizing Downton. Matthew was not an ideal choice for heir, but the Irish chauffeur was even less welcome in their lives. It’s unexpected that Tom would be the one eloquent and sensitive enough to connect with Robert – I’m glad the show didn’t go a predictable route, with Tom running back to Ireland or bringing shame upon the family in some way. I hope Tom and Matthew’s plan to have Downton make enough money to survive works.

Downstairs

A big storyline in this episode was Thomas, and the ups and downs and gossip and manipulations of that plot were some of the best I think the show has done. It’s that soapy scandal that makes us love the show.

Carson was going to allow Thomas a good reference – I’m glad, because as traditional a man as Carson is, he needs that sensitive side. But O’Brien interfered and convinced Jimmy to demand that Thomas be given no reference – otherwise, she told him, people would think he’d enjoyed Thomas’s advances.

I liked that Bates was the one to come to Thomas’s aid, because it showed that prison had changed him and added a little value to what was one of the drearier storylines this season. And, of course, the fact that it all came back to the sickening incident with the soap was just perfect. I didn’t need to hear what Bates said to O’Brien to know what it was, and it was well played. Bates and Anna don’t know what the threat meant, and O’Brien was completely, visibly shaken by it.

Leave it to Robert to mess everything up, though. Whether it was out of pity or the desire to win a cricket match, he decided to keep Thomas on. Even after Alfred, doing what he considers the moral thing, called the police on Thomas. Bates and Alfred are worse for the wear, since Thomas’s new job title, “Under-Butler”, might give him rank over Bates, and because Robert promoted Jimmy to first footman to appease his discomfort with Thomas staying on. Slimy old Thomas, he always comes out on top. I might have pitied him this week, but I know those feelings won’t last. I’m glad he’s not going though, he’s too good a villain for the show to lose.

The one thing I think Downton didn’t do well is really explain why O’Brien had such a beef with Thomas. She went too far in trying to ruin his life for it to simply be about Alfred getting a promotion. I feel like I need to go back and watch all the previous episodes to pinpoint when their relationship changed. I still think it was the soap – Thomas was the one who lied and convinced O’Brien that Cora was going to replace her, inspiring her to move the soap.

Stray thoughts:

  • The cricket match was a great background for the episode, especially how poor Mosley kept practicing only to completely choke when it was his turn.
  • Ethel’s storyline concluded on a happy note both in that her situation greatly improved, and that it was a much better story than I expected.
  • Carson telling Mrs. Hughes about Thomas, which she of course already knew, was a highlight.
  • The fashions in this episode were outstanding, so I’ve included some highlights below.

Rose’s flapper style was a breath of fresh air, even if stuffy old Matthew described the jazz club as “Dante’s outer circle of hell.”

Love the comb, hate the coat, love her with a baby.

This era is kind to Edith, I don’t think she’s ever looked better.

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About Jill

Pop culture junkie and TV aficionado. I write sharp and snarky TV recaps at www.couchtimewithjill.com
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32 Responses to Downton Abbey – “Her Ladyship’s Soap”

  1. lifeofmytime says:

    Loved the season, loved the episode! I’m so going to miss my Downton fix.

    A couple things:

    This isn’t Edith’s first foray into an attraction with a married man, but it will be interesting to see how differently she handles this now that she has “grown up.”

    As juicy as it would be for Baby Sybil to be the heir, I think it has to be Matthew’s child or the estate/title goes to the next male relative. Since Robert didn’t have any boys, the heir was to be the cousin who died in the Titanic, and then ended up as Matthew. So Downton could end up in the same boat if Matthew and Mary don’t have a boy. There’s an awful lot on the line for them – no pressure or anything!

    • Jill says:

      That’s true! I’d forgotten about that. It will be interesting to see how it’s handled this time.

      Yes, you’re right, Baby Sybil would get nothing. Which would still be interesting, but also sad if Downton goes to another far-flung cousin. It sure is a lot of pressure!

      • timrollpickering says:

        In fact it could be even more intense because there will probably be pressure on Matthew to have some “spare” sons as well. It’s not only Robert who has failed here but the previous three Earls between them left a single back-up line that literally sank in one night.

        There’s also the interesting possibility that Matthew may not have legally tied his own money into the estate the way Robert’s father did with Cora’s money. So in theory in years to come there could be the possibility of Matthew leaving no son and so the title and physical estate goes to another distant cousin whilst the money goes to either his daughter or baby Sybil. In the real world a lot of estates suffered badly because of entails that delivered obligations and no cash to meet them, and there were various reforms to inheritance law.

        (Are there any genealogists who can comment on just how common it is in families for multiple generations to be have a repeated gender imbalance? It’s not *just* Robert who’s failed to produce a male heir – the previous three Earls didn’t produce “spare” lines that didn’t last. If Mary’s inherited that record…)

        “Plus, as much as I know it’s improper to be carrying on with a married man (especially when you’re nobility),”

        I think the bigger crime for that class in that era is not what one did but failing to keep it secret and risking public scandal. Rose clearly didn’t know the basics, such as letting a single driver join up the dots from house to club when she should have used multiple drivers, and has a general naïvety that will get her into trouble.

  2. Dana says:

    I thought it was a great episode and season too, although I have a few issues with a couple of things.

    Thomas’ promotion. I just don’t get that at all, other than it will amp up the drama downstairs next season. This guy is gay in 1920’s England and was caught trying to make it with a guy. That’s a hanging offense. It just seems completely unrealistic that he would get a promotion. Couldn’t they have just kept him on as a footman or something?

    Everyone’s easy acceptance of homosexuality in 1920. Last week I was annoyed that Carson wasn’t more disapproving, but this week he seems to be the only one reacting in a realistic way for the time. Mrs. Hughes, Mrs Patmore and even Robert with his, if I could count the number of times a guy went for a guy at Eaton, just seems too tolerant for the times. It was 1920, this wouldn’t have been accepted so easily, it was considered a sin, a crime, a hanging offense. I get that this reaction needed to happen to keep Thomas on, but it really is a suspension of disbelief.

    Carson being held with his feet to the fire by Jimmy. Seriously? This guy is blackmailing the butler and Carson is powerless because of Jimmy? Come on, all Carson had to do to get out of that situation was to say was that Jimmy invited Thomas’ affections and that would have been over. No way I buy a guy like this can hold the Butler hostage. Again, I get it is all in service of setting up the drama for next season, but come on.

    How did Bates know about the soap? I am not even sure that Thomas knows about it. O’Brien never told him.

    • Jill says:

      I think they were using Thomas to show that times are changing, people are becoming more accepting. I’d love to get a historians perspective on it. Though I agree, Jimmy isn’t powerful enough to pressure Carson like that. Carson simply had to lie, tell Jimmy he hadn’t provided a reference, and then written one secretly anyway.

      Thomas did know about the soap, and he told Bates when Bates said “Give me the weapon and I’ll do the work.”

      • Jackie Lurie says:

        I came across your blog while searching for an answer as to how Bates knew about what O’brien did with the soap. Can you help? By the way…thank you for your astute synopsis of the episode….I loved it!!

      • Martha says:

        I get that Thomas told Bates about the soap, but how did Thomas know about it? Did O’Brien tell him at some point? Off-camera, maybe? Why would she do that? She seemed to turn away from the scheming with Thomas as soon as she realized how evil the whole soap thing was. Why would she go back and tell him what she’d done?

    • timrollpickering says:

      Attitudes in that era were much more complicated than one would think. The key point is that the obsession with morality was heavily a *middle class* affair. The upper classes were more concerned about image than action and tolerated an awful lot so long as it stayed behind closed doors. This included homosexuality (it’s sometimes forgotten there were gays who actually opposed legalisation because they felt it brought into the open what had been a discrete thing) as well as fornication and adultery. The upper classes frankly didn’t care about the sin itself. They knew it happened but just turned a blind eye to it so long as it didn’t appear in the papers and nobody was harmed. Yes it was hypocritical but so was much of society at the time.

      Oh and I think Carson might have tried calling Jimmy’s bluff but I’m not sure he felt comfortable about throwing out such a counter-accusation or risking escalation that would bring a scandal on the house. As far as he was concerned Thomas was going regardless and was deeply uncomfortable about fighting for such a man.

  3. Dana says:

    PS And Edith with yet another potentially difficult romance? Can they not give her a break and let her meet someone available and willing? Edith has really shined this season but if she is only going to sprout wings to be long suffering, it’s tiring.

    • Jill says:

      I kind of like this romance for Edith. It could be difficult, but also rewarding for her. It goes with her new modern woman persona.

  4. Ilze Choi says:

    Branson and Sybil were my favorite couple so I look forward to viewing the series here in the US with sadness at what is to come. I suppose that Allen Leech will continue on in Series 4 otherwise Fellowes could have Sybil and Branson exit the series by leaving for America. It’s good that Ireland, Britain’s first colony was a part of the story through Branson.

  5. Etta says:

    But what was “her ladyships soap” about? Would someone please tell me please.

    • Jill says:

      In season one, Thomas had led O’Brien to believe she was being replaced by Lady Grantham, and in an act of bitterness she moved a bar of soap on the floor of the bathroom so that Cora would slip when she got out. Just as she reconsidered, Cora did slip and the fall caused her to miscarry – her baby could have been a male heir. O’Brien later learned that her job was never on the line, and has been haunted by guilt ever since.

      • ED JAKMAUH says:

        Thanks, Jill.

      • Shelley says:

        Wouldn’t Cora have had help from O’Brien in getting out of the tub?

      • 1redowl says:

        I very much recall Lord Grantham saying after the miscarriage that the lost baby was indeed a boy.
        I don’t recall at all Thomas being told by Mrs. O’Brien about the bar of soap.
        When did this happen ???

      • 1redowl says:

        Hello Jill,

        Has it been confirmed that there will be another Christmas Special?
        I certainly hope that this is true.
        When does Season 4 begin?

  6. Dana says:

    Etta, did you not see the first season of Downton Abbey?

  7. Jen says:

    I’ve been watching seasons 1 & 2 on Hulu, and it was the soap episode that changed O’Brien. She regretted moving it the second she left the bathroom, only to run back too late, and her attitude was different from then on.

    • Jill says:

      I agree, it definitely changed her forever. A major moment for the character and the series.

  8. guy tunnicliffe says:

    As far as I know nobody knew about the soap apart from O’Brien herself.
    Guy Tunnicliffe

    • 1redowl says:

      I totally agree with you, Guy.
      How did Robert know?
      O’Brien didn’t tell him.
      Is Robert guessing?
      Perhaps Robert put 1 & 1 together and is just guessing.
      What we all need now is a flashback scene since this plot development is bothering a lot of people.

      • Jackie says:

        Really? Nobody knows? I thought I’d missed something but it seems we have a glitch in the plot.
        STILL…that shut her up didn’t it?! I really can’t stand her character, or lack of it.

      • 11redowl says:

        You don’t like O’Brien?
        She is simply the best character of the show.
        One can never trust her, don’t know on whom she will next turn her evil eye.
        She is simply plain nasty and this kind of character keeps the plot twists exciting.
        Her lack of character is what makes her character so interesting.

      • jackie says:

        What you said is true…but I still don’t like her. The same could be said for Jack the Ripper, but did anyone like him? I wasn’t speaking of how she contributes to the story line, I was saying that in the “real world” she is the kind of person that most people don’t like. You know…two faced, self-serving, suspicious and narrow minded…sort of like most of the Republican Party! lol!

  9. 1redowl says:

    NO SPOILERS PLEASE for the last Edisode of Season 3 !!!

    In Canada we have just (Feb 10, 2013) watched the 2 hour episode before next Sunday’s final Episode of Season 3.

    How did anyone, let alone Thomas, know about Mrs. O’Brien leaving the bar of soap on the bathroom floor? I can’t remember her telling anyone.

  10. Hali Zenski says:

    I agree with the questions about how Thomas knew about the soap incident. You can *say* he knew, but how? When did he get that knowledge IN the series? Was that another incident of ‘eavesdropping’ on the part of one of the characters, a popular pasttime in this program? Did Thomas overhear O’Brien babbling to Cora about wanting forgiving as Cora lay nearly dying from the Spanish Flu? I don’t recall O’Brien ever even saying to Cora that it was her fault that Cora miscarried. And I don’t believe O’Brien would ever have revealed that to Thomas – she wouldn’t have bared her soul to him about such an evil act. Right?

    • 1redowl says:

      Reply to Hali,

      I am hoping for a flashback scene to satisfy everyone’s curiosity.
      This isn’t the only Downton Abbey website on which viewers are going crazy
      not knowing the facts about this pivotal information.
      It is key to further developments in the plot including Bates’ relationship with O’Brien
      when Thomas is his “superior”.

  11. Jill says:

    Hey guys!

    I went back and watched a few scenes from the episode when Cora slips on the soap. I don’t think it was ever spelled out for us, but I got the impression that Thomas knew O’Brian had something to do with it. They’d been discussing that O’Brian thought Cora was going to let her go, and based on O’Brian’s reaction to the whole thing I’m pretty sure Thomas was able to put two and two together.

    • jackie says:

      OH! Wait a minute…I think I remember a moment after the soap incident here O’Brian and Thomas pass in the hall after the soap incident and a comment is made between them that does infer her involvement. But what I can’t remember is how that information was transferred to Bates. He was the one who whispered in her ear letting her know he knew….not Thomas. I should have been saving the episodes but I haven’t been, then I could research it myself. By the way, I will never give people who enjoy soap opera’s a bad time again! lol!

  12. molly says:

    Thomas told Bates to say ‘her ladyship’s soap’ to O’Brian. He knew that would put her in line and make her withdrawl from the whole Thomas debacle that she created. And it worked. But we don’t know if Bates even knows what the phrase means. And I don’t know how Thomas even knew about the soap incident.

  13. Sam D. says:

    I think Jackie is right. I think O’Brien did tell Thomas at one point in the hallway about her guilt over the incident. t was very brief. I know they both knew secrets about each other so it would not be a major hole in the plot even if they didn’t show it on the screen. I love the way the characters are evolving and even Thomas is becoming more likeable and human and not just evil and out for himself.

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