[Spoilers are telling secrets downstairs herein. Content Note: Homophobia; rape culture.]
I know my DVR said that this episode was only two hours, but I'M PRETTY SURE it was fully one hundred hours. Because it felt like a million hours! But that would just be silly.
I was trying to figure out what's not working for me this season, while I slogged through this episode not really enjoying it at all, and I realized that this format (drama/soap opera) works for me on the upswing, when everyone (or almost everyone) is yearning to be happy and then finding happiness, and really doesn't work for me when everyone (or almost everyone) is happy and the show needs (or thinks it needs) to make them unhappy to create dramatic tension. And it's not because I fart unicorns and can't deal with Sad Feelings (hello, meet my blog), but because there are precious few writers who are good at unhappifying people in ways that seem uncontrived and/or aren't super manipulative. It's tough to write authentic sad moments, I guess? But that's only part of it, because the show has just lost its balance: In a one hundred hour episode, we literally got a 30 second throwaway scene of Bates reuniting with Anna after being released from jail. WHUT. Not good enough.
Anyway. The episode opened with Bates' release from Grey Gaol, and obviously Lord Whoops had perfect advice for him: "Stay in bed! Read books!" Exactly what a man who has spent the last ten months? two years? eleventy hundred fortnights? lying on a manky cot in Grey Gaol wants to do. "Avoid fresh air! Try not to get shivved! Have Mrs. Patmore fix you some gruel! Make a mouse your pet!" Excellent recommendations all, Lord Whoops! That's why everyone knows you're the Brains of the Operation around here.
Speaking of which, after the Dowager Countess makes the genuinely superb suggestion to keep Tom Branson around by giving him a job helping oversee the financial renovation of Downton—"Well, obviously the answer to a thousand different questions is to give the position to Branson!"—and further convinces Lord Whoops with a compelling argument about not letting "your only granddaughter grow up in a garage with that drunken gorilla," Matthew and Tom do their best to manage Lord Whoops' fragile ego and talk him into being vaguely sensible. To which he responds, literally, by suggesting they invest their money with Charles Ponzi. LOL! This guy's like a Good Idea Machine.
Eventually, they all manage to get on the same page because cricket. And that is all I'm going to say about the cricket match because zzzzzzzz. Although it was almost worth it for a glimpse of Carson in that cricket uniform. ALMOST.
Alfred wants to take Ivy to a movie about "a wronged woman who survives in a wilderness though her own wits and courage," at which O'Brien drily comments, "Blimey, they've stolen my story." LOL! And that will definitely be the last time we like O'Brien even a little bit in this episode.
Because from there, she proceeds to scheme and plot and machinate and manipulate, and I'm not sure I will even be able to detail in fewer than a nonillion words all the ways in which I hated the O'Brien Whispers in Thomas' Ear Which Definitely Makes Thomas Go Try to Kiss Jimmy While He Is Sleeping arc. Listen, I get that the show thinks it's Saying Something about how Thomas is troubled because of homophobia, but the problem with having a character from a marginalized population who is evil and inappropriate when you don't have any other characters representing that population is that the character becomes an avatar for a routinely monolithized population. That's how tokenism works. And when your Token Gay is written to play into a very old and very pernicious stereotype of a Gay Predator, all the historical and cultural contextualizing in the world doesn't change that You've Fucked Up.
Thomas literally becomes a Gay Predator as he sneaks into Jimmy's room and tries to kiss him while he is asleep, which gives the scene a very different flavor than if Thomas had just made a pass at Jimmy in private after misreading signals, turning sexual harassment into sexual assault. And then it gets even shittier and weirder as we're expected to have sympathy for Thomas, and regard Jimmy as kind of a jerk, even though he was the victim of an unsolicited, nonconsensual sexual advance.
Further, Jimmy is tacitly victim-blamed as Mrs. Hughes tells Carson he's probably partly to blame because of his "flirting," Bates calls him a "big girl's blouse" for being upset at being sexually assaulted, and Lord Whoops proclaims: "I mean, if I'd shouted blue murder every time someone had tried to kiss me at Eton, I'd have gone hoarse in a month." Wow.
Complicating this condemnation of Jimmy's reaction is the fact that we're meant to understand it isn't an authentic reaction—that O'Brien has talked him into being upset somehow. But that isn't accurate: Jimmy was immediately upset at Thomas' advance. O'Brien merely talked him into reporting it. And we're meant to regard the report as an overreaction, and Jimmy's statement that he doesn't want to send Thomas to another house without warning as a vindictive move orchestrated by O'Brien, not a reasonable concern for Thomas' future coworkers—not because he's gay, but because he thinks entering the room of a sleeping person in order to make a sexual advance is acceptable. No matter what O'Brien told him, it wasn't.
The whole subplot is just wrong in every conceivable way, not least of which is because I get the feeling that the writers didn't see a huge difference between Thomas making a pass at a waking Jimmy and a sleeping Jimmy, except insomuch as they somehow found it easier to defend the latter by having Thomas explain to a brutally judgmental Carson (who told Thomas he should be "horse-raped" [eta. or "horse-whipped"]) that men like him can't easily speak about these things, thus justifying a complete disregard for consent.
I'll leave it there for now, because otherwise I'll never get on with the rest of the show.
Something something teenage cousin Rose, about whose adulterous shenanigans I could not be arsed to care. The Dowager Countess' judgmental means regarding Ethyl are justified by the happy end that she will go into service where no one knows she is a terrible garbage prostitute and where she can be closer to her son. Huzzah. Edith takes the job writing for the paper, and it's very scandalous that there's now a journalist in the family, but Edith cannot be stopped from sharing all her ideas at DowntonDirt.geocities.com, and also from getting interested in her flirty boss who confesses he's married to a woman in an asylum. Diagnosis: HYSTERIA!
In other news: Tom is much more likable now that Sybil is dead. His brother is a Leprechaun, I think. Lady Valium is becoming such the proficient eyeroller! Matthew's dick definitely works. Mary's vagina was broken, but now it's fixed! I guess? Moseley is the Jerry Gergich of Downton Abbey. And Bates and Anna got a garbage cottage, which they use as the backdrop for blackmailing O'Brien, so that she will convince Jimmy to let Thomas keep his job.
In conclusion: Someone please get me a gif of Maggie Smith's smug headbob after Mrs. Hughes tells Isobel she agrees "with Her Ladyship." I need that on a loop forever!