Romantic meddling, a secret child, a naughty noble, changes in the status quo, a fire and Mr. Molesley's hair took center stage as "Downton Abbey" returned.
We caught up with our beloved Crawleys and their staff on PBS' Masterpiece on Sunday night, with the premiere of Season 5, which found Lord Grantham/Robert Crawley bellyaching over continuing changes in his world.
Problem No. 1? The Labour Prime Minister (a man Lady Mary notes was not born into nobility), heads up a government committed "to the destruction of people like us," Robert tells his family members. He feels bad that their poor King has to deal with the new government. A moment later, when Lady Rose mentions the local school, Robert reveals -- shock -- he wasn't offered a recently-empty school board seat. And then there's another mild annoyance -- his granddaughter Sybbie has taken to calling him "Donk," (short for donkey, from her favorite game, pin the tail on the donkey). But all that is nothing in comparison to the blow to his ego on its way.
Down the road, it's a bittersweet moment as Lady Edith begins the season visiting with her secret daughter Marigold, who is now living with Tim Drewe and his wife Margie. As Edith cuddles the tot, Tim mentions he's been asked to be the Chief of the estate firemen. They all attempt some more small talk, but it's awkward and Edith heads out (crying all the way home). Once she's gone, Margie suggests the Lady has a crush on her hubby. That's not the case, he tells his unsuspecting wife, without revealing the truth.
While Tim Drewe is keeping secrets, Dowager Violet Crawley is working on digging some up. Walking with Matthew's mother Isobel, she probes her "friend" for more information about Isobel's relationship with widower Lord Merton. Success! The sly Dowager manages to find out more about the Lord's very romantic interest in Isobel, who has been pushing him away.
Downstairs, Jimmy isn't having any success at all trying to distance himself from his former employer, Lady Anstruther. She's sent him another letter, he confides in pal-again Thomas. But before more details can be spilled on that whole situation, Mr. Carson asks them to tear themselves away from their "smutty deliberations." There's work to be done!
For Thomas, that work is finding out what Baxter, the lady's maid he planted as a spy at Downton, knows about Bates. He corners her and demands answers, but it's Mr. Molesley to the rescue, helping to abruptly end the uncomfortable exchange.
Upstairs, Robert is about to have an uncomfortable moment with the town's committee members, who have arrived at the estate to discuss a war memorial. Why yes, they'd like some of his land for the tribute, but as for the committee chairman post, they'd like not the Lord, the Earl of Grantham, Robert Crawley, but rather his butler, Carson, for the job. Cue shocked reactions from both men. "I am honored by the invitation, but I will have to think about it," Mr. Carson replies politely, putting a decision off, and saving Lord Grantham some embarrassment.
Not being offered the position is a big deal to Lord Grantham, who can't keep himself from gossiping about it with his mother. He wasn't asked! "Your father always told the village what they wanted," Violet quickly replies.
Downstairs, Carson complains to someone as well -- Mrs. Hughes. It's not right and another sign of unwelcome change. "I feel a shaking of the ground I stand on, that everything I believe in will be tested and held up for ridicule for the next few years," he says. But his worries are quickly put into perspective by the woman he waded in the sea with at the end of Season 4.
While she was able to comfort Carson, Mrs. Hughes unsettles Lady Edith when she presents her with a book she found – one that belonged to the long-missing Michael Gregson (Marigold's father). Although upset to be reminded of her lost love, there's an engagement Edith has to attend and she heads to the local school with Lady Rose and Tom Branson. Being at the school puts Branson back in touch with Miss Bunting, the redhead he took upstairs for a house tour in Season 4 (an event Thomas twisted when he tattled to Lord Grantham). "I'll see you again," Branson tells Miss Bunting as they part this time. "I hope so," she replies. Clearly, she means it.
It's Dowager time again as "Downton" checks in on Violet Crawley, who is entertaining Dr. Clarkson for tea. As they chat, she lets it be known that Isobel has been spending time with Lord Merton. She knows the good doc had a little thing for Isobel at one time, and it seems he still does as he accepts Violet's offer to come to an upcoming lunch to get to know Merton more. Mrs. Isobel Crawley and Lady Shackleton will be there too, Violet says. (When Cora and Robert gossip about things later, Cora suggests the Dowager's doesn't want Isobel to get too close to Lord Merton, and end up becoming a Lady too).
All that scheming may be working for Violet, but Thomas is having much less success with his scheme to blackmail Baxter into spilling what she knows (about Mr. Bates' ill-timed train ticket) to him, downstairs. Mr. Molesley is having troubles with his own plans too – trying to look younger. After dyeing his hair with some sort of polish, it comes out in a less-than-natural tint, one that is about to cause a commotion.
But first, a revelation at the Drewe farm as Lady Edith walks with Tim. He knows Marigold is her daughter. "How long have you known?" she asks. "Since you asked me to take her in," he says, promising that the secret is safe. Then, he adds, "We need a way for you to live the truth, without telling the truth."
Her own truth is something Molesley advises Baxter to tell Lady Cora, when the pair chat in the stairwell downstairs at Downton. It's the only thing she can do to save herself from Thomas' blackmail.
Across the way, Violet is finally entertaining her guests – Lady Shackleton, Lord Merton, Isobel and Dr. Clarkson – and continuing her scheming. The party separates just as Violet seemingly wanted it to, with the Lord and Lady chatting, and Dr. Clarkson and Isobel spending more time together as outsiders.
Back at the estate, it's time for some more romantic pairings as Tony Gillingham arrives and is whisked off for a little hunting with Mary (and Tom). While Tom chases after a bird he's shot, Lord Gillingham makes his latest move on the heiress. "Tony, I do love you, you know, in my cold and unfeeling way," she tells him. Then why won't she say yes to his proposal? It's because she wants another great marriage, Mary explains. "I intend to be as happy with my second husband as I was with my first," she says.
As it turns out, Tony Gillingham isn't the only Downton arrival on this day. Introducing unexpected guest Lady Anstruther (guest star Anna Chancellor)! While she doesn't know the Crawleys, she claims to have had trouble with her car nearby and stopped in for help. With no suitable accommodation nearby, the Crawleys offer to take her in for the night, and as she turns her head, she spots the real reason she's here -- her former employee, the handsome young footman, Jimmy. There's clearly some real drama ahead with these two.
It's Baxter's drama that unfolds first though, as she reveals to Lady Cora the information Thomas has been blackmailing her over. Mr. Bates isn't the only former prisoner at Downton. Baxter stole jewelry from a former employer in London and ended up in the clink for three years. Before Cora can address this confession, Lord Grantham walks in.
As everyone begins to gather ahead of the evening meal, Downton guest Lady Anstruther finds an opportunity for a brief flirtation with her former footman. "Jimmy, I ought to scold you. Why did you not return my letters? You're a very naughty boy," she says, before Mr. Carson interrupts, and she's forced to mingle with the upstairs gang. Miss Bunting's arrival at Downton (for dinner) also raises eyebrows. Although she was invited by Lady Rose (with the permission of Lady Cora), Lord Grantham and his mother are not pleased.
Mother and son put it to the back of their minds during dinner, where Lord Grantham toasts his wife of 34 years, the lovely Cora. The happy moment doesn't last long. Dinner conversation quickly takes an unpleasant turn courtesy of the outspoken Miss Bunting who slams the idea of the war memorial. In return, she's slammed by Lord Grantham, who says she's "talking nonsense," prompting Tom to speak out. But it's Miss Bunting who seemingly tosses in the last word, shocking everyone into silence. "It's a pity they didn't want you on their committee," she tells Lord Grantham, stinging him with the committee's slight. "You put up a stout defense of their intentions." As everyone looks around silently, a voice is heard from the back of the room. Mr. Carson! The committee held a meeting and they want Lord Grantham as their patron, he reveals. Miss Bunting lowers her head, defeated by the butler.
(Downstairs, Carson tells Mrs. Hughes the real story -- he wouldn’t serve on the committee unless they made Lord Grantham patron.)
Before the evening is over, Lord Grantham has one more battle he'd like Carson to take on – Mr. Molesley's hair. "Can you please keep Molesley in the kitchen until his hair stops turning blue?" Robert asks.
It's blunt language from Carson to Molesley and his smurf-tinged hair. "I do not know why you have treated your hair with a special substance, but I can only say that the effect on your appearance is not what you would have it," Carson says. "Take steps, Mr. Molesley. Take steps. You will remain downstairs until you do."
With the evening's main event over, the Crawleys and their guests retire to bed. Lady Edith curls up with Gregson's book, but she just can't handle the pain, and tosses the book behind her. She should have been more careful. It lands on the edge of the fire, and becomes engulfed in flames unbeknownst to Edith who she cries herself to sleep.
As Lady Mary prepares for slumber, she gets a visit from Tony Gillingham, who suggests they go away together. "We'll spend the days talking," he says. "And the nights?" she asks. "We'll spend those together too. I want us to be lovers Mary. I want us to know everything there is to know about each other, and after that, I believe you will be sure," he says of his hopes she'll eventually realize she should marry him.
While Mary and Gillingham contemplate flames of passion, it's Thomas (who was upstairs keeping a lookout for Jimmy who decided to have a romantic interlude with Lady Anstruther) who spots fire flames in Lady Edith's room. He shouts and alerts everyone. Branson grabs toddlers Sybbie and George, and then gets the hose alongside Lord Grantham to fight the fire.
Thomas offers to check the rooms, but he's shut down, so Jimmy and Lady Anstruther are caught (in bed!) by Lord Grantham, as he works to evacuate the upstairs gang from Downton. Downstairs, Carson gets everyone out as the firemen (including Mr. Drewe) arrive.
Finally, the fire is put out. Lady Edith's room has been damaged and so has Lady Anstruther's reputation. She thanks Lord Grantham for his hospitality, but reveals she will be leaving before breakfast. "Perhaps that would be a good idea," he answers. And she won't be the only one exiting Downton. Lord Grantham asks Carson to send Jimmy packing (with a reference).
Before Mr. Drewe leaves, Lady Edith strolls over to thank him for fighting the fire and to ask him if he's come up with a plan. "You are going to take a great interest in little Marigold... so everyone accepts and believes it," he says.
"Downton Abbey" Season 5 continues Sundays at 9 PM ET/PT on Masterpiece on PBS.
-- Jolie Lash