Our Downton Abbey TV Club Chats With Readers about Week 2 of the PBS Show

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
Jan. 14 2013 7:35 PM

Matthew, Here Is a Random Inheritance

Our Downton Abbey TV Club chats with readers about Week 2 of the PBS show.

Downton Abbey.
Dan Stevens as Matthew Crawley and Hugh Bonneville as Lord Grantham in Downtown Abbey

Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2011 for MASTERPIECE

June Thomas and Seth Stevenson visited Slate’s Facebook page on Monday to chat with users about this week’s episode of Downton Abbey. The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity. To see the full conversation click on this link.

June Thomas: Hi everyone, thanks for joining us this morning. I’m June Thomas, Slate culture writer, TV addict, and member of the Downton Abbey TV Club. So, Seth and Dan felt less strongly than me about the mistreatment of Lady Edith. Why must she be tortured so much? All because she wrote a letter to the Turkish Embassy way back in the days before the war?

Seth Stevenson: Well, she also snogged that farmer right in front his wife…

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June Thomas: Lady Mary shagged a Turkish gentleman. True, he died on top of her, which is always awkward, but she went on to make a good marriage, keep her precious house, and get everything she wanted. I don’t see why Edith must perpetually be punished for her indiscretions when everyone else gets away scot free.

Seth Stevenson: June, what if she’s just making bad decisions? I don’t mean to blame the victim, but her instincts always seem… off.

Guan Yang: Shagging the Turk didn’t really hurt anyone. Edith’s action wronged her sister.

Ellen Tarlin: Yes, poor Edith. However, I don’t know how you could ask what could possibly happen next. Don’t you see? The misshapen Canadian could come back, he and Edith could get together, and then his claim on his inheritance is hopelessly complicated by Matthew’s investment.

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Fay Trippet Ratta: I guess Cora’s mother couldn’t make it back for middle child, Edith’s, ceremony—hm? I think Edith should head to America to make her fame and fortune.

Seth Stevenson: Good point! I can’t remember, did we get an explanation for why Madame Levinson only showed up for Mary’s big day? First-born thing? Or is Mary just her favorite? (Mary’s everybody’s favorite. Even mine. Though I’m developing a real affection for Sybil.)

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June Thomas: Am I the only one who sometimes wishes for the Downton Abbey equivalent of the Angry Birds eagle? Something massive and all-powerful that will just swoop down and shake things up. An earthquake razes the castle… oh, wait, they did that last year with the Spanish flu. Still, those folks just need to get shaken out of their old ways.

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Ellen Tarlin: I’m not convinced that Mrs. Hughes doesn’t have cancer. I thought she might just be trying to throw Carson and Mrs. Patmore off her trail.

June Thomas: Yes, Ellen, I have that same suspicion. It’s odd that the only time she wasn’t accompanied into the doctor’s office by Mrs. P was the all-important diagnosis. And we know that doctor is totally hopeless.

Seth Stevenson: Many Slate commenters agreed with you about Mrs. Hughes, Ellen. But she seemed so happy when she saw Carson polishing his plate—and not bittersweet happy, but genuinely happy.

Ellen Tarlin: I know. I could definitely be wrong. I just can’t believe that Fellowes would resolve that conflict so quickly. Seems like a waste. Unless it was just meant as a catalyst to the Hughes/Carson romance.

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Katherine Goldstein: I find the age issue a little overplayed. As Edith points out, all the men her age are dead from war. Edith never really had many suitors, so given this reality, I didn’t really buy that Lady Grantham would just say, “let him go,” at the altar. She is accepting that her other granddaughter married a radical chauffeur! What do you all think?

June Thomas: I agree, Katherine, who else is Edith supposed to marry? Between the shortage of appropriate-aged men and the humiliation of being jilted at the altar, it's hard to see how Edith finds another husband in the same county. So, Anthony Strallan was older than her. So what? He had so much else going for him.

Seth Stevenson: Yeah I never got the "Edith is throwing her life away" logic. He seemed to make her so happy, what's the problem?

Seth Stevenson: It seems a staple of British television, though, that certain characters never ever ever get what they want. Look at the way the British "The Office" tortured its characters episode after episode.

Ellen Tarlin: I, too, didn't believe an English gentleman would let things go all the way to the altar before backing out. Nor that Violet would go along with it. Wouldn't the English, particularly the aristocracy, rather live their entire lives in misery than suffer one moment of public embarrassment? Of course, the way the episode was set up made it completely clear that the expected event would not be consummated.

Ellen Tarlin: I can't believe he would give up the possibility of having a regular sex life again! Particularly with a young lady.

Seth Stevenson: Regarding the sex life, one commenter theorized that Sir Anthony is gay. Interesting posit.

Ellen Tarlin: But he was madly in love with his first wife, Maude.

Ellen Tarlin:  And he does seem to have genuine affection for Edith.

June Thomas: I think the "Strallan is gay" thing is just a reflection of the widely held belief that all British aristos are gay. He isn't the butchest dude in the county, but I see no evidence of his not being genuinely in love with Edith. I'm more convinced by commenter suggestions his gentlemen bits might have been mangled in the war, but there was no evidence of that, either. He's just a bookish gent of a certain age. Who seemed perfectly suited to Lady E.

Ellen Tarlin: Yes, if Strallan was gay, clearly he'd be seen stealing glances at Thomas.

Jesse Lansner: The supposed problem is that Edith would have to take care of Sir Anthony, since he is missing the use of one arm. Of course, this is an even dumber issue than the age difference between them, since really Edith would just be telling the servants what they need to do to take care of Sir Anthony. Even such a work-averse character as the Dowager Countess should be able to recognize that being the wife of Sir Anthony is probably the easiest life Edith could end up with.

Fay Tripppet Ratta: I think Edith blew it when she said (paraphrasing now), “I don't want to marry you 'in spite of' your arm and age,’ I want to marry you ‘because’ of your arm and age and because I want to take care of you.”

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Claire Wilson: I think Matthew Crawley needs a beating. He’s more tortured than a Twilight character. And the always pithy Tom Tucker just called Edith “the new Jan Brady.” The best!

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Fay Trippet Ratta: Does anyone else think Bates is guilty after all? He sure does show a different persona in jail.

Ellen Tarlin: Does anyone care about Bates?

Fay Trippet Ratta: Great point. But I do like Anna... would hate to see her have to come to realize she'd been “had.”

June Thomas: Fay, As much as the Bates storyline bores the pants of me, I am glad to see some doubt being raised about his innocence. Mrs. Bates' friend didn't have any motivation to lie to Anna about Mrs. B's mental state just before her death. Did she?

Seth Stevenson: Until Bates is hanged or released from prison, I don't want to hear anything more about him. His on-screen moments mark an opportunity for me to tuck into some Calvados-glazed duckling and wait for the next scene.

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Pat Stack: All I know is that the, "Lavinia's dad wrote this note absolving you of all guilt in spending the money," was mighty convenient. Either Lady Mary really did forge it or Julian Fellowes is that bad of a soap writer. As my Irish-independence veteran ancestors would say: up the Irish, down with Branson.

Ellen Tarlin: Branson is insufferable! And I love Allen Leech. I adored him as Agrippa in the Rome series.

Pat Stack: Oh snap, you're right, he was on Rome! I also loved Rome and was super pissed when it ended. At the same time as Deadwood, no less.

Seth Stevenson: Are you calling Branson a sell-out? Easily swayed by some billiards and brandy with the enemy?

Pat Stack: No, just annoyed that he's the only representative of republican Ireland and he's a total douchebag.

Seth Stevenson: Also, the miraculous appearance of the Swire inheritance is in itself bad (by which I mean AWESOME) soap plotting.

June Thomas: Branson is hardly the paragon of republicanism, but he's probably as good as a unionist Tory like Julian Fellowes is ever going to write. I'm surprised he doesn't twirl his mustache and make moves on scullery maids.

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Fay Trippet Ratta: I had to chuckle at the dismay of moving to Downton Place. Oh the horror! Only eight servants. It's hard to empathize, though I'm sure it would have been a big deal to them at the time.

Ellen Tarlin: Yes, isn't Matthew the luckiest bloke on the island? Who else would like to randomly leave him an inheritance?

Seth Stevenson: Matthew, here is a random inheritance that will also happen to throw you into close contact with a beautiful, intelligent woman who would otherwise have no reason to even look at you. Oh, now here is another inheritance just in case the first one wasn't enough.

Pat Stack: At least Matthew served his time in those three-foot deep trenches of the Somme and lost his ability to walk / get an erection. Sure, he miraculously got it back again, but that's beside the point.

Ellen Tarlin: No, please, don't make me inherit more money! It's wrong! I'm bad! Bad!

Seth Stevenson: Matthew, in addition to two random inheritances plus the affection of a woman who is slightly out of your league, we would like to restore your motility and erectile function. Will that do? Anything else you need?

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Seth Stevenson: Does anyone else miss the saucy American maid who came across the water with Granny Levinson? I liked her mojo. Gone too soon.

Fay Trippet Ratta: Me! I do! And so does the footman… he liked him a little sauce.

Pat Stack: Granny Levinson also gone much too soon, even if her only topic of discussion is "English = backwards-looking, Americans = forward-looking.”

Ellen Tarlin: Seth, you know what happens to saucy ladies at Downton.

June Thomas: The random maids in the house for only an episode or two has been used before (e.g., the gals' aunt's maid who was scheming with a golddigger in the Season 2 Christmas episode). Visiting maids really did hang out below stairs during their mistresses' visits to the house, so it's a nice chance to have new characters popping up now and again. If only they used it a little more interestingly!

Seth Stevenson: What's saucy for the goose is saucy for the gander. (I don't even know what that means but it sounds sort of British.)

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Margaret Adrienne Lillard: I think the talk with the neighbor was *very* revealing. Mrs. B expected Bates for tea, she was baking a pie, she scrubbed her hands manically afterward—I think there was a murder being plotted, but not *by* Bates.

Seth Stevenson: Ooh, good sleuthing. And wouldn't that be a very Downton twist?

Ellen Tarlin: I thought it was pretty clear last season that Mrs. Bates committed suicide to frame Bates and ruin his life. Am I wrong?

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Pat Stack: I read all the spoilers, but as someone pointed out, you really watch Downton to hang out with the characters more than you watch for the pretty silly plots.

Seth Stevenson: I would happily hang out with Matthew, Mary, Sybil, Branson, the Dowager Countess, and the saucy Yank maid. Oh, and Mrs. Hughes. The others I might try to ditch.

June Thomas: I've got to pull a Sir Anthony S and run out of here. Thanks, everyone for talking Downton.

Seth Stevenson: Okay, thanks everyone. My driver has pulled up and I need to get to a shooting party. Hope my valet brought the proper shirts.

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. Follow her on Twitter.