Downton Abbey recap: War House

The conflict touches all of Downton when William and Matthew go missing in German territory
Ep. 03 | Aired Jan 22, 2012

COME, COME, MR.BATES...YOU GET AS MUCH FULFILLMENT OUT OF SCHEMING AS WE DO Thomas (Rob James-Collier) and O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran) rearm for Bates' return to Downton. 

PBS

There is one golden rule for staying safe in a war movie: Do not talk about home. Do not mention your sweetheart, your father, or the fresh Yorkshire air. Avoid vocalizing your plans for your upcoming leave. Never announce that you are going to visit your dad or go to London. These things make your injury-death-vanishing doubly sad and therefore irresistible to a screenwriter. So when soldiers Matthew and William did all of the above before heading out on patrol in last night's episode, we knew they might as well have jumped over the parapet with a banner that said, “Shoot me, I’m English!” (Excuse me, “Ich bin Englander!”)

It couldn't be all quiet on the Western Front forever. Much to William’s confusion and Matthew’s consternation, the pair was ordered to take an arbitrary walkabout across enemy lines. William: “But what are we patrolling for?” Matthew: “You’ve been taking those logic pills again. This is the army… We’re going on patrol because we’re going on patrol.” Translation: “The more unnecessary the mission, the more likely we will get hurt, silly.” So Matthew tucked Mary’s lucky horse-dog-rat toy into his pocket, William gathered visions of Daisy in his head, and they trotted off into the woods—where they stumbled upon some Germans, engaged in a firefight, and promptly disappeared. If you claim that you didn’t think William was a goner at that point, you are a liar. Fact.

Meanwhile, back in the fresh Yorkshire air, Downton’s tenants were fighting their own battles. Lady Cora, determined to take back control of the estate by running the convalescent home, made it her job to stick it to power-mad Cousin Isobel. First, Cora conducted the doctor’s rounds without her. Then she took over the linen books, rescheduled lunchtime, and altered the nurses’ schedule. But nothing was as effective as when she calmly encouraged Isobel to make good on her threat to leave Downton. And honestly, how did Isobel think Cora would respond to an insult like “it would be foolish to accuse you of being unprofessional, since you’ve never had a profession in your life.” Thus, with the bewildered look of a once-beloved character that had quickly become insufferable, Isobel buggered off to work for the Red Cross in France.

Ethel also left the abbey, but on even worse terms. She had always been clear about her big dreams. Ethel wanted to eat crepes suzette. Ethel wanted her own bedroom. Ethel wanted to go to the movies. Ethel wanted to escape from service. Ethel wanted the mustachioed major. But, as O’Brien warned her, Ethel should  also be careful what she wished for. Only scenes later, Mrs. Hughes, who’d been suspicious of the major and scornful of Ethel from the start, caught them going to more than the movies in the spare room. By breakfast, Ethel had achieved her goal of no longer working as a housemaid. You can file the following development under “things you knew would happen”: Ethel later returned to the house penniless and pregnant. (Question 1: What does Julian Fellowes have against redheads? Lavinia is obviously engaged to a man who is in love with someone else, Rosamund is a widow, and Ethel is up the duff. Only last season's Gwen went relatively unscathed. Coincidence?)

NEXT: The return of Mr. Bates

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