Bates is still in prison and his cell mate is still a dick. Last year we had the almost comically evil Vera as Bates' antagonist. This year we have his surly bunk mate. That's progress, I guess. More troubling is that Bates isn't receiving any letters from Anna. Anna meanwhile isn't receiving any from Bates and discovers she is not allowed to visit him. What's going on? It seems Bates has been labeled a dangerous prisoner. You can't just go threatening your bunk buddy and not expect consequences, Bates! Haven't you ever seen OZ?
Ethel Parks shows up... again. Note that she's made an appearance in every episode so far but usually just to remind Isobel (and the audience) that she exists. Tonight she stepped more into the spotlight, informing Mrs. Hughes and Isobel that she was ready to give custody of her son to his curmudgeonly grandparents. In this time and place and given Ethel's circumstances (prostitute), this is the most sensible thing to do so naturally Isobel opposes it because that's what she does. But Ethel saw the parents of her dead baby daddy did indeed love the boy and would give him a better life so she went through with it and sent him away. It was the most heart-wrenching scene of the episode, with Ethel tearing up and then beginning to belt out "I Dreamed A Dream" so beautifully--oh wait, hold on. Different story. I got mixed up there.
Tidying up business from this season, ditched-at-the-altar Edith is given some very good advice from the Dowager Countess of Grantham ("Stop whining and find something to do!") which she followed by writing an opinion piece to the paper on women's suffrage. Nothing lifts the spirits like penning a good op-ed. Just ask Ann Coulter. Meanwhile, newly minted co-owner Matthew has been perusing the books and discovers that Downton is horribly mismanaged by Lord Grantham. Will wonders never cease! You mean the guy who lost his wife's fortune by investing in ONE (1) railway company isn't great at managing a budget? Matthew recognizes that it's his duty to broach the subject but is too much of a chicken shit to actually do it. Enter the Dowager Countess once more, telling Matthew to suck it up and get this shit sorted out (paraphrase). Oh, Notorious DCG, what would we do without you?
The real story this week, the big to-do, was that Tom, Sybil's worthless Irish radical husband, is on the run from the law. Seems he had some hand in burning down an aristocrat's house--or at least, being present while it happened and attending meetings where it was being planned. But aside from that, he's totally innocent! For reals. He had no idea watching someone's home burn to the ground and endangering the lives of the residents would be such a downer!
In Tom's defense, he went on the run and abandoned his pregnant wife to save his own skin. Hmmm, doesn't sound as noble as I thought it would. But Sybil keeps making excuses for him to her family because that's what battered wives do. When she finally makes it back to Downton in the pouring rain, her first act is to give Tom a warm embrace and passionate kiss. Not slap him across the face, like any sane person would.
Lord Grantham, meanwhile, uses his considerable (and probably unethical) influence to get Tom out of his trouble with the law. But there's a catch--he cannot return to Ireland or he'll be arrested! Tom, contemplating a life without easy access to Guinness, is none too pleased. He had wanted the baby to be born in Dublin (unclear whether he was planning on making Sybil walk back to Ireland in the rain but we shouldn't rule that out) but now it seems it will have to enter the world via Downton Abbey! What if the fine living conditions imprint on the baby and it's an aristocrat from birth! I guess we'll be able to settle that nature vs. nurture debate once and for all.
With the help of a wily fellow inmate, Bates manages to get rid of his devious bunk mate (without using a spoon as a weapon, thank God) and get himself removed from the naughty prisoner list. The episode concludes with he and Anna reading all their lover letters that have been piling up. The two cry while poring over them, so I guess they're not engaging in any erotic letter writing as I once thought they might be. Or maybe they're just really bad at it.
Other random thoughts:
Gotta love DCG's reaction to Carson's assertion that hard work is more important than beauty in the real world. "If only that were true." Notorious DCG maintains her MVP status.
All the beats with the electric toaster and Mrs. Hughes making Carson believe the house was on fire were just gold. It's funny that such crude technology can so ruffle that man's feathers.
I thought the last episode ended on an ambiguous note about whether Mrs. Hughes was lying about not having cancer. There was no mention of it here and no moment where we were meant to wonder. I daresay she was telling the truth after all but I suppose it could always come up again.
Loved the scene between Daisy and William's father. The bond these two share is very simple and sweet. Its one remnant of Season 2 I wouldn't mind seeing more of.
So what did everyone else think? Am I being too hard on this episode? (No spoilers please... we're using the American television viewing schedule!)