When World War comes a-callin’, we are all confronted with a simple question: How much will we sacrifice for the soldiers on the front? Last week we learned that Matthew and William are willing to sacrifice their lives; Thomas and Mosley, not so much. Carson is willing to sacrifice any number of footmen so long as it doesn’t interfere with proper dinner decorum. The Dowager Countess of Grantham is willing to sacrifice a couple of hours of beauty sleep. Lady Mary is willing to sacrifice her beloved stuffed donkey(?). And Cousin Isobel and Lady Sybil, well, they’re willing to sacrifice Downton’s entire estate, repurposing those majestic halls and noble sitting rooms as a convalescence home.
Lord Grantham — the man who has commissioned for himself several pairs of pajamas that look like army uniforms, so that he will never be out of the colours — isn’t, however, convinced it’s such a good idea. He acquiesces, but with the following stipulations: 1) Only officers will be allowed to convalesce at Downton, none of those pence-a-person cannon fodder foot soldiers everyone sees these days, hopping around on one foot looking destitute and miserable. It really brings down the morale of the house. 2) Said officers may only convalesce in the closets and lavatories into which their beds have been nestled. 3) NO TABLE TENNIS WHILE HIS LORDSHIP IS TRYING TO DO HIS CORESPONDENCE. My God, the ping-pong ping-pong ping-ponging! How much must one man be forced to bear for his King and his country?!
The conversion of Downton turns the lives of its inhabitants into some kind of Wonkaesque upside-down factory, where: Edith and O’Brien are transformed into heroes, Thomas walks in the front door and starts barking orders at Carson, and Cousin Isobel and Lady Grantham are forced to grapple for power like a couple of Regina George-es.
Let’s work backwards: Isobel thinks she should be in charge of Downton because most of the turf is hospital real estate now, and in case you missed the announcement, her former husband (God rest his inevitably insufferable soul) was a doctor. Cora thinks Downton should remain under her supervision due to the fact that her family’s riches have kept the candles lit all these years. For some reason, it’s down to Dr. Crawford to decide who’s in charge. And by in charge, I mean the person who oversees Thomas who oversees the nurses when Dr. Crawford isn’t around to oversee the the women who over see Thomas who oversees the nurses who oversee the patients. It’s a perfectly sensible chain of command. (No, it’s not.)
O’Brien is still feeling guilty for that whole “murdering the Grantham heir with half a bar of soap” thing, so she’s decided to spend her life doing covert penance, protecting Lady Grantham at every turn. Cousin Isobel is the most recent thing to threaten her Ladyship’s happiness, and so O’Brien thinks to herself, “Axe murder or Machiavellian scheming?” It’s the second thing, obviously, but for once her motives seem pure(ish). She convinces Cora to convince Dr. Crawford to convince the army to make Thomas “acting sergeant.” The Dowager Countess is pleased with the idea; after all, Thomas is their “own creature.” In the end, Dr. Crawford decides Cora and Isobel can oversee Thomas overseeing the oversight of the oversought see-saw sights.
O’Brien is also trying to nurse her shell-shocked work colleague back to health. A far cry from the O’Brien of last season who would flip over tables and chairs at the mere mention ironing one extra ribbon.
As for Edith, she’s feeling pretty useless, what with having her tractor-driving/farmer-snogging job taken away from her. She follows Sybil around like a lost puppy for a while until Sybil gives her a little Cousin Isobel-esque pep talk about finding her purpose. Edith is like, “Hang on, you can see me? I’m not imaginary?” It’s such a boost to her confidence to find out she’s not a ghost that Edith tackles her pseudo-nurse responsibilities with gusto. She makes tea for the soldiers, writes letters for them, fetches their ping-pong balls from her father’s lair, and is generally tender and gracious with everyone regardless of their station. Lady Edith has come a long way since she sent the Turkish Ambassador a photo of Lady Mary with the word “slut” scrawled across it.