Before we — and every person in the Greater Grantham Area — spend an hour discussing Matthew Crawley’s penis, I would like to call your attention to Mrs. O’Brien’s breasts.
I know. Me too. Just, what?
Anyway, it’s 1918 and the Hundred Days Offensive is underway. If our boys on the front can only hold on for three more months, this thing will be over. And Matthew knows it. In the trenches of Amiens, France, he tells his soldiers to steady themselves and say some prayers and be every kind of brave, because the end is near. And then, like nearly every other World War I battle, they hop out of their trenches and run full throttle into machine gun fire from some other trenches. (It is madness to think that the Allied forces made one of their biggest advances of the entire war that day — and the astronomical number of miles advanced was seven. Seven.) Ultimately, the Germans surrender, but not before they gun down poor William, who jumps in front of Matthew Crawley like the hero/cannon fodder we always knew he would be.
One thing about the melodrama on this show is that if you read it in a fan fiction or something, you’d roll your eyes so hard you’d dislocate your eyeballs, but when you add Edwardian costumes and Michelle Dockery‘s face, it’s just all so perfect. When Matthew hits the ground way over in France, Mary’s tea cup hits the floor in Downton’s sitting room. Her whole body goes cold. Meanwhile, Lavinia is playing Scrabble or Jenga or something up in London, none the wiser. Because she’s not Matthew’s soul mate and is therefore not telepathically connected with him.
Daisy gets an eerie premonition too, but I find it hard to believe it’s about William. It’d be Mrs. Patmore who’d need to be borne away to a fainting couch on Wiliam’s account.
This episode is bleak, but it’s also what’s best about Downton Abbey: It exists in the grey area where feelings supersede fiefdom. So, with that in mind, let’s start with the servants.
Everyone is bereft to learn that William has been wounded, Daisy most of all. Not because she’s in love with him or anything. It’s the opposite. She wants him to come home a wealthy, healthy war hero with a fully functioning pecker so Mrs. Patmore will finally let her break up with him. Unfortunately, he comes home with Fellowes Lung, a fatal disease that only allows a man to live for exactly the number of hours it takes to marry his sweetheart. They’re lucky William made it home at all, to be honest. The army was happy to let him die any old place in the country, but the Dowager Countess waged war with a doctor, a vicar, and a telephone to make him comfortable in his final days. (Maggie Smith shouting into the telephone was one of the most gloriously acted things I have ever seen in my life. How Laura Carmichael stood there with a straight face is beyond all comprehension. How Maggie Smith keeps getting passed over for Golden Globes and Screen Actor’s Guild Awards is also beyond comprehension.)
William asks Daisy to marry him right away, but she’s like, “Oh, I would, you know, but I’ve got to bake some pies.” So Mrs. Patmore asks Daisy to marry William and William’s dad asks Daisy to marry William. Weirdly even Thomas wants to see William happy. Finally Daisy realizes it’s kinder to marry a man on his deathbed than to punch him in the heart, and so the whole staff, along with Violet and suddenly awesome Edith, attend their nuptials. It is a truth universally acknowledged that when Carson the Butler cries, the whole world cries. And so me and the Dowager Countess, that’s just what we do.