We're dropped back into Downton six months after the Season 4 finale, but there has been many changes afoot. I'm sure Carson will spend much of the year super-vexed at everything.
For one, it's 1924 and there's a new prime minister who -- scandal! -- represents the Labour Party. Watching Carson and Robert grumble with disdain is what I imagine it was like in the Bush home when Obama was elected.
The youngins' don't seem to mind the new blood in government. Mary mentions that Prime Minister MacDonald is "the son of a crofter," which, after consulting my Old-Fashioned British To English dictionary, means his dad was a farmer. Robert pretty much yells, "THE GOVERNMENT WANTS TO DESTROY US! HIDE THE TAPESTRIES!!"
Secondly, Edith has a new bike with a little basket, and she seems to enjoy riding through the winter fog all melancholy like. To be fair, she's sad because, you know, she gave her daughter away to the pig farmer. But Edith has started visiting little Marigold regularly/stalking the Drewes.
Thirdly, Daisy wants to learn math.
See, changes. Here's some highlights of the premiere.
About that fire
Yes, there's a fire at Downton, but it's not nearly as bad as the season previews led fans to believe.
And yes, it's caused by Edith because she pretty much is responsible for doing all the annoying things in the Crawley family. OK, so I'm being rather harsh, because the fire is caused by Edith in tears throwing a book that once belonged to Michael Gregson across her room and a little too close to her fireplace.
Everyone is fine, though. Thomas (!) rescues Edith from her flaming bed, Robert and Branson use their sand buckets (!!) and personal water hose (!!!) to hold off the flames before the fire brigade with fancy helmets (!!!!) arrive.
Mr. Drewe is part of the fire brigade and takes Edith aside to basically say, "Look, you're being way too obvious with Marigold. Play it cool for once in your life."
He had earlier admitted to her that he figured out the baby is Edith's, but that he not only won't tell his wife (who's getting really suspicious of Edith, thinking that she's after her husband, which wouldn't be too out of the question for someone who once fell in love with a man without a face, but I digress) but also that he's going to try to work out some plan where Edith can see Marigold more.
You can always trust a good pig farmer.
Sex talk (and hook-ups)
Yup, some more changes! Mary talks openly with Anna about feeling the need to have sex with a potential suitor before she marries him so she knows they're compatible. Geez, women had it rough back then. Anna is "too old-fashioned" to hear about all of this.
Later, Lord Gillingham (whom Mary is still interested in, but not committed to) proposes that they go away for a week in secret, where they'll spend the days (AND NIGHTS!) together. Mary agrees. The Dowager would not approve.
Bates even makes a joke about practicing more with Anna. The two are trying to have a child.
There was also a somewhat misguided minor plot involving Jimmy and a former employer, Lady Anstruther (more like Answhorer, amiright?), who can't keep her hands off him. She even finds a way to invite herself to Downton just so she can find ample time to have sex with Jimmy in her guest room. Robert discovers them while he warns people about the fire. Anstruther plans to sneak out in the morning, while Robert tells Carson to let Jimmy go.
Robert also tells Carson to give Jimmy a good reference. Thankfully, because "I hooked up with a former employer while on duty in my previous household" doesn't look too good on one's resume.
Looks like Thomas' only friend is leaving.
Much Labour Party discussion ensues, with Carson at one point saying, "I feel a shaking of the ground I stand on," which I feel like he says some variation of every season.
Robert is shocked when a committee planning a World War I memorial in town doesn't ask him to be their leader (as tradition dictates) but asks Carson instead. Later, Carson gets the group to make Robert their patron after he says he won't lead the committee unless they involve Robert. Aw, cute.
Branson still goes on with his "I'm trapped between two worlds" plot line, and is still apparently thinking about moving to America.
But much of the class discussion comes when Sarah Bunting is invited to the Crawley's 34th wedding anniversary party/dinner/thing at Downton. You remember Sarah -- the pretty school teacher with a sharp tongue and socialist ideals that Branson met last season.
To say the least, she doesn't get along with Robert. First, he still thinks Branson hooked up with Sarah in Downton last summer (Branson later tells Robert that they're not lovers). But then at the dinner she freely gives her opinions on topics Robert doesn't approve of: not liking a war memorial (seriously, who hates a war memorial?), calling the war "pointless" ... stuff like that.
I used to to like Sarah, but this episode really showed how close-minded she can be as well. Looks like we're in for some Robert-Sarah character foil action.
As the dowager puts it: "Principles are like prayers. Noble, of course. But awkward at a party."
Baxter's secret is revealed
For much of Season 4, "Downton" teased a very big mystery involving Cora's new maid Baxter. Thomas brought her to the house because he knows something about her and wants to use that information to get her to be his informal spy. Because he's a villain like that.
After many Thomas Dramatic Confrontations in Stairways and Servant Rooms, Baxter is forced to tell Cora about her past after Thomas threatens to do so. I had my theories about Baxter. Former prostitute was one. Her being a lesbian was another (Yes, Thomas is gay, but I can totally see him playing that card against her).
But the reveal was something of a let down. Baxter says she stole some jewels from her former employer, never returned them and then served three years in prison.
Cora is understandably shocked, but doesn't dismiss Baxter because she does such good work. Yep, solid lady maids are hard to come by. Later, Thomas tries to tell Cora about Baxter, but she stops him and scolds him for recommending a former convict.
Just when it looks like Thomas will be sacked as well, he earns the family's goodwill by rescuing Edith from the fire.
Violet still seems bothered by best frenemy Isobel being courted by Lord Merton, though Isobel still claims not be interested. Perhaps the thought of Isobel turning into a lady is too much for her.
So the dowager schemes to have a lunch gathering with Isobel, Dr. Clarkson, Lord Merton and Lady Shackleton with the goal of pimping out Shackleton to Merton.
Good luck, Violet.
In a solid gag to make Molesley even more awkwardly endearing, he gives himself a Just For Men 1924-style hair makeover, dying his hair dark black with what appears to be a jar of tar mixed with squid ink.
And everyone hilariously notices. I didn't think it looked horrible, but everyone else does. Robert's reaction is priceless: "You look very Latin all of a sudden," he tells Molesley. "Do you have any Italian blood?"
Finally, Robert tires of his distracting look and tells Carson to do something about it. Abruptly, Carson gives Molesley an ultimatum: Fix the hair or you won't be able to go upstairs. "Take steps. Take steps," he says.
I love the phrase "take steps." I will find ways to use that when ordering someone to change their ways.
MORE HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE SEASON PREMIERE
From her heaving bosom: I love how Lady Anstruther talks like she's ripped from the pages of a bad romance novel: "Jimmy, I ought to scold you. Why did you ignore my letters? You're a very naughty boy."
Most relatable line: "All of the best people were rubbish with numbers in school," Patmore tells Daisy after Daisy can't quite grasp the basics in a mathematics book she ordered.
Best way to characterize scandalous talk: When Carson overhears Jimmy and Thomas discussing Lady Anstruther, he scolds them for their "smutty deliberations."
Least symphatetic reaction to your sister almost dying: "We're fine," Mary tells the Anna and Bates after the fire. "Lady Edith chose to set fire to her room, but we're fine."
Most unfortunate nickname: Sybbie calls her grandfather "Donk" after a donkey that was involved in one of their play sessions.
Lady Mary's free time: We learn that when she's not trying to decide between Gillingham and Charles Blake, Mary is studying up on "crop rotation and grain sales." Thrilling.
My new favorite character: I have started to love Violet's butler, Spratt. First, his name is Spratt. Second, his disdainful looks at "lower-class" guests are priceless. He even hesitates to serve people like Dr. Clarkson coffee and cake. Violet calls him a snob, which is saying something.