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Headscratchers / Downton Abbey

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  • Was it ever explained where the girls' names came from? It's absolutely bizarre that a man who hates (or at least is extremely suspicious of) Catholicism would name his first daughter Mary, isn't it?
    • It's not bizarre at all — The Virgin Mary is acknowledged as the mother of God by those of the Protestant faith too, and she isn't a solely Catholic figure. Mary has been, throughout history, one of the most popular female names in the UK, and has only declined in popularity in recent generations.
    • Don't forget that the Queen Consort to George V was Mary of Teck, and the UK has had two Queen Marys as well as a number of princesses. Queen Victoria's youngest daughter was Beatrice Mary. It's hardly unusual to name your daughter after the Royal Family.
  • So how on Earth did Mary and Edith manage to figure the exact hotel where Sybil and Branson were staying? Especially once they'd figured out that they likely hadn't made it all the way to Gretna Green yet.
    • Bear in mind that they are A: Out in a relatively remote area, so there are few roads and therefore inns and B: in circa 1917, where cars were still extremely rare; Mary and Edith are specifically looking for places with a car out front, which is how they find them.
    • Also, where did the extra car come from? Branson says he'll return the car in the morning, so it seems he was driving the Crawleys' car (and it's unlikely he could afford one of his own), but the Crawleys didn't have two cars, so what were Edith and Mary driving?
      • Who says the Crawleys don't have two cars? In all likelihood, they do.
      • The Crawleys do have two cars. You can often see them parked side by side during Sybil's scenes with Branson in the garage.
      • There is also at least one mention of "the other car", in Season 2. Unclear on who would drive it if Branson is out with the first car, though. (Edith can drive, but it's extremely unlikely her parents would ask her to do so.)
  • Why does the Dowager Countess dislike Edith and Strallan's plans to get married? She grew up in the Victorian era; back then, May-December romances were the norm. Strallan is older, a member of the landed gentry, and a social peer of the Granthams; he is, in fact, the personification of a good match by Victorian standards. Ostensibly, the Countess should have been the marriage's biggest supporter.
    • The issue with him is not just his age, but also his injury. Violet in particular seems to be worried that Edith will spend her life as just a nurse to an ailing man. Note that he wasn't considered quite as undesirable of a suitor for Edith before the war, when his arm was still intact.
      • Even with the injury, her objections make little sense given the social aftermath of WWI. England had a "surplus" of about two million women, and around 30% of Edith's generation never married at all. Strallan was injured, but was able to live independently, and was a far better alternative to staying single.
      • You may be underestimating how people used to feel about cripples. Among the upper class, it was a life-ending deal.
    • Note also Strallan's oft-professed reluctance the second time around, he repeatedly told Robert and other members of the family (presumably including Violet) about his concerns well before the wedding.
  • Why the hell isn't Matthew helping to support Daisy? He's got the money now, and her then-fiancé was fatally injured saving his life. You'd think he'd feel at least a twinge of I Owe You My Life towards his widow.
    • He may have offered. She wouldn't take her widow's pension on the grounds that her marriage was a sham; no reason to think she'd accept help from Matthew either.
    • Daisy also has a secure job that provides roof and food, and apparently no dependent family members. It's not as if she's in a similar situation to Ethel, on the verge of starvation.
      • And bear in mind that William didn't have any surviving siblings. If he didn't have any cousins the family were close to, his father might leave the farm to Daisy. In fact, if memory serves, he said he would.
  • So when Mary says she had some sort of operation to cure some sort of reproductive disorder that was keeping her from getting pregnant, what exactly was that? She's apparently too repressed to explain it, which sounds like a Hand Wave to me, just to provide an excuse to finish up the subplot about Matthew worrying he's sterile with a bit of a twist. I mean, what reproductive disorder exists which can be fixed with a "small operation" which they were capable of doing back then?
    • It is absolutely historically accurate that Mary would not want to discuss the finer details with Matthew, especially given her father's attitude about such things (remember how he doesn't even like to think about Cora's ability to get pregnant at this point). You may well be right about there being no real-life condition that could have been resolved as simply as she suggests back then, but it is certainly consistent with Mary's character for her to tell Matthew that whether it's true or not.
    • Hysterosalpingogram most likely, they had that back then albeit crude. Basically she had one or both fallopian tubes blocked. They would have inserted contrast into her uterine cavity via the vagina (why she wouldn't want to giver her husband any details). They would take an x-ray that showed the blockage. Then there was various different ways of fixing it. Because she didn't need a large operation presumably they managed to fix it by pumping in CO 2 or something.
  • Season 3. Oh, boy, here we go:
    • Why did Matthew take such a level in dumbass? I get that he's still mourning Lavina's death, but he isn't stupid. Why would he have so much of a moral dilemma in accepting her father's money to save Downton—the home of his in-laws and his future children—and then let go of all of that angst with one letter?
      • I thought he explained himself quite well. He feels like he screwed Lavinia over after she stuck with him through his darkest hour, and thought that the inheritance was assigned to him without any knowledge of his actions. In that context, he thinks keeping Mr. Swire's money after breaking his daughter's heart mere hours before she died is staggeringly crass. But the letter basically says that Mr. Swire understands what happened, and so it acts as his forgiveness from beyond the grave. Note that Matthew doesn't even accept the letter straightaway, he only believes it when Daisy confirms she mailed off Lavinia's last words.
  • After Sybil died, Mary and Matthew had absolutely no emotional hangups about trying to conceive. You'd think one of them would have had at least some nervousness about it. In fact the writers could have driven the whole second half of the season around this—imagine their marriage breaking down and the Succession Crisis rearing its head, because one of them is too frightened to have a child. Nope! They both go right into fertility treatments and the season ends with them going, "Let's make babies!" The best we get is Carson looking a bit worried while Mary is in the hospital during the Special.
    • Values Dissonance? In those days, women were expected to have babies, end of story.
    • I'm not an expert, but I've never heard of a higher risk of death in childbirth running in families. Anyone else know something about it?
      • In fact, a tendency towards eclampsia *does* run in families, with women who have had a mother or sister with the condition being at higher risk themselves. In Mary's favor is that eclampsia is more common in younger women; against her, it's more common in first pregnancies. And I agree, it would have been nice to see at least *some* acknowledgement that Mary was afraid the same might happen to her.
    • Besides the fact that women died in childbirth often and this didn't stop other women from having babies, Mary seems the type to regard having a baby as her duty and go through with it even if she had any misgivings. This could also be attributable to the time skips, as they may have had time to cope with the events or may have expressed their fears during one of the many days that aren't shown on-screen.
  • If everyone was so eager for Mary to marry Patrick or Matthew or whoever so that Downton could be secured, why is she unmarried at 22-ish and dragging Matthew along? Yes I understand she has objections, but you'd think someone would have said "Look, you have to do this now so we can have an heir." I mean, it was 6-ish years between Patrick's death and their marriage.
    • The family probably thought that nagging her or pushing her to marry Matthew when he first proposed was the best way to make her turn him down, given how contrary she was. It did take her 2 years to come around to the idea of marrying him in the first place.
    • They should use Reverse Psychology while they were at it like the fathers in The Fantasticks: forbid the children from each other because they wanted to get them together.
  • Did Carlisle publishing the Pamuk scandal actually affect Mary? For two seasons it was the driving point of almost the whole show. Hordes of characters hid what happened, got blackmailed into keeping the secret (Bates and Vera), plotted against her (Edith), were burdened by the secret (Daisy), Mary agreed to marry Carlisle to keep him quiet and lived in fear of it being discovered because Mary's life would be ruined if the story came out. Yet at the beginning of Season 3, no one mentions it and she's still accepted into society and treated with respect. Hell, after Matthew dies she has hordes of suitors even though they must know what she did. There's no drama or consequences at all and Mary and the Granthams aren't shunned by anyone. Was a diplomat dying in her bed suddenly not a big deal?
    • Carlisle never went through with it — he threatened it, but by the time they call quits on their relationship in the Series 2 Christmas Special, he has calmed down a lot and leaves Downton with a fairly triumphant comment about he how will re-sell Haxby Park (the house he bought for he and Mary) at a profit. As a man motivated by money, this softens the blow of losing Mary.
      • To add, Carlisle's motivation for most of his behaviour/threats was desperately trying to keep Mary one way or another - he admits that he did really love her and want her to be happy. Once he knew she was gone, it almost seemed to be a weight off his shoulders.
  • In Season 3, episode 8, Thomas (or really Bates on his behalf) blackmails O'Brien with his knowledge that she caused Cora's miscarriage. However, in Season 2, episode 3, set three years earlier, it is all but spelled out that he doesn't know anything about that: he expresses surprise at how loyal O'Brien is to her boss when she used to hate her, and she acknowledges her change of heart but refuses to tell him why. (All she says is "I've got my reasons!") Is there any indication that she told him about it in the interim? I don't recall any, and it's rather unlikely given that they're no longer close friends by then. It CAN'T be that a third person witnessed the incident and told Thomas about it (ala Daisy and the dead Turk): given how unpopular O'Brien was among the other servants, they surely would have ratted her out to the Crawleys immediately, or at least certainly before they told Thomas, who was even more unpopular (and was away at war for part of the time anyway). Also, we know for certain that Bates and Anna don't know what happened, as neither of them knows why saying "Her ladyship's soap" was enough to get O'Brien to do their bidding.
    • O'Brien and Thomas only fell out in the beginning of the third season which takes place three years after Season 2, episode 3. They were on friendly terms before that, so there's plenty of time for her to tell him her secret offscreen.
  • Why was there any doubt whether Mary and George would inherit Matthew's share of the estate etc? She was his legal wife and he was his legal, recognised heir, even if Matthew hadn't made a will, they'd still be first in line to receive any inheritance. No, Mary doesn't inherit Downton Abbey itself, the money tied up with the estate from Cora's wealth or get the title, but all his personal wealth and worldly goods (eg, if he still owned any property back in Manchester, or had any stakes in a solicitors business from his working days, as well as his clothes, books, etc) should go straight to her as next of kin - and George should get the estate and the associated bits (the title, the money, etc) as the now next heir of Downton.
    • George's inheritance was never at stake. What was at stake was the degree of Mary's involvement with the management of Downton Abbey as the mother and guardian of the future heir. Robert felt that Mary shouldn't be burdened with this and wanted to keep for himself Matthew's share in the estate in order to have more control over it. After Matthew's will was found, Mary had a solid legal standing to get involved with running Downton. Mary's future wasn't in any real risk outside of that because as the mother of the legal heir she would be allowed to remain around. Matthew's assets aside from the estate and the title are never mentioned, so they may just not be significant to the plot.
  • What was the problem with Richard Carlisle calling Lady Rosamund "Lady Painswick"?
    • In simple terms, Rosamund would only be "Lady Painswick" if her husband was knighted or had a title; he wasn't knighted - rich, very rich, but only a mere banker - so she is just known as "Lady Rosamund" instead. You call a British lord or lady "Lord/Lady First Name" unless they're the Earl or Countess or Marquess of something, in which case it's "Lord/Lady Grantham/Flintshire" etc
    • Not quite the whole story. Lady Rosamund is a Lady in her own right, as the daughter of an Earl. Even if Mr Painswick had had a title, if it was lower in rank than hers it would still be insulting her to call her Lady Painswick and not Lady Rosamund. Hence Lady Edith would have been Lady Edith Strallan, not Lady Strallan, had she married Sir Anthony - his title is less important than hers and does not override it.
    • OP here. So does that mean that because - if I understand correctly - Bertie Pelham as the Marquess of Hexham who outranks her, she is Lady Hexham and not Lady Edith?
    • No, she would be Marchioness Hexham because a Marquess, who she is marrying, outranks an Earl, who she is the daughter of. The higher ranked title takes precedence. However, she would be addressed as Lady Hexham in conversation. Because British titles are weird and like to call everyone Lord/Lady in many circumstances, whatever their actual rank.

  • Why, if Mrs. Hughes thought that Green got what he deserved, did she tell Mary about the ticket stub?
    • Duty? She's a very loyal member of staff, so likely thought she was duty-bound to tell her employers. Plus, although she may feel that he got what he deserved, she's probably still highly uncomfortable that said comeuppance was meeted out by someone under her authority.

  • In S06E08, Carson refers to Thomas as a "suicidal footman in the attic". Only he hasn't been a footman in... forever. He's an underbutler. Did Carson just forget, is an underbutler so similar to a footman as to make not much of a difference, or what?
    • Carson doesn't like Thomas very much (or at all), and has wanted to fire him several times, but has ultimately been unable to. So it's easy to imagine it's just Carson being derogatory about an employee he doesn't like and barely tolerates. Also it's never made entirely clear what separates an underbutler from a footman, or the butler himself (this trooper had always assumed it was a footman who was being trained as a butler for when the existing one left, and took on certain duties that a normal footman didn't).
      • It feels to me as though an "underbutler" is a name the Crawleys pulled out of their top hat to be able to give a job back to Thomas without going back on their previous decision to reduce themselves to only one foot
      • You guys should know that underbutler is a real term, and just means assistant butler.

  • In the season 5 Christmas special, Lord Sinderby rudely barks at Thomas to bring him milk for his tea, but I thought Jewish people weren't supposed to mix dairy with other food? Like, I understand that not every Jewish person keeps kosher, but Sinderby is so vociferous in his defense of his faith and traditions it seems like he would. Is it just an oversight on the part of the writers?
    • Tea with milk is kosher as kosher is about separating meat and dairy. It's also very likely that Lord Sinderby isn't very strict as Jews who are strict about keeping kosher generally don't accept the hospitality of non-Jews. This is due to the unavoidable contamination of dairy and meat in not just food preparation but with the china, silverware etc.
    • Purely anecdotal, but in my experience Jews who don't keep kosher are just as proud of their faith as those who do. Given the amount of persecution they've been through, they kind of have to be.

  • Did Anthony Strallan reimburse the Crawleys the cost of the wedding after he jilted Edith at the altar?
    • I'm quite sure the show never actually addressed this, but my guess is Robert would just as soon eat the cost if it meant never having anything to do with Anthony again. (Remember he found out immediately after Edith was jilted - literally minutes after - that Matthew was going to accept Lavinia's inheritance and they wouldn't have to sell after all. With that weight lifted off his shoulders, what's so bad about a wedding breakfast that ended up going to the servants?)

  • If Robert was an Earl, presumably he would have been entitled to sit in the House of Lords. Why did he never do so?
    • He does, it’s just never shown onscreen. O’Brien mentions at one point that he and Bates go to London occasionally for just that reason.

  • It strikes me as odd and pretty historically inaccurate that Mary would have no less than four suitors (Evelyn Napier, Charles Black, Tony Gillingham, and Henry Talbot) pursue her at different points over the last three seasons of the show. Given that the high death toll caused by World War I, the general dearth of eligible men roughly the same age as Mary and Edith should have drastically lowered this number. Though she did come into a lot of money after Matthew's death, it seems wholly unreasonable that a widowed woman with a young son (regardless of her connections to the British aristocracy) would wind up with multiple men vying for her hand. Did Mary get so lucky because she happened to have a lot of money, a decent amount of charm and beauty, and her father's name to draw people in? Or did she wind up with that many because she was Fellowes' favorite and Creator's Pet? Further, doesn't it seem wholly insincere to the Matthew/Mary relationship, carefully established over the first three season, that Mary started fending off suitors partway through Season 4, less than a year after the death of a husband she claims to have loved so deeply?

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