Two of the Best Downton Abbey Friendships

By Monday, July 20, 2015 , , ,

*Spoiler Alert: Spoilers from multiple seasons of Downton Abbey are contained below. Proceed at your own risk!*
Is it acceptable that my girl Lady Mary is a party to both these friendships I'll be discussing? Sorry I’m not sorry. But honestly, as I thought about it, these two friendships of hers are really worthy of discussion. They are of course the relationships between Mary and her ever-faithful lady’s maid, Anna Bates, and between Mary and the family’s trusty butler, Mr. Carson.

I think this is one of the best relationships to watch develop over the seasons. Anna is a warm, dependable character, which makes her an unexpected match for the icy Lady Mary. But of the three Crawley sisters, Mary connects with Anna the most deeply. Or should we say is forced into deeper friendship with her? The disastrous incident with Mr. Pamuk has Mary beside herself, but thankfully, she finds a loyal confidante in Anna to the point of literally carrying a dead body. She took the role of dutiful maid to a whole new level, to say the least. And though that storyline is dramatic, it gives the two of them a pretty special understanding of each other, and I think it shows us that Anna has seen past Mary’s cold exterior before others. A few days after the incident has calmed down a bit, Anna asks Mary how she’s doing in the following exchange:

Anna: “What about you? What about your heart?”
Mary: “Haven’t you heard? I haven’t got a heart. Everyone knows that.”
Anna: “Not me, m’lady.”
And from then on, we see Mary and Anna grow together in so many ways. They’re close in age, and all the endless dressing and hairstyling sessions make for lots of interesting life chats about love, loss, fears, and joys. Anna’s sweetness and loyalty prompt a returning loyalty in Mary. I loved seeing Mary support Anna’s marriage to Mr. Bates when no one else knew about it, and I especially appreciated Mary’s eagerness to help after Anna is raped in season 4. Her support and determination to serve Anna after having been so faithfully served is touching.

Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary and Joanne Froggatt as Anna
{Via Tumblr}

Another aspect that makes Mary and Anna’s relationship interesting is the ever-present tension between the fact that they’re close confidantes, but also a servant and employer. As they grow closer, you see the servant/boss line blur in many ways, but you always know that Mary holds the upper hand and could snap Anna back into her “place” in a moment. Anna constantly holds Mary in great respect, but as time goes on, she simultaneously feels more comfortable and able to express her opinion openly if she disagrees with Mary. And on the other side, you know that Mary is ever-aware of her authority, but she also values Anna’s good opinion. The dynamic of their conversations is therefore quite entertaining.

Early on, we see that Mr. Carson has always had an evident soft spot for the unpredictable eldest Crawley daughter. Sometimes to a fault, he sticks up for her and forgives her graciously. Some fans say he’s there just to tell Mary she’s perfect, but I think there’s more to it than that. Sometimes I do wish he’d admit her defects more, but at the same time, I think he’s one of the few that can sometimes see past her bravado since he’s known her a long time. Carson’s been the family’s butler ever since Mary was a little girl, which would mean that he was an important figure for her as she grew up. And it’s obvious that Carson considers the Crawleys his family as much as his employers, and that’s reciprocated at some level on the family’s side, most noticeably from Lord Grantham and from Mary.

Mary’s exchanges with Carson are interesting for some of the same reasons that she and Anna make a good pair. That tension between friendship and the servant/employer line exists, but it’s different from Mary’s relationship to Anna because of the long-standing connection she has to Carson. Carson has utmost respect for Mary’s position and place in the family, but she also clearly looks up to him almost as a surrogate father and mentor, frequently accepting his advice and encouragement. And because he knows her so well, Carson can often say exactly what she needs to hear, but sometimes it’s risky because it would technically be overstepping his place as a servant. This is most clearly demonstrated when he seeks to draw her out after Matthew’s death. He tells her she needs to come out of the fog, but in grief-prompted anger, Mary callously reminds him that he’s out of line to speak to her in that manner. But later, she approaches him and apologizes, saying that he was right. And then she has her first real cry for Matthew right there on his shoulder, which I’m not ashamed to admit makes me cry like a baby every time I see it.

Carson comforting Mary in season 1 after one of many heartbreaks
{Via Downton Abbey Wiki}

Those types of moments between Mary and Carson are some of my favorites from the show – they sometimes knock heads, but they always come back to their old friendship in the end. After Matthew’s death especially, Carson is one of Mary’s biggest cheerleaders, and in season 5 she welcomes his advice more readily than probably ever before. There’s a scene near the end of the season in which he reassures her that she was right to break off her relationship with Tony Gillingham, and not only does she listen without snapping, but it seems her momentary doubts are altogether banished. I was literally cheering at the TV when I first saw that scene… thank goodness Carson can say what we’ve been thinking all along (I'm honestly not sure who was more relieved to see Tony give up on Mary: me or Mabel Lane Fox...whew).

Who knows how these friendships will play out in season 6? No doubt there’ll be exciting and dramatic things ahead. It is Downton, after all. Only 169 more days!!

*I do not own the rights to the photos in this post. Photos used were retrieved from credited Internet sources*

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