Incredibly, the five ladies are having a nice lunch without Crawley House having been transformed into a bordello, and Cora even compliments the cooking, an assessment with which Isobel agrees both heartily and disbelievingly. Hee. Edith wonders if she should learn to cook, as it might come in handy one day and she's going to have to do something. Isobel asks what Edith said to the editor who offered her the job, but Edith says she hasn't given an answer and guesses that her window of opportunity has passed. Isobel pointedly recalls Matthew telling her that Lord Grantham was against it -- which isn't quite what he said but I'll still allow it -- and Cora continues to be awesome: "What difference does that make?" The Dowager Countess mildly reproves her, but Cora replies that she's not saying it out of spite. "I'm just saying that [Lord Grantham] frequently makes decisions based on values that have no relevance anymore." Emboldened, Edith asks Isobel if she thinks she should do it and when Isobel says she wouldn't countermand Lord Grantham, the Dowager Countess wonders why she even brought it up. Come on, old Lady Grantham, I know you have a fractious relationship with Isobel and are protective of your son, especially at the moment, but it still would be the height of hypocrisy for you to begrudge anyone else a little shit-stirring. And also, she's hardly alone, as Mary pipes up that she and Matthew both think Edith should do it and the virtue of Mary and Edith not getting along historically is that when one says something nice about the other, you know she means it. Lord Grantham then bursts in and, having heard the last comment about Matthew, wonders what else Matthew has decided for the family before announcing that all his women are leaving because of who prepared their meal.
After some preliminaries and innuendo, Isobel tells everyone that Lord Grantham is referring to Ethel's work as a prostitute, because Isobel is the only one allowed to make that announcement and regularly at that. Cora does look a bit scandalized as she turns to Isobel, but the Dowager Countess steps up to the mic: "Of course, these days servants are very hard to find." The Dowager Countess, ladies and gentlemen! She'll be here all week! Unbowed, Isobel says that Lord Grantham can't imagine the difficulties Ethel has had to overcome, but Lord Grantham barks that he doesn't care how she earns her living -- he just can't believe Isobel would expose his family to such scandal. Isobel wonders how anyone would find out, but Lord Grantham doesn't get too deep into his answer before Ethel, in uniform, enters with the dessert, whereupon the Dowager Countess whispers to Mary that she supposes Ethel has an appropriate costume for every activity. Hee. Lord Grantham once again declares that they're leaving and Ethel asks "my Lord" if it's because of her, but Cora dismissively says that it's because of Lord Grantham and they're not going anywhere. She then compliments the look of the dessert and when Ethel confesses that Mrs. Patmore gave her some help, Cora fixes Lord Grantham with a look as she replies, "I'm glad to know that Mrs. Patmore has a good heart and does not judge." Lord Grantham asks if anyone's coming, but you and I know that he doesn't have a prayer with Mary or Edith at the moment, and his disastrous play here becomes a debacle when even the Dowager Countess is like, I really want to try the dessert, but thanks! And I really do love the clever ways the show depicts the steps forward, both large and small, taken by women. Who knew a lunch served by a combination whore/shitty cook could turn into a three-generation-spanning moment of girl power?