February 16, 2014 @ 9:31 pm | Filed under: Television
Darling, I’m so glad you survived your time in the land of Prohibition.
(UK / DVD episode 8. Also, spoilers below.)
Proving it has its priorities firmly in place, this episode starts with the VIPs: the Very Important Pigs. Look at ’em, up and drinking, fat and sassy! Oh, what a relief. I’m only sorry we never got to meet that dastardly fellow, the Negligent Pigman. After the great trough catastrophe, Tom and Mary have decided to offer sturdy Mr. Drew, whose devotion to Yew Tree Farm has proven his mettle, the job of Keeper of the Pigs.
Let’s just take a moment to savor this: Downton Abbey is full of grown men and women who require another adult’s help to change clothes three times a day, but Mr. Drew can be trusted to tend these somewhat delicate Pigs and FARM AN ENTIRE FARM. In fact, he’s so reliable that Edith is eyeing him as a potential foster father for her child. (She’ll be talked out of that by Aunt Rosamund, but that comes later.) For once I’m not making fun of the show; I think this is a pretty realistic depiction. I have no doubt that Mr. Drew is fully capable of running his farm and tending the Pigs. And while Mary has shown that she can do a hard night’s work in an extraordinary circumstance (and even elegantly scramble an egg afterward), it’s amusing how different the family’s definition of “farming” is from Mr. Drew’s. When Mary and Robert speak of “farming Downton themselves,” they mean making plans and hiring people to carry them out. When Mr. Drew speaks of farming, he means getting up at 4:30 in the morning to check on the Grantham Pigs before milking his own cow.
A recurring theme throughout the four seasons of this show has been how much happier the upstairs crowd is when they have some real work to do. During the War, we saw Edith blossom as an aide to the recovering soldiers (and, later, as a newspaper columnist), and Sybil grew from a restless cause-seeker to a woman who found real satisfaction in her nursing duties. We began this season with Mary and Isobel in zombie states, six months after Matthew’s death. The spark came back into Mary when she was nudged into taking an interest in the management of the estate, and Violet basically applied a bellows to Isobel, dumping the problem of Carson’s down-and-out former friend in Isobel’s lap, fanning the embers of her do-gooder zeal back into the fire she runs on.
We’ve seen it with Cora, too, this season: so many scenes in which she looks absently up from a book, smiles benignly, and does nothing of consequence—she has seemed more like an amiable ghost than a person whose actions have any effect on the world. This week, Cora was zooming around in a whirl of bazaar preparations, and although her somewhat vapid remarks seemed designed to elicit eye-rolls from her family as well as the audience, the truth is that organizing an event on the scale of that one is a mammoth undertaking. If you tried to assign me that job, I’d run away with the Pigman. I appreciated Tom’s insightful “beast of burden” remark near the end of the episode, his recognition of how hard Cora had toiled over the bazaar. I still found myself wanting to roll my eyes at everything Cora said—I’m serious when I say I think the script wanted me to—but Tom’s right. We very seldom see Cora at work, but she does work. There are parts of her job she could do a great deal better; she’s been only superficially aware of Edith’s misery and Rose’s mischief all season. But she organized a mighty impressive bazaar, and I’m glad Tom gave her her props.
But I’m jumping ahead. This week saw the Dowager Countess back on her feet, poking Isobel with her customary relish. She drags Isobel in to help entertain Mary’s godfather and seems mildly surprised to see the distinguished widower taking an interest in our Mrs. Crawley. Lord Merton walks Isobel home, totally spaces that her son has died, and sends a gorgeous flower arrangement in apology. Did anyone catch his rank? I’m not sure I see Isobel remarrying (she’s too easily irritated), but it would be pretty funny if she married into a higher rank than Violet’s.
Through Violet, we learn that Uncle Harold is mixed up in the Teapot Dome Scandal, which I think a lot of us suspected, given the timing and the hints. So far, this plotline has had little effect on the Downton main players except to remove Robert and Thomas from the scene for a couple of episodes. Frankly, we needed a rest from both of them. Thomas’s absence has allowed a nice little relationship to flourish between Miss Baxter and Molesley, who is absolutely astonished to see himself through Miss Baxter’s eyes. She envies him his lifetime in a community that, in her words, respects him and likes him. Molesley, after sinking just about as low as he could go—reduced to digging roads and begging for a footman’s job—has finally encountered someone who doesn’t view him as the ultimate sad sack. It’s quite sweet.
Violet’s other occupation this week is to ferret out the truth about Edith, and to respond with deep understanding. Rosamund has tipped her mother off that Edith “needs cherishing,” and when, shortly afterward, Rosamund makes a sudden visit to Downton to announce she’s taking Edith to Switzerland for several months—to improve her French—Violet does the math. If she tsk-tsks Edith, we never see it. Instead, she offers to pay Edith’s travel expenses. Edith is not exactly happy about the plan—it kills her to think she won’t be any part of her baby’s life—but she’s relieved not to have to tell Cora she’s pregnant, at least.
Another round of Alfred Drama sets the kitchen crowd fluttering once again, but mostly only because no one wants Daisy know what’s going on. Since the tactic Mrs. Patmore and Mrs. Hughes apply to Hiding Things from Daisy is to make alarmed faces at her every time she walks into the kitchen, Daisy susses out the truth pretty quickly. Alfred has written to propose to Ivy; Ivy has turned him down; and now Alfred is going to swing by Downton to say goodbye forever. Mrs. Patmore sends Daisy off to visit her father-in-law, Mr. Mason, to spare her the pain of watching Ivy break Alfred’s heart one last time. But Mr. Mason persuades Daisy to go back and say a real goodbye to him, leaving “nothing jagged, nothing harsh” between them. This is probably the wisest advice anyone’s ever given Daisy, whose heart is full of jagged edges, and she carries it out so gracefully that for the first time we have hope she may not turn out a bitter, sharp-tongued shrew. Mrs. Patmore’s heartfelt praise afterward (“I couldn’t have been prouder if you were my own daughter”) clearly touches Daisy. Actually, Miss Baxter’s words to Molesley apply very much to Daisy as well—in her eleven years at Downton she has developed quite a supportive (if sometimes overzealous) network of friends, whether she realizes it or not. Including Mr. Mason, who is basically a more talkative Matthew Cuthbert. Daisy, like Molesley, is luckier than she realizes. Perhaps someday we’ll see her realize it.
Charles Blake and Evelyn Napier announce they’ll be ending their prolonged stay at Downton, both of them leaving their hearts at Mary’s feet. (Mary fails to notice Napier’s and accidentally kicks it under the sofa, where it will lie forgotten until 1941, when a young London evacuee will discover it and it to his collection of birds’ eggs and owl pellets.) Before Charles goes, however, he jumps another notch in Mary’s esteem by demonstrating his undaunted willingness to do that which most Downton upstairs folk quail from: he voluntarily holds Baby George, and even seems to like it. First Pigs, now babies. (At Downton we don’t uppercase babies; that might make them think we’ve remembered they exist.)
To make sure Mary is well stocked up on attention before her suitors depart, Tony Gillingham sends word that he’s going to stop by for the night. For Anna, this is terrible news: it means another encounter with Tony’s valet, Mr. Green—and another opportunity for Mr. Bates to put two and two together about the identity of her rapist (but he’s already done that math, hasn’t he). Anna, distraught by the prospect of Green’s return, finally reveals to Mary that he was her attacker. Mary is horrified and wants to notify the police, but Anna swears her to secrecy. If Bates learns the truth, he’ll kill Green and hang for it; of this everyone in the know seems quite certain. Because obviously, Anna’s rape is All About Bates. I’m sorry, I’m so disgusted with this entire narrative thread.
Including the way every major scene involving Bates (all season) seems to take place in the bootroom—the site of Anna’s attack. Green is the villain, but it’s Bates we see here, over and over, making his sinister, brooding faces. It’s here Bates badgers Anna about Green’s return: “And Mr. Green? He’ll be coming back? Have you gone off him? You liked him so much when he first came.” WE GET IT, BATES. Don’t be a monster. But Green will arrive, and Anna will go tharn at the servants’ table, sickened by his presence, and Bates will ask leading questions about where exactly in London Green lives, furthering Anna’s torment. I miss first-season Bates. Season 4 Bates is worse than Thomas. At least Thomas doesn’t pretend to be anything but self-serving.
Tom and Isobel go to Thirsk, the small town six miles from Downton, where Tom spies Rose caressing Jack Ross’s cheek in a restaurant. Back home in the village, Isobel and Tom (who spend a lot of time together this season) bump into Sarah Bunting, village teacher, the young woman Tom met at the political meeting last week. This was my favorite scene of the week, because of the way Isobel rushes to speak up on Tom’s behalf when he won’t. He’s a keen political thinker, she informs Sarah, unafraid to question his own beliefs. Tom’s been in such existential turmoil lately, it was nice to see Isobel characterizing it in a way he might be able to make his peace with. Isobel gives Sarah Bunting a stamp of approval too: “She knows her own mind”—a quality Isobel appreciates in everyone except Violet.
Back home, Tom takes his uncomfortable Rose secret to Mary. (Best moment of the week: his absolute panic when Mary asks why he isn’t in tails for dinner. After all, Granny’s coming. Poor Tom.) Mary takes the Rose news in stride—it wasn’t a total surprise to her, after all, since she caught them making out weeks ago. She’ll deal with it.
At dinner that night, the main course is We’re All in Love With Mary, with a side of Thinking Is a Dangerous Occupation. Tony’s been rambling around Scotland having epiphanies while Charles and Mary were being perfectly splendid at rescuing Pigs. In the morning, Tony confesses to Mary that he has broken his engagement with Mabel, not that Mabel knows it yet. Mary still can’t promise to marry Tony, however, she’s “not on the market.” Honey, this season you are the market. Next morning, her trio of admirers departs, leaving the ladies behind to debate the best collective noun for suitors, while Mary smiles serenely and pretends to be annoyed.
Regarding the matter of Rose’s suitor, Mary plays a more active role. Rose declares she’s going to marry Jack Ross, they’re totally in love and also it will really upset her mother. Mary immediately makes plans to go to London the next day, where she will pay a visit to Ross and put the kibosh on the wedding plans. Now, this is a show that thrives on making high drama out of mild events (“Alfred’s coming for a visit? BATTLE STATIONS, EVERYBODY!!”), but then we’ll have a storyline that might conceivably be expected to generate some theatrics, and it’s defused in the most mellow fashion, over a cup of tea. Jack thinks Mary is underestimating Rose’s mettle, but no worries, he’ll call off the engagement anyway. He loves Rose and doesn’t want her to have to face the societal censure she’ll incur by marrying a black man. Sorry, Rose.
Anna is spending the night in London with Mary, freeing Bates to head off to York on mysterious errands of his own. Mary lunches with Tony Gillingham, swatting away a few more declarations of undying devotion, including the news that Tony has now officially broken his engagement to Mabel, who by all accounts is as good a sport as Jack Ross. But Mary’s real purpose in meeting Tony is to ask him to fire Mr. Green, no questions asked. Naturally, Tony agrees. Mary says jump, you jump. (But would Charles Blake jump? I’m not so sure. I think he’s a better sparring partner for Mary. Sigh, I miss Matthew.)
Tom happens upon Sarah Bunting, stranded by the side of the road with car problems. She’s surprised to learn Lord Grantham’s son-in-law is actually out on estate business—she assumed it was a figurehead position—not to mention that he knows his way around a car engine. Tom fills her in on his past. This makes Sarah “take a kinder view of the family”—she doesn’t generally “warm to their type.” “I don’t believe in types,” says Tom. “I believe in people.” So now I want to run off to America with Tom.
Back at Downton, look who’s in the bootroom! It’s Bates, being secretive about what he did in York all day. “This and that.” He’s not even trying to put on a front for Anna anymore. He’s been a total Mr. Hyde this whole episode. Dear Julian Fellowes, this is why my husband won’t watch the show with me anymore.
The day of the bazaar arrives, sunny and beautiful. Look—a miracle! There’s Mary holding baby Geo—nope, wait, she’s handing him back to Nanny. Whew, I thought the earth was going to crack open there for a second. Rose pouts to Mary about her nixed engagement; Molesley, basking in Miss Baxter’s admiration, trounces Jimmy at a game of Ring the Bell; and menfolk converge upon the Downton women from all directions. Robert’s back! Tony Gillingham’s back! Charles Blake is back! Sorry, Edith, no one here for you. Have some ice cream.
Robert’s return is wreathed in smiles. Actually, the way Edith lit up in genuine joy when she saw him was very touching. Even Mary smiled, like a real smile that showed teeth, and the sight was so startling I realized how seldom we’ve seen her that way. Cora and Robert have a reunion as loving and affectionate (and, yes, cornily written) as their parting last episode. The warmth between these two has been given a lot of screen time this year.
Robert’s mission was successful; Uncle Harold is saved. We’ll get to meet him next week in the final episode of the season. (And since he’s played by Paul Giamatti, I can’t wait.)
Lord Gillingham brings less cheerful news. I’m sure we were all shocked (shocked!) to learn that his valet, Mr. Green, is dead. Stumbled and fell into traffic in Picadilly the day before. Mary still won’t tell Tony why she wanted him to fire Green, and I’m sure he doesn’t suspect anything when she immediately walks over to Anna and tells her the news. That’s about when Charles Blake shows up, and Mary pulls him aside to ask his advice about turning in a man you suspect of committing a crime you personally believe was a very good crime to commit. Charles says he’d keep quiet, which is what Mary is hoping he’ll say but is a reaction that makes very little sense. Who can answer a hypothetical like that? What kind of crime, Mary? There’s a pretty big range of possibility there. Charles, I thought you had more gumption.
Anna murmurs to Bates that she wishes she knew what he’d been up to the day before. He says, “You know me, when I do a thing I like to have a very good reason for doing it”—which is TOTALLY NOT SUSPICIOUS AT ALL. You’d think his time in prison would have taught him how to cover his tracks better.
Of course Robert’s return means Thomas is back, too. He sidles up to Miss Baxter and starts picking for secrets—always with the everlasting secrets—but Molesley nips at him and escorts Miss Baxter away. Anticlimactic return for Thomas.
Now all that’s left is for Mary’s suitors to proclaim their determination to wait as long as necessary for her frozen heart to melt in one direction or the other, and let’s all raise our glasses to the best bazaar in Downton history, or least since Violet was in charge.
San Diego Comic-Con: Thursday
Downton Abbey Season 4, Episode 4: Nothing Is Over, and Nothing Is Done With
The Invisible Writer
My Mad Men Reading List