Downton Abbey: Season Four, Episode Six

“My dear, we country-dwellers must beware of being provincial.”

Robert’s birthday has arrived and Rose manages to pull off the surprise. As this event has been in the planning stages for the past few episodes, not too much time has passed since we were last with the family. I’m going to place this episode in May, 1922 or, perhaps, early June.

The events of this season continue to cast a shadow, especially over Bates and Anna. Both are desperately trying to move past what has happened; both are failing miserably. Bates is obsessing about the attack while Anna is trying to have at least one evening that doesn’t remind her of what happened.

Their date, saved by Cora in her wonderfully low key way, was a great idea that failed. At the end, Anna lets us know that she has changed how she views the event. From insisting to Mrs. Hughes that she was spoiled goods, she now insists to Bates that she is not a victim. Quite rightly, she tells Bates that it is he who sees her as a victim.

Bates, on the other hand, insists that he does not. His issue is around the fact that he failed to protect her. While I understand his point of view, I am struggling to move beyond the Bates we saw in the last episode. He even says, “I want to murder.” I believe him.

Anna is not the only woman below stairs struggling with unwanted advances. I very nearly threw something when Jimmy went too far with Ivy, but at least we were spared another sexual assault. Ivy finally realizes that Alfred is the better man, but it is too late. His dream has come true and he is off to London to cook.

I must say that Alfred has always been one of those characters in the background for me. Part of the boring quadrangle, I never really paid that much attention to him. But, we saw in this episode what a really terrific young man he is. I loved the scene where he thanked the family and Carson. Even better was the conversation he had with Daisy, telling her honestly that he does not love her and never will. Matt Milne made a great acting choice when he paused before walking into the kitchen. That sort of conversation is never easy, so pausing to get himself ready made sense to me.

And, all credit to Daisy. Her heart is broken, yet she summons up the strength to wish Alfred all the best. The scene where she finally lashed out at Ivy was fantastic. Ivy, not the brightest girl in the world, is completely confused. Mrs. Hughes was wonderful as she supported Daisy.

Mrs. Hughes was in rare form this episode. Her conversation with Thomas was great to watch as she parried every one of his attempts to get information. Even better was her manipulation of Carson to allow Molesley to come back as a footman. Of course, Molesley can’t help but make a comment. This is a man who needs a bit of humility.

Speaking of humility, poor Edith! Not only has Gregson disappeared, her feared pregnancy has been confirmed. This is truly terrible news and my heart broke for her when I saw the note. The choices for a woman of her class in 1922 were limited, at best. She needs to find someone to marry her -- immediately.

The second time through the episode, I caught the conversation that Isobel has with Tom about another earl’s daughter accepting him. Oh dear God, no. Please don’t let this be foreshadowing. These two in no way belong together.

The scene between Edith and her father moved me. Edith is well aware that, in spite of what her father says, she is not the favorite. She is not even on the same par as her sisters in her parents’ affections. I can only imagine what is going through her mind as she sits in front of that fire. Gregson is gone and a baby is on the way. The scandal will rock this family, and Edith knows it.

There is a bit of irony in the fact that it was Edith who revealed Mary’s secret to all of London. Both of these young women made the choice to have sex without benefit of a wedding ring. Edith, as things stand now, will pay the much higher price for her choice.

In an episode that was fraught with bad news, we had a great deal of humor in the exchanges between Isobel and Lady Violet. Their butting heads over Pegg was simply hilarious and the fact that Isobel brought Dr. Clarkson along at the end made me laugh out loud.

Never one to be outdone, however, Lady Violet turns the tables effectively on Isobel and the look on her face as Clarkson gives “game, set, and match to Lady Grantham” was priceless. I did like the friendship, but the sparring is much more fun to watch.

The two ladies were not the only sparring partners this episode. Evelyn and his boss, Charles Blake, show up to stay while they work on their report about the Yorkshire estates. Blake and Mary immediately set each other off. Mary resorts to her snide comments; Blake gives as good as he gets. He is no way awed by Mary’s title, which may be just what she needs.

Mary is sparring; Edith is fretting; Rose is kissing. Not just anyone, mind, but a man of color and an American. Goodness! While those of us today are unmoved by this, in 1922, a romance between a member of the lily white aristocracy and a black jazz singer would have been out of the question. I understand that Rose likes to push the envelope, but I cannot see a situation where this romance will end well.

Speaking of romance, one of the best scenes this series has ever done was the quiet scene in the nursery with Isobel, Tom, and Mary discussing their great loves. It was simple, understated, and moving as Tom’s and Mary’s memories were those that we, as the viewers, had shared with them. As Isobel said, “Aren’t we the lucky ones?”

We certainly are.

Bits and Bobs:

-- Intensive farming has come to mean many things, most of them not good. In the instance of the Tamworth pigs, however, it means raising a large number of the animals on limited land to increase the production of the pork. Having said that, how cute are these pigs?

-- Netsuke are miniature sculptures, invented in Japan in the 17th century. They began as functional because a kimono did not have pockets. Men used them to carry around what they needed. Over time, they became more ornate and were collected by people in the East.

-- Woad is an herb that was traditionally used to color one’s face. When Lady Violet talks about wearing woad and dancing around the fire, she is alluding to an ancient custom of preparing for battle.

-- The Sheik was released in 1921 and made a star of Rudolph Valentino.

-- Interesting difference of opinions when it comes to dining out. For Cora, it is a chore and a bother. For Bates and Anna, it is a huge treat.

-- Lord Henley was the Lord Chancellor in 1763. He wrote an opinion for a case that does say “when a person sets foot on English, he is free.” However, slavery was still legal in the Commonwealth for many years after this. If you want to see a brilliant film on the subject, watch Amazing Grace. Not only is it a relatively faithful telling of the abolishment of slavery in the British Isles, a young Benedict Cumberbatch has a starring role.

-- Senator Fall was the man responsible for the Teapot Dome scandal in the US. Basically, Fall became very rich by accepting bribes from oil companies and granting them favorable leasing rights. The scandal began to come to light in April of 1922, but would not be resolved until the end of the 1920s. Until Watergate, this was seen as the worst scandal in American politics.

Well Said:

Anna: “Penny for your thoughts?”
Bates: “You’d pay twice that not to know them.”
Anna: “If there was anything I could do…”
Bates: “I know. It’s not your fault; it’s mine. Your husband is a brooder. And, brooders brood.”
Anna: “Then, brood about me.”

Isobel: “How you hate to be wrong!”
Lady Violet: “I wouldn’t know. I’m not familiar with the sensation.”

Carson: “You’re nervous because you’re intelligent, Alfred. Only stupid people are foolhardy.”

Mrs. Patmore: “Ooh, I like that Rudolph Valentino. Oh, he makes me shiver all over.”
Carson: “What a very disturbing thought.”

Mrs. Patmore: “I wonder how many women have said that since the Norman Conquest?”

Robert: “I love my children equally.”
Edith: “I don’t know why people say that when it’s almost never true.”

Mary: “I’m not unhappy. I’m just not quite ready to be happy.”

Mary: “You mustn’t be too discreet. After a while, it gets a little dull.”

ChrisB is a freelance writer who spends more time than she ought in front of a television screen or with a book in her hand.


Billie Doux said...

Mrs. Hughes was awesome in this one.

Lovely review, Chris. My word, you're nearly caught up!

drnanamom said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this episode and your review, thanks! I think having dinner out has a lot to do with the company and Cora was bored with the company. Although I can see what you mean in terms of the accessibility of dining out. I was sad that Anna and Bate's special dinner was ruined by what had happened. And I adore Mrs. Hughes.