Downton Abbey: Season Four, Episode Eight

“No life appears rewarding if you think too much about it.”

The church bazaar was the setting for the final episode of season one, where we learned of the outbreak of the first world war. It has rolled around again, so I am placing this episode in August, 1922. While some episodes of Downton can feel as though they are just marking time, this one had quite a lot of both plot and character development. A fitting end to the season that left just enough stories unfinished that we want to watch the Christmas episode to see how they unfold.

The most important development, both for winding up this year’s stories and setting up next year’s, was the death of Mr. Green. Let’s face it, the man was vile and his death did not leave me reaching for tissues. Neither, however, did it make me giddy with joy that Anna would never have to face this man again.

Why? Because someone literally pushed Green under the bus and the obvious suspect is Mr. Bates. I’m ashamed to admit, dear reader, that I believe Bates may have committed this murder. We have all been witness to his rage and knowing who it was who attacked the woman he loves may very well have been the proverbial straw. The fact that this same woman has kept this secret for so long, precisely because she is worried about what Bates may do, just reinforces my belief.

To be fair, Bates is not the only suspect. Mary very cryptically asks Lord Gillingham to sack Green. It is possible that Gillingham, in love with Mary and furious as his valet’s betrayal, did the pushing. It is also possible that it was someone whom we have not met, yet. The fact remains, however, that Green’s death will reverberate through this household for a while. I love a good whodunnit and this one could be a doozy.

Mary has certainly come into her own this season. Although she is clearly still mourning Matthew, she is wearing brighter colors and taking an active role in the estate. She has proven more than once that she is a good friend, and we see it again when she talks to Gillingham about Green. The Mary and Anna friendship is one of the best realized in this series and I love watching the two of them have each other’s back.

Speaking of Gillingham, he has come back from Scotland secure in the knowledge that he made a mistake proposing to Mabel because Mary is the one for him. Unfortunately for the man, his mate has come to the same conclusion. I love the way this triangle is forming. When I think of so many other love triangles in fiction, there is always the clear winner. Here, there is not. Both seem worthy of our heroine and both seem to genuinely care about her. Watching this story unfold is what I am most looking forward to next season.

Mary is not the only one with romance on the horizon. Tom, like his sister-in-law, is still in mourning and may not be ready for another love. But, isn’t Sarah just perfect for him? She is young and pretty; she has political opinions; she loves kids; she loves to drive. Their exchange of stories by the side of the road made me smile. She reminded me so much of Tom before he became a member of the Grantham inner circle. No story will ever be as romantic and wonderful as Tom and Sybil’s, yet it is time for him to move on and I hope he sees what’s right in front of him before it’s too late.

While Mary’s life and Tom’s life are sunnier, poor Edith’s is not. With Michael gone and a baby on the way, Edith is struggling to make the decision about how to move forward. I don’t blame her for trying to find a way to keep her child close, but Rosamund is right. In this time, without the benefit of a husband, Edith needs to “improve her French” and then find a way to move on with her life.

Interestingly, simply everyone buys the lie about why Edith and her aunt are traveling abroad. Everyone, that is, except Lady Violet. Edith’s grandmother is many things; stupid is not one of them. For someone as traditional and set in her ways as she is, I loved watching Lady Violet assess the situation without judgment and with offers of help. Her clear-eyed view of the world helps Edith realize the truth of her situation and sets her off to have her baby in peace.

I have made no secret of the fact that Rose doesn’t fit all that well into this world. The end of her romance with Jack was interesting to watch, but not because of Rose. It was watching Mary that I found so intriguing. Like her grandmother, Mary does not pass judgment. She does, however, see the world in its unvarnished truth and deals with its realities. The scene between Mary and Jack was well done and much more affecting than any with Rose.

The other story that has annoyed me is the kitchen quadrangle, the end of which we finally saw. In my favorite moment of this episode, maybe of this entire season, Daisy comes into her own. We have watched this character turn from a young girl, laying fires and frightened of everything, into a strong and confident young woman, second in command only to Mrs. Patmore. When Daisy has her conversation with Alfred, I got tears in my eyes. Like Mrs. Patmore, I couldn’t be more proud.

As the fourth season draws to a close, I must comment on how impressed I am that Fellowes managed to keep me watching. I was so angry about the rape and how it was portrayed, I very nearly stopped watching. Frankly, if I hadn’t been reviewing the season, I probably would have.

The other stories, however, have kept me tuning in every week. I have loved watching Mary recover from her grief and am looking forward to how the triangle plays itself out. While part of me believes that karma has come around to kick Edith where she needed it, I have been surprised by the amount of sympathy I have felt for her as she deals with the tragedy in her life.

Tuning into Downton every week is like visiting old friends. I may not always like what I see and hear, but I care.

Bits and Bobs:

— It occurred to me while I was writing this review that couples named Jack and Rose don’t fare very well in fiction.

— Doctor Manette is a character in A Tale of Two Cities. He was held as a prisoner in the Bastille for eighteen years.

— I like the idea of a Mr. Moseley romance with Baxter. As he says to her, they are both “fragile,” but seem to bring out the best in each other. I cheered when Moseley beat Jimmy at ringing the bell and when he rescued Baxter from Thomas.

-- Lord Merton and Isobel certainly had some sparks, didn’t they?

— Tom’s defending Edith against Mary’s snippiness, his telling Mary the truth about Rose without judgment, and the way he introduced Sarah to Cora were all wonderful character beats. Tom is another character who has grown since we met him. While he may not feel that he belongs with the Grantham family, he certainly looks out for them.

— Does it make me a bad person that I didn’t miss Robert at all? And, that I wish Mr. Mason would become a series regular? His relationship with Daisy is one of the sweetest things this series has ever done.

Well Said:

Drewe: “Work’s like old age, m’lady; the worst thing in the world except for the alternative.”

Daisy: “We can’t fall out. We’ve never fallen in.”

Lady Violet: “Rosamund has no interest in French. If she wishes to be understood by a foreigner, she shouts.”

Isobel: “I’m a feeble substitute for the entire Crawley family.”
Lady Violet: “Mmm. Yes, but you’re better than nothing.”
Isobel: “How warming you make that sound.”

Tom: “I don’t believe in types. I believe in people.”

Mary: “If you’re going to complicate your life, do it for the right reasons.”

Mrs. Patmore: “Do you know, when you brought up that basket, I was so proud of you I felt like crying out. If you were my own daughter, I couldn’t be prouder than I am now.”

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


Juliette said...

I'm afraid Sarah annoys me no end, but at least she's better than Edna the evil maid!

Gavrielle said...

I've disliked Bates since the beginning of the series, but this plotline really outdoes itself in terms of Bates awfulness. Leaving aside the question of whether Bates did it (I think we get fairly definite proof one way or the other later IIRC, so no spoilers now), Anna is anxious because she knows that Bates is more than capable of it. If this is supposed to be romantic, I'm not impressed. (Of course, it's also possible that Fellowes is trying to shift Bates's character from hero to villain. If so that's a bold move and I *am* impressed.)