‘Downton Abbey’ Recap: Edith has a secret

February 2

More than 100 million viewers were expected to watch Sunday night’s installment of ‘Downton Abbey,’ making it the most-watched program ever on PBS. Congrats, “Downton”!


Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith. (Courtesy of Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2013 for Masterpiece)

Excuse me, someone’s whispering in my ear.  Ohhhh,  I see.  Sorry about that, those numbers were for the Super Bowl. I thought they seemed a little high.

Of course there’s a good chance that most of those 100 million plus were channel-surfing during the worst Super Bowl ever and, who knows, maybe they all switched over to “Downton.”  It wasn’t the best episode of “Downton” ever, but it was certainly better than the game and a couple of the story lines did deliver a punch.

Let’s start with Poor Lady Edith who is worried sick about her missing beau and, we find out, is also pregnant. Well, well, Edith, look at you! That explains the doctor visit in the last episode. Edith is so hard to read that you can’t tell whether she’s pleased or distraught about the news that she’s with child. It’s certainly complicated by the fact that she has no idea what has happened to Michael or where he is. What has always made Edith such a tragic figure, especially this year, is that she never really has anyone to confide in. It’s partly her personality and partly a lack of sympathy from the others. But whatever the reason, she seems completely alone in ways that no one else at Downton ever does. I feel a bit sorry for her.

Moving downstairs for a minute, Alfred is moping about his failure to land a job as a chef at a swank London hotel. Daisy tries to cheer him up with toast (much to the annoyance of Mr. Carson who wanted to be served first. Carson is such a stickler!) but Alfred is too gloomy to eat. But wait! What’s this? A letter from the hotel telling Alfred he has the job after all! Oh, “Downton,” you do take us on a roller coaster. Now Alfred is happy again and Daisy back to sad. Still, she bucks up enough to give him a sweet sendoff. Nice one, that Daisy.

Before departing Alfred thanks the Granthams and tells them, in front of Carson, that Carson has been a kind and wonderful teacher. “Much more and we shall burst into tears,” replies Lord Grantham. The emotional threshhold is not very high at the abbey.

Mr. and Mrs. Bates are trying to get back on their feet this episode. They crave the normalcy of their lives before Anna was attacked and raped. Bates is brooding in the hall when Anna approaches. “A penny for your thoughts,” she says. “You’d pay twice as much not to know them,” he responds to his wife and I bet she’d actually pay a lot more. There’s no question Bates is plotting revenge for her attack.

The couple decides to go out to a fancy restaurant for dinner to try and forget everything, at least for night. I love Mary’s reaction when Anna tells her about her dinner plans. “Don’t rush back,” says Mary. “It won’t kill me to get myself to bed.” Sometimes Mary’s generosity is just overwhelming. At the restaurant,  a snobby maitre d’ can’t seem to find the reservation for the Bateses. Not high class enough, I’m afraid. But Lady Grantham, who is  also dining at the restaurant,  swoops in like a One-Percent Wonder Woman and makes sure her servants are treated properly. If you can’t be among the rich yourself, it doesn’t hurt to be liked by them.

Isobel Crawley is on her latest crusade. This time she’s out to prove that Pegg, the young gardener fired by the Dowager Countess for stealing a letter opener, is not guilty as charged. She sneakily enters the house and finds the missing item between sofa cushions. Victory! But when she later returns to upbraid the Dowager Countess for her rush to judgment she learns that Pegg has been rehired and given a full apology. So, Isobel, it seems the Dowager Countess isn’t the only one to rush to judgment.

Have I mentioned ditzy Rose yet? Oh, does she have a surprise up her sleeve for Downton. She’s invited the jazz band from the London club to perform for cousin Lord Grantham’s birthday. Yes, that jazz band. The one with the African-American bandleader and singer, Jack Ross.

There’s initial shock and surprise among the staff and the family at the first-ever visit of a black man to Downton, but everyone gets over it pretty quickly. Even stuck-in-his-ways Carson finds the whole thing agreeable. I find it hard to believe that this situation wouldn’t have caused a little more consternation at the time, but maybe Downton was post-racial before post-racial was cool. Only Edith utters any objection. And really, where does she get off? Isn’t she the one with the out-of-wedlock pregnancy and the boyfriend who is becoming a German citizen so that he can divorce his institutionalized wife and marry her? If you live in glass castles, don’t throw stones.

At the show’s end, Mary goes downstairs to pay the bandleader and finds him and Rose snogging in the corner. She pretends she didn’t see anything when a rumpled Rose and Mr. Ross come out into the light. Mary thanks Mr. Ross for the evening’s entertainment and insists he send his bill to Lord Grantham. Mr. Ross responds with heartfelt thanks of his own. “I’ve been so well looked after here,” he says.

Indeed you have, Mr. Ross.

Plots to keep an eye on:

There must be some good reason the whiny Molesley has been brought back to Downton and given Alfred’s job.

Much is being made about the business problems in America of Uncle Harold,  Cora’s brother. More next week, I’m sure.

Mr. Blake, the socialist government official, is taking a hard look at estates and wondering if they might be put to better use feeding the people. Mary is not fond of that plan or of Mr. Blake himself. But there’s something about the withering looks they give each other and their clear dislike of each other’s politics that makes me think it’s a sure thing they’ll get together.

Baxter, the new lady’s maid is giving over secrets to Barrow but seems to be tiring of that role. This is a slow-developing plot and I’m not sure it will pay off.

Downton may turn into a pig farm.

(You can follow me on Twitter at @joeheim)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Previous Season 4 recaps:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Joe Heim is an editor and writer for The Washington Post magazine. He has recently written about the role of presidents as consolers-in-chief and about Washingtonians personal experiences with gun violence.
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