‘Downton Abbey’ recap: An unwelcome guest returns

February 9

Downton Abbey went to the pigs this week. I’ll get to that ham-handed scene shortly, but let’s start with the less ridiculous parts of this episode.


Shown from left to right: Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary, Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess, Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith and Hugh Bonneville as Lord Grantham in “Downton Abbey.” (Courtesy of Nick Briggs/Carnival Film and Television Limited for Masterpiece)

The show begins with the arrival of a Western Union telegram. In the history of movies and television, the arrival of a telegram is almost never a good sign. And that is the case here as Lord Grantham is summoned to America to help out Cora’s brother who has apparently gotten himself involved in a political and financial scandal. He needs a respectable-seeming Brit to stand by him and make him seem less slimy. Don’t we all.

Lord Grantham’s departure means that Bates will need to travel with him. But Bates is loath to leave Anna. Mrs. Hughes intervenes and pleads with Lady Mary to arrange for Barrow to go instead of Bates. Mary is not moved. “I hope we are good employers but even we expect to get what we pay for,” she says. Mary can be so icy. (By the way, I’d love to know how much the staff at Downton does get paid. Maybe they’ll address that in a future episode. Read my colleague Steven Mufson’s story about “Downtonomics.”) Mrs. Hughes realizes that the only way she can get Bates to stay is to tell Mary about Anna’s rape. Mary is understandably shocked and, to her credit, arranges for Barrow to go in Bates’s place.

The sendoff for Lord Grantham is impressive, with the entire family and staff standing at attention in the driveway to bid him farewell. (It’s pretty much the same at my house when I leave for work in the morning.) Lord Grantham is sparing with his goodbyes with everyone excepting Isis, his loyal dog.

After he departs, the Dowager Countess has a bit of a coughing fit. She’s unwell, it turns out. And there’s no doubt a bit of panic among “Downton” viewers. It’s bad enough that Matthew and Sybil had to die, not the Dowager Countess too! You shouldn’t have worried, fans. If she dies, the show dies. Instead, her battle with bronchitis provides a nice opportunity for her nemesis, Isobel, to help nurse her back to health (even though she has to endure a sling of insults from the delirious DC).

In the show’s weightiest story line this week, Edith, who recently found out she is pregnant, decides to go to London and have an abortion. It is a decision she struggles with, understandably, as she has no idea whether her beau, who has disappeared in Germany, will ever return. She discloses her plan, with some trepidation, to Aunt Rosamund.

Rosamund insists on accompanying Edith when she visits the doctor. At the last minute, with despairing thoughts about never being able to visit the nursery at Downton again, Edith decides not to have the abortion and flees the facility. I don’t like Edith much. But it’s hard not to feel sorry for her. She may be the least fortunate of Downton’s fortunate dwellers.

Ditzy Rose has accompanied Edith on the trip to London. She uses the trip to reconnect with Jack Ross, the African-American bandleader she smooched in the last episode. This week they’re out boating and smooching again. Jack wonders, rightly, where all of this is headed. He at least has some sense that not everyone will be on board with this development. Rose? She’s having fun. Thinking is always last on the list of things Rose does.

Okay, it’s time to address the pigs.

Lady Mary and Mr. Blake decide to take an evening stroll to check on Downton’s newly arrived porcines. But the piggies are dehydrated. They need water, ASAP! No time to summon the servants, so Mr. Blake starts ferrying pails of water to the pigs and Mary jumps in to help. “Downton” viewers will note that this is the first time we’ve seen Mary lift a finger other than when she’s drinking a cup of tea.

For some reason, the “Downton” writers couldn’t leave well enough alone. As Mary and Mr. Blake raced through the slop all I could think was “please don’t let this end in mud-wrestling.” Alas, I was slop out of luck. Soon the disheveled duo were flinging mud at each other in the most flirty way possible. Love! You never know how it will begin. To pile on the unbelievability, the next scene finds the mud-caked couple in the Downton kitchen where Mary is scrambling eggs. As if.

It’s not that “Downton” hasn’t had ridiculousness in its past. Remember paralyzed Matthew leaping out of his chair and discovering he can walk? Or the soldier bandaged like a mummy who claimed to be Downton’s heir? Whatever happened to that fellow? We’ve come to expect some silliness from this show, but this pig poke was beneath “Downton’s” standards.

Even though Lord Gillingham is engaged to be married, he can’t seem to shake the idea of a life with Mary. So he unexpectedly visits Downton just to check in. That puts him under the same roof as Mary’s leading new suitor, Mr. Mudbath, and wannabe suitor, Mr. Napier. There’s something about a rich, chilly widow that is hard to resist.

Lord Gillingham’s visit would be inconsequential but he’s accompanied by his valet, Mr. Green, the man who raped Anna. Green’s arrival downstairs provides two exquisitely menacing scenes.

Mrs. Hughes corners him and when Green tries to laugh off his attack on Anna as a case of them both having had too much to drink, Mrs. Hughes tears into him. “I know who you are and I know what you’ve done,” she hisses, and you sort of wish she had a butcher knife in her hand to finish the job. In the final scene, Bates’s suspicions are confirmed and the death stare that he directs at Green is chilling. If Green survives the season without suffering serious bodily harm it will be an unjust miracle.

More to ponder:

The kitchen squabble between Daisy and Ivy over Alfred is boiling over. Maybe this is just to keep viewers from switching over to “The Bachelor” on ABC.

Tom goes to hear a speech by a liberal candidate. This may be the beginning of Tom’s political reawakening. And he meets a woman, so there’s that, too.

As Barrow heads off to America with Lord Grantham, he instructs Baxter to find out why he was sent instead of Bates. But Molesley overhears this and knows that something is up. I knew Molesley would end up serving some sort of purpose on the show besides being its resident whiner.

Why does Lady Cora always sound as if she’s talking to a puppy?

(You can follow me on Twitter: @joeheim)

 

 

 

 

Previous Season 4 recaps:

Episode 1: Season 4 begins, and it’s a bummer

Episode 2: An unthinkable act changes the tenor of the show

Episode 3: Is Mary ready to be married again?

Episode 4: Mr. Bates knows. Now what?

Episode 5: Edith has a secret

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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