‘Downton Abbey’ recap: What was Mr. Bates up to?

February 16

The worst part about watching “Downton Abbey” Sunday night was realizing there’s only one more week of this season to go. What will we do without our weekly dose of Downtonia? I suppose we must just carry on. Stiff upper lip and all that.

With so little time left this season, there were a lot of story lines to wrap up. This week felt a bit overstuffed on that front.

Let’s see: Mary is still being hounded by her trio of puppy-dog suitors; Rose is plotting marriage with her African-American boyfriend; Alfred is plotting marriage with Ivy; Edith is thinking about giving her unborn child to a pig farmer; Lord Grantham is helping Cora’s scandalous brother out of a jam; Cora is preparing for the village bazaar; Lord Gillingham is returning to Downton with his rapist valet, Green; and Bates is practicing his menacing scowl.

Phew. Did I miss anything? I think that all took place in the first five minutes.

I’ve never done the math, but “Downton Abbey” seems to have more scenes per episode than any television show in history. Few scenes last longer than 30 seconds. Many are half that long. I know they have a lot of stories to deal with, but there’s so much going on it can feel like you’re watching the show from a tilt-a-whirl.

Here’s what I remember from this week’s ride:


Julian Ovenden as Charles Blake and Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary (Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television)

 

Robert is in America where Cora’s brother is mired in the Teapot Dome scandal, (the best-named of America’s pre-gate scandals.) “What’s it about?” Isobel Crawley asks the Dowager Countess. “What’s it always about,” she responds, “bribery and corruption… Taking money to allow private companies to drill for oil on public land.” Hmm, apparently people used to get in trouble for that sort of thing.

Following the pig disaster last week, Mary and Tom realize they need a pig man. Who doesn’t? So they reach out to Mr. Drew, the tenant they almost foreclosed on earlier this season. Drew is pleased to get the job. Edith thinks Drew a responsible fellow and starts to wonder if his family could raise her child. Oh yes, Edith, I’m sure that would work out just fine.

Aunt Rosamund comes to Downton and quickly brings Edith to her senses. Instead of handing the baby over to the pig man, she suggests they take a long trip to Switzerland where Edith can have the baby and put it up for adoption. They tell Cora they are going to go to Switzerland to improve their French and Cora responds with a tilt of the head and a legal-in-Colorado smile. In other words, the same way she reacts to pretty much everything.

The Dowager Countess is not as gullible as Cora. She later invites Rosamund and Edith for lunch and lets them know she has been around a few more blocks than they have. Ultimately, she gives Edith her support and says that going to Switzerland to have the baby is a good idea. “Switzerland has everything to offer,” she tells Edith. “Except maybe conversation. But one can learn to live without that.”

Mr. Blake, who last week was adoringly flinging mud at Mary, joins the family before dinner in the parlor. The nice nanny, the one who replaced evil Nanny West (ooh, remember her?) brings in Tom’s daughter, Sybbie, and Mary’s infant son, George. George is fussy and crying. (Sorry, this is off topic, but how do you get babies to cry on cue for shows? A subtle pinch? Withholding a treat? Seems there must be some cruelty involved.) Mr. Blake quickly reaches to take George and help calm him down. Mary looks on approvingly, but the Dowager Countess grimaces. There’s something about this that doesn’t please her, but it’s not clear what. Maybe, like us, she actually wanted to see Mary hold the baby? I realize Mary is leaning in this year, but I think she’s only had physical contact with her child for about 10 seconds all season.

Downstairs, Ivy gets a letter from Alfred. It’s a proposal! But Ivy has other plans. She doesn’t want to be tied down. “How do I know what life has in store?” she tells Mrs. Patmore. “You’re a very optimistic generation, I’ll say that,” Patmore replies, and it sounds like a sly dig at millennials.

Mary tells Anna that Gillingham is coming for a surprise visit and Anna, finally, tells Mary that it was Gillingham’s valet Green who raped her. Mary is shocked and wants to alert the police, but Anna won’t let her. Mary tries to keep Gillingham away, but it’s too late. He’s on his way with Green. This will not end well. More about that in a minute.

On a visit to a neighboring town, Tom sees Rose and Jack Ross at a restaurant. They are being more open about their romance. Tom decides to tell Mary what he has seen and Mary confronts her cousin Rose, warning her that she’s in over her head. Downton is one giant collision course. Rose tells Mary that she’s going to marry Ross mostly because it will destroy her mother. “I want to see her face crumble when she finds out,” Rose says.


Elizabeth McGovern as Lady Cora and Hugh Bonneville as Lord Grantham. (Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2013 for MASTERPIECE)

At dinner, the newly-arrived Gillingham says that he has been wandering the Scottish highlands thinking about his life. “Everyone should, from time to time,” Isobel Crawley says.”Oh, I can’t agree,” counters the Dowager Countess. “In my experience it’s a dangerous occupation. No life appears rewarding if you think too much about it.” Once again, the DC gets the show’s best line.

Dinner downstairs is a tad more tense. Gillingham’s valet Green is trying to be chipper but Bates keeps shooting him the one-eyed jack. Mrs. Hughes stares daggers of her own. Green, somewhat incredibly, seems oblivious to his dire situation. Bates casually asks Green where he lives in London. Oh, Green, I wouldn’t tell him if I were you. Oops, too late. Your days are numbered, pal.

Mary decides to go to London to talk to Jack Ross. Anna must go with her. Bates, knowing that everyone will be away, asks Carson for a day off to go to York. Hint: He’s probably not going to York.

In London, Mary visits the Lotus club where she finds Jack Ross practicing his singing – but it’s no use, his singing is still awful. Jack knows that Mary is trying to head off his marriage to Rose. He saves Mary the trouble. “I will not be marrying Rose,” he announces. “I don’t want to spoil her life. I love her. I want her to be happy.” You know who should really be happy? Jack. He just dodged spending the rest of his life with Rose.

Mary has other business in London. She meets with Lord Gillingham, who tells her he is no longer engaged. He broke it off with his betrothed, who “took it with great style.” Oof. Mary is only mildly interested in this. She wants Gillingham to sack Green and yet she can’t tell him why. Gillingham is confused, but he’s so enthralled with Mary that he promises he’ll fire Green.

Back at Downton, the village bazaar is underway with Cora at the helm. Everyone is having a grand time and Lord Grantham surprises everyone by arriving home early from America in the middle of the festivities. There is much joy and celebration at his return. All in a very restrained English kind of way, of course.

Barrow returns with Lord Grantham and immediately starts to pester Baxter about what she has learned in his absence. Little does he know that a romance is brewing between Baxter and Molesley. As Barrow begins badgering Baxter, Molesley steps in and tells Barrow to step off. That was a fun sentence to write. Baxter has been boosting Molesley’s confidence and it is paying dividends. Well done, Molesley! (Never thought I’d be typing those words).

Meanwhile, Anna learns that Mr. Bates left Downton for a long day away. She’s fearful and suspicious that he has sought revenge against Green. “What were you up to?” Anna asks Bates. “Oh, this and that,” he responds. Yeah, but mostly that.

In the show’s closing minutes, Lord Gillingham arrives at the bazaar with troubling news. He seeks out Mary and tells her that Green, the valet he just sacked the day before, slipped or stumbled into a busy street and was hit by a vehicle. Green is dead. A stricken look crosses Mary’s face. Was Green pushed? Did anyone see?

Bates certainly has a motive for killing Green. But did he do it? Looks like we’ll have to wait for the finale to find out.

A few more thoughts:

Tom sees Sarah Bunting again on the street. And later he helps fix her car when it has broken down on the road. We’ll keep an eye on those two.

Why was Mary so nasty to that butler simply for the way he announced that dinner was ready? Lighten up, Mary.

Daisy was sweet with her goodbye to Alfred. I know it is supposed to be final, but I can’t help but think there’s a future for that couple. Maybe in the 11th season?

The real star of this week’s show was the scenery: there’s something transporting about the green lawns surrounding Downton, the sweeping meadows behind Bunting’s broken-down car, the exquisite quaintness of the village as Lord Merton walks Isobel Crawley home and the Dowager Countess’s Monet-inspired garden. Downton’s dreamy visuals are a large part of why we watch it.

My goodness, this has been a long recap. Just one more week!

You can follow me on Twitter: @joeheim

Some top tweets about tonight’s episode:

 

 

 

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

Episode 6: An unwelcome guest returns

Joe Heim is an editor and writer for The Washington Post magazine where he writes Just Asking, a weekly Q&A column. He has recently written about candy, not saving for your kids for college, Downton Abbey, the role of presidents as consolers-in-chief and about Washingtonians personal experiences with gun violence.
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