What’s Up In Downton: Series 4, Episode 2

Tim Boden

Last week: Lady Mary spent ninety minutes re-enacting one of those old Scottish Widows adverts, interspersed with occasional mild respite as Edith pondered emigrating to Germany, Mrs Patmore was baffled by an electric mixer, and Thomas’ spitefulness inadvertently benefited the household when he led to Nanny West being revealed as being not so much a person as hysterical classism made flesh.

Got that? No? Well, never mind, it’s not as if matters – just shrug your shoulders, go with it, and join me on another possibly fun-filled and most definitely spoiler-packed look at What’s Up In Downton.


This week saw the main series plotline wearily heave into view like an ill-prepared marathon runner seriously regretting their decision to do the whole thing dressed as a giant fluffy rhino, and as with all the main series plotlines before it, everyone’s dreadfully concerned over The Future of Downton. Strip away all that faffing around with big hats and fancy dinners, and this is what Downton Abbey has always revolved around: a bunch of posh people bickering over who gets the inheritance. They only get away with it because they’re posh and therefore there’s a lot to inherit. You’d never get four series of Sunday night dramas over a working-class family bickering about who has to look after the cats once Nana finally pops her clogs, even though it’d easily have about as much dramatic tension as Downton’s to-ing and fro-ing over legalistic waffle and correspondence that nobody knows about until it becomes narratively convenient.

Anyway, the long and the short of it is that Matthew’s left it all to Mary, and unlike the business of the entail which was agonised over in Series 1, he can actually do that. Lord Grantham is, of course, not happy. How can Mary’s dainty lady-brain ever deal with big butch problems like accounting and crop rotation? Doesn’t she know that even looking at a combine harvester might cause her ovaries to implode? What’s worse is that Mary seems to be quite relishing the idea, having realised that even if he’s dead, Matthew’s existence has at least helped her secure what would have been her birthright if only she’d done the sensible thing and been a chap to begin with. This is clearly a very thorny problem that’ll take, ooh, at least six episodes to figure out before it’s resolved in an implausibly neat fashion.

Meanwhile, Obligatory 1920s Flapper Character Lady Rose finally got something to do this week other than bat her eyelashes and mention how much she likes jazz (albeit not very much more) by persuading Anna to chaperone her to a dance. She danced, she met a chap, a fight broke out – pretty much your standard night out on the town in Yorkshire, give or take a few Cheeky Vimtos and an ill-advised trip to Maccy D’s (is there any other kind) on the way home. It was all rather charming, though the idea of Rose convincing someone that she was a housemaid tested the suspension of disbelief to its limits, and if nothing else we were at least treated to the sight of Anna dressed as a female, 1920s Captain Boomerang.

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Figure 1. If there’s a spate of boomerang-themed crimes in Downton, you know who to blame.

Molesley continued on his quest to find a purpose in life. This week he’d stopped looking for answers in the stars and had ended up working on the roads, though had somehow contrived to end up with more tar on his face than on his shovel. He’d somehow managed to end up mired in debt, but with a bit of planning and some sneaky skills he’d picked up in prison, Bates managed to find a way of giving him the cash without leaving him owing, a rare instance of someone being conned into some money.

There’s two interesting things that could, but probably won’t arise from this. Firstly, I do hope we get to see some of Bates’ other prison skills over the course of the series, from replacing some lost wine with homebrew hastily made from fermented raisins strained through a sock, to finally snapping and stabbing Thomas in the neck with a sharpened toothbrush. Secondly, Molesley’s thirty pounds of debt doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a good thousand quid at least by modern standards. We never actually see the writing on the letter he’s ‘signed’ – it’s quite possible that Bates has actually bought him, wholesale, and he may end up getting sold as dogmeat several episodes down the line.

I have to say, after having for a long time been baffled by the point of Molesley, I’m growing to rather like him this series. The chap who plays him does a great bemused facial expression, and though his plotline’s implausible, it’s at least entertaining. Which is more than can be said for the fuss with Carson’s old music-hall pal, Mr Grigg, who departed this week having contributed absolutely nothing to proceedings that couldn’t have been done as easily by, say, someone writing a letter or discovering an old photograph. If something interesting doesn’t come out of the mention of Carson’s old flame, I’ll be writing to ITV asking for some kind of compensation for the vital minutes of my life I’ll never get back.

Which leads us now to this week’s Big Questions:

1. What’s going on with Thomas and Edna? All the developments in series 3 towards his becoming something other than a complete git have gone the same way as that Dr Strangelove-esque glove he used to wear as he’s back to scheming and plotting. The question, though, is whether he’s trying to get himself a new ally against Anna and Bates, or setting up Edna for a fall by turning the rest of the house against her. Or maybe he doesn’t have a plan and he’s just shit-stirring because in a show where everyone else is so resolutely nice, you need at least one antagonist and it might as well be him.

2. Where are the kids? No sight or sound of them, and you’d think if a new nanny had arrived, we’d have been introduced to her. I can only assume they’ve been locked away in the coal shed until they become relevant to the plot again.

3. Why do the servants have their bread in pyramids?

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Figure 2. No 1920s repast was complete without a carbohydrate ziggurat.

Actually, hang about – why don’t the rest of us have our bread in pyramids? It’s like a Ferrero Rocher platter for the recession era. I certainly know what I’ll be doing next time the ambassador pops round for tea.

Best bits: Lady Violet verbally flailing (in a very restrained and genteel way, but flailing nevertheless) over how to properly address Branson. Rose’s fella being quite cute in a poor man’s Jamie Bell sort of way. As ever, every quiet two-hander between Carson and Mrs Hughes.

Worst bits: I am still sulking over the utter pointlessness of the Mr Grigg subplot. Branson’s tour of the estate essentially being pointing at some fields and going ‘we own that’, as if Mary couldn’t have worked it out for herself.

Quote of the Week: “I do not know if our baby will be a boy or a girl, but I do know it will be a baby.” Truly, the world of reproductive biology lost a great mind in Matthew Crawley.

Next week: Dame Kiri Te Kanawa! A ‘glamorous pirate’! More bread pyramids! I can hardly wait.

About Tim Boden

Tim Boden has been a grumpy old man since he was about 13. Born and raised in the darkest East Midlands, he now lives in Australia as part of an ongoing project to avoid getting a proper job and settling down for as long as reasonably possible. His interests include comics, beer, rugby league, 20th-century history and other things mostly favoured by middle-aged men who spend a lot of time in sheds. He has very strong opinions on vegetables.

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