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

Tim Boden


Now hold on to your muffs, because it’s time again to take a look at What’s Up In Downton! (Yes, I’m still using this naff lead-in thing as a way to start my articles. Hell, I’m still using muff jokes despite the fact that hardly anyone still wore muffs in the 1920s. I’m a Downton Abbey fan, I’m resistant to change.)


This week’s theme seemed to be getting caught in the act, from Alfred finding Jimmy and Ivy snogging in the parlour, to Thomas eavesdropping on Edna and Branson discussing the morning after the night before (more on that later), to a maid catching Edith doing the Walk of Shame back from the home of the chap whose name I really should know by now but whom I still mostly think of as Newspaper Man Who Looks A Bit Like Michael Palin.

If only there’d been some of that last week, things would be a bit less awkward now, and inevitably there were several painful scenes dealing with the aftermatch of Anna’s rape. Painful, that is, both in terms of the emotional content and in some of the truly excruciating dialogue. Joanna Froggatt’s a talented actress, and just because the show is silly doesn’t mean the audience are; it’s unnecessary and a bit embarrassing for the script to have to spell it all out with clunky lines about the way Anna feels, when her body language has already told us the same thing.

Those scenes, while still feeling slightly tonally off compared to the rest, didn’t ruin the rest as much as I’d feared, but there was no doubt that this episode had a little less going on than the one before it. The family went to London. By a massive coincidence, Lord Gillingham was there. Mercifully, he’d either left his rapist valet at home, so we were spared the second meeting between him and Anna I’d been dreading; less mercifully, he had decided in the space between episodes that he was now hopelessly in love with Mary and wanted to marry her. However, their love could Never Be, partially because Mary was doubtful but mostly because it’s only the fourth episode and there’s no way the plotline’s going to be resolved that quickly.

Lady Rose dragged everyone to a jazz night (quelle surprise), where she danced a bit with the Young Posh Chap Who Looks Slightly Like John Cleese (I’m sensing a theme now. If Lady Mary’s next suitor looks like Eric Idle, we’ll know it’s deliberate) until he had a few too many and made a tit of himself, leaving the day to be saved by a dashing singer from America. Or at the very least a dashing singer doing a slightly stagey impression of being American, which’ll do in the circumstances. Unfortunately for Lady Rose, the family – even Branson, who was a socialist a few series ago – felt that the embarrassment of being seen in proximity to a black person is worse than the embarrassment of your dance partner running off to have a tactical chunder, so she was hastily whisked away. Somehow, though, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him. And not just because the entire scene and subplot would be completely pointless otherwise.

Not that pointless plots were completely absent, seeing as the entirely inconsequential subplot about Carson’s old flame is somehow still going and this week had the thrilling development of Mrs Hughes buying a frame for the picture. Mrs Hughes and Carson’s friendship is my favourite thing and every scene between them is wonderfully acted, so it’s a shame they’re given such weak material to work with.

Much more fun was the fallout from Edna and Branson having slept together. Which, I’ve got to admit, surprised me. Maybe I’d missed it because I was too busy being horrified by other things last week, but I could’ve sworn all she’d done is bring him some whisky. And I know people in the 20s weren’t always well-educated about sexual matters, but nobody even then thought that you could get pregnant by giving a man a drink.

Edna did think she was pregnant, though, or certainly likely enough to be to try and persuade Branson to make an honest woman of her if she was. The problem there, though, is that no mere ceremony could make Edna honest, and her dastardly plan to marry into wealth was swiftly uncovered. Defeated, she handed in her resignation and slunk away, never to return (at least until there’s another gap in the cast and nobody can think of anything better to do).

So, without further ado, let’s ask this week’s Big Questions:

1. Why is the reason Anna gives for not wishing to tell Bates about what happened not her fear of what he’d think of her, but her conviction that he’d kill the perpetrator? Bates was meant to be innocent the last time, after all. However, between Anna’s conviction that he ‘won’t get away with it a second time’ and his own slightly creepy insistence that he will find out what happened, no matter what, my suspicion that Bates is a mafia don just waiting to happen seems ever more likely. Lest we forget, he’s already made Molesley an offer he couldn’t refuse, and in a few episodes’ time, Molesley himself might be so desperate for a job he’ll take some, ahem, disposal work without question.

2. Talking of which, where was Molesley? I never thought I’d say this, but I missed him. His constant disappointment and forlorn, basset-hound face are one of the things that are keeping me watching this show.

3. Is it just me, or did Mary describe someone as being ‘in a glump’? That’s not a word! Although it ought to be one – as a portmanteau of ‘gloomy’ and ‘slump’, it perfectly describes the mood most of us are in most of the time between the ages of 12 and 16.

Best bits: Thomas and Edna getting a chance to say exactly what they thought of each other, shit-eating grins fixed in place throughout. So that answers that – he was just winding things up for the sake of it, rather than trying to make friends. I was also rather tickled by Lord Gillingham’s best argument for why Mary should marry him being that he’s alive, and her husband isn’t. Absolutely correct, and I suppose eligible bachelors who weren’t mad or dead were a bit of a rarity post-WWI, but you’ve still got to think of something better than that.

Worst bits: The phrase ‘you fill my brain’ being judged not only to sound like something an actual human being might plausibly say, but the writer being so fond of it that it got used twice.

Quote of the week: “I always think there’s something rather foreign about high spirits at breakfast.”

Next week: Yet another evil housemaid! Some tedious waffling on about tenants! Big black hats!

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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