What’s Up In Downton: Series 4, Episode 5

downton abbey

Last week: Carson looked at a photograph, Lady Rose threw some rather genteel shapes and Edna The Mildly Evil Housemaid was so humiliated by the complete failure of her dastardly plan to trick Branson into marrying her that she resigned on the spot.

Can you believe we’re over halfway through this series already? Well, okay, yes, time moves in a linear fashion and each series of Downton only has a finite number of episodes (even if it doesn’t always feel like it), so it’s not exactly remarkable – the point is, there’s only three episodes left to go, and so far nobody seems to have found what they’re looking for. Mary hasn’t found happiness, Molesley hasn’t found a job, Rose hasn’t found a personality and Lord Grantham hasn’t found out what he’s actually meant to be doing this series other than harrumphing in Mary’s general direction.

So, what revelations did this week bring? Get out the wine, arrange your bread into a pyramid, and join me once again as we check out What’s Up In Downton.

 

This week most of the action took place downstairs, with the arrival of a replacement for Edna, Alfred applying for cooking school, and Bates deciding to play detective. And by ‘play detective’ I mean ‘glower at people until they spontaneously crumble and tell him everything’. It’s a source of increasing fascination to me that the script positions Bates as a man essentially without fault, both a competent servant and devoted husband, yet the acting and direction make him creepier by the week. He lurks and broods, horror-movie piano and strings accompanying him on the soundtrack whenever he appears, always calm and yet with an underlying steeliness that suggests that he could strangle someone with the ease with which one might wring out a wet dishcloth. Mrs Hughes and Anna have clearly noticed this, given their bizarre determination to make sure he doesn’t find out who the culprit is, though perhaps they’re just concerned that having Bates crush Rapist Valet’s head like a grape in the middle of the Christmas special might put your granny off her Bailey’s.

Meanwhile, Alfred went down to That London to take part in 1920s Masterchef, being lectured on the origins of Vichysoisse and presenting chocolate-dipped pears to a man with truly remarkable ears. Sadly, he didn’t get through, but all was not lost as we were treated to another instalment of Molesley’s Search For A Purpose In Life in which Carson, displaying a previously unseen trollish streak, decided to tease Molesley with the prospect of a job as a footman only to cruelly dash his hopes once more. Molesley, bless him, took it the way he always does – a brief flash of irritation, followed by instant sadface as he remembers that his life has turned into a Ken Loach film and there’s no point in trying to fight it.

downton sad panda

Figure 1. The saddest panda.

A replacement has arrived for Edna, wowing the household with such amazing innovations as an electric sewing machine and serving orange juice at breakfast, but she’s clearly harbouring dark secrets, because Thomas has plans to use her as a mole. What Thomas knows about her that makes this a worthy deal – and why Thomas can’t just get over himself and play nicely given that he’s worked at Downton for a decade now and all his shit-stirring’s achieved very little so far – remains to be seen, but here’s to hoping it’s something worthwhile.

Upstairs, I am pleased to see that the kids are alive and well and making ominous pronouncements about an oncoming storm. The adults laugh it off with mocking comments about the unlikeliness of Yorkshire hurricanes, but maybe Nanny West saw something we didn’t and Sibby wasn’t making predictions but threats. One wrong turn and the house’ll be plunged into a maelstrom of flat caps and whippets, and then who’ll be laughing, eh?

downton storm

Figure 2. ‘If Downton characters were in superhero comics’, part 2 of an occasional series.

Another possible suitor for Mary has appeared, a chap called Mr Napier whom I am assuming we have met before and I subsequently forgot about because Mary not only recognises him but seems utterly, unsettlingly delighted by his presence, no doubt thinking “ooh, goody, someone else whose still-beating heart I can devour”. Other than that, though, she and the rest of the family didn’t have much to do this week, other than some direly dull faff over a tenant popping his clogs and whether his son was allowed to keep the house. Which he was. Which is socialism, apparently, or at least enough like it to please Branson.

Who may be leaving us rather soon, if his vague mutterings about going to America are any indication. (Because of course, they just love Catholic socialists over in 1920s America.) Between this and the aforementioned serving of orange juice – which is apparently an American thing, I guess because they have oranges over there and because even with this show’s lacksadaisical approach to historical accuracy it would stretch credibility a little too far to have the maid present Lady Cora with an Egg McMuffin – I suspect some kind of USA-related subplot is being set in motion. Or it’s a complete coincidence and the writer is just making stuff up as he goes along. That’s the joy of Downton, you never can tell.

Best bits: Another appearance of Mrs Patmore’s utter horror of electrical goods/labour-saving devices/progress in general. She’ll flip her lid when she hears about washing machines. Show her an iPod and she would probably expire on the spot.

Worst bits: I honestly could not give a fraction of a nanofuck about that whole deal with Young Pegg the gardener. How could a subplot involving the King of Sweden’s letter-opener manage to be so boring?

Bizarre scripting choice of the week: “I wish he would read you, and take you out of this veil of shadows.” It’s a period drama, not Game of Thrones! (And more’s the pity. Downton could only benefit from having a few beheadings, incest and giant wolves.)

Next week: Michael Palin goes missing, there are accusations of traitors in our midst, and somebody mentions setting fire to the Abbey, all of which’ll be very exciting if any of it actually happens.

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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