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- Tim Boden’s Letter from Australia – First Impressions - 15 March, 2014
Last week: Yet another party was thrown, Lady Rose got jiggy with a jazz singer, and Molesley never did find his purpose in life but has at least managed to secure gainful employment at last.
Between the reappearance of Mr Green the rapey valet and Lady Violet taking ill, the trailer for this week’s episode had me feeling a certain sense of impending doom. However, either everything’s going to be fine or (more likely) all the doom is being saved for next week’s season finale, as this week’s episode was relatively light on misfortune and instead mainly preoccupied itself with Edith’s pregnancy predicament, the Jimmy/Ivy/Daisy/Alfred love rectangle, and, for some bizarre reason, the difficulties of pig ownership.
As foreshadowed in the past couple of episodes, something’s gone tits-up across the pond and Lord Grantham was summoned away to give Cora’s family a hand. Bates was persuaded to stay back for Anna’s sake and Thomas sent in his stead, inevitably incurring even more suspicion than usual on Thomas’ part, and also providing an excuse to slip in a highly implausible but rather delightful remark from Mary about him enjoying all those handsome sailors and whatnot.
Mary was on good form this week, having now recovered enough from her bereavement to develop a bit of self-awareness. I’m beginning to feel that she takes after her grandmother in terms of a cynical outlook, not to mention acting in the knowledge that if you’re posh enough you can get away with being quite appallingly rude. At any rate, she made no bones about thoroughly disliking their visitor Mr Blake and his attitude to Downton. That all changed this week, though, as in a charmingly silly rural romcom twist, they went out on a plot-mandated evening stroll only for Mr Blake to notice that the newly acquired pigs were dying of thirst due to a knocked-over trough. Cue a messy, muddy night of Mary and Mr Blake nobly toiling to save the poor parched piggies and realising that maybe they’d got the wrong impression about one another. They retired to the kitchens and made eyes at each other over a plate of scrambled eggs but alas, were interrupted before they could discuss things any further.
Meanwhile, Alfred popped back up from London to pay a visit – causing much ill-fated faffing from Mrs Hughes and Mrs Patmore as they tried and failed to prevent Ivy and Daisy from finding out and getting themselves into a lather – while Edith and Lady Rose headed down in the other direction. Rose had a pleasant but largely inconsequential time of it arsing around in a boat with Jack Ross, while Edith was engaged in much more sombre business as she considered whether she was going to keep her pregnancy. I’d previously not been particularly bothered about the character Aunt Rosamunde, who seemed to exist mainly to give the family a reason to leave Yorkshire, but the scenes where she and Edith discussed what to do about the baby were genuinely affecting. I’m not entirely sure I buy quite how accepting and supportive she was of Edith, but kudos to the show for at least broaching the topic of abortion, and there’s potential for some genuinely interesting plot developments if Edith does end up as a single mother. Although given past form of going for neat solutions, I think it’s highly likely that instead we’re going to get either a) the miraculous return of Newspaper Chap Who Looks A Bit Like Michael Palin from wherever he got to in Germany, b) the loss of the pregnancy before it comes to term or c) Edith very swiftly meeting an improbably sympathetic man who won’t mind raising the child as his own. Or possibly d) it was trapped wind the whole time. Well, they do eat a lot of rich food…
The other big happening this week was that Lady Violet came down with bronchitis. Despite their sparring in previous weeks, Cousin Isobel leapt at the chance to be a busybody while Lady V was too weak to fight her off, and therefore decided to nurse her throughout. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that while I’ll put up with a lot from Downton, it absolutely wouldn’t be worth it without Lady Violet, and to lose her would be devastating. Luckily for us, illness did not blunt her tongue any (if anything, it was a great excuse for her to be as bloody rude about Isobel as she liked), nor did it defeat her, and she was better – if not very more cheerful – by the end of the episode. Somehow, though, I feel we’re not out of the woods just yet; it’d be exactly like this show to lull us into a false sense of security now, only to kill her off next week with a falling bookcase or a fatally underdone pork chop.
As for the subplots – Tom went to a political speech and met a nice girl who knows who Lloyd George is, and Lord Gillingham reappeared just in time to set up a three-way suitor-off in episode 8. And of course, when Lord Gillingham comes to visit, so does his despicable valet Mr Green. Inevitably, Bates saw right through Anna and Mrs Hughes’ unconvincing denials and knew straight away that he was the guilt, glowering darkly at him throughout dinner. Green, though, is a man with no shame, and therefore appeared impervious to Bates’ attempts to kill him with the power of his mind alone. I suspect he will be less impervious to having his head stoved in with a ladle.
Which leads us to a whole series of Big Questions: Will Lady Mary make a move towards any of the three chaps who are now vying for her attention? Will Edith’s fiance ever be seen again? Is Rose staying? Is Tom going? Does Ivy fancy Alfred after all? What does Thomas know about Miss Baxter? Is Bates going to have to smack a bitch? All, some, or – knowing this show – quite possibly none of these questions may be answered next week in next week’s series finales. Brace yourselves.
Best bits: In terms of nice character moments, I really like that Thomas and Jimmy have put their awkward past behind them and are now mates, united by their mutual smug gittishness. I also may have aww’d out loud at the fact that even Isis the dog got a kiss goodbye from Lord Grantham. In terms of amusement, though, nothing beats Lady Violet’s deliciously sarcastic ‘oh, goody!’ at the prospect of spending all evening playing Gin with Cousin Isobel. One suspects very much she’d far rather be drinking gin than playing it.
Worst bits: Still think pretty much everything involving Lady Rose is one giant wasted opportunity. Talking of which, I think it’s a shame that Jimmy’s had little to do this entire series than be a bit of an arse; pretty much the only thing he did in this episode was sulk at Ivy for not letting him feel her up.
Ad break highlights: According to Eurostar, if you go to Paris you might just meet your future wife and mother of your children. Or instead you might look at a stuffed penguin. Those are the only two options.
Quote of the week: “This’ll make you feel better.” “Compared to what?” As I said, Lady Violet might’ve been under the weather, but it didn’t affect her wits any. Runner-up quote goes to Mrs Patmore’s reference to “the tears and the heartbreak that’ll flavour my puddings for weeks to come” – I don’t know what she’s fretting about, tears-and-heartbreak-flavoured puddings were what got Ruby to the finals of this year’s Great British Bake-Off.
Next week: Branson catches Rose and Jack (even though they’ve been caught once already), Bates faces off against the Rapey Valet at last, and Edith goes to a farm. I just hope it’s not the same one where she inexplicably decided to snog a farmhand a few series ago.