“I’m meeting the new pig man,” said Branson on his way into town, confirming that the Crawleys are suddenly farmers. Pigs were the main topic of conversation at the house all episode. “The pigs have arrived!” said Tom later on, bustling triumphantly into the library to general approval. Almost certainly nobody predicted, however, that the arrival of the pigs would provoke a deep erotic awakening in Lady Mary.
“Did the pigs arrive?” enquired hunky moderniser Charles Blake, to which Mary replied that although she had been told the pigs had arrived, she had not seen the pigs herself – whereupon she and Charles headed for the piggery to look at the pigs.
Charles probed further as they approached the enclosure: “Do you have a good pig man?” A bad pig man might mean bad pigs, and bad pigs would be bad for the whole pig-farming plan.
Up to here, Charles and Mary had enjoyed their usual screwball hate-banter, with he saying that toffs who don’t know how hard farming is deserve to lose everything and be shot in the face by seething proles, and she seeming genuinely surprised at the notion that God would not step in and protect the aristocracy. Napier, the Mary admirer who is doomed for ever to deliver sexier men to her, blabbed that Charles found her aloof. “I’m not aloof, am I?” asked Mary of Anna, who was forced to admit that Mary is so aloof you could slough the dead skin off your back with her.
Anyway, back to the pig enclosure, where Charles found that the pig man was a rotter. A young pig was half-dead on the ground. Immediately Charles whipped off his dinner jacket (his own, not the pig’s – although pigs in dinner jackets is an innovation Lord Grantham might consider) and vaulted into the sty, observing that the trough had been knocked over and the sacred pigs were dehydrated. They needed water carrying up to them in pails from the barn. To his amazement, Mary grabbed a couple of buckets.
The next time we saw Mary she was glistening with sweat and panting, with her hair plastered across her face. She pumped for more water. The pigs were saved and, as Mary slipped onto her back and rolled around in an inch of slurry, she and Charles bonded. The two of them jovially smearing filth on each other’s faces is the closest Downton will perhaps ever come to a hardcore sex scene.
Afterwards the pair retired to the kitchens, where Mary scrambled them eggs and they drank wine. The flirting was interrupted by Ivy, who arrived to begin scrubbing Mrs Patmore’s pots with bicarb and a mace. This meant it was 4am: Mary and Charles had been up all night, giving the pig a drink. Poor Napier may yet again find that his halting politeness does not get the girl.
Other storylines rather struggled to match the impact of Mary mud-wrestling with a government official. Alfred caused low-key pandemonium by writing to Carson to say that a break in his studies at the Ritz would allow him to visit Downton. The continuing animosity between Daisy and Ivy – Ivy rejected Alfred, which Daisy thinks helped to drive Alfred away, even though it clearly didn’t and in any case Alfred had already rejected Daisy, so what difference does it make? Get on with pureeing those turnips, girl – meant Mrs Patmore and Mrs Hughes were keen for Alfred to stay away. M-Patz even expressed a wish to avoid “tears and heartbreak that’ll flavour my puddings for weeks to come”, while Daisy bemoaned Ivy’s “cold and vicious heart” – a sign that the pair of them have started studying romantic poetry, and definitely not the result of Julian Fellowes absent-mindedly giving lyrical lines that amused him to completely the wrong characters.
Alfred was fobbed off with a night in the local pub, Mrs Hughes having come up with the lie that flu was rampant among the kitchen staff. Carson seemed impressed by the scheming, despite this being absolutely basic subterfuge by Hughesy’s professional-fixer standards. Even to those closest to her Agent Hughes flies under the radar, a black shadow in the night, leaving no trace.
In any case the plan was scuppered when Alfred popped in unannounced the next day, leaving Carson furious at being out of pocket and Ivy and Daisy more at loggerheads than ever – after her nasty encounter with Jimmy on the bench, Ivy now seems to crave Alfred’s stuttering, virginal charm.
Branson may have a new romance in store – he and Isobel Crawley had agreed to go and see an MP speak about coalition politics, after she’d encouraged Branson to rekindle his revolutionary politics. Isobel stood him up and Branson went alone, ending up sitting next to a kind-faced young lady in sensible clothes who could be the tin lid on the conservative, mainstream New Branson. No, Tom! Go and blow something up!
Isobel was absent because she’d quickly spotted that the Dowager Countess was unwell, and had appointed herself as round-the-clock nurse. Once Clarkson the reassuringly Scottish doctor had diagnosed bronchitis, with a risk of pneumonia should the DC’s soup levels be allowed to drop below the maximum, Isobel hunkered down for the next 48 straight, shooing away family members and initiating a mammoth game of gin rummy with her captive. The Dowager Countess said Isobel had been a massive pain in the skirts, with her usual affectionate irony that on this occasion was not ironic at all.
The departure to America of Lord Grantham, who had been called away (“Good luck with the pigs!”) to assist Silly Cousin Harold, sparked developments in Anna’s attempt to recover from being raped. Bates would ordinarily have accompanied his master, but Mrs Hughes confided in Mary, who leant on Lord Grantham to take Thomas instead. Thomas threateningly reminded Baxter that he expected her to find an explanation for this curious decision, although why such things are so important to him is a loose end that, with only one episode of the series left, is in danger of not being tied off.
Having tackled rape, this series of Downton boldly crossed off another uncomfortably serious women’s issue as Edith arrived in London with Rose in tow. While Rose was off with Jack Ross, openly kissing in a boat on the Serpentine – no consequences of this as yet, but there surely will be – Edith was confiding in Aunt Ros that she was pregnant, and was planning an abortion (illegal, of course) at a secret clinic. “There was a magazine in the ladies’ waiting room at King’s Cross,” she said to explain how she’d found the place – an announcement that would be terrifying now and was probably even more so in the 1920s.
Aunt Ros stepped up, swallowing her disgust and agreeing to accompany Edith – but when they got there, Edith had a change of heart and returned to Downton with an explosive secret.
Green was back too, toughing out an encounter with Mrs Hughes at her most furious that would have turned all but the blackest-hearted man to jelly. Over dinner with the other servants he recklessly boasted about having come downstairs to avoid Nellie Melba’s singing – a potentially fatal mistake. Bates glared across at him. Bates knows.
>> Series four, episode six: Rose gets jazzed, the Dowager Countess prevails
>> Episode seven – in quotes