Had you fallen asleep for a week and missed an episode? No, don’t adjust your set: Downton this week casually introduced two characters and a plotline with no storytelling backlift at all. Boom. Straight in. New lady’s maid. New needy pauper for Isobel to mentor. And a dead, debt-ridden farmer whose tenancy at Downton would put the contrasting management approaches of Lord G and Lady Mary to the test.
It was bewildering for the viewer but remember, these are people who can survive a four-year world war without changing their hairstyles. Nobody batted an eyelid as Baxter carried on working as Cora’s personal attendant as if anyone had ever clapped eyes on her before. Baxter is the downstairs area’s new source of evil, working in tandem with Thomas, the man who brought her here.
Whereas he is a cackling cartoon bumbler who will probably burn down the Abbey one day without remembering to leave it first, she looks more likely to perpetrate some sort of advanced fraud, possibly using her knowledge of futuristic technology. Baxter thrilled and frightened everyone with her electrified sewing machine: the other servants gathered, agog, as Baxter attached one piece of cloth to another in less than a week and without heavy blood loss.
Mrs Patmore scented the occult and wanted to throw the contraption out, but she relented later when, on the day of Cora’s annual state visit to the basement, a cataclysmic rip was discovered at the bottom of her best off-beige apron. After a quick whizz from Baxter’s join-o-matic, M-Patz declared the garment to be in better shape than when she bought it, although as she probably bought it in 1837, this wasn’t saying a huge amount.
Cora descended and slapped M-Patz with another enforced step towards the space age: Downton shall have a fridge. Once Mrs Patmore had been assured that her regular grocery deliveries would still continue – if she clocks up another 1000 Nectar points she can get those new hornbill-ivory teeth – she suddenly embraced modernity and threatened to throw off her corset. Next week: Mrs Patmore goes on a week-long miaow-miaow and karaoke bender with Lady Rose.
Patmore was also firmly behind Alfred as he tried to lift himself out of the filth of Yorkshire pauperdom by auditioning for a cooking job at the Ritz. The letter inviting him to try out had taken 10 days to arrive, which solved the question of what new line of work Molesley had moved into, but left Alfred with only one day to become a MasterChef. Daisy stepped in, hoping to bond with her beloved as she schooled him in the art of egg and cheese tartlets.
Cheesy puffs might be Alfred’s true calling. Ignoring the heckling from Jimmy, who again questioned why anyone would be so boring as to make an effort at anything – unless Baxter hurries up and invents the electric guitar, Jimmy’s super-cool grand plan remains a mystery – Alfred produced a tray of savouries so excellent, M-Patz sent him upstairs with them. The toffs enjoyed the food and did a decent job of pretending to recognise Alfred and wish him luck. He even got to ride in the car to the station with Edith, who had an unconvincing excuse for going “up” to London herself.
Carson entered Mrs Hughes’s command bunker to unveil a plan: with Alfred possibly leaving, Molesley could be hired as a new footman. Offering someone a job without a rigorous interviewing process counts as extreme generosity in Carson’s book, but Molesley threw it back in his face, having the nerve to remind Carson that he is “a trained butler” and that he’d have to think hard about making his reduced status permanent. Carson’s eyebrows knotted and fell to cheek level.
In London, Alfred found that 1920s cooking DOESN’T get tougher than the assessment day at the Ritz. Having failed to answer any of the French recruiter’s quiz questions – they were all about food, but not about cheesy, eggy puffs – Alfred was tasked with making a Vichysoisse. Ask him for a hot mulligatawny and you probably would get cold leek and potato, but making that on purpose was a stretch and a rejection letter soon arrived back at the Abbey.
A consequence of this was that Carson had to tell Molesley, who had returned to pompously announce he would reluctantly accept the job as footman, that the vacancy was no longer available. Carson has not looked so happy since he reorganised all Downton’s spoons into size order. Molesley stumbled off, probably tripping up and electrocuting himself on Baxter’s sewing machine on the way out.
Sad news upstairs, as Lord G and the gang learnt that Old Whatsisname, the beloved tenant of one of the large farms Downton has somewhere in the back garden, had carked it. He’d been behind with the rent, so Branson and Mary saw this as the perfect chance to snatch the land off his grieving family and farm it themselves. Presumably they meant employ a new farmer rather than literally farm it themselves, since Mary getting up at 4am to hose faeces out of a barn would surely be a character reinvention the fans wouldn’t stand for.
In any case it didn’t come down to that, because the son of the dead farmer pleaded with Lord G to let him carry on the business, pointing out that the two families had been working in partnership on the same patch for generations, going back to when Napoleon was on the rampage and Mrs Patmore was only just thinking about purchasing that corset.
Lord G crumpled, offering to personally lend the farmer money with which to pay DowntonCorp, giving the appearance of financial health. The scheme foundered, since the farmer was not of strong enough breeding to be a calm liar – as soon as Branson and Mary visited, he blabbed. But Mary softened and admired her dad’s kindness. If this keeps up, Downton will soon be bankrupt – especially if Branson goes through with his threat to take Baby Sybbie and move to America to avoid having to speak to any more duchesses at parties.
Downton’s own fearsome female super-aristo, the Dowager Countess, was locked in battle with Isobel Crawley as the county’s top humanitarian forced her to take on her latest project, a lad who wants to be a gardener. “I wonder your halo doesn’t grow heavy. It must be like wearing a tiara round the clock,” was one of many heavyweight DC one-liners as she assented to the placement. Philanthropy might not be her bag: on day one she entered her drawing room to find her new employee ferreting about, watering plants. At her writing bureau she was unable to find “a valuable paper knife given to the late lord Grantham by the king of Sweden” and assumed the plucky urchin had stolen it. Is he a thief, or is Violet losing it?
There was romantic stress for the surviving Crawley sisters. Mary learned of “Tony” Gillingham’s engagement to Martha Lane Fox and immediately regretted restricting him to a single pash by the shrubbery, but was then cheered up again by the reappearance of… Evelyn Napier! You know, the guy from series one who arrived with a Turk in tow, only for Mary to kill the Turk with her lethal sex organs and then make it clear that Napier was too boring to marry. Now he’s back and he’s a specialist in turning around mismanaged stately homes. Could a marriage of business convenience, with grief for Matthew and a dash of rebound desperation from Mary’s rash rejection of Gillingham, be on the cards? That’ll work. Meanwhile, Edith was in London to see a posh doctor and is presumably up the duff.
Anna had found out that she wasn’t pregnant by her rapist Green, but was otherwise still in despair and refusing to elaborate to Bates. Her confidante Mrs Hughes again encouraged her to speak up and was again told that the risk of what Bates might do was too great. But Hughes found her own spying methods used against her: having eaves-dropped the conversation, Bates threatened to leave and never see Anna again unless Hughes told him the truth. Then when she did, he correctly guessed who the culprit was.
Thinking fast, Hughes denied it was Green and concocted a story about a stranger breaking into the house. Anna went along with it, she and Bates reunited, and the pat conclusion we all feared to this storyline was upon us. Except, when Hughes remarked to Bates that it was all over since he couldn’t take revenge: “Nothing is over.” Uh-oh.
>> Series four, episode four: Branson is saved, Mary shuts up shop
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