Lust is rife at Downton once again. Alfred’s failure to make boot camp at the Ritz meant there was another chance for Daisy to work her sexy magic on him: “I’m making an anchovy sauce for the fish soufflé. Do you want to watch?” Blimey, steady on. Alfred, understandably spooked, said no.
In any case he was soon leaving, having received a letter from the Ritz saying that one of their top four had dropped out and he could be a trainee vichysoisseur after all. Alfred’s parents taught him to treat people fairly, speak as he finds and create charming dramatic moments wherever possible, so before departing he made a series of humble, honest, barmcake speeches. In the drawing room, he thanked Lord G and sang Carson’s praises. “Much more and we shall all burst into tears,” said Lord G, thinking about all the great times he and Alfred have shared over the months.
Downstairs, Alfred approached Daisy, who was rolling pastry in despair. He explained that although he recognised the intensity of Daisy’s passion for him, he couldn’t deny his equally all-consuming thirst for Ivy, and since Ivy wasn’t up for it both he and Daisy were doomed to suffer the epic tragedy of love gone to waste. Daisy nobly wished him well and they parted on good terms, equally scarred by the tyranny of the heart’s desire. The pastry bore the brunt of it.
Ivy fared no better, though. She allowed Jimmy to take her to see a Rudolph Valentino movie (“Oooooh,” said Mrs Patmore, corset straining, “He makes me shiver all over!”) but then in the grounds outside the house, after Jimmy did his best romantic moves on her (“Look at that moon”), she rightly took umbrage when he suddenly tried to remove at least three of her outermost skirts there and then. Up to now, Jimmy’s work persona has rested almost entirely on his mockery of Alfred and his implicit ability to squire Ivy on demand – with both of those gone, he only has his fantastic hair left.
Even that has a rival. Thomas’s pumped and volumised tresses indicate that he is in full scheming mode. His barnet swells like a poison frog’s neck as a warning that he’s got something dastardly going – the person for whom the return of his Pantene-and-blowdry regimen is really bad news is Baxter, who it now seems is not a willing conspirator but a blackmail victim.
Baxter, who has inherited O’Brien’s gift for floating into a bedroom to fold shawls just as one of the ladies is spilling her guts, was there as Lady Rose told Cora she had a secret plan for Lord G’s birthday, and Cora advised confiding in Mrs Hughes. What was it? After Baxter reported back, Thomas tried to interrogate Hughesy, but this was a laughable mismatch. She was, in polite trash-talking terms, holding Thomas’s forehead with one hand while studying her nails on the other.
“Mr Molesley has, as the saying goes, had his chance and missed it,” said Carson, once again confusing a saying with a thing he was saying. The departure of Alfred led to a widespread assumption that Molesley would, at last, join Downton as a lowly footman, but Carson wanted to torture the poor man for a bit first. Even a visit from Molesley, who revealed that he had hit a new low and had been “renewing the gravel” at the railway station as Alfred swanned off to London, did not sway him. By not instantly accepting the job last week, Molesley had slighted Downton. A kick in the balls from the Kaiser himself could not have affronted Carson more.
Molesley only had one course of action open to him: he turned up in Mrs Hughes’s command bunker, looking as forlorn as a wet kitten with wheels instead of back legs. His predicament, however, was chicken feed for Downton’s top fixer: the next day Hughesy had him tactically martyring himself by working downstairs at Downton, serving the servants to help out with the rush caused by Lord G’s birthday. Molesley waved a teapot pathetically in Carson’s face. Carson cracked immediately. Molesley is in.
The Molesley defeat was soon forgotten, as something happened that deeply shocked the Downton residents, upstairs and down: a black man entered the premises. Lady Rose’s secret plan for the birthday party was to hire Jack Ross and his band, and now here they were in the kitchen, warming up. On Jack’s arrival, Carson almost smashed a teacup in racist surprise. Then he asked, shouting over the sound of a wah-wah trumpet, why Jack didn’t visit Africa instead.
Carson was as stiff as a stuffed penguin but he recovered by quoting chapter and verse on the Brits’ excellent track record in fighting slavery – “Remember Lord Henley’s judgement of 1763?” he said, pointing out that being black in Britain was no longer a flogging offence.
The aristos upstairs struggled rather more. When Lady Rose led the dinner party through to the hall to soak up Jack’s insane voodoo rhythms, Lord G initially bridled, fighting hard to quell a racist vomit. He managed a dance, but Edith was frozen to the spot, overcome by racism. “Is it really suitable that Rose has brought this… man here?” she asked the Dowager Countess.
Violet shattered the old posh woman stereotype by being far less racist than the younger members of the family. Not at all, in fact: “Try and let your time in London rub off on you a little more,” she counselled Edith, which was enough for her granddaughter to put down the pith helmet and blunderbuss. Edith can be partially forgiven since her emotions were scrambled by the news that she is pregnant, and that Gregson has not been seen or heard from since his arrival in Munich. Even allowing for a few lost weekends amid the city’s eye-watering 1920s nightlife – a spin-off DVD beckons – his disappearance is a worry.
The DC was on roaring form all episode, inveigling Isobel in a curious sleight of hand. Isobel’s gardening protege Pegg was still being frozen out, with his alleged lifting of a letter opener now compounded by the news that the Dowager Countess had lost some sort of Japanese trinket. Even an intervention by the DC’s permanently terrified batman, Spratt, showing that the ivory doodah had inadvertently rolled into a cleaning bucket, could not sway her from calling Pegg a rotter.
Isobel tried a bit of communist, property-is-theft rhetoric on the Dowager Countess (“Things! Things! Things!”) before turning detective. As the DC’s car swept out of the front drive to an appointment, Isobel was lurking in the shrubbery. In she went, conning Spratt by faking a fainting fit and gaining entry to the sitting room, where she Marpled around turning up cushions until she found the knife, rather too conveniently stuffed down the side of a chair.
Confronting the DC with the evidence wasn’t quite as satisfying as Isobel hoped, since Pegg had already been re-hired – and had received an apology from the Dowager Countess, the first person to do so since the Queen of Swaziland in 1874 after the notorious “zebra pie incident”. Isobel was dumbstruck. “I’d say that was game, set and match to Lady Grantham,” said Clarkson the reassuringly Scottish doctor, who had arrived so there would be a third person present to say that line.
At Lord G’s birthday dinner, the Dowager Countess agreed with the birthday boy that Isobel was looking more chipper than recently. “She runs on indignation,” she observed, implying that the whole paper knife affair had a been a Saw-style act of constructive sadism.
In an episode full of fraught meals, the worst was Anna and Bates, taking themselves out for a bridge-building posh dinner. It started badly when a supercilious rodent of a maitre d’ spotted that they were lower class and pretended not to have received their reservation – Cora, who was dining at the same establishment, shimmered up and put the man in his place, but it did no good. The plan to forget Anna’s trauma just for one night did not pan out.
Baxter overheard Cora and Mary discussing Anna’s marital problems, but gleaned no more details. Thomas pressured her to find out more – his hair now forming a magnificent, terrifying black halo – but whatever hold he has on her, Baxter seems to have chosen to be loyal to Cora.
Back at Lord G’s party, Mary was dismayed to meet Napier’s boss, Blake, the man who is conducting a giant survey of crumbling piles in the North. He is, it turns out, a dangerous Marxist who hates Britain and is not concerned with propping up posh homesteads – instead he is focused on such naïve fripperies as ensuring the reliability of food production for society at large. He lectured the sausage-eating, bacon-slurping Mary on the harsh realities of pig farming, too. He is an upstart, and Mary looked ready either to kill him or embark on a torrid affair with him – although as we know, for Mary those two can be one and the same.
Still there were shocks in store for her. After the jazz had stopped and the residents of Downton had mostly retired, Mary ventured downstairs to carry out Lord G’s plan of insisting on paying the band’s fee, as a pass-agg slapdown for Rose. When Mary got there she saw Rose had taken her cosmopolitanism a step too far and was brazenly kissing Jack in the servant’s quarters.
Mary stood on the steps, rigid with racism and sexual jealousy. Rose is in trouble.
>> Series four, episode five: Alfred gets ideas, Anna and Bates reconcile