While episode 5 of the latest series of Downton Abbey faces the same serious trials as episodes past, it has a notably lighter feel. The depressing plotlines have loosened to make room for an increase in humor and skullduggery. It seems we’ve almost reverted to the charm and wit of the first series, but with an entirely new cast of characters.
The central plot of this episode displays Alfred, a footman, and his quest to apply for a cooking school in London. Series 4 has been about the world changing and progressing. This is a plot that reminds us that Downton is more than a dolls house. It reflects the real world, and each character is imbued with an honest sense of self. Alfred has aspirations and we’re meant to admire him for that. Yet this also serves as a source of conflict for the viewer: we want the servants to succeed and move up in the world, but we also want to retain the former romantic majesty of Downton Abbey.
Episode 5 still has loose ends, however, with the dark dealings of its past. Anna refuses to confide in Mr Bates about her rape, leading to severe marital issues. Her excuse for hiding it is that she knows Bates would attempt revenge and thus land in trouble with the law. After what seems like hours of back and forth, Mrs Hughes finally tells him the truth, though she doesn’t disclose the culprit. Oddly enough, this is an idea that hadn’t occurred to anyone before. For a second it seems to work out nicely. Anna and Bates reconcile and share a poignant moment. Yet, in the episode’s very last scene, Bates makes a comment that causes us to forget he didn’t commit the murder he was tried and convicted of. “Be aware nothing is over. Nothing is done with.” We’ve clearly not seen the last of Bates’ dark side.
Finally, this episode also devotes time to issues of the estate which involve Mary and Branson trying to evict a farmer who cannot pay for his land. Interestingly, Lord Grantham actually wants to loan him money and allow him to stay. Once again, we’re confronted with the idea of progress. However, we suddenly don’t know on which side of progress liberality lies.
“Lady Grantham takes her garden seriously.”
We’ve been seeing less of Lady Grantham lately. In this episode, however, she orchestrates a plot that showcases her wit and impracticality. Again, this is a reminder of former Downton Abbey: that of garden shows and petty comments.
Tom Branson. We’ve watched Branson struggle through the transition from downstairs to upstairs, deal with profound loss, and into the guilt of a new life. However, he’s still strongly opinionated and a truly wonderful parent. If we’d forgotten how enigmatic he is, he reminds us here: “I haven’t abandoned all my socialism.” He implies that he may move to America to start a new life. And although, we’d be sad to lose a truly unique character, moving would grant him something else beyond all other upstairs characters: the ability to leave Downton.
How much are we over Matthew?
Shockingly Matthew is only referred to once in passing, and never by name. Without saying that we’re completely over him, one might certainly say we’re almost there. Mary only cries once in this episode, and it’s actually for her loss of Lord Gillingham. Although, it’s odd that just last week Mary was turning down a tempting marriage proposal, and now she’s essentially throwing herself at an old friend, Mr Napier. Whether her successful suitor might be Gillingham or Napier, one thing is certainly clear: Mary won’t stay single for much longer.