'Downton Abbey': Let's Discuss Series 4, Episode 4

Oh, Edith. (Photo: Courtesy of ©Nick Briggs/Carnival Film and Television Limited 2013 for MASTERPIECE)
Oh, Edith. (Photo: Courtesy of ©Nick Briggs/Carnival Film and Television Limited 2013 for MASTERPIECE)

Previously, on Downton Abbey:  Anna is still struggling to come to terms with her sexual assault, Bates is still pushing his wife about why she won’t come anywhere near him, Tom makes some terrible life decisions, Edna creates a pregnancy scare, Alfred decides to try out for Edwardian Top Chef, Edith takes the next step with Gregson, Mrs. Hughes manages to get rid of Edna in the most awesome manner possible, Rose meets an African-American jazz musician and Mary gets a marriage proposal from a guy that’s known her for maybe 56 hours.

Man, last week was really busy, huh? Onward!

Bates is Forlorn. This time, in a nifty mirror of last week, we open the episode Bates heading out to work, with a sad expression and dramatic plinky music playing in the background.  Anna is already up at the house, having moved back into a spare room after Edna’s departure. She says this is because she has to be closer in order to attend to all her new duties, but the audience knows that it’s because she can’t bear to be around Bates at the moment, since she’s still highly traumatized from getting assaulted.  Anna looks miserable and still has to use make-up to cover the bruising on her face. The two run into each other in the kitchen. Anna says Bates doesn’t have to wait for her everyday right there, but Bates says he wants to be the first to greet her each day – which I guess is kind of cute, but also Is kind of weird. I expect being loved by Bates is really not an easy lot in life.  Bates hounds Anna again about talking to him about what’s wrong, claiming that one day his life was perfect and now it’s nothing so she really just needs to tell him what’s gone wrong. Anna looks resistant to this, while I roll my eyes again at Bates’ all-encompassing ability to make literally any moment of the day about himself. 

Meet Baxter.  A new lady’s maid for Cora arrives. Her name is Baxter and from what we can tell so far, she enjoys sewing, and has some kind of shady past. She’s arrived on recommendation from Thomas, which one would think would automatically be some kind of blackball, but as we established last week, Robert and Cora are kind of idiots, so here we are. Baxter seems a bit awkward about the whole business of being a ladies’ maid, so it’ll be interesting to see how she’s going to work out. 

The New Downton Management Team. Tom, Mary and Robert are set to meet and discuss the whole Downton tax situation when they receive word that a long-time tenant has passed away. Said tenant has not paid the rent in quite some time, so Mary and Tom want to foreclose on the lease and farm the land themselves. Robert hates the idea of turning out a family that’s held this particular farm for generations.  Mary says the world moves on and they must move on with it. Robert takes this particular opportunity to rather childlishly point out that Gillingham’s engagement announcement is in the paper. Petty, Robert. Petty. 

Eavesdroppers Often Hear Highly Instructive Things. Mrs. Hughes stops Anna in the stairwell and says that she doesn’t’ know why she has to be so hard on Bates, especially now that she knows she’s not pregnant. She asks if Anna can’t finally start to get past it now and tell Bates something, so she can start to mend  her life. Anna, sporting  a new dead-eyed look that’s horrible to see, says that Bates would know if whatever she told him wasn’t the truth, because he sees right through her. Then it’s time for our standard episode rant about how Anna telling the truth means that she’ll destroy her husband’s future because Bates just won’t be able to help himself from immediately killing someone. Not that Horrible Rapist Green doesn’t deserve to be punished for the awful thing he did, but come on. I need someone, somewhere to say, have we thought about maybe Bates just not killing him? Mrs. Hughes sighs and says it’s Anna’s secret, but she thinks it’s a mistake.

Anna stomps off and the camera pulls back to reveal Bates lurking and listening on the other side of the doorway. I’m not going to comment on the rather unlikely nature of Bates actually managing to physically hide himself in that spot. But, I mean, really. He’s not a small dude. Anyway.  With the number of times people get eavesdropped on in this show I don’t know why anybody bothers to say anything other than hello in a hallway. But at least we’ll actually get some movement on this plot. 

Robert Gets His Traditionalist On. Robert attends the funeral of the long-time tenant who just died, who was such a big part of Downton but apparently didn’t mean enough for them to actually give him a name. Anyway, Robert stops to talk to the son of long-time tenant, named Drew, who apparently wants to take over the lease. Robert says sorry but the notices have already been served because his father was delinquent on the rent and the case is closed, the tenancy over. Drew guesses correctly that they want to farm the land themselves.  Robert says they did what they could for his father, and left him in peace at the end of his life, so there’s no need to get shirty about it. Drew says he didn’t know that his father had gotten so behind or he would have tried to help. He says his family has farmed this land since the Napoleonic Wars and surely that has to mean something. Well, as we all know, the quickest way to get Robert to do anything is to appeal to his sense of tradition. He agrees to see Drew again the next day to talk about the situation. 

Alfred Gets Ready for Top Chef. Mrs. Patmore and the kitchen girls are helping Alfred train for his upcoming cooking test. Surprisingly enough it’s Daisy who has taken the lead in giving him hands-on instructions in how to make certain dishes, even though she admits to Mrs. Patmore that it’s hard going when it feels like she’s helping him leave. All I can say is that it’s nice to see someone in this downstairs relationship snoozefest finally display a tiny shred of maturity. Go, Daisy.  Mrs. Patmore says that she’s doing the right thing, and that it’s what he wants. Daisy looks conflicted but goes back to making tarts with Alfred.  He finally gets official notice that his test is to take place in two days time, and everyone in the servants’ quarters  - even Daisy – is happy for him and convinced he’ll do well.  Well, except for Jimmy, who is a snarky jerk, and is somehow in this episode because clearly Ed Speelers is blackmailing Julian Fellowes.

Edith Feels Forgotten. Gregson has gone off to Germany to spend time – doing whatever it is one does when waiting for new citizenship papers to process.  Edith, back at Downton, looks slightly upset when Carson tells her that there’s nothing for her in that days post. She’s concerned because she hasn’t heard from Gregson in what appears to be quite some time. Cora says he’s probably just busy, but Edith looks very worried. 

 Isobel is Basically a Jobs Board. Dr. Clarkson, taking time off from his busy schedule of being the worst doctor ever, has tea with Isobel and attempts to convince her to help a young man with a sick and/or widowed mother find a job.  He suggests that she talk to the Head Gardener at Downton, or even Violet herself, since the Dowager is rather obsessed with her flowers.  Isobel meets the boy, named Pegg, who is very earnest and well meaning. She promises to do her best to help him. (But still no help for Molesley I see?!?).

She goes to see Violet to try and convince her to hire Pegg, pointing out that she needs help in that area at the Dower house and effusively singing the praises of someone she talked to for approximately five minutes. Violet wonders how Isobel can stand spending so much of her time doing good for others, but eventually she says yes, with the caveat that this boy better live up to Isobel’s hype. 

Not Exactly the Kindness of Strangers. Thomas stops by the servants’ hall to see Baxter, who’s just busily sewing away on the sewing machine she’s obsessed with.  He asks how she’s getting along with Cora – and we learn that Thomas has told Baxter how to get on her good side so that Cora will trust her. (For the record these tricks include bringing up America and praising Lady Sybil.)  We also learn that Thomas is coaching Baxter on how to be well liked downstairs as well, because he’s brought her to Downton specifically to be his spy. He wants everyone – both upstairs and down – to like her, so they’ll tell her things and then she can tell him.

Baxter tells Thomas that she’s grateful he got her the job, but she doesn’t understand what he wants from her. Thomas says there’s going to be changes at Downton and he wants to know about any plans upstairs. He says she’s to tell him everything, even the smallest detail. Baxter doesn’t seem to be super thrilled with this plan, though she doesn’t protest against it either. 

Robert’s Secret Deal. Drew comes to see Robert, to talk about the future of his family’s tenancy.  Drew wants to reverse the foreclosure and take over the lease, but he doesn’t have enough money to pay everything that his father left in arrears.  Robert says that’s not a terribly enticing offer. Going with what worked for him earlier, Drew says that he’s a Yorkshire man and belongs there. He says that his family and the Crawleys have worked this land in partnership for more than a century and he wants to keep doing that. Robert is totally swoony about the “partnership” idea, it appeals to his whole need to feel like they’re all one big family pulling together for the good of the estate, not tenants versus lords.  Drew asks if this means Robert will let him come home, and Robert says he’ll see what he can do. Robert says that he wants to be able to tell Mary and Tom that he’s prepared to pay the back money owed in full when taking over the lease, and offers to lend him the cash.  Drew assures him that he won’t regret helping him, and Robert says he doesn’t think he will. They shake hands.

Robert puts the case to Mary and Tom, stressing that they need to protect the past in order to move forward. Mary’s snippy because she thinks Robert’s already decided what to do (which, in truth, he has). Robert says it’s only fair to let Drew stay when he wants to pay the debt, and Tom seems swayed by this logic. Mary is not as impressed – insisting that Drew has no right to renew the lease. Robert says he likes Drew’s partnership talk (surprise). Cora says she thinks he may not have a legal right, but surely there must be a moral one.  Tom says that it’s a pity Drew wants that particular farm, as it would have filled a hole in the land the Crawleys themselves are farming, but he’s on the side of the farmers here, mainly because he hasn’t abandoned all his socialist tendencies. Robert smiles and says that just this one time he’s glad of Tom’s socialist streak.

Edith Makes a Surreptitious London Trip.  Edith surprised the family by running up to London for a quick day trip, ostensibly to handle some of Gregson’s busy while he’s away being indoctrinated into the Nazi party waiting to become a German. However, the first place we see Edith stop off is a doctor’s office, which should be causing alarm bells to ring in every viewer’s head. Given how much we’ve had the threat of unplanned pregnancy looming over various characters’ heads this season, it would seem that the axe has made its way over to Edith. Of course, she had all of one ill-considered night with her now apparently missing boyfriend, and of course that looks like it was probably enough to leave her in a terribly difficult situation. Because this is Edith. And if it weren’t for bad luck, she’d have no luck at all.

This also begs the question – if this is correct speculation and Edith is pregnant with an out-of-wedlock scandal baby, then seriously how much more can they possibly do to this character. Everything awful seems to befall her, and she seriously has the worst luck of anyone on television. How long will viewers care that she’s the show’s designated whipping boy? 

The Return of Napier. Next, out of nowhere, The Honorable and Adorable Evelyn Napier waltzes back into the Downton drawing room, and Mary’s life. You may remember him from Series 1, when he was Mary’s love interest for about five seconds, as well as the friend of the ill-fated Mr. Pamuk. But now he’s back!  Mary’s delighted to see him, and honestly, so am I. It’s nice when this show recognizes its past, and Napier is about ten times more appealing as a romantic interest than Gillingham is, if you ask me.

Napier tells Mary that was in Yorkshire as part of a government research project and thought he’d just take a chance and stop by. Mary grins and says she’ll let her parents know.  Napier stops her and says that he wants to tell her that he has been thinking of her often since the “whole ghastly business” that was her husband’s car accident. He says he’s relieved to see her looking so lovely and well. Mary makes an adorable face, and I am basically Team Napier now.

It turns out that Napier’s working on a survey of a sort – his job is to go round the landed estates and try to assess the damage of the war years. Are these big estates likely to survive, what’s happened to them, blah blah. He says that some of the places he’s looked at will make it – implying that some of them won’t, of course.  Robert is extremely curious about all this, but Napier says he can’t tell them which estates they’re looking at, as that wouldn’t be fair to the current owners. He does say that his team has earmarked the worst places, and he can tell them that Downton isn’t among them. Mary looks relieved and says she’d love Napier’s input about the way they’re doing things around the estate and how they could or should be improving.  Mary then manages to get Napier to agree to stay with them , and to bring his boss Charles Blake to stay too, while they’re doing this research. She says that way they’ll get the advantage of all their knowledge for the bargain basement prices of feeing them. Mary looks chipper and excited and it’s hard to tell whether it’s about Napier or the prospect of improving Downton or both, but it’s pretty cute. 

Oh, Molesley, Part Fifteen. Since everyone seems fairly certain that Alfred’s going to make it into cooking school, Carson wants to try and hire Molesley as a footman to replace him. He’s convinced he’ll do it because it’s got to be better than mending roads and delivering groceries which is what he’s stuck doing now. Mrs. Hughes – being wise – looks skeptical about this, but Carson thinks he’s just come up with a totally brilliant solution to several of their problems.

Molesley, however, is not super excited about this plan. He says he doesn’t mind helping out sometimes, but it feels like a permanent footman position is a considerable comedown for him because he’s trained as a valet and a butler. Carson is getting more and more irritated over the fact that Molesley isn’t groveling at his feet in gratitude and starts being snarky. Molesley sucks in a breath and says he’ll give it some thorough consideration and let Carson know his answer when he has one. He leaves, as Carson looks uber-offended behind his desk.

Bates Badgers the Truth Out of Mrs. Hughes. Bates stops by Mrs. Hughes office and says that he knows she can help him get to the bottom of the things that are troubling him.  Mrs. Hughes plays dumb, but he tells her that he overheard her talking to Anna earlier so he knows she’s clued in to what’s going on.  He also knows Mrs. Hughes thinks Anna should have told him about whatever it was. Mrs. Hughes agrees with that, but she says that it’s not her place to be telling him anything. Bates then decides to get his way by blackmailing her. He says if Mrs. Hughes doesn’t tell him the truth, then he’s going to quit, because he’s been too happy at Downton to say. He goes on and on about how Anna doesn’t love him anymore and it’s just torture for him and seriously I would stop getting annoyed by Bates if he ever at any time thought about what Anna must be going through, since it’s something so bad she can’t talk about. But now, it’s just the Bates Show, 24/7.  He says if he doesn’t hear the truth from Mrs. Hughes, he’ll hand in his resignation and be gone before Anna gets back from town. Mature, Bates. Real mature. 

Mrs. Hughes tries to hold out, but ultimately fails at the last minute. Because she’s Mrs. Hughes and wants to fix things for everyone.  She says that Anna loves Bates very much and that the pain of coming home to find him gone would destroy her. So Mrs. Hughes tells him the truth. It’s horrible to watch Bates hear the truth, and it’s horrible to watch Mrs. Hughes have to face him. Interestingly, Mrs. Hughes has decided to tell one great lie, namely that Anna didn’t see whoever it was that attacked her, so they don’t know who did it and thus Bates’ internal KILL KILL KILL switch has no one to go after.  Bates immediately thinks it was Green, who spent so much time teasing and flirting with her, but Mrs. Hughes denies it.  Bates then goes all super crazy eyes and makes Mrs. Hughes swear on everything she holds dear that she’s telling him the truth. (I get that this is a terrible situation for everyone. I do. But seriously. Bates. Step off.) He gets really aggressive, making Mrs. Hughes swear on her mother’s life -  and then her mother’s grave when he finds out that her mother is dead. It’s really creepy, and at this point I could totally buy Bates just going all Psycho on everyone in Yorkshire. He swears he’s going to find out who did this to Anna and make them pay (Translation: KILL KILL KILL) and Mrs. Hughes tells him he’s welcome to try.

Sadly the Dowager Countess is Stuck in Storyline Snoozeville This Week. Violet hires young Pegg, Isobel’s latest project case, to work in her garden. The two ladies bicker back and forth a bit about Isobel’s crusading zeal, and how Violet’s really a softie under that harsh Dowager Countess exterior (which is actually true, I think.)  However, a day or two after Pegg starts working, Violet notices that a valuable paperknife (from the King of Sweden no less!) has gone missing from her desk and becomes suspicious. She tells Isobel and Dr. Clarkson about the situation, admitting that she can’t prove that he took it, but doesn’t know who else might have. Isobel doesn’t seem to believe that he did it at all, but Dr. Clarkson is a bit more suspicious. He says the problem is there’s just no proof either way.  Violet agrees that she won’t sack Pegg just yet, but they’re going to have to keep an eye on him. Isobel sticks up for Pegg again, which only makes me eyeroll a little bit harder at her apparent refusal to help out with the Mosley situation when he’s someone who worked for her and that she actually knows! This storyline is sort of pointless other than the fact that it provides the opportunity for Isobel and Violet to bicker, and for Maggie Smith to get off some great one-liners.

Anna and Bates Work It Out. After his Extreme Bullying session with Mrs. Hughes, Bates ends up crying in the hallway to ostensibly remind us that he is a human with feelings and not an aggressive, manipulative creep with murderous tendencies.  Brendan Coyle is an ugly crier. Who knew? Bates finds Anna later in the Boot Room That No One Knew Existed Before This Season obsessively cleaning more shoes. “I know,” he simply tells her. He says he knows what happened because he forced Mrs. Hughes to tell him the truth. Anna is suddenly furious, insisting that Mrs. Hughes was wrong to say anything and that it wasn’t her secret to tell. Bates at least does take responsibility for blackmailing Mrs. Hughes into it though, which is at least something. Anna backs up Mrs. Hughes’ assertion that it wasn’t Green and claims that a stranger attacked her. Bates gets all KILL KILL KILL for a second and says that if it was Green then he’s a dead man because I guess there aren’t police in the 1920s or anything. 

Anna says again that it wasn’t him, and claims Bates only thinks it was because he didn’t like him.  She says they can’t know who it was and they have no way of tracing him. Anna says she couldn’t tell him what happened because it would bring him so much suffering, but she’s glad that the secret’s out at least. She says her shame has nowhere to hide now and starts crying and it’s all just so heartbreaking because it’s clear that Anna thinks this is all her fault, and that she’s damaged and it’s just not fair.  She says she’s spoiled for him now and that can never be undone. Bates actually steps up to the plate for the first time this season, insisting that there’s no shame to be had in any of this, and that Anna has been made a higher thing to him because of what she’s been put through. (Again, we need to have a talk with Bates about feminism and how putting women on pedestals takes away their agency just as much as anything else but since I expect Anna needs to hear this right now, I’ll let it go.)  He says he’s never loved her more than at this moment.  They’re basically both crying now, and it’s very sweet. Anna finally just breaks down sobbing on Bates’ shoulder and even though I can’t get behind this OH NOES WE HAVE TO STOP BATES FROM MURDER plan it’s very cathartic to see Anna finally get to process some of her pain. The poor thing.

Alfred’s Cooking Exam. Alfred goes to London to take his test from the Edwardian version of Tom Colicchio, an obnoxiously pompous Frenchman who keeps asking him questions that he doesn’t know the answer to. Alfred does his best though and pleads his case to the instructor about how much he wants to change his life. Sadly, Alfred’s best is not enough though, as he receives a rejection letter in the post a few days later.  On the plus side, the letter does say that he did well, and that he actually finished close to the top four who made it in, he just wasn’t quite there. Everyone’s sympathetic and offers Alfred words of encouragement to try again later , except for Jimmy of course, who only seems to be on this show anymore to flirt awkwardly with Ivy and be rude to Alfred.

And – because he’s the only other character with Edith-levels of bad luck – this is exactly when Molesley shows up, having decided to take the footman position after all. Carson, who is being rather stupidly vindictive at this point, informs Molesley that there’s no position for him anymore because Alfred’s not actually going off to cooking school. He also says really such a pity he didn’t accept the job when it was last offered to him, because sometimes Carson is literally the most petty person in the world. 

Ending Montage Time! Oh, wait, not really, that’s Mr. Selfridge’s patented trick. But we still have a lot of quick scenes to sort of wrap up this week’s episode. Mary – wearing that coat that looks like men’s lounging pajamas – goes with Tom to tell Drew that he can stay on his farm. She finds out that Robert fronted the farmer the money to stay and thinks her father is a very decent person. Anna goes to see Mrs. Hughes, where they reaffirm their decision to keep the truth about Green from Bates, and Anna tells her that she’s moving back to their cottage. Mrs. Hughes is pleased that if she’s damned her immortal soul by swearing on a lie, then at least it was for a good cause. Daisy is skipping about the house with a permanent smile on her face because Alfred’s not moving to London, so let’s all get excited about many more hours of this pointless pining and romantic drama. Mrs. Hughes tells Bates she’s pleased they’re putting everything behind them and Bates gets all KILL KILL KILL again and says that he’s definitely not putting it behind him, insisting that nothing about this situation is done with. Ominous evil-sounding piano music starts up in the background, so we all know for sure that Bates is talking about Doing Very Bad Things when he finds out who attacked his wife.

Well, this episode was a bit all over the place wasn’t it? Some fun plotlines, some dull. I’ll be interesting to see where we go from here. What do you all think about the Bates plotline? Are you happy that Anna finally told him? Are you looking forward to see him trying to figure out who her attacker is or apprehensive? 

Lacy Baugher

Lacy's love of British TV is embarrassingly extensive, but primarily centers around evangelizing all things Doctor Who, and watching as many period dramas as possible.

Digital media type by day, she also has a fairly useless degree in British medieval literature, and dearly loves to talk about dream poetry, liminality, and the medieval religious vision. (Sadly, that opportunity presents itself very infrequently.) York apologist, Ninth Doctor enthusiast, and unabashed Ravenclaw. Say hi on Threads or Blue Sky at @LacyMB. 

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