Downton Abbey series 4 episode 6 review

Review Louisa Mellor 27 Oct 2013 - 22:10

There’s a surprise at the Abbey (but still no Paul Giamatti) in this week’s gentle, enjoyable episode…

This review contains spoilers.

In the end stages of any faltering relationship, when it’s all but dead and buried and the mental dividing-up of belongings has begun, a destabilising flash of what first brought you together can blow in from nowhere. Are we making a mistake, you think, chucking all this in? We used to be good together, didn’t we. Didn’t we?

This week’s Downton Abbey was just that sunny moment, a visitor from days past whose reappearance reminded us why we were so keen to wrap Downton’s cosy duvet around ourselves in the first place. It was so stuffed with familiar old standards - the Crawleys being confronted by the twentieth century, Violet and Isobel butting heads, a scandal brewing at the Abbey, Carson trumping about toast and etiquette, Mary being snide to a house guest - that it brought back the froth, vim and glamour of the early antebellum episodes. For the first time in a long time, I was back under Downton’s slightly suspect, you-know-you-shouldn’t-really, chocolate éclair charm.

Who couldn't be cheered by a frisky Mrs Patmore shivering over Rudoph Valentino and wanting to jig about, provoking a censorious Mr Carson to emit a jowl-shaking bass-note so resonant it must have emptied the Abbey's dovecotes? Or by Mr Molesley, a photocopy of a photocopy of an Alan Bennett character, entering Carson's man-cave and asking to plunge down the ladder of preferment? It's just that kind of fond, low-stakes silliness we first came to Downton for, and this episode had it, and much more, in good supply.

The non-Carson portion of this week’s gentle comedy came from Lady Violet and Isobel. It not being cricket of the Dowager Countess to lay into a grieving mother, we’ve had to endure a temporary ceasefire between the two of late, but thankfully hostilities have now resumed. Defending the honour of cap-clutching McGuffin, Pegg, Mrs Crawley set about solving the case of the missing paper knife. That the resolution - her finding said object down the back of a Chesterfield - lacked narrative tension shouldn’t put ITV execs off using this plot thread as a backdoor pilot for an Isobel spin-off. Solving entirely tension-free crimes could be her USP. Sock missing from the dryer? Someone taken the last biscuit from the barrel? Call Crawley; she’ll sort it and give you a high-horse lecture on social justice to boot.

The episode also boasted a touching goodbye, as lanky streak of virgin Alfred trekked off to learn about bouillabaisse at The Ritz, leaving Daisy bereft and Downton’s lowest-hanging chandeliers breathing a sigh of relief. Fare thee well, Alfred, you and your expressive chin acting will be missed. He leaves an elongated hole in the Abbey behind him.

Though it’s not the way of things once people leave the Abbey, it would be fun to check in on Alfred’s fish-out-of-Yorkshire progress in future. (Will he, for instance, befriend a canny rat who believes anyone can cook?) Like the tantalising prospect of detectives searching for Edith’s missing baby daddy in 1920s Munich, it’s hard not to feel that the really exciting stuff is going on off-stage.

Not that the Abbey doesn't have excitement of its own. That came in the form of Jack Ross, a cat amongst racist pigeons. (Fact fans might like to know that Ross was singing I’m Just Wild About Harry from the show Shuffle Along, the first Broadway hit with African-American writers and performers, so we’re double bubble on race taboos being broken – ta Wikipedia.)

Ross’ appearance at the Abbey was an exercise in euphemism. Like an extended game of Mad Libs, the many racial epithets that would no doubt have been employed above and below stairs to refer to the handsome band leader had been replaced by a single adjective: ‘odd’. “Who is this singer and how did he get here. Isn’t it rather odd?” asked Edith, with Carson noting it was all “an odd sort of thing to be happening at Downton”. Disingenuous it may be, but the censorship is entirely understandable. Like a nip-happy dog that’s been seen to, writer Julian Fellowes has lopped off the Crawley family’s offensive bits, leaving them with only confused grins and a two-step with which to express their discomfort at the ‘oddness’ of the situation. Imagine if he’d allowed them to let rip with all the authentic colonial nastiness of the period. They’d never get another Radio Times cover for a start.

For all the Yank heiresses, revolutionary chauffeurs, middle class lawyers and newspaper editors the Crawley family has welcomed to its bosom, Rose and Jack’s romance is likely to be the trickiest. Not only is Jack black, but he’s American, and a nightclub singer; an unsuitability storm that could only be made more perfect were he also a Jewish Communist woman with trenchantly opposed views on intensive pig rearing. 

Speaking of imminent scandals, though the news was a shock to Edith, it was fun to see her receive her pregnancy test results on a silver salver delivered by the butler, instead of crouching over a pee-drenched stick in the lavvy (or, in the case of the understairs maids’ results, screamed by a witch into a boot, or whatever system the lower classes relied on back then).

What else? It was date night for the Bateses, who were given two prettily lit scenes to talk through “it” (the rape every bit as euphemised as Mr Ross’ ethnicity). The victory over the snobby maître d’ would have been more fun were their situation not so awful to begin with, and it’s difficult not to feel that two such likeable characters could have been spared the indignity of their “somewhere special” being Lady Cora’s “frightful hotel”, even if it was. “I’m not a victim. That’s not who I am” will be Anna’s GIF moment for this week’s Downton Tumblrs. It’s just a pity she was made into one to stimulate headlines and ratings this series.

A genuine pleasure in the episode was the nursery scene between three of Downton’s widowed spouses. Tom, Isobel and Mary's declaration that they, having known giddying, all-encompassing love, were the lucky ones, was simple, warm and affecting. Mary may not be ready to be happy yet, but with a new enemy with whom to butt heads in Charles Blake, odds are on that she’ll be in another clinch before long. Will she end up with the persistent family friend, the dishy viscount (due a return next week), or the “traitor” who’s got her so riled? I’ve a feeling it’ll be the chap she can’t stand. I think I saw a rom-com once where that happened.

To end on a note of particular joy, this week saw the first mention of rakish Uncle Harold (Paul Giamatti), meaning that the stage is being set for his arrival in this year's Christmas special. “That’s the berries!” as handsy Jimmy might say. Quite.

Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, here.

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Disqus - noscript

It's fun watching Mary spark with someone again, but I hope she doesn't end up with Blake. The story is too similar to Matthew, and anyway I love napier, so I'm rooting for him. Mostly, though, I'm just hoping Branson doesn't go through with his plan to go to America...

In another piece of clunking Stateside historical reference, Harry (in a terrible fix) Levinson is going to implicated in the Teapot Dome Scandal.

For some time, I thought that he'd develop a crush on Rose. She seemed to be the young rebel sparkly thing, a frivolous version of Sybil, and I thought that would bring memories. But it turned out I was wrong...

In less than a year now we've seen both racism and homophobia surface to then be quashed because the target of hate turns out to be either subject of a misunderstanding or 'a decent fellow'.

Hats off to the show for attempting to tackle these social evils - but they don't get solved overnight or with a handshake after weeks of tension as Downton's writers seem to think they do.

Why is Downton Abby on Den of Geek - what exatly is geeky about it?

Agree, but....

We all know Downton Abby has very little to do with the realities of early 20th century life, but it's still irritating and wildly unrealistic for the "likable" characters to display mildly 21st century attitudes toward race, sexual orientation, and women's roles. The racism and sexism of that age was both monumental and unquestioned in ways that we can hardly comprehend today. The world was not a Benetton ad, and prettying it up the ugly past is repulsive.

Yeah, Cora asks if they've ever met "this Senator Fall". That would be Albert Fall, a senator from New Mexico and later the corrupt Secretary of the Interior during the even more corrupt presidency of Warren G. Harding. Fall wound up spending a year in jail for taking bribes during the Teapot Dome scandal, which involved oil leases.

The look on Lord Grantham's face when he first saw the singer had lifelong institutionalised racism written all over it. And then he listened to the music. And it was "rather fun". And just like that his racism was cured by the magic of music. Hmmm.

And from the Dowager Countess I expected Cpl Jones style remarks about "fuzzy-wuzzies" and "the whites of their eyes" but she was the most tolerant of them all. It's all, as you say, very 21st century sensibilities, and it jars with the historical setting.

Anti-racism will be the death of Britain and the West.

You couldn't fail to misunderstand me less.

Racism is, and was, one of the worst evils - but pretending it never happened, or could be cured with a good song, is just plain short-sighted on the part of the writers.

Couldn't fail to misunderstand you less? That's kind of wordy and confusing, because I think what that means is that I understood you, which I did. There are different types of racism, and acting unamused when someone of a different tribe moves in on one of your women isn't one of those types of racism that is evil or even hateful. The characters on Downton didn't behave as if they hated the black gentleman. They were a bit taken aback by him, as a black person in England used to be a rarity, but they were otherwise amiable. They didn't think that he should be dancing with or making out with an English woman. That's called group survival, and normal, healthy societies are concerned about that. All the other types of racism are irrelevant here. This race-mixing propaganda is what is truly evil--genocidal even. It was a completely unnecessary, politically correct thing to add into the show, and certainly didn't belong in a 1920s setting. When they do this, it kills the illusion of it being a different period. Your use of terms like "institutional racism" has Marxism and political correctness written all over it. Pretty much every country save the European ones are set up for their own peoples not foreign peoples. Why would any people set up a country for foreigners? When you say institutional racism, what you mean is that the English set up a society for the English, and designed it to keep the English predominant in population and in positions of power. A people would have to be irrational to do anything less than that. Come on, Paul.

Yes it is kind of wordy. Deliberately so. A fan of the English Language or The Foot in Mouth Awards would understand and get the joke right away (hint: It's called a triple negative and was famously used by Boris Johnson to comic effect on HIGNFY).

And it means the exact opposite of what you think. Having read your 'history lesson' I can still, in easier to understand terms for, if you will, the layman, say that you DO misunderstand me.

I've heard the 'group survival' argument many times before and it is far from, as you think, normal. in fact, it's normally the go-to excuse for most racist groups.

I've spent time and spoken with plenty of people who lived in those times and, as sad as it is to admit, racism was rife. They didn't even know they were doing it - it was a part of life, to be wary of and standoffish to people of a different race. It almost fits the Commission for Racial Equality's definition of Institutional Racism perfectly.

By the way - don't tell me what I mean when I say something because you could not fail to misunderstand me less.

What utter tripe. I've heard the group survival excuse used to justify some horrendous acts.

BTW - I couldn't fail... etc. Makes perfect sense - it's paraphrase of a famous quote.

You don't think any group has the right to survive then. THAT is a form of evil racism.

Everyone has a right to survive. I never said they didn't. Everyone also has the right to walk in a room and not be confronted by the sight of shocked faces because their skin is a different colour too.

I don't have a problem with both coexisting.

You really do misunderstand me. Badly. You need to think before you reply. Even better, think and don't reply.

It's actually not a person's right to be accepted everywhere that they go. If you make that a person's right, you're denying everyone else their right to have an opinion. Besides, it's normal to be surprised by things that are different. If you saw a blue deer while driving down the highway, you'd probably be just as surprised.

The problem with your sentiments is that it doesn't allow people to have opinions--important opinions that pertain to their group's survival. If you don't let people have an aversion for race-mixing, and you don't let them act surprised when there's a foreigner in their country, you're demanding that they be indifferent about something that potentially threatens them as a group. One need only look at modern Britain to determine that too much anti-racism has done a lot of damage to a country that once had a unique people and core culture. You have whole areas in the UK that have been ethnically cleansed of English people because of this anti-racism. Denying others the privilege of living in your country is racism--a non-evil form of racism. If a group makes the whole world feel welcome in their country, that group can kiss their existence goodbye.

Your assertion that there was something evil about the way the earl reacted to the black gentleman is just preposterous. He reacted in a normal fashion. Everyone was surprised by him, but they were polite. Your Marxist terminology is fascist and racist, because it denies groups the right to exist. Apply "institutional racism" when you're talking about slavery or apartheid in a mixed-race society, but not when you're talking about the surprised look on a man's face in a homogeneous society. They're two separate things.

I'll say it again - you misunderstand me. Badly. To the point of stupidity and/or hilarity. Possibly both. Each reply is becoming less and less coherent.

I particularly loved the accusation of Fascism!

You really have no clue.

At least I present an argument. You're just being rude and offering no counterargument. I said that your sentiments are fascist, because they are. You've now called me stupid and clueless, which are personal attacks, and a graceless way of admitting that you have no way to refute what I've spoken. That is not how debates work―at least not civil ones. If I have misunderstood you, you have free rein to clarify that your sentiments aren't fascist. To say that I haven't been coherent is ridiculous, coming from a man who writes in triple negatives and incomplete sentences, and doesn't know the difference between a semicolon, an m-dash, and a hyphen. I should point out that I wouldn't have mentioned your grammar and punctuation if you had not have claimed me to be incoherent. You know of what I am speaking, so don't feign that you don't.

You present an argument because you appear to be argumentative and can't seem to let anyone else have the final word and a different view to you.

I never claimed you were incoherent. And attacking my grammar? Really? Childish.

This is hilarious. RoyalAmethyst - give up, you're sounding more and more like a RoyalDickhead with each reply.

First sign of desperation in losing an argument, that is. Attacking the other ones grammar and spelling.

Paul C - Ignore him and he might just go away, if we're lucky.

Just go away RoyalAmethyst. A quick Google of your handle reveals that you seem to revel in causing a ruckus whenever the 'R' word appears.

Best not to even engage moronic trolls like this one.

If you read my comment, you'll see that I did that in response to Paul claiming that I am incoherent, and that he doesn't understand me. If I wanted to attack his grammar, I would have done it in my first comment. It's just seems unwise for someone who doesn't communicate in proper English to call someone else incoherent. Besides, he knows what I am talking about, so his comments towards me are just senselessly rude.

Now you're just lying. You've edited your original comment. Your comment was emailed to me when you made it, and it was as follows:

I'll say it again - you misunderstand me. Badly. To the point of stupidity and/or hilarity. Possibly both. Each reply is becoming less and less coherent.

I particularly loved the accusation of Fascism!

You really have no clue.

There are two types of arguments. Heated arguments and civil arguments. When you started to make rude comments, it became a heated argument. I wanted to have a civil debate with you, but I'll go elsewhere. You can have the last word, Paul. Say what you want to say. Take care.

Firstly, I am a woman. Secondly, this is the handle that I use to discuss race-related issues. I do have other interests where politics are concerned. Thirdly, I came here because I watched Downton Abbey, and as I was curious to know what others thought of the obvious political manifesto that had been thrown into the show. I did not come here to troll. I came to look for opinions, with which, by the way, I am allowed to disagree. It is amazing that I am somehow the aggressor when everyone else is being so uncivil towards me.

Wow. What a loser. Dragging out the old "You edited your comment chestnut." And then the old favourite parting shot of a real loser "Have the last word".

Paul mate, don't give him the satisfaction of a reply. You're by far the better man in this 'debate'.

Man, woman, whatever.

Moronic troll - there's plenty of evidence to suggest the affirmative.

You're very first comment in this whole discussion, in fact your very first comment on this site was to mock one of our members. YOU started this with an obnoxious comment.

No introducing yourself, no polite disagreement - you just went straight for the offence. Did you expect anyone here to take that without getting upset? Us geeks may get into heated debates about films, comics, TV etc but we generally, as a rule, leave personal insults and mockery at the door. And we look after each other when loathsome little trolls come in looking for an argument.

You're welcome to delete your original post (Anti-racism will be the death of Britain and the West.) and everything that followed, including this, will go away with it.

And Paul is right. You are becoming more and more incoherent as you go along.

If you want to be a part of this community then play nicely. If not then find somewhere else to leave your odious comments.

Hmmm. I wonder why that can be...?

"screamed by a witch into a boot"
lol :D

I didn't come here to join your geek community. I came here to discuss Downton Abbey.

Well you've done a bang up job of discussing the show so far. Congrats.

Bongo was on the right track but I think you need to do a little more reading...

BRILLIANT! Where do you get these from? I know a few other people who could use a couple of these sending their way!

Why does Mary have so many suitors and Edith is so unlucky in this matter?

Matthew hasn't been dead for a year and already, Fellowes has men competing for Mary's hand. He couldn't take the time to give her a breather between husbands?

In my opinion this season is reprehensible. I loved this show until this season but now I have stopped watching. I am a black man; In TV shows and movies all I see is black men wanting white women, this is a slap in the face to black women. Is their a plot to breed out the black race?

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