Downton Abbey series 4 episode 4 review

Here's Louisa's take on this week's Downton Abbey...

This review contains spoilers.

Known for letting the odd anachronism slip through Downton’s net (“Screw you losers, I’m outtie” declared Daisy memorably at the village egg raffle in series two), creator Julian Fellowes went so far as to theme this week’s episode around the recently coined term ‘slut-shaming’. Mrs Hughes slut-shamed Edna for interfering with poor Branson, Daisy slut-shamed Ivy for being too fast with Jimmy, and Lady Rosamund slut-shamed Edith for finally getting her end away in her London love pad.

The men of course, remained unchastened for their part in proceedings. Jimmy, with his hedonistic fringe falling so rakishly over his forehead this week it very nearly achieved sentience and its own spin-off, wasn’t at fault for kissing Ivy. Nor was Edith’s beau for causing her to do the six am walk of shame in her stockinged feet. Branson – deserving the least blame of all, mind – spent the episode swollen with regret, and by the looks of things, attempting to burn an escape portal in the breakfast-room tablecloth using only the power of his mind.

Least chastened of all was rapist Green, who sat and ate breakfast next to his victim confident in her silence. More about him, and her, later.

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Lady Cora, meanwhile, was doing the opposite of shaming Mary’s burgeoning relationship with Mr Gillingham (she fills his brain don’t you know). Cora had the Wile E. Coyote glint in her eye of a woman scheming to stuff her firstborn into an Acme cannon and launch her directly onto a wealthy heir’s penis. “If my lady has finished with her wealthy penis cannon,” you could hear Edna saying as she tonged her ladyship’s tresses, “would she be so kind as to let me borrow it?”

Not on your Nelly, Edna. It’s curtains for you and your social-history-lesson copy of Marie Stopes’ Married Love. Sly Edna had constructed a multi-step plan to ensnare a husband with means, and thus to escape from service. Step one was to get Branson drunk and have her way with him; step two was to feign pregnancy so that he’d put a Crawley family ring on it. Step three, presumably, was to have a smug-off with Thomas in the boot room about who’s better at evil schemes.

It’s Thomas, as it turned out, the villain who once masterminded a promotion by locking a Labrador in a shed. Barrow’s grip on Downton is tighter than that of the moss clinging to the Abbey’s brickwork, and just marginally less clammy. With the manipulative witch sent back to Hogwarts, he took steps to install another partner in crime in her lady’s chamber: Teachers’ Raquel Cassidy. How long will this new addition last? Well, as Cora Crawley’s ladies’ maid position is fast becoming Downton’s Defence Against the Dark Arts vacancy, I’d give her a fortnight before she brains herself tripping over a sleeve press.

Back to poor Branson, who was in such a glump about his having drunkenly diddled the maid that his conscience was making him drop hints so heavy he may as well have just mimed the unspeakables performed by he and Edna mid-dialogue with Lord Grantham. “The tax office will simply have to [slobber, slobber, squeeze] agree to our repayment schedule [smooch, tickle, grope] once they [pinch, gasp] see our [thrust] revised [thrust] crop [thrust] rotation [sighs] plans”.

Luckily for Branson, it’s not the Downton way to be too inquisitive, despite the best efforts of those with a personal mystery to pique the interest of their loved ones. It must be a household game they play: people keeping a secret in Downton Abbey have to speak in a series of deliberately vague attention-seeking Facebook updates, while everyone else faces the challenge of showing no curiosity whatsoever in response. “I think I may have just done something I’m going to regret for a very long time” said Mary. “Oh” said Branson, before driving off. “Sometimes a one-sided love can go on too long” said Mrs Patmore, “…” replied Daisy.

On the subject of this week’s dialogue, Phyllis Logan was given a particularly nasty job in delivering Mrs Hughes’ lines to Edna about forcing a doctor’s examination upon her. “I’ll lock you in this room and then hold you down and tear the clothes from your body if that’s what it takes” she threatened, which was an extraordinary turn of phrase in light of Anna’s rape. The parallel can’t have escaped Baron Fellowes – nobody, least of all the writer of Gosford Park, can have that cloth-like an ear – but the mind boggles at what could possibly be gained from the implicit comparison.

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A similar clunker occurred after Joanne Froggatt’s tremendous performance in which Anna explained her feelings about the rape to Mrs Hughes. After being advised to get away from it all in London, Anna replied, “There can be no break from it” half a second before… an ad break, for Tesco’s Finest no less. Hopefully, it went unnoticed to the majority, but for those it didn’t, the affecting scene was undermined by the jarring punch-line effect. Isn’t there someone who looks out for clangers like that?

Froggatt’s extremely moving performance aside, the rape plot is being played out with characteristic Downton simplicity. Though its terrific actors are more than capable of depicting it, Downton Abbey’s scripts are rarely a source of nuance or complexity, and this is one such example. As Mrs Hughes put it, Anna was “attacked by a violent, evil man”, a black-hatted, moustache-twirling villain who appears to have no conscience about his actions, going so far as to crow to Carson that he “shall remember this visit for a long time to come”. To parrot a horridly misleading phrase of recent times, the Downton rape was depicted as rape-rape. Evil man plus golden-hearted victim plus violence equals a rape story that may momentarily shake viewers awake, but won’t loosen their entrenched attitudes to attackers, victimhood and blame, which clearly isn’t the goal here. 

On to lighter matters, there was more trouble in the kitchen, as Jimmy (he wants to be free, to be free to do what he wants to do, and he wants to get loaded, and he wants to have a good time) tried to get a bit of the other from Ivy. Daisy, with the piercing eyes of a bird of prey in a bonnet, is less a character these days and more a machine for glaring. Cheer up Dais, you’ve been tasked with tutoring Alfred to win his place at Monsieur Escoffier’s school of scoffery and I’ve two words for you girl: sauce making. If you don’t at least get a fumble in the boot room from that sexy scenario, then perhaps it is best altogether if Alfred does leave.

With all its regional accents, childish spats, and mother hen advice, Mrs Patmore’s kitchen has had the air of a CITV soap youth club of late. Let’s just hope nobody goes paintballing.

Lest we forget, we also met Gary Carr’s new character, bandleader Jack Ross (he reminds Carson of a young Lenny Henry), a revealing encounter that, like seeing your childhood dog with an erection for the first time, reminded us that the Downton toffs aren’t just adorable playthings, but also horrible creatures with disappointing habits.

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“It’s such aeons since we had any fun” said Rose this week. Quite. Mary’s “bucket” line aside, fun has been pretty thin on the ground. Just where is Paul Giamatti when you need him? I’m more happy to chip in for his steam liner ticket if it gets him here any faster. Anyone with me?

Read Louisa’s thoughts on the previous episode, here.