This review contains spoilers.
Picking up where Grange Hill left off, Downton Abbey’s fourth run has been the series of Big Social Themes. First there was rape, then there was race, and now comes abortion (not that, in keeping with the English tradition of linguistic whitewashing, any of those three words have yet been uttered on screen). This week saw the return of Anna’s attacker, Lady Rose snogging Jack Ross on the Thames, and Lady Edith pull a Juno by fleeing the abortion clinic and deciding to continue with her socially unacceptable pregnancy.
Jollying up the heaviness of all that was this week’s really big news: the pigs are here! But what’s this? Some of them are dying of thirst? Hey, ITV, that wasn’t the deal. We wanted frolicking piglets and adorable pastoral whimsy, not an Archers Halloween special. No fear though, because Lady Mary and dashing iconoclast Charles Blake were on hand to revive the little blighters (whither the much-discussed pig-man when you need him?). We were even treated to a “saved our bacon” pun, which was evidently judged not at all infra dig for the series. Or perhaps we should say, infra pig. Ho-ho-ho.
Alongside the porcine peril, Lady Mary continued to sort through her suitors like an interwar version of Blind Date. ‘I once spent a night trapped under the corpse of my first lover. How would you make our first date unforgettable? That question goes to number two.’ ‘As a hanger-on hoping you’ll eventually settle for a loveless union, I’d hang on your every word until there’s nothing you love less than being apart from me!’ poor Evelyn Napier might chortle, before going out to the barn to end it all with a hunting rifle. With the reappearance of the much-dishier Tony Gillingham and an about-turn performed by Blake, Evelyn’s competition for Mary’s affection is now stiffer than Cousin Matthew.
Blake went this week from not being under Mary’s spell to mooning at her over that classic dish, scrambled eggs and red wine, and all it took was a racy mud fight and a nocturnal act of pig rescue. Proving she wasn’t a loof (some kind of twenties slang? Couldn’t be bothered to look it up), Mary hauled buckets and dirtied herself like a commoner, which was enough to convince Blake that Downton’s economic future was rosy. (Idea: George Osborne to have mud fight w/ credit ratings agency for triple A reinstatement? Email gov).
Less rosy was the situation of Lady Cora’s rakish brother Harold, which required the Yank-appeasing presence of his Lordship across the “raging seas”. There’s nothing riled Americans like better than English aristocracy, as the War of Independence tells us.
Robert’s absence was the catalyst needed to bring news of Anna’s rape above stairs, as Mrs Hughes (evidently “the one for a secret” only so far as she’s quick enough to divulge them) pressed Lady Mary to allow Bates leave from the overseas trip. Now that Bates has had his suspicions confirmed, reprehensible Green’s days appear to be numbered. Might it be someone other than him who deals the fateful blow though? Mrs Hughes looked ready to kill in that trunk room confrontation, and who’d have blamed her should one of those walking sticks have accidentally fallen on Green’s skull once or ten times? Let’s see Mrs Patmore chop him up for a pie Titus Andronicus-style, or Isis go for his throat to show him what the women of Downton are really made of.
Reports of the Dowager Countess’ imminent death had been much exaggerated, as the old bird was up and at ‘em after a bout of bronchitis re-forged the connection between she and Isobel. Despite looking peakier than the Lake District in last week’s previews and spending much of this week delivering her one-liners in feverish incoherence, Cousin Violet rallied thanks to the help of Mrs Crawley. Praise be. Though inevitable, the prospect of a Maggie Smith-free Downton Abbey doesn’t countenance thinking about.
On the subject of promised departures, lapsed socialist Branson may have stumbled across a reason to stay in England in the form of a politico sweetheart. Though by rights, Tom’s new love interest should have pushed him down the stairs for that cumbersome line about him being “a man in search of a better world”, his being settled should at least anchor him to another series.
Speaking of settling, has Ivy finally decided to give Alfred a go? Jimmy’s under-skirt fumbling and Daisy’s mithering appear to have shown her the error of her ways. Seeing “the Downton heartbreaker” back so soon did detract from the impact of last week’s departure, though it’s good to see our Alfred hasn’t been entirely lost to the world of soufflé, entrecote de boeuf and shine-taking Frenchmen.
The romantic attachments at the Abbey move so quickly it’s as if they’re keeping time with a square dance only the characters can hear. One, two, and change your partner, three, four and change once more. Maintaining a three-episode flirtation (which in Downton terms means they’re practically celebrating their golden wedding anniversary) were Rose and Jack Ross, who celebrated their youth and beauty this week by breaking racial taboos and messing about on the river. Their romance was overshadowed of course by Edith’s moralistic pregnancy tale.
Edith’s story marks her once again as the most hapless of the Crawley sisters (and with a widow and a corpse for competition, that takes some doing). Edith’s predicament is a sorry one, the rich girl counterpart to Ethel’s in series two, though instead of a bastard, surely this one’s technically a love-child? Either way, it’s a secret Edith won’t be able to keep for much longer – especially if Mrs Hughes gets wind of it.
Next week’s episode is our series four finale, after which comes the Christmas special and with it, Paul Giamatti as Uncle Harold. Will Edith spill the beans? Will Rose and Jack elope? Will Mary choose number one, two, or three to take on that all-expenses-paid waterskiing trip to Tenerife? More importantly, will we ever meet the pig-man (goo goo g’joo)? Until then.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, here.