This review contains spoilers.
I don’t think Downton Abbey wanted to go. The season four finale seemed loath to say goodbye, returning ad-break after ad-break to dish out a bit more plot and then a bit more, like a toddler slowly and solemnly distributing Lego to a group of tolerant but bemused adults. Its never-ending story took in two secret missions, five budding romances, three marriage proposals, and quite possibly, a murder.
The big news was that rapist Green is no more, him having gone the way of a used chip paper and ended up wrapped around the wheel arch of a Piccadilly bus. Did Green fall or did Bates push him is the question Downton Abbey wants us to spend between now and Christmas pondering. Moreover, do we blame Bates if he did?
That last point’s quite a challenging concept, which must be why Lady Mary’s syntax struggled to cope with it. Her coded attempt to untangle the ethical implications of Bates having possibly murdered his wife’s rapist was so impenetrable that if Bletchley Park start recruiting early, they could do worse than to snap her up. In her words, if a person did a thing that was very bad and then someone else did a thing that was also very bad but perhaps less bad because they did it (if they did, in fact, do it) to the person who was bad in the first place; is it still a bad thing? No wonder she’s confused.
Thank Heavens Mary didn’t try that little poser on her mother, who’d already lost her beautifully bovine demeanour due to having more than the customary three items on her To Do list (1. Beam at things, 2. Be entirely oblivious, and 3. Beam at things whilst being entirely oblivious, sometimes wearing a tiara). The annual church bazaar (a sort of Woodstock with jam) was the cause of Lady Cora’s distraction, and this year’s answer to the cricket match and garden party of previous series finales.
A church bazaar it may have been, but there was romance and not holiness in the air. Mr Molesley and Miss Baxter hit it off after his Thor-like display on the strength-o-meter (“It’s all in the arms”, as deadpan treat Kevin Doyle explained), Branson and new squeeze Sarah Bunting flirted over a tray of pansies, and Mary was languorously beating them off with a jewelled stick, her handsome cow-lick admirers finding any excuse (salmon fishing, fake conferences, dead servants) to return to Downton and throw their coats over metaphorical puddles for her.
Which of her desire of suitors will Mary end up with? I vote Mr Blake; he’s the most Matthew-ish of them all, and he can hold a baby for five minutes without packing it off to boarding school or wiping fox blood on its face, which, for a Downton male, basically makes him Supernanny.
The sexy bazaar was also the backdrop to Cora and Robert’s lusty reunion, a scene which, by rights, should have been in slow-motion and accompanied by a giant, hair-blowing fan and Gary Wright’s Dreamweaver. Lord Grantham had made a surprise return from the colonies after doing his bit in the Teapot Dome Scandal (the Wikipedia entry to which Penelope Wilton and Maggie Smith did their level best to make sound like dialogue early on in the episode). Was Paul Giamatti with him? Was he heck. We’re promised our long-awaited introduction to troublesome Uncle Harold in the Christmas special, which, according to this week’s episode, will be set at Rose’s coming out ball.
Will Edith’s little secret be wearing lederhosen and practising political neutrality by then? Or will Downton pull an old favorite, and have Mr Gregson appear out of nowhere to finish a moving duet of Yes! We Have No Bananas with her while the baby’s head crowns? Fingers crossed for a happy ending for the Crawleys’ middle child.
Rose showed her true colours this week, both as the worst liar in Yorkshire (though the aforementioned Edith, by reacting to even the most banal of questions this week with the look of a bush baby who’d just been propositioned by a randy crocodile, did give her a run for her money), and ever the selfish teen. Rose was no more a passionate defender of racial integration than the Dowager Countess was a passionate defender of the French – we Brits do love a bit of fluffy xenophobia – revealing herself to have been using her relationship with Mr Ross to rile her parents. Luckily, he was a proper gent, and crooked to the intense racism of the day by breaking off the engagement. After a heap of hand-wringing between he and Mary about the cruel world in which they live (hand-wringing, once again, that ensured none of the Crawleys came out looking the least bit racist. Well, maybe Tom. A bit), jangling Jack, having enjoyed Rose’s dreams, bowed out.
An engagement that didn’t even get that far was Alfred’s rejected proposal to Ivy. Despite leaving for good three weeks ago, Alfred has yo-yo-ed back and forth to Downton with more regularity than East Coast Rail. The Abbey may be closed to visitors from now until Christmas, but that won’t stop Alfred. See if Ant and Dec don’t read aloud a mail announcing he’s in the vicinity of The X-Factor studios next Sunday, and would anybody mind if he just popped in to say hello?
Daisy, meanwhile, had put the cork of magnanimity in her and Alfred’s bottle by making amends through the medium of rolls and cheese and ham and jam and pickles. Atta girl, perhaps next series a nice delivery boy will catch her eye and we’ll see Daisy do more than just thump pastry, pretending it’s Ivy’s pretty face.
On the subject of pastry and violence, how long will the did-Bates-do-it storyline be strung out this time? It must be the noxious effect of breathing in all that trunk polish in series four’s new locus of activity, but the Bateses don’t half communicate in a frustratingly elliptic way. Just ask him if he did it Anna, and if he says yes, shake his hand and let’s be done with the whole thing.
Line of the episode goes to Lady Rosamund, who approached Branson with the mentally scarring image, “I gather you’ve launched into pigs these days”, though that was closely rivalled by Violet’s evocative “like a sloth underwater” simile and Molesley’s tender confession to having felt fragile his whole life, poor pal.
We’ll give the final words on the series to Mary, whose verdict on the tenacity of one of her suitors neatly applies to the fourth run of Downton Abbey as a whole. “Both irritating and beguiling in equal measure” was what she said. Nicely put, your ladyship. Nicely put.