Downton Abbey: Series 4 – episode 2
At the risk of angering fans across the nation, I’m going to say it: Matthew’s death may be the best thing that could have happened to Downton Abbey. It’s true that he was loveable, charming and charismatic – but the impact of his death has (somewhat ironically) injected a new surge of life into the series; it has also brought many of the character conflicts that have simmered beneath the surface for some time to boiling point.
This week’s episode sees the discovery of a controversial letter left by Matthew, the climax of Carson’s feud with Mr Brigg, a welcome development for Mr Molesley and a secret romance for Rose.
While the show is definitely different now that Mary and Matthew’s pining for each other is at an end, her character is more interesting in this episode than she has been for some time. It’s great to see Mary stepping outside the limited role of grieving widow. For a moment the series threatens to go a little too far, with the suggestion that Mary could become the sole heiress to Downton being somewhat unlikely. The eventual outcome (that Mary will steer Downton’s future alongside Robert and Tom) is far more interesting – their brief scene towards the end of the episode is a tug-of-war in miniature, and hopefully a sample of the kinds of conflicts that will continue to develop throughout this series.
I must admit that I’ve paid little attention to Rose in previous episodes (she seemed nice enough, just not as dramatically engaging as the other established characters). But this episode changes all that; her unruly nature and the consequences that develop as a result are the perfect balance for Mary and Edith’s more serious stories.
She’s attractive (in the dance hall scene she’s the lady whose beauty launched a thousand fists) and rebellious (Sybil must be smiling in her grave). But it’s in a scene towards the end of the episode that she becomes a truly compelling character. Her reverse Cinderella façade for the man she danced with in the hall (he mistakenly believed her to be a maid) reveals a degree of vulnerability to her that we’ve not yet seen. She goes from being mildly interesting to an absorbing character in the space of one episode.
Of the story strands depicted, the Carson story and the Daisy/Alfred/Jimmy/Ivy drama are perhaps the least engaging. While Carson’s final scene with Mr Brigg is an emotional one, it does little to move the story forward (except to deepen his connection with Mrs Hughes – surely those two are due to declare their undying love any day now?).
Similarly, the downstairs story of unrequited love doesn’t really take a step forward this week, although it does lead to another intimate bonding scene between Daisy and Mrs Patmore.
The reawakening of the Bates v Thomas conflict will be seen by some as an example of the series treading water, but for the most part their feud marks the entertaining return of a classic Downton rivalry. With the departure of O’Brien and the new Nanny still in recent memory, it makes sense that Thomas should feel emboldened to revive his loathing for Bates and Anna. But Thomas may have bitten off more than he can chew – Bates’s intervention in Mr Molesley’s difficulties (on Anna’s behalf) is a humorous but dark demonstration of his devotion to his new wife. It’s the theme that looks set to dominate this series: that the rules governing life on the estate have changed; it’s a lesson that some characters will learn the hard way.Tagged in: Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes
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