Downton Abbey: Series 4 – episode 4
If only the walls of Downton Abbey could speak. There are secrets, smooches and betrayals this week (it’s a wonder the employees find the time to get any work done). It’s another solid hour of TV as well as a noticeable improvement on some of the earlier instalments of this series. When Anthony, Lord Gillingham leaves Downton with his entourage, Mary is forced to confront the conflicts between her grief and her attractions. Anna makes a difficult decision, Lady Rose attracts some interesting attention in London and Tom has to face the consequences of his entanglement with Edna.
It’s frustrating that after making such a strong impression in this episode, Edna appears to have been written out of the show. She’s at her most scheming and manipulative this week, stepping up her advances on Tom and trying to force him into agreeing to marry her (if she’s pregnant with his child). It’s a chilling scene, in which she effectively graduates from intermediate troublemaker to full-on bunny boiler mode; it leads to a war of words with Thomas. They were two peas in a pod not long ago, proof that alliances for him are as brief as Daisy’s rest breaks. So it’s disappointing that after such a strong build up she swiftly hands in her notice. Although it’s humorous to see that the Lady’s Maid role has become the Defence Against the Dark Arts position of Downton. Will she be back at some point, possibly with a playmate for baby Sybil in tow?
The ever-brilliant Mrs Hughes is on top form once again, somehow managing to fit in an unofficial counselling side gig alongside her housekeeper duties. From her intimate heart-to-heart with Carson (it only took one very, very tiny glass of alcohol to get him spilling his innermost feelings), to her admirable support of Anna she was efficiently used to draw together several emotional subplots. Of course it’s her stand against Edna on Tom’s behalf that was her real moment to shine in this episode. Here’s hoping they’ll continue to utilise her to strong effect in future stories.
The disintegration of the Bates/Anna relationship is agonising to behold, anchored by two strong performances that say most about the characters’ fragile mental states during their many awkward silences. It’s clear that this is the storyline that will dominate their story arcs this series and possibly even beyond that, and it makes for incredibly painful viewing to see them both in such distress. It’s an impressive example that after several series, Downton is still capable of dealing with difficult issues and illustrates that the series still has a great deal to say.
Although we all want her to find happiness, there’s still something uncomfortable about Mary’s romantic encounter with Anthony Gillingham, who can’t seem to stay away from Downton or the grieving lady who will be steering its future. It’s undeniable that Gillingham and Mary have that certain spark, and it’s only a good thing that this week sees the re-emergence of her uniquely sharp, quick wit. That said, the development of Gillingham’s attraction towards her is a little too fast (Matthew’s corpse is barely cold), and it’s difficult not to wonder whether his motives are of an ulterior rather than a purely romantic nature.
Ultimately it’s a memorable episode held together by the sense of regret that is quickly overtaking many of the central characters; by the end there’s an overriding feeling that there are many dark events on the horizon.
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