Downton Abbey: Series 4 – Episode 6
It’s true that the very best Downton Abbey storylines and developments tend to polarise fans. Everything from William’s demise to that series three Christmas special have generated delight and frustration in equal measures.
So this week’s episode sees the series finally exploring the complex and controversial class and racial issues that have rarely been explored in-depth in previous episodes.
Fellowes and his team have dealt with these issues with a degree of care. It’s a brave series that takes long-established characters audiences have grown to love and reveals underlying prejudices that make them hard to like.
Robert’s birthday is drawing near, which leads Cora and Lady Rose to begin devising a suitable surprise. Proving that the only traditions she sticks to are of the troublemaking variety, Rose embarks on a personal mission to give Robert a birthday celebration he’ll never forget. Daisy’s upside down frown doesn’t last very long; when Alfred is unexpectedly offered a place on the Ritz cooking course, it’s a development that changes the downstairs love quadrangle forever. Thomas continues to perfect his reputation as the Voldemort of Downton, and the long-held rivalry between Violet and Isobel is reignited.
As with the finer episodes of this series, the instalment works well as it explores one central issue (prejudice) across several interweaving storylines, a technique that pulls together numerous independent developments and makes the entire story feel quite satisfying. From the Bates’ rude reception at the restaurant (I really hope they didn’t leave a tip) to the racial politics that erupt at the close, it does a good job of revealing a world that is struggling to address change and diversity. It also offers greater dramatic potential for a series that has maintained much of its interest by exploring the conflicts that can emerge between people of different backgrounds. It offers hope that Downton is unafraid of dealing with the more uncomfortable aspects of the period.
It’s also a return to form for the matriarch wars that Violet and Isobel seem to have been engaged in since the beginning of time. It’s still the most entertaining feud on TV, fuelled by intricate, subtle performances where both ladies manipulate the other characters like chess pieces to serve their own ends. Violet’s insistence that John Pegg is a thief is a nice companion story to the other instances of prejudice found in the episode, leading to a hilarious confrontation with an outraged Isobel (who, interestingly, doesn’t quite come out on top). We’ve seen them squabble endlessly before, but it’s a Downton dynamic that never gets old.
Call me mean-spirited, but the fact that Robert’s birthday shenanigans seemed to develop with little to no trouble left me feeling a little cheated. It would have been hilarious if Rose’s plan had collapsed at the last minute and her guests been prematurely discovered. That said her developing relationship with Mr Ross is one of the series’ most interesting stories. As well as making the Tom/Sybil controversy seem positively tame, Ross and Rose have an obvious chemistry that it will be exciting to explore in coming weeks.
After their reconciliation in last week’s episode, the issues between Bates and Anna remain the most heart-breaking aspect of the show. Is it possible that Bates may turn to Thomas for aid in the near future? It’s true that they’re mortal enemies, but Bates helped Thomas last year when his friendship with O’Brien turned sour. Now might be the time for Bates to turn to him for a favour…Tagged in: Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes
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