Downton Abbey: Series 4 – Episode 7

Alex Straker

This penultimate episode of Downton Abbey’s fourth series is packed full of the tangled, complex social and emotional troubles we’ve come to expect. Unlike some of the instalments halfway through this series, almost everyone is in some state of turmoil this week, and the nation’s favourite period drama looks set to deliver a superb, tearjerker finale, if this is anything to go by.

When Robert makes a trip to America, life at Downton quickly descends into chaos. Jimmy is officially in the dog house following his aggressive advance on Ivy in the last episode. Instead she now has her sights set firmly on absentee heartthrob Alfred, whose imminent return is a source of excitement and angst in equal measure. After years of successful scheming without suffering as much as a sniffle, Violet falls ill and is less than enthused when her rival Isobel takes on the task of nursing her back to health. In London, Edith makes a difficult decision concerning her secret pregnancy. Meanwhile Mary’s attempt to become more involved with the business of Downton once again dovetails with her romantic life.

It’s nice to see that despite her many attempts to pursue a professional career at Downton, Mary’s storyline essentially brings her back to the question of romance and whether she is yet ready to move on after Matthew. After a season of endless moping, skulking and glaring, it’s genuinely refreshing to see Mary actually enjoying herself again, even if it does involve her having a mud bath with her sparring partner in the dead of night (of course, poor Anna is the one that’s going to have to scrub the dirt out of that lovely outfit in the morning).

The pieces are finally falling into place with the Mary/Blake/Gillingham love triangle, and it’s nice to know that she will have a choice of two eligible gentlemen for the finale (it’s inevitable that she’ll be passionately kissing someone before the series ends) – there’s the bachelor she can go horse riding with, or the bachelor she can roll around in the dirt with. Tough choice, that one.

That said it’s possible that either choice will land her in hot water – there’s a hint that neither character has been truly forthcoming with regards to their true ambitions. Do they see Mary or Downton itself as the ultimate prize? It’s possible that whoever the final victor is will be the first man ever to marry a Crawley lady just to get to her swine.

Downstairs, the tension between Daisy and Ivy threatens to descend into name calling and hair pulling at any moment. The cause of the resentment between them is Alfred, who returns this week and is swiftly diverted by the kitchen staff, to rather entertaining effect. It makes sense that they would try to keep Alfred away from the girls (with so many kitchen knives to hand they were probably doing the three youngsters a favour). But it’s clear from their scene this week that Ivy and Alfred have finally set their eyes on each other… Next week, her head will likely turn up baked inside a pie and doe-eyed Daisy will pretend she has no idea how it got there.

The real ticking time bomb is the return of Mr Gillingham’s valet, who is truly one of the most monstrous characters in Downton history. It’s horrible to have to watch Anna endure his presence, and Bates’s epiphany is both a moment of relief and a reason for concern. Without a doubt, next week’s series finale looks set to be one of the TV highlights of the year.

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