THE DOWNTON ABBEY DISH – Downton Abbey Season 4 Recap: Episode 4 (aired 01/26/14)

Fashion has always been well employed on Downton Abbey as a storytelling tool, helping to define both characters and undercurrents. And so it is interesting to watch as the season progresses and we move on from the deaths of Sybil and Matthew, how the clothing gradually changes, like autumn leaves, from mourning blacks to purples, and then slowly onto other colors. Whether for good or for bad, the one thing one can always count on is change…

Tracks of My Tears: The Man That Got Away:
It’s official: Lord Dreamboat is engaged to the Honorable Mabel Lane Fox and Mary’s smile looks out of place. It’s only later that we see her wiping a secret tear as she is alone and writing a letter to congratulate the happy couple. But she should take heart because everyone knows that anyone with three names has got to be a serial killer, which means that Lord Dreamboat will be back on the market sooner rather than later (as long as she is caught and Lord Gillingham isn’t one of her victims. Small details.). We need to get Sherlock on this one. And anyway, look who just popped in; it’s old possibility Evelyn Napier! He wants Mary to know he’s been thinking about her since ‘that ghastly business’. Which ghastly business? There are a few options he could be thinking about on that score. He’s out their way on a mission for the government, looking to reconnoiter and recanoodle, studying landed estates in trouble, right there in River City (but he can’t say which ones). Might one of them be the estate owned by Lord Gillingham? Will we find out Gillingham was in over his head and saw Mary as his Cora and that’s why he proposed so quickly? That’s my question. But Mary doesn’t ask that. These Crawley girls never ask the important (cynical) questions. As Mary sits with Tom and ponders how different her childhood was from that of newly rediscovered little George and Sybbie, a governess who can teach a credible class in Cynicism 101 would not go amiss here. But forget about that, with live men thin on the ground, and having already let the last one get away by hesitating a beat too long, Mary throws herself at Napier, as much as Mary does. One would think Napier would have learned his lesson the first time she threw him over for Pamuk, but like Icarus, he cannot resist flying too close to Lady Mary. One cannot imagine this ends well.

Top Chef Ripon: Cupid Draw Back Your Bow: 
Alfred’s quest to be all he can be continues as he auditions for a coveted spot in the school of famous French chef, Monsieur Auguste Escoffier. FYI: Among the real Monsieur Escoffier’s many inventions was the dessert Peach Melba, created in honor of opera star Nellie Melba who sang at Downton Abbey in that infamous episode two weeks ago, and Melba was hired to sing by Lady Cora, who is played by Elizabeth McGovern, who was in the movie She’s Having a Baby with Kevin Bacon; which makes Alfred’s Bacon Number either 4 or 6 (I’m not exactly sure), though one good full English could lower it down to one, I think (again, not sure). Unfortunately for Alfred, he flunked the oral exam, so he’s back at Downton just in time to ruin Molesley’s chance at demeaning himself with a new job. And suddenly Ivy admires him. Result! But like Molesley, is she too late? Has all of Daisy’s careful tutoring helped Alfred to see the savory?

The Spy Who Loved Me?: Papa’s Got a Brand New Hag:
New ladies maid, Miss Baxter, is a big hit in the servant’s hall with her newfangled electric sewing machine and her solicitous demeanor. Little does everyone know that she’s a Trojan Horse. After some initial confusion that had Lady Cora thinking Baxter had served her a glass of plutonium on her breakfast tray, and Daisy fearing she’d be turned into gingerbread or sewn to the table (or something like that), everyone has started to like Baxter, exactly as evil genius Thomas had planned. Yes, his plans for total world domination are moving right along at an easy clip. Baxter is grateful to spymaster Thomas for getting her the job, and he knows why – but we don’t. Who is she anyway, and how does Thomas know her? And what is with all this “I-need-to-know-every-little-detail-no-matter-how-small” business? What exactly does he think is happening upstairs that matters so much to him? Is he working for British Intelligence? Or for the tabloids? Will she comply and tell him what he wants, to know or does she have her own agenda? Is there even anything to know anyway? 

Farm Aid: This Land Was Made For You and Me:
Lord Grantham is a study in shades of grey: Just when we’ve finally decided that he’s an unmitigated putz, he goes and does the decent thing and reminds us of why we liked him in the first place. No, he’s not Simon Legree. That’s Mary’s job. After the death of one of Downton’s tenant farmers, Robert responds to an appeal from the farmer’s son and allows him to come home and inherit the family tenancy. Given Robert’s track record, one would have thought the most successful appeal would have come from the farmer’s daughter, but I digress…The farmer’s son says the magic word and wins £50 to pay off his father’s debt on the books (in 2014 American money that’s about $2,200). That magic word – “partnership” – allows Lord Grantham to fancy himself more of an egalitarian than he actually is. But be that as it may, Lord Grantham and his pet Socialist, Isis, I mean Tom, are in agreement on this one, and thus a line of serfdom that has plowed the fields of Downton since George III lives to fight another day.

The Outsiders: Deliver Deletter Desooner Debetter:  
With Edith chiming in, ‘welcome to the club’, from the hallelujah chorus, suddenly both Isobel and Branson declare themselves to be not of this realm. They realize they are not Crawleys or Ladyships. Their feelings of not belonging make them wonder together if there is a place for them in the scheme of things in Greater Downtonia. With Isobel, this may mean nothing more than remembering her do-gooder roots and doing things like pressuring the Dowager to employ the son of an impoverished single mum (which, naturally, goes pear shaped). But with Branson, this could mean upping sticks completely and moving to America, where the faucets run with orange juice and Sybbie won’t be labeled the daughter of an uppity chauffeur. He and Mary have formed a real friendship and support system though; is that enough to keep him at Downton? WWSD (What Would Sybil Do)? Edith, on the other hand, has her own worries: It’s been a while since Editor Charming donned his lederhosen and took off for parts unknown and apparently there are no post offices in Germany. Has he vamoosed? We don’t know, but we do know that while Edith claims she’s going into London to visit Editor Charming’s offices, she is, in fact, visiting the Crawley gynecologist. Is this just family protocol, to always visit this doctor in secret? Or did Editor Charming leave her with a lovely parting gift? And what kind of gift would it be: One that requires penicillin or burping? Neither is a good option, especially not for Edith. To his mind, Lord Tevye has tolerated a lot from his daughters, but this could be the thing that makes him go tilt.

Reunited and It Feels So Good: Sort of: 
Am I crazy or has there been a lot of shoe polishing going on lately? But forget about that – this just in: Bean spill on aisle five! It’s a good thing the Germans never got as far as Yorkshire during the war because Mrs. Hughes does not hold up well under interrogation. As we begin, Bates emerges from the cottage alone as Anna, up in her single room, is still using make-up to cover her bruises. He’s getting nowhere in trying to find out why his marriage has disintegrated. Anna doesn’t respond to requests for explanations from Bates or Mrs. Hughes (or Mary, for that matter). As Anna tells Mrs. Hughes, she knows him and she knows what he’d do, which begs this episode’s question of the week: What happened to the guy who, just last season, she never doubted and defended so fiercely; the one who could never commit murder? Has she come to think something different? After eves dropping, Bates gets the 411 from Mrs. Hughes (or most of it anyway). She resisted, but after he played the nobility card and says he’s leaving even though he’s been happier at Downton than he had any right to be, she breaks open like a pinata. Lady Mary must have employed the same tactic to find out that Anna had returned to living in the attic. We know she’s been concerned for Anna and must have asked Mrs. Hughes if she knew what was wrong. But back to Bates and his happier-than-he-had-any-right-to-be: There he is with that self-esteem issue again. I just hope that at some point we find out what that’s about. Why would he think he doesn’t have the right to be happy? What did he do? We never found out why he went to jail for Vera; was it because he had previously gotten away with something and so felt it right and proper to volunteer for a vacation at His Majesty’s pleasure? Or was it just a vacation from Vera? I may be barking up the wrong tree here, but John Bates has always left us with more questions than answers. I say let’s get Sherlock on this one as well. Bates and Anna reconcile and while some of her fears are allayed, others are confirmed. Bates cannot get either Anna or Mrs. Hughes to admit it was Green, especially after saying that if it was, ‘he is a dead man.’ But does he know? When I get a bit angry at hearing Anna, as she relays the news to Mrs. Hughes, compliment Bates as being ‘generous of spirit’ for understanding that she was the victim of a crime and not shaming or blaming her, I have to remind myself that it’s 1923. And what about Bates’ anger: Is it selfless or selfish? Is he seeking justice for Anna or for himself? I don’t know, but for now I do know it is good to see the old PollyAnna starting to come back to life, though her tsurises haven’t disappeared completely; they’ve merely been transferred onto Mrs. Hughes, and it ain’t over. No good deed goes unpunished and so it seems that now she is the one lumbered with keeping pit bull Bates on a leash. But wait a minute: Why does Bates have to try to kill Green anyway? Why not let serial killer Mabel Lane Fox do it? Two problems solved at once (or is it three? I’m not exactly sure). You’re welcome. To (mis)quote the great philosopher Yogi Berra, ‘It ain’t over ‘til the scary Bates music stops singing.’

Dowager Countessdown (Madam Dowager’s best zingers from each episode):

It’s So Nice To Have You Back Where You Belong! And just like that The Dowager Countess of Grantham is back with a vengeance; sparring with Isobel, and cracking herself up in the process – oh, how we have missed her! 

5. “The last boy went off to a frightfully grand rectory.”

4. “The one thing we don’t want is a poet in the family.”

3. “Wars have been waged with less fervor.”

2. “Nobody cares as much about anything as you do.”

1. “I wonder your halo doesn’t grow heavy. It must be like wearing a tiara around the clock.”

So what do you think Downtonians? Have you got any ideas as to what the answers to my questions might be? Or do you have questions of your own? Pour yourself a cuppa and join in the discussion! And when you’re done here, please stop over at A Sherlockian Synopsis and join in there!

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