Downton Abbey, Season 4, Episode 6
Directed by Edward Hall
Written by Julian Fellowes
Airs Sundays at 9 PM on PBS
Just last week, Violet accused her adversary, and sometimes friend, Isobel of “running on indignation.” It’s not very often Isobel’s spiteful side overshadows her more pleasant qualities, but her mission to humble the Countess brought out a streak of smugness in the Crawleys’ activist cousin. This week, Violet and viewers get a full dose of Isobel’s exhaustive source of compassion that restores her saintly reputation. It is another rare but not unwelcome moment of tenderness in the tumultuous relationship between these two catty old women. Isobel emerges the clear winner, because their interactions inevitably indicate a winner and a loser, and Violet once again has to swallow her considerable pride. Of course, there’s also a massive sense of relief by the end of the episode when Violet does not die. For a show so found of shedding major characters, the threat of losing everyone’s favorite Dowager was terribly real. Making Isobel the agent of Violet’s recovery is an added touch of sweetness and reminds everyone their rivalry is toxic only on the surface and it’s supported by a healthy bedrock of mutual respect.
Meanwhile, back at the Abbey, the much talked about pigs have finally arrived. The pigs represent the household’s readiness to adapt and diversify to ever-changing economic conditions. In an almost absurdist way, they represent Mary’s sense of pride, so it’s no wonder, and yet remarkable all the same, that she’s willing to get down in the mud with them when they come under threat of dehydration. This temporary abandonment of her primness gives proof of her determination and resourcefulness and brings her fully into Blake’s attentions, who can safely be counted as yet another suitor for her affection. As humanizing as a layer of mud makes the grand Lady, it’s her infectious laughter in her most humbling of moments that solidifies the scene as one of Downton’s most memorable and elevates its significance in a week riddled with plots as melodramatic as a deathly illness and an unwanted pregnancy.
The unwanted pregnancy in question is Edith’s dilemma, and arguably her most upsetting one to date. It’s starting to seem incredibly unfair that every single time the middle Crawley child opens herself up to hope, some horrible consequence beats her back into a state of desperation. Edith has had a hard enough time asserting her worth to a family who too often underestimates her. Imagine how much more problematic things would get with a bastard thrown into the mix. It’s a child she wants, but a future too uncertain for her to face. Thank God for Aunt Rosamund, whose pledge of support and acceptance gives Edith exactly what she needs from the situation, the approval of a senior family member. Edith’s aunt doesn’t entirely allay the girl’s fears or refute the likelihood of her dreary hypotheticals, but her nonjudgmental benevolence is the depressing scene’s biggest saving grace.
Mr. Green’s reappearance begins to confirm Bates’ suspicions about the identity of his wife’s rapist and teases a drastic shift in that storyline. Brendan Coyle’s chilling look across the dinner table conveys volumes of uncomfortable emotions, but it is Mrs. Hughes’ confrontation of the despicable character that gives this episode its best scene. Phyllis Logan has described her character as a busybody, but most will forgive her that peccadillo, especially if it offers us more speeches like the one she delivers here.
The weak link of the night was Rose’s illicit relationship with Jazz singer Jack Ross. It’s unfortunate that their affair boasts very little chemistry. It’s a fault due to a gross neglect on part of the storyteller. Much time and attention is invested in the development of the potential couplings of Mary and her bevy of suitors, but we are lucky to get two scenes in any given episode that deal with Rose and Ross. Whatever interests and attractions brought the two together are left entirely to the imagination, which might be fine for a couple of capricious characters like these two young lovers, but given the risks of an interracial relationship in this era, their union deserves more attention than it has been granted.
This week’s episode most definitely belonged to the ladies. From Mary’s muddy adventure to Violet’s sassy convalescence to Mrs. Hughes’ revelatory confrontation, the women were operating at their peak of their emotive powers.