Downton Abbey, Season 4, Episode 4
Directed by Philip John
Written by Julian Fellowes
Airs Sundays on PBS
There are many highs and lows to be counted in this week’s episode of Downton Abbey. While some characters win and others lose, it is a rewarding installment in most regards. It reminds us why we still love the Crawleys even after all their snobbishness. And one of the wittiest highlights of the Downton back-and-forth, the Isabel/Violet rivalry, is renewed with a vengeance.
Robert’s attachment to the past has often been his Achilles’ heel, but this week it turns out to be his saving grace. When his tenant passes away, Robert is moved enough by the loyalty of the family and his sense of tradition to loan the surviving son the money to pay off a longstanding debt even though taking the land for his own would be more beneficial to the family. It exposes a decency in Robert often ignored and reinforces the concept that the past makes a good map by which one can look to the future.
The Dowager countess is prickly as always this week, and it’s thrilling to see some of that prickliness directed back at an old target. The interactions between Isobel and Violet have been softening over the last few episodes, but finally we faithful viewers have a chance to watch them square off once again. Isobel’s do-gooder nature starts to grate on Violet once again when she attempts to secure a position for a needy townsperson on the Dowager’s garden staff. And when a priceless pen knife goes missing and the newly hired help stands the most likely culprit, the feud fires up anew with nary a missed beat of snarkiness between the two old rivals. While it has been a sweet respite to watch the two older women walk side by side down common ground, the barbed exchanges they swap this week demonstrate a vital component that makes the Downton formula so successful.
The Bates drama finally finds its boiling point. Mr. Bates learns of Mrs. Hughes involvement in Anna’s secret, so he goes to the housekeeper with an ultimatum. From her he learns what happened, if not the truth about the perpetrator. The revelation draws out an often unseen side to Bates’ personality, one we were privy to during his stint in prison but not really since then. There is a force of will behind his protective nature toward his wife, one that is frightening and dangerous and even supports Anna’s fear that he could kill whoever harmed her. When Bates says at the end of the episode that things are far from over, his chilling delivery is foreboding and paints his very likeable character in a discomfiting light.
A lot of this week’s writing appears to be reminders, to remind us why Bates is still a force to be reckoned with, why Lord Grantham is still to be admired, and why you don’t want to trifle with the Dowager. Other than the introduction of a new character, the pleasant and possibly pitiable Mrs. Baxter, not much new business gets handled. So despite presenting little to no new information, these events succeed in holding one’s attention and baiting the hook for next week.