Downton Abbey Review: Episode Four

(Episode 5.04)

TV Reviews Downton Abbey
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<i>Downton Abbey</i> Review: Episode Four

At the beginning of this season, I complained about Thomas. It’s not that I don’t enjoy his character. I do. His plotting and conniving can be loads of fun. Thomas is always out for Thomas, and the way Rob James-Collier plays him with a hint of vulnerability has consistently made him more than just a one-dimensional villain. He is dastardly in the very best sense of the word.

But here he was, again, blackmailing Baxter, yet somehow remaining in the Grantham’s good graces. It was all so familiar. Last week when he inquired about something called “Choose Your Own Path” and obviously lied about his father being ill, I could barely muster up interest about what he was up to. This week he’s clearly putting some sort of drug into his body and is ravaged by what he’s going through.

The most obvious guess is that Thomas is trying to force himself to become a heterosexual. And the look on Thomas’ face when he told Baxter that no one could help him was devastating and heartbreaking. Here’s a man living in an age where premarital sex is taboo and getting divorced gets you thrown out of your social circle. I’m concerned that the series may be ill-equipped to deal with the subject matter without turning it into just another plot twist, but this has the potential to be a great story line for the series.

At the beginning of the season I was also rooting for Tom and the feisty school teacher (as a side note, why does the series have a character named Tom and one named Thomas? It’s a question for the ages). I’m ready for Tom to move on and find love again but, dear lord, is Sarah Bunting annoying, ungracious and ridiculously rude. I mean, who picks a fight with the host at a dinner party? She’s outrageous, and I refuse to believe that Tom would put up with her nonsense for another minute. But the storyline does seem to be inching towards Tom leaving Downton and the series. “To me it’s as if you’ve joined us and now you’re backing away,” Lord Grantham observes.

The Dowager Countess visits her old Russian beau and we learn that he wanted Violet to run away with him. Violet asks Shrimpie if he can find out what happened to the Prince’s wife. Shrimpie discovers that many of the Russian refugees are in Hong Kong where they’ve become servants, taxi drivers and prostitutes to survive. “I will not suggest which of those callings the Princess Kuragin is most suited,” Violet intones while Isobel wonders why Violet is trying to help the princess, since she clearly doesn’t like her. Violet says she owes the princess, so you know there’s more of a story there.

Mary, who is used to getting what she wants all the time, tells Lord Gillingham that she is breaking off their relationship. She seems to think that will be the end of their liaison. But Gillingham is having none of that. They’ve slept together. Mary has agreed to marry him and that is that. “We’ll get through this together,” he tells her. Mary still doesn’t seem to get the message, and I doubt we’ve seen the last of Lord Gillingham. And because every man is in love with Mary, Charles Blake also makes a reappearance and takes Mary out to dinner. I kind of see Gillingham trashing Mary’s reputation. How about you?

Mary’s not the only one with romantic troubles. Lord Merton surprises Isobel with a very sincere proposal. Isobel agrees to think about his offer, much to Violet’s chagrin. A marriage to Lord Merton would put Isobel on equal social footing with her, and Violet can’t abide that.

The investigation into the death of Mr. Green continues (yawn). But now it’s Anna who is a suspect. When Mary tells Anna to take a note to Lord Gillingham, a plain clothes officer sees Anna and follows her as she goes to the place where Mr. Green died. Perhaps the only thing that will make Mr. Bates tell the truth is if Anna is arrested.

Simon Bricker is back, and again he’s rather boldly flirting with Cora (“I think everything about Downton is beautiful including its mistress”) much to Robert’s dismay. But Robert isn’t helping matters by refusing to believe that Simon actually enjoys talking art with Cora, and values her opinion.

Poor Edith (can we officially change her name from Lady Edith to Poor Edith?) continues to be banned from seeing Marigold and basically resorts to stalking her daughter—and still, no one really notices how sad she is. She’s the Eeyore of Downton Abbey. (“Thanks for noticing me.”) But she may actually find out what happened to Michael Gregson. I’m still hoping for some big plot twist there.

Lord Grantham is slowly agreeing to some of the changes Mary and Tom are suggesting. They will build on Downton but will expand without spoiling the land. At the halfway mark for the season, I’m still waiting for the show to really get going. How about you?

Other thoughts:
• “Hope is a tease designed to prevent us from accepting reality.” That Violet. She doesn’t mince words.
• There were quite a few scenes tonight where the background was decidedly fake (the Piccadilly scenes in particular come to mind), and it was distracting.
• Poor Mr. Mosely. He is so the show’s punching bag.

Amy Amatangelo is a Boston-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter or her blog.