When you live in a changing world, as the writers of Downton Abbey so desperately remind us on a weekly basis their characters do, surprises are a pretty common occurrence. People you thought you had a good read on turn around and change their views. Traditions and attitudes that were once clung to are abandoned as citizens learn to adapt to their evolving surroundings. And, no matter how much you were hoping for it or even expecting it, it can still catch you off guard when it happens.
This week’s episode opened with the unexpected (to him, at least) news that Lord Grantham must leave immediately for America to go help Cora’s scandalized brother. Bates refuses to go, recognizing that he can’t leave Anna while she’s still dealing with the aftermath of her rape, so Mrs. Hughes makes a plea on his behalf to Mary. Mary demands to know what’s going on with Anna and Bates, so Mrs. Hughes tells her, sticking to her “an unidentified man broke into the basement” story. Mary sympathizes and convinces her father to take Thomas instead, which is convenient because it gives Thomas something to do besides lurk around the house ominously.
Meanwhile, plenty of other twists, turns and seemingly out-of-character developments weave their way into the episode. Mary now seems caught up in a love triangle with Lord Gillingham and Mr. Blake, and, consistent with her apparent attraction to men who think she’s a snob, Blake is the clear frontrunner. He and Mary bond as they spend the night desperately bringing water to their dehydrated pigs, who had somehow managed to knock over their water trough earlier. Blake’s surprised and impressed that prissy ol’ Mary is willing to trudge through the mud to save her pigs, and she’s pleased with the realization that he has actual farm knowledge to back up all of the theories he’s been espousing during his time in the house. The Dowager Countess comes down with a nasty case of bronchitis, and Isobel swoops in to care for her. When she comes to, the Countess is surprised to learn that Isobel never left her side while she was ill.
But the biggest twist of all is Aunt Rosamund’s reaction to Edith’s pregnancy. Despite being so outraged when she first discovered Edith had spent the night with Michael, Rosamund is extremely supportive, even offering to go with her to the doctor to get an abortion. When Edith decides to keep her baby at the last second, Rosamund helps her weigh her options and asks if she wants her to be there when she tells Cora. It’s all very unexpected, this unconditional love, especially coming from Rosamund. It’s good that Edith has an ally, but she’s not out of the woods yet; it’s obvious she doesn’t plan to tell her family any time soon, and there’s still the looming question of whether or not Michael’s dead. We learn this week that he signed into his hotel in Germany, went out and never returned, which doesn’t seem to bode well for him, but I haven’t yet ruled out the possibility of him showing up at Downton in the season finale. The writers seem to have at least one more surprise up their sleeves when it comes to this storyline.
While Edith’s plot is compelling, we’re still being dragged through the storyline that refuses to die: Anna’s rape. When all appears to be resolved—Bates will stay at Downton by his wife’s side—the couple is handed one last shock as Lord Gillingham drops by the estate for a surprise visit, with his rapist valet by his side, of course. He joins the rest of the servants at the dinner table, and Anna’s visibly upset by his presence. When he boldly announces he was downstairs during the opera singer’s performance, Bates appears to have put two and two together, staring him down with a contemptuous gaze. This plot has overstayed its welcome, and it’d be wonderful if Bates would just let it go and tend to his wife instead of seeking vengeance. But that would be a real surprise.
—”What do you know of such vulgarities?” “I’ve been married. I know everything.”
—It was nice to see Thomas and Jimmy interacting again for once. It seems as though they’ve remained friends after everything that transpired between them last season, although of course none of that has been addressed this year.
—From the looks of things, Rose’s romance with Jack will play a more central role in next week’s episode, but their brief scene in London this week was pretty adorable.
—”We Live in a Changing World” Watch: “They think nothing needs to change and God will be upset if the old order is overturned.”
—The woman Tom sits next to at the political event seems to be a new potential love interest for him. Glad to see he has something to do besides worry about purchasing pigs.
—”I’m not aloof, am I?” “Do you want me to answer truthfully, or like a lady’s maid?”
—Alfred’s surprise visit to Downton was totally unnecessary. Why bring back a storyline that only resolved itself a few episodes ago?
—”I refuse to be shocked.”