This week on Downton Abbey, there are two more love interests for Mary, Edith gets some truly bad news, Violet and Isobel continue sparring and Rose throws Robert a surprise party he won't soon forget.
So much happens in this episode, yet so little of it actually feels truly game-changing or important. That seems to be the modus operandi of this season so far. Each individual episode is enjoyable while you're watching, yet is instantly forgettable moments after the credits roll. Perhaps the show is overstuffed with storylines or perhaps it's just an overall sense of directionlessness. In the wake of the major deaths from last season, the show feels a bit adrift.
Nothing, however, is more Downton Abbey than the way the show handles race in this episode. While not completely ignoring the attitudes of the time period when Jack Ross enters the house, the show practically does backflips to ensure viewers know that no one in the Abbey is racist.
The way the show sidesteps awkward racial tension is very British "stiff upper lip," but it is also very disingenuous. It speaks to Downton Abbey's desires to show the British aristocracy as their best selves, even if it means the denizens of Downton seem more and more like characters living in a Disney castle instead of the real world.
It also gets to the root of one of the many issues that has plagued Downton for seasons now, the deus ex machina. Downton has money problems? Look who just died and left Matthew all his money. Matthew can't walk? Hey, it's a medical miracle! We spend all episode dreading the repercussions of Rose's ill-advised party planning? It's cool, we've found the only white aristocratic family in the 1920's that isn't remotely racist.
The show even bends over backwards to let us know Carson and the Dowager Countess, the house's staunch traditionalists, are totally cool. It often feels like the show brings up story threads it isn't remotely interested in exploring realistically, and then disperses with them with a little narrative magic.
It's too soon to tell whether this Jack Ross romance will go that way, but I'd put money on it ultimately going nowhere. While the show has gotten pitch dark as of late, Downton Abbey still remains wish fulfillment at its finest. Reality need not apply.
Three Big Surprises
The first surprise, of course, is Rose's idea for a perfect birthday party for Robert. What in the world would make Rose believe Robert would enjoy having a jazz band play at his birthday party? This is a person who thought it unseemly to sit at the same table as a famous opera singer. Obviously, the only person Rose was thinking about when planning this birthday surprise was herself.
But this wasn't the only surprise for Robert. A letter in the post informs him that Cora's mysterious, America-loving brother Harold has gotten himself into some kind of predicament with oil leases and might need Robert's help getting out of the bind. If I was ever in financial trouble, Robert Crawley would literally be the last person on my speed dial. Robert and money are like oil and water, if oil was constantly losing water and then blaming it on other people.
The last surprise is bound to make life more complicated for poor Edith, who seems unable to ever catch a break. Her true love Michael Gregson has been missing in action since going to Germany. She's conscripted private investigators and detectives, but no one can seem to pinpoint him anywhere.
But that's not even the worst part of the situation. After their night of passion together, it looks like Edith is also knocked up. She finds out from the doctor and starts to cry. The denizens of Downton might be anachronistically understanding about a lot of things, but being an unmarried mother in the early 1920's is probably not one of them.
It's been almost an episode since Mary has had a love interest, so obviously it's time to introduce two more suitors for Mary's hand. The first is Evelyn Napier, who you might remember from the first season when Mary sex-murdered his good friend Mr. Pamuk. Evelyn has brought along his new friend Mr. Blake, who is looking at the effect the deterioration of large estates like Downton is having on the overall economy.
While poor Evelyn is all too eager to get back into Mary's good graces, she once again pays much more attention to his guest. You'd think at this point Evelyn would stop bringing attractive men with him while trying to woo Mary, but apparently poor E doesn't have much sense in the romance department.
Mary and Mr. Blake immediately start arguing about the estate and the future of Downton. If you've ever watched even a second of television or a single romantic comedy, you know this means the two are destined to hook up.
Mary had wanted some advice on the new pigs they got for Downton, while Mr. Blake doesn't think Mary will be willing to fight for the future of the estate. He obviously doesn't know Mary very well. After withering barbs and judging people with her gorgeously terrifying eyebrows, fighting for what she wants is what Mary does best.
Meanwhile, Isobel comes up to visit the children and bumps into Mary and Tom. "I just remembered I have a child," Mary says, barely looking at or touching said child. "So I thought I'd come up and visit." The three have a touching moment about how hard it is to lose the person you love the most. It's great to see these three interacting in such a nice, understated moment.
In general, the combination of Mary and Tom this season has made for some great scenes and moments. Who knew those two would end up making such a great team?
Speaking of Isobel, she's gone back to her social justice ways by proving to Violet that her new gardener Pegg isn't actually a crook. It's a pretty thin plotline to stick these two acting heavyweights in, yet they make it the comedic highlight of the episode. Which just proves the maxim that Maggie Smith can make just about anything entertaining.
Anna and Bates are making strides, but things still aren't all that easy for the two of them. Bates decides to take Anna out to dinner, where a snobby maitre d' makes the mistake of mentioning the Countess of Grantham is also dining at the establishment. Cora rightly shames the man and gets Anna and Bates a great table. "You've made a big mistake. Huge!"
At dinner, Anna once again breaks down and says things will never be the same again. She doesn't want Bates to look at her like a victim, while he's still sick over what happened to her. It's good to see some of the emotional repercussions of what happened to Anna, but it sometimes feels like this storyline is too focused on Bates and not enough on Anna.
Still, it's a great step to see them actually smile at each other again, and watch as they begin to tackle the tough issues they have ahead.
Meanwhile, Alfred gets his dream job at the Ritz, causing Daisy to act like a crazy person some more. Does Alfred's departure mean the end of this tiresome and endless love square that no one cares about? I care more about Mary's flavorless love interests than I do about this ongoing romantic angst, and I don't care about Mary's love interests at all. The only upside of this storyline is that we get to see Mrs. Patmore roll her eyes and be fantastic.
Alfred's departure means Mr. Molesley is back at Downton, even though Carson spends a lot of time pretending he won't hire him back. And Thomas clearly has something bad on the new lady's maid, Baxter, who seems like a good person trapped in a corner.
Thomas using someone for gossip isn't out of character exactly, but it does seem like all the character development from the end of last season has gone entirely out the window. With O'Brien gone and the duplicitous Edna Braithwaite done away with, the onus for being onerous has fallen squarely on Thomas' handsome shoulders. Even if there's no actual motive for him to have devolved back into a mustache-twirling villain.
What did you think of the episode? What will become of Edith? Are you interested to see what they do with Jack Ross? And are you liking any of Mary's love interests? Share in the comments!
Downton Abbey airs Sundays at 9pm on PBS.