Downton Abbey: series 4 episode 2

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SPOILER WARNING: Plot points will be revealed in this episode-by-episode discussion of ITV period drama Downton Abbey.

Written by Julian Fellowes. Directed by David Evans. Originally broadcast: 29 September 2013, ITV.

A letter Matthew wrote before he died turns up, saying his intention was for Mary to be his sole heir – so she flexes her muscles in the running of the estate. Meanwhile, Mr Bates tries to help Molesley, Jimmy and Alfred clash over Ivy, and Lady Rose takes Anna to a tea dance but it ends with a punch-up.

When is it set? Circa Spring 1922.

Where is it set? The house and the estate. Violet’s house. Isobel’s house. Michael Gregson’s flat in London. York Dance Hall. Downton train station.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Sam Thawley (Johnathan Howard) is a bloke who chats up Lady Rose at a local dance. Later, thinking she’s a servant, he turns up at Downton looking for her. Quick-thinking Anna gives Rose a maid’s outfit so she can speak to him.

Best bits:
* Mr Molesley continues to be a fascinating character. His appeal is partly because of an interesting performance by Kevin Doyle, but it’s also because he goes through so many dramas: he’s a character who’s rarely settled. This week, Anna finds him working as a labourer and in severe debt. So Mr Bates arranges for some cash to fall into his lap.
* Annoyed that Mary now has more power over the estate, Robert embarrasses her in front of everyone. Knowing she won’t be able to answer adequately, he says: “There’s a question of using empty farmyards as new sources of revenue. I’d like to know what you feel about that? Crop rotation? Livestock versus cereals? Or indeed the whole matter of the tax.”
* Anna visits Rose’s bedroom and Lady R is playing jazz records. Hashtag the 1920s! Rose’s comedy subplot is a highlight of this episode. When posing as a servant, she even tries to adopt a northern accent.
* In Michael Gregson’s flat, when Edith says she has a train to catch, he asks her to stay and puts a hand on her knee. She’s clearly tempted, but shakes her head. “I will say this,” she adds, “it’s getting harder and harder to say no.”

Worst bits:
* Matthew has been dead for more than half a year, yet only now are his personal possessions from his old job being sent to his widow. This is handy, however, as hidden in a book is a letter Matthew wrote soon before he died. In it he says he wants Mary to be his sole heir. Quite why a healthy, wealthy young man would write this down and hide it, rather than just make out a will, is difficult to fathom. It’s *yet another* example of Downton Abbey’s reliance on the ‘it turns out a dead character said something really important just before they died’ cliché.
* Thomas is shit-stirring. Again.

Real history:
* Jimmy reads in the newspaper that actress Phyllis Dare (1890-1975) is due to perform at York’s Theatre Royal in The Lady of the Rose, “which was the hit musical of the London season.” She was one of the famous Dare sisters; the other was Zena (1887-1975), who by 1921 had married a nobleman and retired from acting. Both sisters lived a long life and died within a few weeks of each other.
* When Michael says he wants to become a German citizen (so he can divorce his wife), Edith says the Royal Family “convulses the nation by ceasing to be German.” King George V changed his family’s name from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to Windsor in 1917.

Maggie Smithism of the week: Violet wants Tom Branson to teach Mary about the estate… without Robert finding out. Mary says that’ll be risky. Violet: “There can be too much truth in any relationship…”

Mary’s men: She’s understandably shaken when given Matthew’s letter, though is touched and reassured when she learns its contents. After the family solicitor has had a look at the letter, he says it shows “testamentary intention” (ie, it’s as a good as a will) so Mary does indeed now own half of Downton Abbey.

Review: Thankfully the entertaining subplots – the sweetness of Bates helping Molesley, Edith’s romance with Michael Gregson, Lady Rose’s rebelliousness – overshadow the leaden stuff with Matthew’s letter and yet more young-servants-fancy-each-other scenes.

Next episode…

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