Downton Abbey: series 4 episode 5

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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 Philip John. Originally broadcast: 20 October 2013, ITV.

Anna is still refusing to tell her husband why she’s being so distant, Alfred trains for a cookery test at the Ritz Hotel, and Edith makes a secret trip to the doctors…

When is it set? We’ve seriously slowed down now. Early seasons of Downton Abbey took place over a few years each; now, every episode is set just days after the last. So we’re still in mid 1922. It’s been long enough since episode three of this season for Anna to know that her rape hasn’t resulted in a pregnancy.

Where is it set? Outside the Bateses’ cottage. Downton Abbey. Isobel’s house. The churchyard. Violet’s house. The office of Dr Goldman in London. The Ritz Hotel.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Miss Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) is Cora’s new lady’s maid, hired to replace the short-term Edna Braithwaite (who herself was Miss O’Brien’s replacement). She makes an effort with Cora – bringing her orange juice for breakfast, which reminds Cora of her American youth – and uses a thrillingly modern electric sewing machine. Thomas thinks he can get her to be his mole like O’Brien was, but Miss Baxter has other ideas.
* John Pegg (Joncie Elmore) is a local lad whose family are struggling, so Isobel gets him a job working as a gardener for Violet. There’s a bump in the road when the Dowager suspects he’s stolen a knife, but it turns out she simply misplaced it. (John and his mother actually appeared in the version of the preceding episode that was shown in the US. Their scenes were missing from the UK broadcast.)
* Mr Drewe (Andrew Scarborough) is a local farmer at Yew Tree Farm. His father has died owing back rent to Downton, so Robert and the others want to evict the family. But Mr Drewe wants to stay and argues his case. He wins the day – thanks to Robert secretly subsidising him.
* Alfred has a job interview at the Ritz. The sous chef who conducts it is called Arsène Avigno (Yves Aubert).

Best bits:
* Edith is optimistic when the post arrives, but she’s disappointed that there’s no letter from Michael Gregson. Poor Edith.
* Unseen by anyone, Mary’s eyes well up as she writes to Tony Gillingham to congratulate him on getting engaged.
* Edith says she thought Tony was keen on Mary. Mary replies caustically: “Not for the first time you’ve got the wrong end of the stick.”
* The charming scene of Tom Branson playing with daughter Sybie.
* Edith visits London, telling people she needs to go to Michael’s office. But then we see her head for a doctor’s office…
* When Bates says he’ll leave because Anna clearly doesn’t love him any more, Mrs Hughes has no choice but to tell him about the rape… Of course, he doesn’t believe the detail that the man was a stranger and assumes it was Mr Green. He then tells Anna he knows what happened and pretends that the matter is at an end. But he later tells Mrs Hughes that nothing is over and nothing is done with…

Worst bits:
* How the Downton estate is run – which tenants to evict, which land to farm – has become a boringly recurring topic of conversation. At least it stops people debating who’ll inherit the house when Robert dies.
* Also dragging now is Tom’s feeling that he’s out of place at Downton. This week he moots moving to America.
* Alfred applying for a new job as a cook at the Ritz? Where’s the fast-forward button?
* Mrs Patmore is sniffy and dismissive about Miss Baxter’s new-fangled sewing machine. Then – guess what? – snags her apron and needs it fixing pronto.

Real history:
* Robert makes a passing reference to George III (1738-1820), who was on the throne from 1760 until his death (with his son as regent for the final decade due to George’s dementia). Violet does the same with the poet Lord Bryon (1788-1824).
* Robert tells Mr Drewe, “It’s no good painting me as Simon Legree,” when the latter is upset at being evicted. Legree is a slave owner in the 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harrier Beecher Stowe (1811-1896). His name became a synonym for cruelty.
* Alfred wants to work at The Ritz Hotel. On Piccadilly in London, it opened in 1906. If he gets the job he will be working under the famous chef Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935) while his interview is with Arsène Avignon, a sous chef who really did work at the Ritz. 

Upstairs, Downton: “Mrs Patmore,” asks Cora at one point, “is there any aspect of the present day you can accept without resistance?” It’s because Mrs P is unhappy about an electric sewing machine and a refrigerator now being part of her life. It’s reminiscent of Upstairs, Downstairs cook Mrs Bridges, who also had a distrust of modern gizmos.

Maggie Smithism of the week: When Isobel says that Violet cares about the unemployed as much as she does, Violet replies, “Nobody cares about *anything* as much as you do…”

Mary’s men: She reads in the newspaper that her friend Tony Gillingham, who’s been flirting with her over recent episodes, has got engaged and it upsets her. Later, her pal Evelyn Napier turns up on official business: he works for the government and is assessing rural estates’ chances of survival. (He adds that Downton is not under threat.) He says he has a colleague called Charles Blake, who will be staying at Downton soon.

Doggie! Isis bounds into the library at one point.

Review: An episode with a lot going on. Too much, probably. The show’s format has hit peak soap-opera-ness now: scenes are short and terse, and some plots feel short-changed.

Next episode…

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