TV review

Downton Abbey’s Extremely Polite Class War: Season 6, Episode 4 Recap

The Daily Beast

January 25, 2016

Lady Edith sniping at Lady Mary, Barrow back to being evil, Branson’s twinkling charm (though now with added carbs; someone keep that man away from the Ben and Jerry’s), and the return of servant Gwen: suddenly the old times were new again in Downton Abbey.

Lady Edith snidely wondered—how we’ve missed her snide wondering—what her sister would do now Branson was back, as he was Downton’s agent before his departure to America.

Meanwhile, the steely, though goodly, Mrs. Baxter was asked by the police to testify against what appears to be the show’s next villain on the horizon—a man who seemed to have cast a spell on Mrs. Baxter and other women as he parlayed his own life of crime—the gentleman is a devil, Mrs. Baxter said, though of what shape and devilry we know not yet.

The stout and even more goodly Mr. Molesley quoted Edmund Burke at Mrs. Baxter to encourage her to open her bouche to the authorities, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

My favorite line was Mrs. Bates, who to her husband noted of the police visit that it made “a nice change” it wasn’t for one of them—it has now been nearly a month since one wasn’t charged wrongfully with murder. A Downton record.

Branson was banging on about his big take-home from America, where “the hard-working man can go right to the top,” and how stuffy and unmeritocratic Britain was in comparison—but not for long, it was posited.

Downton sure is packed with spookily accurate crystal balls, while Branson’s newly neutered class consciousness was as if the very-lefty Jeremy Corbyn had banged his head, and woken up, spouting the merits of Thatcher-era class mobility.

Another sudden, if temporary, rise downstairs: Barrow was relishing being Mr. Carson while the latter was on his honeymoon, ordering the staff about, and enjoying them standing for him when he entered the room.

He didn’t want Molesley or Baxter’s pity, two who can see through his vicious facade.

This episode of class conflict was exacerbated by Daisy’s grating griping on behalf of Mr. Mason, who she wants to take over the lease of that farm on the grounds.

Daisy was convinced Lady Grantham had betrayed her. “You couldn’t be harder on those potatoes if you had accused them of spying,” Mrs. Patmore, the cook, noted.

And, of course, the endless who should run the hospital saga droned on to no conclusion but a few entertaining sparring matches over drinks, with added Henry Talbot action. He’s back to wanly seduce Lady Mary.

His pallid seduction routine is strange because he is quite hot, and also, allegedly, a race car driver. (Lady Mary had to tell Talbot to flirt with her at a London club: come on man!)

He was with his aunt, Lady Shackleton, who said she would not take sides between Isabel and Violet over the hospital (sensible move), and whether it should remain local and self-operating, or become part of the bigger health authority.

(Can I bear to sketch this plot knot endlessly? I cannot. Next week, I will say it is about owls.)

Lady Mary thought it odd Talbot was a race car driver, but then people did such odd jobs, she said; she had met a man who imported guinea pigs from Peru.

Lord Grantham’s stomach is still rumbling menacingly, setting up either a storyline involving a gigantic tapeworm, or he’s cooking up an Alien-style creature in there.

Gwen the servant, who—longtime fans will remember—Sybil had helped to become a secretary, came back to Downton, the wife of John Harding, “a self-made man.”

This theme of escaping one’s past and shaping one’s future and destiny was crystallized by her arrival. The servants knew her, of course, but now she was an ‘upstairs’ guest—they predicted correctly no-one would recognize her, because they don’t look at servants in the face. (That was piercing, even if Downton is full of such intrigues, everyone’s always looking sat each other’s face.)

Branson recognized her, of course, and her belief in bettering herself, and upsetting the order in the best way, is shared by him.

Gwen spoke passionately, and to the support of the Downton sisterhood, about the need to educate women, until Barrow, on maximum evil, informed everyone she had been a housemaid. Lady Mary bridled (why? plot convenience maybe—it made no sense), while everyone else applauded her for her advancement in life (Lady Edith said the aristos had been in the wrong for never addressing her properly while was there).

Bates castigated Barrow, and told him he was jealous, which is why he had set out to humiliate Gwen.

Gwen told the Crawleys of the now-dead Sybil’s kindness, and in yet another class-crossing visit downstairs Daisy again pleaded for Mr. Mason with Branson. Lord Crawley told Barrow he didn’t care for his “lack of generosity.”

Later he told Barrow people were loyal to Carson because he was kind—and to think about that as his own hour to leave Downton approacheth.

Barrow wasn’t being a total asshole: he wondered to Baxter what he was doing any more; Baxter said they were all trying to get through life as best they could. He told her she was stronger than she thought. And that he wasn’t impervious to everyone’s disapproval: he cared what people said about him.

Baxter feels “ruined” because of her thievery; Molesley tried to tell her the experience had made her stronger.

“You are your own worst enemy,” Baxter told Barrow.

“If I am, I’ve got competition,” Barrow retorted, quite rightly. It really was zinger central in Downton, Sunday.

Violet, when not scything others down to size, went totally Tea Party in her last ditch attempt to save the village hospital for the village’s own running, going on about the invasiveness of the State until “individuals’ wishes are nothing.” The Magna Carta protected great families, she added.

Violet’s eruption of garbled sounds at people disagreeing with her was an all-too audible signal of her distress at change, and things not going her way.

Given even a slither of happiness for her must always be imperiled, Mrs. Bates got an ache ‘down there,’ leading to a convoluted trip to London to the Harley Street doctor to check if she was miscarrying the baby she thought she couldn’t carry anyway, but she is, and hadn’t yet told Mr. Bates about.

She wasn’t miscarrying, and when Mr. Bates realized she was up the duff they were happy, and hugged.

They were happy.

We left Mr. and Mrs. Bates happy in an episode of Downton Abbey.

How long can this last? How long can we stand it?

Gwen’s visit set off a bout of everyone thinking what their lives had become and been about, even Lady Mary. In the end Branson and Cora decided Mr. Mason could have the farm, even though it made no financial sense. It was, as creator Julian Fellowes emphasizes in every story, the right thing to do.

Daisy almost picked a career-ending, worker-uprising themed fight with Cora before realizing all this—but luckily did not, and might be the subject of the affections of the hot junior butler Barrow fancies, a city boy who wants a new life in the country. Mr. Mason told her he was “at the gates of paradise” at his new farm, thankful to Daisy for “rescuing” him.

Goodness, even as annoyingly as Daisy’s is vocalized, is always repaid in this very moral universe.

Violet was not happy about having to go downstairs for the great Mr. and Mrs. Carson ‘welcome home’ party.

“Have you got your passport?” Isabel wondered.

“I’ll need Ariadne’s thread to find my way out,” Violet said.

To Lady Edith’s plan to find a woman editor, Violet balked at all the feminist support it aroused, and wondered if this would all end with such madnesses as a female Pope.

Shock: Lady Mary defended Edith, and said it was a good idea.

Not a shock: when cousin Rosalind said that had been sweet, Lady Mary sneered: “A monkey will type out the Bible if you leave it long enough.”

Phew, that detente had lasted all of eight seconds: week in, week out, Julian Fellowes’ bitch lemonade is sparkling.

To everyone’s happiness, Mrs. Carson would remain, in name only, Mrs. Hughes, as—puzzlingly—the idea of saying ‘Mrs. Carson’ seemed an expectation too far to meet to everyone at the House.

It’s not really that difficult a proposition, but it was a reminder—in this episode where class positions, life destines, and upstairs and downstairs blurred the most they ever have—that Fellowes’ true impulse is that everyone should know their place, and order is best kept rooted in tradition.

Still, it was telling in the final scenes that Fellowes believes some change must be embraced.

They featured Mr. Carson taking one last sad look at his now-vacated single man’s room, and then removing his name tag from the door, as he and Mrs. Carson went to take up residence at their marital home.

Finish line coming nearer, change is tinkling, just like the upstairs’ bells in the ‘downstairs’ kitchen. The tantalizing, overarching question is: who will end up where?