Friday, January 31, 2014

Downton Abbey, S4, E4: Stupid, Stupid People

That "some stuff happened" is all I can recall.  Various things happened to the different characters, but it's all a bit of a blur, with only a few distinct moments.  Alfred on Top Chef.  Bates threatening Mrs. Hughes.  The guy who brought Pamuk to Downton making a second appearance.  I would end the recap right there, but that wouldn't be fair, would it?

Plot Synopsis

Oh let's see... Edith may be pregnant, given that she claims that she is going to London to see to Gregson's affairs but instead goes to the doctor's office.  No one else in the family cares, and when Edith claims she knows how it feels to be an outcast in the house, Mary snarks at her.  Will those two ever have a real relationship?

Some boring shit happens with Violet and Isobel -- I don't remember.  Something about Violet's new gardener watering in Violet's house and a letter on her desk going missing.  Whatever was the problem, it appears that everything is a-okay in the end.

Meanwhile, Branson feels like such an outcast at Downton that he wants to move with little Sybil to the United States to get a fresh start.  The family is surprisingly sanguine about the idea, and Cora even states that the move would give little Sybil the best option in life.  No one suggests that under their roof, little Sybil would attend the best schools, learn to speak the "right" way, and would have many more advantages than if she and Branson slipped off to the States.  Maybe it's to their credit, but it almost seems out of character.

During this time, one of the Crawleys' long-term tenants dies, and his son comes to town for the funeral.  Since the father had not paid rent for quite some time, Mary wants to take over the lease and farm the land directly.  However, the son has other ideas: he wants to assume the tenancy, and appeals to Lord Grantham, reminding him that the family has farmed the estate for over 100 years.  Lord Grantham decides to help the son pay off the arrears by loaning him fifty pounds, and Mary gives up her takeover plan.

This is the type of thing I wish we saw more of from Lord Grantham.  Not the dolt who loses his wife's fortune by investing it all in shaky stocks, not the dullard who thinks it's a great idea to invest all of Matthew's money in a Ponzi scheme, but a well-meaning aristocrat who thinks that some of the old ways are worth keeping.  These old ways may not be the best financially, but they make people happy, and sometimes that's better.

Finally, Evelyn Napier comes to visit Downton while on other business.  He was the one who brought Pamuk to the house in Series One, and thus was indirectly responsible for the scandal that followed.  When Napier speaks to Mary, he refers to "that ghastly business," but it's hard to tell whether he's talking about Pamuk or Matthew's more recent death.  Regardless, Mary no longer thinks that Napier is boring.

Downstairs, Alfred receives a letter stating that he will take part in the upcoming Ritz examination in London.  He doesn't really go on Top Chef, of course, but clearly Fellowes was influenced by a few cooking shows when he wrote the follow-up scenes.  All of the chefs stand in front of their stations, wearing spotless white hats and smocks.  A snooty French chef grills them in cooking trivia before stating what he wants them to prepare: a four course dinner of fear.

Meanwhile, Carson decides that if Alfred will be leaving Downton to train at the Ritz, he will do Molesley a favor and offer him the open footman position.  However, Molesley is less than grateful for the offer, complaining what a fall from grace it would be for him to be a footman after being a butler and a valet.  Was it ever explained why Molesley had such trouble finding work in those positions?  I know that in the 1920s, fewer people had servants, but surely Isobel or Mary would have given him a good reference.  Surely if even Ethel could find a decent position after the war, sad-sack Molesley could.  Why is Thomas, who has lied, stolen, and sold goods on the black market, allowed to fail upward into the position of under-butler while Molesley, a former butler, is jobless?

Anyway, Molesley hems and haws over whether to accept.  Then the decision is made for him when Alfred narrowly fails the examination and remains at Downton.  Sorry, Molesley.  (Wuh-wuhhhh.)

Speaking of Thomas, instead of being grateful that he even has such a good position, he is looking to create yet more problems.  He installs his friend Baxter in the position of Cora's lady's maid, and though she seems even-keeled and likable at first, of course she's a schemer just like he is, saying whatever she thinks her superiors want to hear.  Maybe the twist will be that she's just playing Thomas and really likes her role.  I'm tired of people being brought on just to scheme.

Mrs. Patmore continues to fear everything modern, a pattern so ridiculous that even Cora calls her on it when she arranges for a new refrigerator to replace the icebox.

Finally, the downstairs plot line with the most weight.  Despite repeated assurances that she is fine, Anna is far from fine weeks after being raped by Green.  She continues to shy away from Bates and live in the Downton main house.  When she goes away on a short trip, Bates corners Mrs. Hughes and threatens to leave forever unless Mrs. Hughes tells him what happened.  Mrs. Hughes responds that his leaving would kill Anna, and swears to tell the truth on her dead mother's grave.  She lies that Anna was raped by an unknown intruder who broke into the house while everyone was upstairs watching Nellie Melba.  Bates isn't fooled, though he initially pretends to be.

He later tells Anna that he knows, and Anna is horrified that she is now "spoiled" for him.  Bates tells her that if anything, he views her as even purer for having endured such suffering for so long.  How very Victorian of him.  Soon after, he tells Mrs. Hughes that he knows Green was really responsible, and that this isn't over.

Again, why do people on this show think that silence solves anything?  Why didn't Mrs. Hughes or Anna tell Bates outright that yes, it was Green, and Anna didn't tell Bates because she didn't want him to hunt Green down and kill him?  Would it have been so difficult?  Is Bates such an animal that he couldn't honor his wife's wish to just leave it alone?  Apparently so.  Stupid, stupid people.    

Other Observations

Mother Mary.  I've been so hard on Mary for having no relationship with Isobel or her son that I would look like a hypocrite if I failed to mention that she held her son in this episode.  It was during a scene with Branson and little Sybil in the nursery, and might I add that it was quite adorable.

Maybe the Twenties Just Aren't That...  It would be very inaccurate to say that nothing happened during the 1920s.  Of course major social changes happened in the 1920s in Britain, the United States, and around the world.  The problem is that one, very few of those changes touch a family like the Crawleys directly, and two, very few can be dramatized well.  In Series One and Two, you had the ideal dramatic situation: it was the End of an Era.  A Sunset of the Empire.  The Eve of the War to End All Wars.  Few things can compete with the drama of a major war and its immediate before and after effects.  As a result, the Crawleys fretting about taxes and modernizing the estate seems a bit dull and underwhelming by comparison.  Even the next major event that affects them -- abolishing entail in 1926 -- has less impact now that Matthew is dead.  That may be part of why this Series has felt so stagnant.

Next Time: Jack Ross returns for Lord Grantham's birthday party. 

The above image is used under the Fair Use Doctrine.

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