Saturday, February 22, 2014

Downton Abbey, S4, E7: There's Just Something About Mary

I had to use that once.  Now I shall never speak of it again.

This was the final episode of Series Four, before the Christmas Special that officially closes things out.  It was one of the better Series Four episodes, and one of the better Series finale episodes, at least since Series Two.  Nothing earth-shattering happened, but some plot lines wrapped up nicely and there were a few pleasant surprises.

Plot Synopsis

Lord Grantham is still away in America with Thomas, so Cora has the challenge of actually exerting herself for the upcoming village charity bazaar, which seems pointless because half of the people in the village hate the other half.

Even with Thomas gone, Baxter dutifully collects gossip around the house to share with him.  She tries to get Molesley to spill what he knows about the Anna-Bates situation, but he doesn't bite.  Instead, he later asks Baxter if she would like to join him for coffee.  When she refuses, Molesley tells her pointedly that most of the downstairs doesn't like Thomas, but that doesn't mean they automatically painted her with the same brush.  Baxter changes her mind and agrees to coffee.

Meanwhile, the Love Quadrangle Without End finally has the sense to end -- for now.  It begins with Ivy receiving a letter that makes her gasp and flee the kitchen.  Daisy snarks that Ivy just wants people to think that her life is interesting.  Weren't they friendly at one point?  I have this hazy memory of Daisy and Ivy locking arms during last year's Christmas special.  Did I dream it?  Moreover, I don't quite understand the depth of Daisy's hate.  What has Ivy done besides stir her jealousy?  I can't recall Ivy purposely leading Alfred on; rather, he kept pursuing her while she clearly liked Jimmy.  To this point, Ivy's been awfully tolerant of Daisy, but I wouldn't be surprised if she popped off one day.      

Anyway, Mrs. Patmore confronts Ivy later and learns that Alfred wrote a letter proposing to her and offering to get her a job.  Ivy does not intend to accept, not loving Alfred and realizing that she has her whole life ahead.  Though she gives Alfred her answer, he won't take her word and instead comes to Downton to get her to change her mind.  Mrs. Patmore and Ivy try to hide the dilemma from Daisy, but Daisy quickly suspects that something is up, so they confess.  Daisy agrees to go spend the day with her father-in-law, Mr. Mason (yay!), to avoid the pain of seeing Alfred again.  However, Mr. Mason urges her to see Alfred so they can part on a good note... again.  So Daisy returns while Alfred is still at Downton, armed with a basket filled with goods for him to take on his journey.  Alfred tells Daisy that he's been blind to what a good person she is, but rather than fall for him, Daisy simply tells him that she is over her infatuation (that was fast) and just wants to be friends.  Alfred is disappointed, but accepting.  Mrs. Patmore tells Daisy that she couldn't be prouder of her than if Daisy were her own daughter.  Aww.  Though it would be nice if Daisy's personal growth included making peace with Ivy.  

In other news, Isobel encourages Branson to run for local political office, and for that reason they head to a local town, where Branson sees Rose having lunch out in the open with Jack Ross.  They're again being quite affectionate, and strangely no one around them seems to take any issue.  Except for Branson, who is quite shaken by what he witnessed.  He later tells Mary and leaves the room right after, as if to say "you deal with it."  Mary confronts Rose gently, and Rose says a lot of admirable things about being in love with Ross and not buying into the notion of imperial "racial purity."  But then she says she's going to marry Ross, and will be overjoyed to see her controlling mother's face crumble at the news.  So we're supposed to just assume that dating Ross was just another way for Rose to rebel against her parents?  It's not surprising, but it does seemingly invalidate any real feelings she had for him, and any bravery those feelings spurred.

Mary decides to travel to London to visit Ross herself.  While Ross acknowledges that he and Rose are engaged, he states that he never intends to follow through, because he cares too much about Rose to subject her to the social blackballing and ridicule.  Not that she won't receive it anyway eventually.  Sympathetic, Mary tells Ross that if they lived in a more enlightened world, she would never want Ross to give Rose up.  She just won't bother to make that sacrifice now, when there could be scandal and all.  So Mary goes home and breaks the news to Rose, who gets angry and tells Mary she's just like the rest of them and, well yeah.  That plot line fizzled out a bit in my opinion.

If only Mary showed half as much concern for her sister as she showed for her second cousin.  At one point, she snickers at the dinner table about Gregson being missing, and oh my God, fuck you.  Your sister's beloved and possibly future husband has gone missing under mysterious circumstances, and you treat it like a joke?  It's times like this that I miss Matthew, who would have taken her to task for her insensitivity.  Fortunately, Edith has Rosamund in her corner.  Rosamund concocts a scheme to have her and Edith disappear to Switzerland for four months so that they can "practice their French."  Surprisingly not only does Cora buy it, but so does everyone else.  Everyone except Violet that is.  Violet gets Rosamund and Edith to confess the true reason behind the trip, and ends up being supportive of her granddaughter.  However, like Rosamund, Violet thinks that Edith ought to give the baby up for adoption to a Swiss family, rather than give it to one of the tenant farmers, as Edith would prefer.  The less scandal, the better.

As for the Mary plot line that inspired the header, all I can say is boys, boys, boys!  Boys are into Mary!  No matter how many times she says no, they want a yes!  Lord Gillingham returns once again because he has broken his engagement with Mabel Lane Fox, since his heart lies with Mary!  Only now he has competition because Blake is totally into Mary, too!  So is Evelyn Napier, not that he ever stood a chance.  Really, he should have set his sights on Edith long ago, who would have actually noticed him and treated him well.

Lord Gillingham's return actually has a darker story purpose, in that it also marks the return of the loathsome Green.  Finally Anna works up the courage to tell Mary the truth: it was Green who raped her, not a random stranger.  Mary is properly horrified and quickly calls Lord Gillingham to tell him not to bring Green.  Unfortunately it's too late, and Green arrives with his master.  He again pretends perfect innocence while Bates glares at him darkly.  Sometime after Lord Gillingham and Green leave for London, Bates asks Carson if he can take a day off to go to York.  Carson says that he couldn't refuse him a trip to York, since he should have been in New York.  So Bates leaves to go... sight seeing?

Meanwhile, let's get the minor plots out of the way.  Mary's godfather, Lord Merton, comes to visit for some reason or other, and becomes enchanted with Isobel.  During a stroll, he asks her what her son does, and Isobel has to remind him that Matthew is dead.  Yes, I'm that person's mother.  Lord Merton is deeply mortified and later expresses his apology with a nice bouquet of flowers.  Hmmm.

Branson runs into the woman at the political speech -- a teacher named Sarah Bunting -- not once, but twice under random circumstances.  Or so it appears.  The first time, he sees her in Thirsk, where he had also spotted Rose.  The next time, he finds her on the side of the road and fixes her stalled car, while she vents about the Crawleys and their stuffy toffish ways.  Then finally Branson sees her again at the village bazaar with all the other locals.  When Cora passes her by lugging a box, Bunting realizes the Crawleys aren't as bad as she thinks.

Yes, despite Cora's abject terror at having to be proactive, she and many others manage to pull off the charity bazaar without a hitch.  The bazaar is one of those fun affairs that this show seems to have at least once every year, with booths and carnival games.  And lo and behold, who should appear but Lord Grantham!  He wanted to surprise the family by coming back early, since it turned out he wasn't much needed in America after all.  The camera gets all swoopy as Lord Grantham and Cora share a romantic kiss, as if he'd just returned from a war or something.

Of course that also means that Thomas is back, and he wastes no time slithering Baxter's way.  He comes just as Jimmy has tried and failed to hit a bell in a carnival game.  At Baxter's encouragement, Molesley gives it a try, and all of that street paving work must have paid off, because he hits it.  Both he and Baxter are thrilled, but Thomas puts a damper on things when he demands to know what business went on while he was gone.  Baxter is reluctant, and Molesley gives her his arm, telling Thomas that they don't need any bullying brought back from America.  Baxter smiles, and they leave.

Lord Gillingham appears, visibly shaken, and heads over to Mary.  When she was in London, she also managed to visit him and let him know her concerns about Green.  Now Lord Gillingham has come to tell her that Green was killed -- stumbled into the street and hit by a bus.  He seems, perhaps, vaguely suspicious of the close timing between Mary's request and the accident.  Mary is stunned and quickly goes to tell Anna the news.  Anna is desperate to know the details, and appears relieved that there was a crowd of people around.  Later, Anna finds Bates and articulates her fear: you wouldn't do anything foolish to risk our lives together?  Bates denies doing anything, but his satisfied air makes Anna, and the viewer, pause.    

Other Observations

The Moving Camera of Doom.  The Cora and Lord Grantham kiss reminded me a little too much of the Sybil-Tom 360-degree angle romantic kiss from Series Three, just one episode before Sybil's death.  It makes me wonder if Hollywood-style romantic kisses on this show are some sort of harbinger of doom.  Many viewers have pointed out that Cora seemed spacier and on-her-meds more than usual this episode.  It would be pretty amusing if Fellowes were setting up a "Cora has an addiction" plot line, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Baxter and Molesley.  Now that Anna and Bates has worn out its welcome, this downstairs romance holds much more romantic potential, especially since it makes sense for two people worn down by life to be drawn to each other.  Now all that remains is to learn what secret Thomas has over Baxter.

She's Back.  So Martha Levinson will be returning in the next episode because, supposedly, she wants to see one more Season before she dies.  Given her lack of respect for social conventions, that seems like an odd sentiment -- especially when the person coming out (Rose) is someone she has never met and likely has no interest in.

Next Time: The story jumps ahead one year to the summer of 1923.  And yet nothing has likely changed.         

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