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Downton Abbey Review: "Episode Four" (Episode 4.04)

January 27, 2014  |  12:42pm
<i>Downton Abbey</i> Review: "Episode Four" (Episode 4.04)

“Nothing is over. Nothing is done with.”

Just when it looked like we were finally done with the cruel-and-unusual storyline dealing with the aftermath of Anna’s rape, old Bates had to turn around and yank the rug out from under us at the end of this week’s Downton Abbey, growling to Mrs. Hughes about how he’ll find out who was responsible and probably murder him.

But first, let’s take a few steps back. A lot transpired this week, but all of it felt fairly inconsequential compared to the Bates/Anna confrontation, which came about after the former overheard Mrs. Hughes begging his wife to tell him what had happened to her. Now armed with the confirmation that there’s something Anna isn’t telling him, Bates gives Mrs. Hughes an ultimatum: she tells him what’s going on, or he hands in his resignation and leaves forever, never to see poor Anna again. Mrs. Hughes wisely realizes she’s backed into a corner—she can’t sit idly by and watch a marriage crumble over something that was neither party’s fault—and she tells Bates what happened. But there’s a catch: knowing Anna’s fear that Bates will seek revenge against her rapist and wind up back in jail, she concocts a story about an unknown man sneaking into the house and swears on her mother’s grave that Lord Gillingham’s valet had nothing to do with the attack.

The subsequent confrontation between Bates and Anna (where Anna corroborated Mrs. Hughes’ story) was very well-acted, and at first it appeared to mercifully wrap up this storyline with a little bow. Anna admitted she felt “spoiled” for Bates, and he assured her that she was as beautiful and pure as ever. They shared a hug, she wept and it looked like this whole thing was over and done with—until that last scene. It seems pointless to keep dragging this out; Anna and Bates have been through enough. Having him do something stupid and get carted away to prison again is a dull prospect, and the only alternative is having him search fruitlessly for several weeks, which feels like a pointless dead-end.

The rest of the episode served to introduce new plots that will presumably lead somewhere, but for the time being, it remains hard to care where. Mary and Tom debate with Lord Grantham over the future of a tenant’s farmland after his father passes away, and Lord Grantham sides with the farmer, secretly loaning him money to help stay. This is supposed to be an unexpected development, but if we know anything about Lord Grantham, it’s that he’s a slave to tradition, so his desire to keep the farm in the hands of the same family it’s always been in seems like a no-brainer. The Dowager Countess is convinced her new gardener is stealing from her—because I guess they need to give her something to do on the show besides toss around pithy barbs. Alfred takes and fails his exam to become a chef in London—because I guess we need him to stick around for a few more weeks of the wholly uninteresting Daisy-Alfred-Ivy-Jimmy love rectangle. Baxter, the new lady’s maid, seems to be settling into everyone’s good graces, thanks to Thomas’ tips, and it’s hinted that these two have some sort of history we don’t know about and that Thomas is cooking up some sort of scheme—because I guess now that O’Brien’s gone, Thomas needs something to do this season besides smirk at nannies. But really, who cares about any of this?

Downton Abbey seems intent on beating old storylines into the ground or introducing new ones that bear a strong resemblance to past seasons, when it should be focusing its attention on the few compelling threads it has introduced in recent episodes. Carson’s past, Rose’s flirtation with a black bandleader, Edith’s relationship with Michael—save for the latter, which is briefly alluded to, there’s nary a mention of these. Just let the old stuff be done with already.

Stray observations:
—Big week on the “We Live in a Changing World” Watch: “The world moves on, and we must move with it,” “Is there any aspect of the present day you can accept without resistance?” “If we don’t respect the past, we’ll find it harder to build our future.”
—The fact that Edith can’t get ahold of Michael is a very bad sign. Let the poor girl be happy already!
—Tom’s toying with the idea of moving to America because he doesn’t feel like he fits in at Downton or in Ireland anymore is another tired, pointless story that feels like it’d be more appropriate for season three.
—”Is there anything I ought to know about London?”
—Molesley is another character the show obviously doesn’t know what to do with anymore. Will-he-or-won’t-he-be-hired-as-a-footman isn’t exactly a reason to keep tuning in.
-”I know Americans often drink orange juice in the morning, so I thought you might like it.”

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