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Downton Abbey Review: "Episode Five" (Episode 4.05)

February 3, 2014  |  4:11pm
<i>Downton Abbey</i> Review: "Episode Five" (Episode 4.05)

Last week I lamented the fact that the writers of Downton Abbey have spent a frustrating amount of time rehashing old storylines instead of focusing on the few compelling threads it has introduced this season.

Yeah, we don’t have that problem anymore.

This was the episode that Downton finally blew the lid off of two arcs that will undoubtedly drag its characters into modernity kicking and screaming. The first and (for this week, at least) most glaring was Rose’s romance with Jack, the African-American bandleader who rescued her on the dance floor. By the episode’s end, they’re secretly making out downstairs (and getting interrupted by a clearly uncomfortable Mary), but it all starts when she hires his band as a surprise for Lord Grantham’s birthday. The family is shocked to have a black man in their home, as you might expect them to be, but they all grin and bear it. Only Edith vocalizes her displeasure (“Is it really suitable that Rose has brought this man here?”), which might seem a little bit out of character for her, but she’s got a lot on her mind.

BECAUSE SHE’S PREGNANT. Yep, if you blinked you might have missed that hugely important detail, but the note Edith receives this week is not from her beloved Michael (who is MIA in Germany), but from a doctor she visited in London. “I am writing to confirm my findings of our recent consultation, in that your signs and symptoms are consistent with those of the first trimester of pregnancy,” it reads.

Obviously these will both shake things up at Downton. The family is able to put on a brave face and host a black man in their home—when he’s there to work for their entertainment, that is—and later they pat themselves on the back for being so open-minded, despite making some pretty boneheaded comments to Jack. (“Have you ever considered visiting Africa?”) But an interracial romance? Lord Grantham freaked out when his daughter wanted to marry an Irish chauffeur. We can only imagine how he’ll react when he inevitably finds out Rose and Jack are involved. Will their love survive the family’s disapproval, or will it sink like the boat that carried the other, more famous star-crossed Jack and Rose And a child out of wedlock is objectionable enough to Downton’s inhabitants, but on top of that, Edith is facing single motherhood, assuming Michael is never coming back from Germany. Will she get an abortion? Try to mask her pregnancy? Come clean to the family? We’ll find out soon enough, but any of these options is 10 times more fascinating than the rest of the tired plots we’ve seen so far this season.

Beyond the two obvious “times, they are a-changin’” storylines this week, we were treated to plenty of other minor instances of modern life. Carson and Molesley both swallowed their pride and agreed that he would return as a lowly footman. The Dowager Countess reinstated her gardener and apologized to him after she realized he wasn’t stealing from her. Lord Grantham agreed to go along with Mary and Tom’s plan to not sell Downton’s farmland. Anna and Bates dined at the same restaurant as Cora, and Cora came over, said hello and even offered them a ride home. It was refreshing to see things finally moving forward, but it almost feels too heavy-handed. The show’s spent most of this season trudging through its past, and now all of a sudden its entire world has changed, and everyone, for the most part at least, seems okay with this. I asked for change, and I got more of it than I could have hoped for, but here’s hoping these new plots bring with them the appropriate levels of conflict I’m expecting. We’ve come so far in just a week, and it’d be unrealistic for everyone to just plaster on a smile and start dancing.

Stray observations:
—”We Live in a Changing World” Watch: see above, basically, but also “It seems unusual, but her Lady would tell me that we’re living in the ‘20s so I must try to enjoy it,” “If you wish to understand things you must look beyond your own prejudices,” “Things can happen at Downton that we wouldn’t have dreamed about even a few years ago” and “We’re here to analyze the situation and see if society is changing fundamentally.”
—”Your husband is a brooder, and brooders brood.” Brooder is an understatement, Bates, but at least you’re self-aware?
—”Mrs. Hughes is the one for a secret.” Very true.
—”How you hate to be wrong.” “I wouldn’t know. I’m not familiar with the sensation.”
—Now that Alfred’s got the Ritz job, maybe we can find something interesting for Daisy to do besides moon over him?
—”Just remember you’re as good as any Frenchman.”
—”I want to murder.” Oh Jesus, Bates. Subtle.
—”She runs on indignation.” This is perhaps the most accurate description of Isobel we’ve seen.

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