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Episode 4 of Downton Abbey was sort of a reset after many of the early season story lines were resolved in Episode 3. Now that Edith will not become the nurse for the crippled Sir Anthony, Matt has agreed to not only accept Reggie Swire’s inheritance but also to invest it in Downton, and Mrs. Hughes has been given a clean bill of health Episode 4’s job was to set up what happens now that all of these things have been resolved. What was delivered was a fairly uneven episode that, especially in comparison with the previous episode, felt flat and a tad uninteresting.
First and foremost it seems as though Lady Edith has rebounded nicely from her wedding debacle. She spends most of this episode trying to figure out what to do with her life now that her chosen future has not been realized. After going to her grandmother, the Dowager Countess, for advice and inspiration she decides to write a letter to the newspaper about universal suffrage. Much to the dismay of her dad, Robert, the letter was published. This is yet another storyline that shows the divide of the 1920s between generations. Even though the Dowager Countess suggested Edith take up a hobby she never expected her to write into the newspaper, let alone her writing to be published, and she makes sure to express her displeasure along with Robert. Hopefully Edith has finally found her calling and it should be interesting to see how her world views end up butting heads with her father’s views.
The main drama for Episode 4 came from Tom’s fleeing Ireland and his unexpected arrival at Downton, without Sybil. Tom had to flee Ireland as he had been a conspirator in the burning down of a house, the inhabitants of which were of course linked to the English government. He had to flee as quickly as possible which meant he had to leave Sybil behind. Robert displays a rare explosion of anger towards Tom when he first finds this out. Robert goes into London to work a deal so that Tom will not be arrested although it comes at the high price of Tom and Sybil not being able to return to Ireland. During Robert’s time in London Sybil arrives safely at Downton. Tom’s only character trait is his need for Irish independence however, so it sure seems like there will be many arguments, at the very least, regarding this topic as Sybil nears the birth of their child.
Now that Matthew has saved Downton with Swire’s inheritance Robert suggest he takes a look at the expense books to see if he can make any improvements. Unfortunately for Matthew he finds that there are many improvements to be made to the running and maintenance of the estate. He does not want to enter into a power struggle with Robert over how to run Downton but it seems as though he cannot just let his findings go unheard. Robert immediately brushes Matthew off in regards to the running of the estate so Matthew must turn to the Dowager Countess. This seems like a clear power play to go over Robert’s head but the Dowager Countess agrees that Matthew should make changes but that he should expect many feathers to be ruffled. Downton Abbey is very much a show about maintaining the status quo as the world around changes so Matthew and Robert butting heads most likely will lead to nothing.
Matthew’s money has also allowed Carson to finally fill the much needed positions of footman and kitchen aid. Taking Mary’s advice Carson decides to hire the cocksure James (or Jimmy as he likes to be called) based solely on his good looks. This comes on the heels of Alfred asking Thomas for pointers, which Thomas immediately rejects, but then Carson decides to take Alfred under his wing. It is starting to become clear that Alfred is warming up to the rest of the staff. And that is a very good thing for Daisy, or so she thinks until Alfred flirts with the new kitchen maid right as Daisy is about to confess her feelings to Alfred for him.
Meanwhile, in the most boring storyline of them all, it seems that neither Anna nor Bates is receiving any correspondence from the other. Bates soon finds out from his prison friend that it is because he made a fool of the guards by hiding the knife from them as they tossed his cell in an earlier episode. Needless to say Bates plants the knife in his cellmates’s bed and allows the guards to find it there which, in turn, makes the guards give Bates all of the letters Anna had sent him while also sending all the letters he had written her. The Bates being stuck in jail plot is far and away the most boring so it would be wise for something to finally happen, whether it is him finally allowing his integrity to disappear and getting in a fight with his cellmate or Anna breaking open the case of Vera’s murder. As long as this plot isn’t in the foreground it is begrudgingly tolerable.
The Mrs. Crawley and Ethel story also came to a head this week as Ethel finally let her intentions be known. She wanted to give up her son to his wealthy grandparents in order for him to be afforded a better life. Mrs. Crawley sets up the meeting between the two parties but would much rather Ethel keep her son and allow Mrs. Crawley to help. Ethel ends up going through her plan though and while she is heartbroken Mrs. Hughes does offer her some support for her decision. There is a good bit of tension between the “fallen” Ethel and the house maid for Mrs. Crawley as she refuses to help Ethel because of her being a prostitute.