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The respite that was last week’s episode of PBS Masterpiece’s Downton Abbey was very brief indeed as American episode 6 ratcheted up the melodrama yet again. In what was another episode almost absent of any fun, mischief, or light hearted moments Downton has become oh so very tired. So far this season the characters have shown almost no growth while also being mired in some very boring plots.
This week Robert is called off to the USA to lend Cora’s brother an air of credibility in front of a congressional hearing. Bates doesn’t want to go now that things are back on the upswing with he and Anna and so Mrs. Hughes tells Mary the entire story of Anna’s rape so that Mary can convince Robert to take Thomas instead, which happens quickly and easily. With Robert out of the way the ladies were left to their own devices.
Perhaps the biggest to do from the episode was Edith’s appointment in London for an abortion. Having still not heard anything about Gregson she decides that she shouldn’t have the baby and has found an abortion clinic, abortion being illegal at this point in history, to rid herself Gregson’s child. After revealing to Aunt Rosamund her plans Edith has a last minute change of heart and storms out of the abortion clinic. It seems clear she will have this baby, for which she is not yet showing, with or without Gregson and now all that is left is to tell her parents. While this was a big decision for Edith her romance with Gregson, which has always seemed doomed from the start, is just another in a line of failed romances with older men. It is a complete shame that her character wasn’t allowed to become the woman’s journalism advocate that was teased at the end of Season 3, instead opting for the relationship with Gregson. It seems you are either killed off or stuck in the same rut as always at Downton.
And while Edith’s relationship was at its bleakest moment, Mary may have stumbled into something of her own. Her and Mr. Blake, after finding the water trough kicked over in the new pigs’ pen, bonded over going back and forth keeping the pigs watered. This not only proved to Blake that Mary was serious about making Downton profitable but also allowed for some closeness the two had not yet had. After smearing some mud on each other’s faces it seems clear that Mary has yet another potential suitor.
And if that wasn’t enough, Gilliam has come in for a surprise stay over at Downton. Gilliam is still not too keen on his current engagement to Mabel and is clearly glad to be in Mary’s presence once again. More importantly, however, is the fact that Gilliam’s valet has accompanied him on this trip, which has caused all sorts of awkwardness downstairs. Despite Mrs. Hughes’s threatening speech, Gilliam’s valet is ever the gregarious chap at the supper table. With Bates and Baxter catching onto Anna’s weirdness in Gilliam’s valet’s presence it is only a matter of time before either one, or both, discover the truth. The opportunity to confront Gilliam’s valet and, ultimately, decline to exact revenge is still very much on the table.
In a one and done plot, Violet comes down with a bad case of bronchitis and Isobel decides to nurse her back to health. This was very troubling as it not only put Violet, the principal comedienne into unintelligibility, but became a double edged sword as the melodrama was heightened. Violet ended up coming out of her sickness but, regardless, her death wouldn’t have had the punch it should as surprise Downton deaths are a dime a dozen. It was nice to see Isobel working so hard for Violet as they once rivals are become even better friends but this subplot lacked entertainment as Violet’s death, while in doubt, never followed a worsening arc and there’s only so much interest one can mine out of constantly putting damp washcloths on one’s brow.
In the odds and ends of the episode Alfred comes back to visit Downton for what was meant to be the lighthearted subplot. Carson and Mrs. Hughes scheme to keep him away from Downton so as not to restir the pot between Ivy and Daisy but it doesn’t work. Although Alfred has asked Ivy something of which the audience was not privy and she accepted so look for that in the near future. Rose and Jack Ross met up in London for a romantic row down a river. And Branson attends a political lecture where he meets a woman who may, or may not, become a recurring character and possible love interest. In any case it seems as though he is open to at least talking to women again.
The season is quickly running out of time so most of the season long story arcs, Mary’s potential new love, Bates’s retribution, and Edith and Gregson’s future should all be coming to a head soon. Downton Abbey has dragged these on long enough and it will be more of a relief than anything when they reach their climax. In what has been a rather dull and lifeless season of Downton Abbey the question now becomes what has changed between this season and the previous seasons and how whatever is missing can be retrieved again. Downton has felt more a chore than a pleasure this season and it may be time to finally shake things up and not just by killing someone off.