'Downton Abbey' Recap: Season 4 American Episode 4

And finally Bates knows. In an episode that saw a couple storylines come to a head and introduced two new characters, Downton Abbey’s fourth episode (for America) showed that the more things change the more they stay the same. And in the middle of season 4 it has become clear that Downton Abbey has left a lot of the hijinks and banter in the past in exchange for even more plot and melodrama.

After Anna’s refusal to tell Bates felt as though it was dragging on, even though it had taken place over no more than an episode and a half, Bates finally found out why Anna had been distancing herself. Whether Bates’s threat to Hughes was legitimate or not it certainly achieved the desired effect as Hughes immediately launched into the truth. Well, part of the truth. Still unknown to Bates is who actually raped Anna, although his intuition tells him Green (i.e. Gilliam’s valet). And now that their relationship is on the mend there’s only one thing left for Bates to do, find out who the assailant was and exact his retribution.

While I had been skeptical of Anna’s worries about Bates’s reaction this episode made me finally believe her. While Bates had been wrongly jailed in the past it never seemed like he would actually have it in him to hunt down the man who raped Anna. But Bates’s seething vitriol when questioning Hughes has made it seem more likely that Anna’s fears were justified. Bates almost certainly will not put himself back in jail if he does get a chance at revenge on Green but it could become a nice melodramatic moment down the line when he chooses Anna over revenge.

Throughout all of this the downstairs was abuzz with both Alfred’s application to take the cooking test and the new lady’s maid Baxter, who Thomas told Cora to hire. Alfred’s plot ran rather quickly as he was accepted to take the test and did not place high enough to get the job all in one episode. Jimmy stoked the fires of their rivalry once Alfredy received the rejection letter and Daisy was happy Alfred was staying but it seems as though Alfred won’t yet give up on his dream of becoming a chef.

Baxter, on the other hand, is something entirely new altogether. Cora has taken a liking to her already and Baxter is a proponent of the new electric sewing machine but her character remains a riddle. There are copious questions orbiting Baxter, of which none were answered. Why are the seemingly nice Baxter and the conniving Thomas friends? What sordid secret did she hint at when talking to Thomas? And, of course, why is Thomas need Baxter to report back to him on everything that is said between the Granthams? Most, if not all, will be revealed by the end of the season but it seemed like Baxter was already displeased with Thomas’s plan and his friendship.

And if that wasn’t enough, yet another suitor was introduced for Mary. Napier, apparently another old acquaintance, wanted to pop in and say hello to Mary. His work for the royal economy, something to do about investigating other estates on their profitability and finances had taken him to parts around Downton. Of course Mary couldn’t resist from offering Napier a room while he was visiting the area, despite the imminent arrival of his boss. And it was quite clear that Napier was rather fond of Mary from days past. If the two guests also happen to be around for Robert’s birthday party, which Rose would like to throw, then the more the merrier.

There were two other character introduced with very little fanfare that it shouldn’t be too surprising if they only appear once more. Pegg, a young gardener who Violet hired at the urging of Isobel, seems to have stolen a knife from Violet’s desk, which she is up in arms about. And Mr. Drew, the son of tenant farmer on the estate, was able to appeal to Robert’s desire for the way things were done in the past and was allowed to inherit his father’s farm despite not being able to pay his father’s debts.

Edith was shrouded by mystery this week as well. Not only did she reveal that she had not heard from Gregson in a bit but she was also dropped off in London at a doctor’s office. Could her one night of passion with Gregson already resulted in something? Or will is it all a ruse? In any case that’s something to monitor in coming episodes.

One last potential bombshell was dropped at the end of the episode. For any other show that isn’t Downton Abbey, Branson’s musings on moving to the USA with baby Sybil would have seemed like filler and/or a slowly developing storyline. But seeing as how Mary was proposed to after only an episode and a half of knowing Gilliam you never know what Downton may end up doing. And while Branson’s insecurities of not belonging have been a theme for the season thus far, this episode was the first mention of him having relatives in America. Although a marriage between he and Mary almost makes too much sense, especially if Napier and one more suitor for Mary don’t work out.

In an episode where one of the major plots finally took a turn it felt like very little actually happened in this week’s episode. In fact, in seasons past this episode would have been teeming with banter and repartee, which is what made Downton so enjoyable. But even with the few attempts the episode felt completely empty. This season Mary’s digs have been more mean spirited than fun sibling rivalry and that Violet has lost her fastball. It feels like it may be time to introduce a new character filled with wit and vinegar to return that aspect of Downton Abbey to its former glory.

Downton Abbey can be seen on Masterpiece Classic on PBS Sunday nights at 9 PM EST.

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