Ever since Mary, Anna and the thoroughly ruffled Lady Cora collectively carried the deceased Kemal Pamuk through Downton Abbey’s darkened halls, it’s been clear that the avoidance of scandal is one of the most powerful forces driving the show’s characters. Like every season so far, there is plenty of intrigue building on all sides in Season 4, and the secrets living under the great house’s roof at the moment range from socially ruinous to personally damaging. While more restrained in its pacing than the galloping first three episodes, this week’s outing was significant in its revelation of some truths and the burying of others.
Need to catch up on watching this episode first before you read on? Downton Abbey S4E4 is available to stream here until July 14, 2014.
Once again, the swiftly maturing Edith proved that while her development has gone largely unnoticed by her family, the results of her explorations could soon pose more problems to them than just an undesirable suitor. Contrary to Mary’s dismissive appraisal of her sister, Edith has become a decidedly enigmatic woman this season. Whether stealthily sneaking through Rosamund’s house in the early morning, or making vaguely explained trips to London, she’s managed to hide the fact that her continued affair with Michael may finally be the cause of some real trouble.
Her most recent visit to the capital suggested that she at least suspects she’s become pregnant, something that could spell disaster if her (hopefully) soon-to-be husband remains unreachable on the continent much longer. This version of Edith is a far cry from the jealous younger sister who sent that spiteful letter to the Turkish embassy all those years ago, and then held its contents sanctimoniously over Mary’s head. Hopefully, she’ll be able to handle the crisis that seems to be on the horizon with more tact that we might’ve seen from her younger self, lest yet another Crawley be forced to contemplate riding out scandal with a prolonged stay in America.
Meanwhile, the truth, or at least part of it, finally came out between Bates and Anna, but not because she had any desire to share her secret. After some well-timed eavesdropping (another skill gained in prison, perhaps), Bates cornered Mrs. Hughes in her study, threatening to leave the house entirely is she refused to divulge what really happened on the final night of the Crawley’s party. While it was hard to fault him for wanting to know why his marriage was suddenly deteriorating, Bates’s demeanor was nearly as bullying as its was emotionally fraught, and we couldn’t help but feel badly for Mrs. Hughes as she tried to walk the line separating her desire to tell the truth and remain loyal to Anna.
Unfortunately, Anna was right to fear her husband’s reaction, as Bates responded to the news of the attack in the same menacing tone that made it easy to question his innocence last season. At the very least, Anna and her husband’s reconciliation led to her moving back to the cottage, so while things were far from normal, she no longer has to cope on her own. But while their relationship may have benefitted from the truth coming to light, Bates’s chilling words to Mrs. Hughes at the close of the episode foreshadowed some sinister deeds to come. Whether or not Bates is acting in his wife’s name, any vigilantism certainly wouldn’t be in her interest, and the ominous conclusion made us wonder whether or not he can really be trusted.
And since secrecy seemed to be the theme of the night downstairs, it makes sense that the arrival of the house’s latest lady’s maid was tinged with mystery as well. Information seems to be the currency in which Miss Baxter will be trading with the ever-calculating Thomas, who helped her secure her position, although she seems like a somewhat unwilling ally in his constant surveillance of the household. Despite owing him her loyalty, Baxter isn’t at all the same kind of co-conspirator that Thomas once had in O’Brien, but that might be for the best. After all, he was forced to learn the hard way just how quickly such friends can become dangerous enemies, and a likeable informant will be, as he said, far more valuable moving forward.
Upstairs, we learned that Lord Gillingham didn’t waste much time in getting engaged after all, and while Mary handled the news with an unconvincing attempt at cheerfulness, it was clear that she was at least somewhat bothered by it. With all of her talk about the estate moving on with the world, it seems as though Mary is only starting to realize that she must do the same in her personal life. If that’s truly the case, then it’s easy to see Tony’s engagement to someone else as a reminder of the things she’s passing up by delaying that progress.
Fortunately for Mary, we suspect that the return of Evelyn Napier, whom we haven’t encountered since his lackluster attempts at wooing her in Season 1, is more than a coincidence. With the news of Tony’s engagement still fresh in her mind, the appearance of a former admirer was a welcome distraction and Mary’s reception was far less chilly than what we might have expected from her in the past. As usual, the Crawleys were hospitable towards their old friend, but it was hard not to notice that while Napier had nothing negative to say about the state of Dowton’s affairs, he wasn’t leaping at the chance to stay. Whether that has to do with bad news for the estate or, more likely, the presence of his boss, Charles Blake, remains to be seen, but we’re willing to bet that the two of them will be ruffling some aristocratic feathers in the weeks to come.
And finally, as if the family’s most recent party hadn’t caused enough upheaval at Downton, it looks as though yet another large gathering is just around the corner. With Robert’s birthday fast approaching, no one was more excited about the prospect of dancing, drinking and celebrating than Rose. It was hardly surprising to see her perk up at the mention of a party, given her adventures in the city last week, but while Cora may be pleased to have some help with the planning, it seems more than likely that she, and the rest of the family, will be shocked by what Rose has in store for them.
– Kate Shepherd