Like each of the episodes that came before it, the penultimate installment of this packed fourth season struck a fine balance between each of its many storylines, and offered up a healthy serving of the rich, pastoral scenery that has defined Downton Abbey from the beginning. With so many narrative balls in the air this year, showrunner Julian Fellowes continues to demonstrate a flair for weaving together plotlines that have at times seemed so disparate, and the result this week was a nearly seamless tapestry. With only one more episode to go this season, yesterday’s served as a satisfying prelude, achieving the not-so-simple task of tying up some loose ends, while leaving just enough stray threads to keep us guessing as we reach the finale.
Need to catch up on watching this episode first before you read on? Downton Abbey S4E7 is available to stream here until August 7, 2014.
Of course, the most obvious convergence of storylines occurred as the potentially awkward trio of Blake, Napier and Gillingham all happened to arrive at the Abbey, at the same time (again). With Mary and Charles getting along well enough to make us almost forget their mutually icy first impressions, and Tony revealing that he, perhaps not all that surprisingly, had ended his short lived engagement, the women of the house were left wondering after the group noun for suitors. Although it’s pretty plain to see that the race – if Mary would ever allow there to be such a thing – is down to just two horses, you can’t blame them for finding the whole thing thoroughly amusing. Even Mary, who has up until now gently rebuffed each of them in turn, seems to only be feigning irritation at this point.
However, Gillingham’s return to Downton had decidedly dark implications as well, and the ties between Mary and Anna continued to strengthen at the end of a season that saw their close connection strained multiple times. Learning the whole truth about Anna’s rape, Mary finally understood how the return of her old friend would only mean further entanglement and distress for the already shaken lady’s maid. Rightly appalled by the attacker’s identity, Mary’s desire to see him punished, even after her requests that she do nothing, showed a tactful resolve and admirable loyalty that even her greatest detractors would have to respect. The fact that she managed to demand the dismissal of Gillingham’s valet, without revealing the reasons behind her unusual request, further reinforced our opinion that Mary could someday fill the very capable shoes of the Dowager.
That pattern only continued upon her return to Downton, and as she took up the reins to help her mother with the upcoming church bazaar (a task, it should be added, which seemed infinitely less complicated with Robert temporarily out of the picture), Mary was more than ever the picture of cool, British resolve. In perhaps one of her first civil exchanges with Edith in recent memory, we couldn’t help but hope that some of that levelheaded attitude might rub off on her younger sister, who was only just starting to get a handle on her own fortunes.
Luckily for all involved, Aunt Rosamund once again proved quite agile in her ability to sidestep scandal, launching a plan to escape to Europe with Edith in the months leading up to the birth of her niece’s illegitimate child. Of course the Dowager, as imperious as ever, proved her recovered health beyond any doubt by sniffing out the truth of the matter, even as every other member of the family seemed completely unaware of their predicament. Ever the pragmatist though, she withheld her judgment and agreed that their proposed course of action was the only sensible one.
Less discreet in her affairs this week was Rose, who’s courtship of Jack Ross remained unknown to the other residents of Downton Abbey for a whole five minutes. No sooner had she and her beau taken a seat at a teahouse in town than Tom caught a glimpse of the couple, and (rather uncomfortably) turned the information over to Mary. While Jack seemed wary of the potential fallout of their not-so-covert relationship, Rose was more than ready to throw all her cares to the wind. Her defiant response to Mary’s admonitions (if you could even call them that) made it clear that her overwhelming desire to marry Jack had perhaps as much to do with her determination to shock her mother as it did with romantic sentiment.
However, her fiancé proved to be much less impulsive, and when Mary went to converse with him, he didn’t fight her assertion that their marriage would be fraught with ridicule and difficulty. In hindsight, perhaps we should have viewed Rose’s relative lack of teenage petulance this season as an unlikely blessing, but her pouty reaction to the end of her engagement was a reminder that, though charming and worldly, she really is still quite young. Luckily, one of the hallmarks of youth is a short memory, and next week’s events – namely, her imminent entry into society – will offer plenty of distraction for the somewhat flighty Rose.
In an episode that saw its characters spending so much of their time away from the estate, it was perhaps appropriate that a large event on its sprawling green grounds brought them all back together. Despite its broad scope, this episode’s most enduring image was that of the bustling church bazaar, which brought together not only the staff and masters of Downton, but also its villagers. Chief among them was the opinionated schoolteacher Sarah Bunting, whose independence seems to have sparked some interest in Tom, and who we fully expect to see more of going forward. Less expected however, was the presence of Tony Gillingham, whose ominous news about the death of his former valet seemed to confirm suspicions that Bates’s recent ‘day trip’ may not have been all he had suggested.
Mary didn’t have too much time to brood on the matter though, as Lord Grantham’s surprising (and well-timed) arrival on the grounds offered a cheerful distraction. Unfortunately for Anna, it will be much more difficult for her to cast aside the possibility that her husband had a hand in her attacker’s death, and we’ve got an unpleasant feeling that it won’t take long for that particular truth to be revealed.
– Kate Shepherd