Lady Mary is taken from brittle widowhood to the brink of a possible ménage à quatre. O’Brien is replaced by a lady’s maid who, in retrospect, isn’t nearly as sinister as we thought, and finally – finally! – the Jimmy-Ivy-Alfred-Daisy love square is resolved.
It speaks of some thrifty scriptwriting on the part of Julian Fellowes that he is able to accomplish this. Like the redoubtable Lady Grantham, the programme ploughs straight ahead, eyeballing anyone who dares to subject it to close scrutiny with the manner of one who is both affronted and delighted to be considered ridiculous.
That Downton is both portentous and barmy is the point. Even so, it is surely not churlish to wish that some of the drama would happen onscreen as well as off. If you have taken the risk of dramatising the beginnings of a rape scene – a woman punched in the face then dragged away to the sounds of her screams and sobs – is it too much to wish that retribution, when it comes, should be similarly dramatised onscreen?
Instead, we have the equivalent of a messenger speech from Greek tragedy as we are informed that – the gods be praised! – Green the valet has been accidentally-on-purpose pushed under the wheels of a passing vehicle in Piccadilly. It’s not exactly what you’d call catharsis, is it? Exit, pursued by an angry mob of viewers.
What makes it doubly frustrating is the knowledge that this plot twist has been introduced to, yet again, cast suspicion on whether or not Bates is as honest-living as we have believed him to be. Narrowly escaping the hangman’s noose over the murky matter of the death of his first wife, he now glowers broodily and enigmatically over the matter of Green’s untimely, but nonetheless very welcome, death. It can surely only be a matter of time before he does a Mrs Patmore-style arsenic-sugar switcheroo and scythes his way through every character who ever crossed him.
Still, it’s not all doom-laden pronouncements at the church bazaar. There’s room for a bit of love too – firstly, and least surprisingly, in the Lady Mary corner, as the lady finds herself, after all, for turning. The question is: to whom? Lord Gillingham, whose engagement, it turns out, was no more than a two-week placeholder plot?
Charles Blake, who has the looks of an underwear model and the habit of treating Mary like a reckless filly who needs taming? Or Evelyn Napier: a decent sort but a bit of a wet fish all told and hardly a serious contender? All the signs are pointing to Blake, not least because, like Matthew before him, he has fixed and radical ideas about estate management. *yawn*
Judging from the coquettish final shot, Julian Fellowes wants us to be more interested in this storyline than we, truthfully, are. But, if we’re honest, the more affecting almost love story was that between Molesley and Baxter.
Molesley has always been the Charlie Brown of Downton characters – always doing the butler equivalent of never kicking the football or getting tangled in the strings of his own kite. So it’s a particular pleasure that he has now the equivalent of his own little red-haired girl to mope after, in the form of Baxter who may just have a beating heart inside her after all. Seeing them walk arm in arm at the church bazaar was a wonderful affront to Thomas’s bitter machinations, and a sign, possibly, of a series that is finding its way forward out of the darkness that has consumed it this year.
Like so much of Series 4, this last episode was a curate’s egg; but there are enough green shoots of recovery to give us hope for Christmas and beyond.
Aired at 9pm on Sunday 10 November 2013 on ITV.
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