Downton Abbey – Recap: Foyle’s War
Recap and review of Downton Abbey – Series 4 Episode 7:
There’s something to be said for the way Downton Abbey builds a season up to a point where all the disparate story threads reach a crescendo at roughly the same time. Granted, the crescendo isn’t anywhere in evidence in this week’s episode, but the pieces have been moved into place for a far more exciting conclusion to the season than one might have expected from the relatively subdued collection of episodes preceding this point.
We have Green (Nigel Harman) returning right as Anna (Joanne Froggatt) and Bates (Brendan Coyle) are finally beginning to move on, we have Edith (Laura Carmichael) deciding what to do about her pregnancy, Mary (Michelle Dockery) dealing with two potential suitors in the form of Evelyn Napier (Brendan Patricks) and Charles Blake (Julian Ovenden), just as Anthony Gillingham (Tom Cullen), an old war buddy of Blake’s when he went by Tony Foyle, re-enters her life. We also have an upstairs romance heating up between Jack (Gary Carr) and Rose (Lily James), just as the downstairs love triangle is re-sparked between Alfred (Matt Milne), Ivy (Cara Theobold), and Daisy (Sophie McShera). And lastly, but perhaps most vitally, we have a storyline that places Violet (Maggie Smith) in mortal peril, as she’s stricken with bronchitis that threatens to develop into pneumonia. It’s a busy episode — more so than most — but it’s one that beautifully sets the table for next week’s finale.
My favorite storyline of this week’s episode was, unsurprisingly, the Dowager Countess’ unfortunate illness and how it affects her relationship with Isobel (Penelope Wilton). As the arguable life blood of Downton Abbey, one would probably think it unwise to have Maggie Smith laid up in a bed for pretty much the entire episode, but it’s a gambit that still pays dividends, as Violet’s weakened state prompts some hilarious bouts of delirium. When Dr. Clarkson stops by to assess her health, Violet tells him to have her “nurse” taken away, not recognizing that the nurse in question is Isobel. “Take that mad woman with you,” she weakly barks at Clarkson, adding, “Get me another nurse. This one talks too much, like a drunken vicar.” Smith is tremendous here, and Wilton is every bit as good, showing the maturation of the bond between the two women that’s been building throughout much of the season. When Clarkson reveals to Violet that it’s been Isobel who has been tending to her this entire time, never once leaving her bedside throughout the entirety of her illness, you can sense the change in the Dowager Countess towards viewing her cousin in an entirely different light. When we next see the women playing gin together, it’s a remarkably endearing little moment, illustrating that the two women have found friendship beyond kinship.
Yet there are more substantial storylines beyond the endearing tale being spun between Violet and Isobel. Edith is at a loss over what to do about her pregnancy, and confides in Lady Rosamund (Samantha Bond). Both Bond and Laura Carmichael make great use of their increased screentime, as both women imbue their scenes together with a kinship and understanding that hadn’t previously been there. When Edith reveals she plans on getting an abortion, Rosamund advises against it and assures her niece that everything will be fine if she has the child. But much as she accused Robert (Hugh Bonneville) last week about not meaning his comforting words, Edith rails against her aunt for speaking in empty platitudes, saying that she likely wouldn’t be welcome in her aunt’s drawing room if she had Michael Gregson’s bastard. It’s a wonderful scene that leads to the climax in which Rosamund accompanies Edith to London for her abortion. As Edith explains, she could have loved Gregson’s baby, but she’s in a bit of an untenable situation since there’s been no word of him in weeks. If he returns, Edith indicates she likely wouldn’t tell Gregson about the abortion, prompting Rosamund to warn Edith about building a marriage on a lie. Ultimately, when Edith hears the cries of a woman at the abortion clinic, she recognizes she’s made a mistake in coming. Edith leaves, deciding in that moment to keep the baby instead of getting the abortion, though the decision seems every bit as impelled by fear as by a determination to hold onto what she has left of Michael. Edith is uncertain of what is ahead, and I’m every bit as puzzled as to where they’ll take this storyline. But at the very least, I’m glad they avoided placing Edith in deeper misery with this decision, as I could easily imagine an abortion going on to characterize every storyline she has for the rest of the series.
In other developments, Robert is summoned to America to help Cora’s brother out of the considerable pickle he’s gotten the family into with his immoderate spending. What’s amusing is that he needs Robert as arm candy, as Cora’s brother assumes he’ll look more presentable to potential investors if he has an English Earl at his side. And so Robert heads to America, and assumes that Bates, as his valet, will be coming with him. However, Hughes (Phyllis Logan) argues to Mary on Anna’s behalf, saying that this is a very delicate time for Bates and Anna to be separated. When pressed, Hughes must reveal the secret of Anna’s rape. Anna explains the situation to Robert (though carefully leaving out exactly why Bates needs to be here with Anna), and eventually the decision is made to have Thomas (Rob James-Collier) fill in as valet. For his part, Thomas doesn’t seem to mind going on the trip, although he wants a full report from Mrs. Baxter on why Bates was unable to go himself. Molesley (Kevin Doyle) overhears the pair conspiring and questions Baxter about it, but gets nowhere (perhaps this is the endgame for the interminable Molesley storyline, as getting him back in the house will allow him to serve as a possible foil to the schemes of Thomas and Baxter).
Other downstairs happenings: Alfred returns from the cookery course at The Ritz to visit, sending Carson (Jim Carter) and Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) into a fit over how his arrival will reignite the tensions between Daisy and Ivy. Naturally, Alfred arrives and Ivy immediately gets to flirting with him, annoying not only Daisy but also Jimmy (Ed Speelers), who considers his flirtations with Ivy to be “a waste of money and effort.” However, not all romance has been a waste, as Rose talks Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) into letting her go to London with Edith, under the pretense of helping her through her despair over Gregson. Of course, Rose is actually going to London to meet Jack, and we get a beautifully-filmed scene of the two on a boat under a bridge that reminded me just how sumptuous this series can be, from a purely aesthetic perspective. But there’s more on Jack’s mind than the loveliness of the scenery (including the woman sitting in his boat). He tells Rose what they’re both thinking, that this relationship can’t possibly end well, and that there’s no real way for it to progress beyond this point, no matter how badly either of them want it to. Rose pleads with Jack to just live in the moment with her, and although the two share a passionate, loving kiss, it’s hard to imagine their romance isn’t doomed (just like the last two characters named Jack and Rose who got on a boat).
We also have the continued story of Downton’s development and whether the property can be saved, from a financial standpoint. Blake continues to be a thorn in Mary’s side, with his holier-than-thou attitude. Yet the two develop something of a friendship when they go to the farm to inspect the pigs that have just arrived, only to find that the pigs have knocked over the water trough and are slowly dying of thirst. The pair essentially spend the night in the mud, watering the pigs and nursing them back to health before retiring to the kitchen to make scrambled eggs and crack jokes about how Blake literally saved their bacon. These are among Michelle Dockery’s most lively and endearing scenes of the season, as she shows an ease around Blake that stands as a contrast to her earlier rigidity, and it’s a changed mirrored in Blake as well. They seem to have a fitting chemistry in these flitting moments together, yet it’s all about to become more complicated by the arrival of Blake’s old war buddy Anthony Foyle, the Lord of Gillingham. He stops by for a visit, throwing Mary into emotional disarray (just seeing how she perks up at his arrival tells the viewer everything they need to know about how seriously she’s rethinking having dismissed him, and it’s a great bit of acting from Dockery). Gillingham asks Blake whether Downton can be saved, and he assures his old war buddy that it can. Yet even with this easygoing camaraderie between the two, it’s strange to think that Mary now has two potential suitors in the house (three, if you count Evelyn Napier, who’s practically a non-entity at this point, given how little he was given to do this week).
Of course, with the return of Gillingham is the return of Mr. Green, who is still a hit with the downstairs staff…except for Hughes, who reads him the riot act in her office, saying that everyone else might be blind to his treachery, but she knows about his villainy all too well. Green, as smarmy as ever, tries to claim the sex he had with Anna was consensual, the result of a night of drinking. This only further infuriates Hughes, and she warns him that if he values his life, he’ll keep to the shadows. I just love Phyllis Logan in this role, and though Bates is the one being setup to eventually kill Green, I wonder if Hughes might not do it for the greater good? It’s an absolutely asinine theory to posit, but the season has gone to such great lengths to further build Hughes’ strength and her inner character, to the point where such an act wouldn’t seem entirely implausible to me in the way it would have last season. But then, Hughes killing Green isn’t really the story Julian Fellowes is telling. The heat is all on Bates, who overhears Green at the dinner table, going on about how much he hated the Nellie Melba concert. He goes on to state that the night of the concert, he decided to leave and come downstairs for a bit of quiet. And in that moment, we can see the wheels turning in Bates’ head: Green just admitted to being downstairs at around the same time as the attack on Anna occurred. The episode ends on the murderous glint in Bates’ eye, having come to the recognition that it was Green all along.
This was one of the strongest episodes of the season, as the separate storylines all felt similarly purposeful. They might not still share meaningful points of connection (not all of the storylines anyway), but there is a clear direction in place for each episode that is very encouraging about the likelihood that next week’s finale will redeem Series 4, or at least make the entire enterprise feel as though it was building to something that was worth all the unevenness.
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