There is a chance that this fourth season of Downton Abbey will end up pulling one out during the home stretch, and we’ll be able to look back on all of it (save for the Anna rape scene) fondly. It’s something I didn’t think possible during the season’s early episodes, but as we inch closer to the finale, Downton doesn’t seem ready to let itself become one of those shows that’s great for a few seasons, then starts to rot away by the third or fourth.
One of the show’s biggest problems has always been that there are just too many characters, and the estate isn’t a large enough place for them to roam around and happen upon situations that lead to fresh stories. Sometimes the characters move off the property and out of town, and from time to time the relationships that we’ve watched slowly blossom for the past several seasons end up yielding something pleasant to watch. In this latest episode, two of the Crawleys venture out into the world, and a relationship that has developed over the last few seasons becomes one of the more pleasant story lines in the show’s four-year run.
Lord Grantham is summoned to America to sit at the side of his brother-in-law, Harold Levinson, who is tied up in some scandal. The Levinsons, assuming that the courts will look favorably on him because he has an English earl for a family member, leave Lord Grantham no choice, as his wife and mother-in-law both insist that he take the trip across the ocean. There is one complication: Bates doesn’t want to leave Anna’s side. Sensing something is wrong, Mrs. Hughes tells Lady Mary about what happened to her maid, prompting Mary to tell her father to bring Thomas with him to America instead. Anna is still putting the pieces together in this episode, but then her assailant, Mr. Green, shows up with his boss, and suddenly everything is awkward and painful again.
While Lord Grantham and Thomas are off to America, Edith and Rose go to London, where Edith convinces her aunt to accompany her to a doctor where she will abort the child she’s carrying. It’s starting to look more and more like Mr. Gregson has vanished for good, and Edith has no other options. But when they go to the clinic, Edith, who is (finally) shaping up to be one of the most interesting characters on the show, has second thoughts, and decides she’s going to keep the baby. While this is all going on, Rose, who wanted to go to London simply so she could see Jack Ross, ends up in a rowboat with him, making out under a bridge, leaving us to ponder — on a scale from Mary with the dead Turkish diplomat to Lady Sybil running off with the family’s Irish revolutionary chauffeur — where this ranks in terms of Downton Abbey love scandals.
It also looks as if Lady Mary is being set up to have both Lord Gillingham and Mr. Blake chase after her. After spending an evening with Mr. Blake, getting muddy and saving the new pigs the family purchased from dehydration, I’m leaning his way for the time being.
But the best part of this episode was Isobel Crawley nursing a sick Dowager Countess back to health during a bout with bronchitis. Now, we all love the Dowager Countess, but Isobel spend enough time on her high horse to get irritating. It’s obvious she’s there to be the charitable and good one on the show, but sometimes you just want to yell, “UGH! Isobel! Shut up already!” You know she means well, but she often gives Bates a run for his money in the sad-sack department, and would claim the crown by now if we didn’t have to give her a pass because her son died. But there was something so sweet and, of course, funny about watching her take care of the sick and delirious Countess. The two are constantly at odds, yet tonight’s episode showed not only what a great pairing the two can be, but also how characters can actually develop on Downton Abbey.