‘Downton Abbey’ recap: A big event brings evil upon the house

After a death-a-riffic third season, I had high (albeit ridiculous) hopes that “Downton Abbey” might err toward the side of fluffiness and light this time around. I know, I know; as a soap in period dress, the show thrives on domestic trauma and Big Moments. I guess I’ve just grown so attached to these characters (yes, even Thomas) that I wish they’d all get a little vacation from the non-stop sads. At first, it seemed that things might be looking up, too. 

Mary had ditched the all-black wardrobe for some lovely lavender threads (though she looks fab in black; I guess she’s a winter), Edith is still happy in love, and below deck everyone was in fine fettle except Moseley, who’s never happy anyway. This week, Robert and Cora had thrown open the doors to an assortment of love interests for Mary, and all was well. For a minute. We’ll pause here so that anyone who didn’t see the episode but is debating about reading further can realize, mmm, bad idea.

Spoilers. Ahead. Last warning. Seriously, people, you won’t want to read this if you haven’t seen it. Hell, I didn’t even want to watch it, much less write about it. 

So, yes, Mr. Gillngham (aka Green) was just as disreputable as Bates thought he was and raped poor Anna (yes, cutting to the chase here as there’s no real way to sugar coat it). I realize her inclination to keep the facts from Bates is a smart instinct — I’m pretty sure Bates would either try to kill Green or would get killed in the process, and either way, no more Bates —  but I’m not sure she can keep this secret entirely between herself and poor Mrs. Hughes.

It’s not that either woman will breathe a word of this to anyone else, but I think Anna and Bates might be too close for this not to bubble to the surface in some way. Unfortunately, I predict that it will just result in Anna keeping Bates at arm’s length. It simply isn’t possible for the perfect couple to be quite so perfect, and, shockingly, neither Edna nor Thomas had a thing to do with it. 

As horrible as this scene was (thankfully, we heard rather than saw it), I have to give kudos to Joanne Froggatt for bringing true pathos to the aftermath, then semi-effectively bottling up said pathos when Anna had to face Bates. I’m pretty sure he’ll see through this (really, the story about bumping her head and staining her dress? Bates is too smart to buy that, right?), and Green isn’t gone yet. As we know, Bates has a dark side, and while it’s too modern of a reference I could totally see him going “Death Wish” on Green’s ass. 

The rest of the episode was, thankfully, relatively lightweight, though the thread of 20th century change rippled through almost every scene like a bad smell. Conversations about being forced to sell the great house, or whispers about living “north of the park” (horrors!) were in the mix upstairs, while downstairs, we had Moseley. 

What I always enjoy about Moseley is that, despite being a socially awkward sad sack, he always aspires to more, even as the universe merrily beats him down like the slow rodent in the Wac-A-Mole game. Now he’s playing delivery boy, which is shame enough — but he gets his dander up when Carson recruits him to fill in for pretty-boy Jimmy as, gasp, a footman! 

You’d think Moseley would just be happy for the work, but you’d think wrong. Moseley grudgingly admits he’s a beggar and thus can’t be choosy, but when faced with the prospect of putting on white gloves — WHITE GLOVES! — you’d think Carson was handing him live tarantulas to put in his mouth. I realize Moseley is supposed to represent a mind set and, yes, a plot device — I’m pretty sure we’re just at the beginning of his downward spiral — but more than anything, he reminds me of how American my thinking is. 

While Mary clearly isn’t up for a frothy romance at this point (thank goodness), men just can’t help falling in love with her. This time, it’s Anthony Foyle, who has a horrible valet and some good ideas about how Mary can deal with the death taxes. I suspect Mary sees in Lord Gillingham someone who can guide her the way Matthew did, but I’m not ready to make that leap just yet — and Mary clearly isn’t ready to do so, either.

Given that Rose’ decision to drag out Matthew’s old gramophone sends her spinning (though really, only the British could think excusing yourself and walking out of the room constitutes an embarrassing moment), Mary isn’t ready for someone knew and, as she explains to Anna, she’s still grieving — not only Matthew, but the woman she was when she was with him. It’s more of an insight than I’d expect from Mary, but grief (and her assent to power, really) just might make her more interesting than I expected.

Other story lines were worth noting — Michael finally realized the way to earn Robert’s respect was with the one thing the guy loves but clearly doesn’t understand — money. It was pretty clear early on that Sampson was cheating at cards, but kudos to Michael for figuring it out and cheating right back. Being able to return all of those IOUs to the other men (and, I’m sure, guaranteeing that Sampson ain’t running in this circle no more) was a move that Robert had no choice but to appreciate. Admittedly, I wouldn’t have minded seeing Cora find out Robert had blown a wad playing poker, though. Her little speech about stupid men playing games which Robert listened to like a little boy who’s been caught playing in mud puddles? Priceless.

Speaking of Robert, really, if he does one more dunderheaded thing, what are we going to do with the old boy? Granted, he wasn’t really paying attention when Carson asked about the opera singer, but still, Robert’s inability to even hold on to his petty cash when Anthony clearly warned him to steer clear of the poker game just made me want to throttle him. 

Oh, and as expected, Edna is skulking around Branson like a vulture with bad hair, waiting for her opportunity to drag him down to the pub and maybe burn his tux to prove he’s one of us, one of us. Branson isn’t helping matters, however, seeming to go out of his way to blab to her about how he feels like a fraud and a fish out of water and any other lame metaphor he can drag out and thrash around. I’m pretty sure Branson is going to do something stupid. The only question is what. 

As usual, leave it to Violet to meddle in someone else’s business — Isobel’s, in this case — and, oddly, be right on target. Isobel doesn’t want to be happy, and Violet can’t stand that for some reason, which results in a prickly but wonderful scene that reminds me we just can’t get enough Maggie Smith in this show, if you ask me. 

Were you surprised by what happened to Anna? What do you think will happen now (and if you know, no spoilers)? Do you think Branson is going to get into trouble with Edna?