‘Downton Abbey’ recap: Edith makes a big decision

While most of the big events that came to pass in this episode were ones we saw coming from a mile away (the moment we knew Lord Gillingham was coming back for a visit, we knew Anna’s secret wasn’t going to stay so secret), there was still satisfaction to be had in how so many of these moments played out. Sure, we can pretty much place money bets on what’s ahead for Mary’s love life, but that doesn’t make me any less interested in watching it all play out (pigs + mud = romance). That being said, there were surprises, and big ones. Well, one big one. Edith.

We’ve known about the pregnancy for a while, but there are still unanswered questions that I expect will have terrible answers. Anyone else suspect Michael isn’t dead but is just a con man who managed to get poor Edith to sign a document that’s eventually going to knock the wind out of her (and by extension our) sails? Watching her trembling on the precipice of confessing all to her mother time and again in this episode was hard to watch, especially as Cora’s smiling, vacuous face unwittingly beamed sunshine and rainbows in the face of her daughter’s distress. 

Ultimately, the big surprise wasn’t that Edith decided to “take care” of her problem, then changed her mind at the last second — but that Aunt Rosamund emerged as such a determined and positive support system. I’d go so far to say it almost seemed contradictory, given that this was the same woman who lectured Edith about appearances and running around with married men in the past, but go figure, she’s good in a crisis. All the judgey behavior of the past vanished in the face of a concrete problem, and Rosamund was Edith’s rock when she needed it. Often “Downton” makes the mistake of flipping characters unconvincingly to show a sweet side we’d have no reasonable expectation to believe really exists, but in this case, I’m happy to let it go. 

While Charles Blake seems utterly surprised by Mary’s ability to get down in the dirt with the pigs during the water crisis, we all knew Mary is made of tougher stuff than he ever expected. We also suspect, I think, that Mary will find herself torn between two men at one point (surely one of them will be Blake) and will have to decide between a life of sitting passively and letting the menfolk make the decisions and a tougher road in which she has more control. Then, she’ll pick the latter. If “Downton” goes another way, I’ll be mightily surprised, but it’s what we expect for Mary after all these hard seasons of loss and personal growth, and I can’t really see her sitting on her hands in her second marriage. Am I getting ahead of myself? Absolutely — I haven’t watched anything beyond this episode. But I think after seeing Mary pick up the buckets and tromp into the mud, it was pretty clear she’s crossed a line she probably doesn’t want to tiptoe back over — and I doubt the show wants to send that muddled message, either.

The grown-ups have so much going on (let’s not forget Robert has the decidedly unpleasant task of dealing with his brother-in-law’s mess in America), it’s easy to overlook Rose’s headstrong determination to stir up “fun.” As Jack Ross points out, Lord Grantham probably isn’t going to be thrilled when he finds out his charge is dating a black jazz singer, but Rose doesn’t care! Let’s live in the moment! And kiss in public! This won’t be a problem! 

There are some lighter moments in this episode, one of which is the wearisome return of Alfred. Man, can’t this guy just stay at the Ritz and come back when we’ve had a chance to forget about him? No, despite Carson, Hughes and Patmore’s efforts to keep him away from Daisy and Ivy, he stomps right into the kitchen so that Ivy can bat her eyelashes at him and give him hope. Daisy, of course, is furious and the elder staff is frustrated that Alfred has yet again lit the fires of resentment and nitpicking in the kitchen. I’m just annoyed that this storyline won’t die. 

Then, we have Thomas, who is off to America with his Lordship. This is thanks to Bates begging Mrs. Hughes to help him stay home — and Mrs. Hughes reluctantly telling Anna’s secret to Mary. Thomas should just be happy he’s getting to go to America, but no, he wants to send poor Baxter on a fact-finding mission. I wish Thomas would stop trying to be an evil mastermind and just focus on things like doing his job and maybe making some new friends, maybe working on his cricket game, but oh well. Baxter would certainly appreciate it.

In other news, Branson goes to a political rally and meets a girl. I suspect we’ll see her again, because otherwise this scene served less than no purpose, right? 

Finally, we have Anna’s not-so-secret secret. Between the very obvious decision to pull Bates from the trip to America (which has everyone downstairs wondering what the hell is up, if they weren’t already), ding, it’s time for Lord Gillingham’s visit! When Green sits stupidly at the dining table and prattles on about how he couldn’t possibly pay attention to the musical performance and instead came downstairs for a break, well, you can see the gears clicking in Bates’ head. Anna has tried so hard to protect him, but the reality is she would have been better off pushing him onto the ship to America with both hands. 

The question is, will Anna’s fears about what might happen to Bates come to pass if vengeance is served? I really don’t want “Downton Abbey” to become an Agatha Christie movie with a dead body in the kitchen and potential suspects being dressed down by a quirky detective. But hey, maybe Mrs. Hughes could find a way to dispose of a dead body (or Mrs. Patmore, if we want to take this in a “Fried Green Tomatoes” direction). As Mrs. Hughes said, being a woman means coming up with clever solutions to problems. 

Do you think Bates will get even with Green? Do you think Mary is ready to be happy again? What do you think will happen to Edith — and what do you think happened to Michael?