‘Downton Abbey’ recap: Rose breaks the color barrier, big time

Heavens to Betsy, there’s a BLACK man in Downton Abbey! Quick, somebody hand out the smelling salts and make absolutely sure everyone has at least one eyebrow raised to fully capture an uncomfortable mix of bemusement and fear! Oh, and do make a very quiet, restrained phone call to the authorities! This is bedlam, mind you, bedlam!

Okay, it’s not that big of a deal when Rose “surprises” Robert with a jazz band on his birthday. Robert reacts initially, then gets over it when he sees no one else has burst into flame. Even Carson, who fumbles his way through a truly clueless conversation (“Hey, ever want to go to Africa? Hmmm? Wanna talk slavery?”) ultimately decides Jack Ross is good people despite being black and everything. Believe it or not, Violet (Maggie Smith) gives Edith a verbal rap on the knuckles for finding his appearance at Downton “rather odd.” Don’t be so provincial, Edith! This lesson in multicultural unity is from Violet, people. Let that sink in for a minute. 

While race was less of an issue in Britain than it was in the U.S. after WWI, I have to think no one’s going to be very happy about Rose making out with Ross (Gary Carr), in part because I doubt he has a fancy title and he’s (gasp!) a nightclub singer. I’m not completely sure where nightclub singers rank in the social strata, but given that the opera singer was almost locked in her room for dinner a la “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”, I’d think not very high. Mary’s expression when she found the two making out in the servant’s dining room was hard to read, but suggested she was uncomfortable for reasons other than her 1920s underwear

If this mingling with Ross does get Rose sent home, I wouldn’t really mind. The idea that she wanted to “surprise” Robert with her boyfriend’s band is pretty ridiculous, but it’s so very, very Rose (Lily James). She rarely does anything for anyone other than herself, and with all the stress the Crawleys are about to face, I’m pretty sure they don’t need any of her nonsense.

Of course, I’m assuming they’re all going to be facing a lot of stress — but that’s also assuming Edith tells everyone she’s pregnant. It’s not really something she can hide (the straight lines of 1920s fashion will not allow for a lot of camouflage, unless there was a baggy sweatshirt stage I missed), but maybe Michael will surprise us all and show up (ha!) or… well, let’s not go too far down this path. Needless to say, I understand why she keeps wandering into dark corners, bursting into tears. Hint, Edith — take it to your bedroom. Last time I checked, you had a door. 

There’s less drama downstairs, unless you’re Daisy, in which your entire world has entirely collapsed like an overcooked cheese soufflé. After she rejoiced that Alfred didn’t make the cut for cookery school, surprise! Someone has dropped out, and Alfred is in. There’s lots of pouting and stomping about, and even some random blaming of Ivy (if she hadn’t broken his heart, he wouldn’t have cooked?). Daisy shouldn’t be so hard on Ivy, though. The poor thing has just woken up to the fact that Jimmy thinks he deserves a little return on his investment in her (movie ticket = hanky panky), and suddenly Alfred’s looking like the classy one who got away. Jimmy’s timing is just impeccable, isn’t it? At least with Alfred gone, maybe this tired love parallelogram (rectangle? rhombus?) will finally be put to rest. 

Speaking of less-than-smooth moves, Thomas (Rob James-Collier) is still trying to cash in on his investment in Baxter, though in a very different way. She’s clearly getting less and less comfortable with her role as tattletale, and at least some of her latest scoop is pretty worthless — Thomas misinterprets Rose asking Hughes to keep her “secret” as a sign of coming layoffs, because that’s totally logical. But Baxter has gotten wind of something more concrete — the fact that something “happened” to Anna. You can bet Thomas is going to be all over that like a sticky pair of footman’s gloves. 

Oh, and Molesley comes sniffing around for Alfred’s old job, which Carson is reluctant to offer. I don’t really blame him, as Molesley is not going to be a happy employee, but Hughes manages to break down Carson’s resolve and the next thing you know Molesley is back in the house. I guess it’s always good to have a sad sack around for… well, something.

In other news, Violet discovers that Isobel is back to normal because she’s merrily stomping her feet indignantly at any perceived injustice she stumbles across. She gives Violet a good dressing down when the Dowager Countess sends Peg packing for theft, then sneakily (and too easily, if you ask me) finds the paper knife that caused all the commotion. Later, she’s stunned into silence when Violet reveals she’s not only rehired Peg, but apologized to him for her mistake. While this was really a tempest in a teapot, the frenemies relationship between Violet and Isobel is always good for a laugh.

It’s just a matter of time before Bates loses his cool and goes hunting for Green (or, hey, Lord Gillingham and his new second-choice gal pal show up for a friendly visit), but at least he and Anna are trying to move forward. Watching Cora come to their rescue with a snobby maitre’d is initially encouraging, right up until Anna starts talking about how “everything is shadowed, every moment we share is shadowed” and made it pretty clear that this storyline isn’t likely to perk up anytime soon. Given that Thomas is looking to stick his nose into this, I have to wonder how this will play out, though I can’t imagine it ‘s going to be pretty. While I know some fans find the grittiness of this storyline to be a poor fit for “Downton,” it does serve as a reminder that this show is sometimes pure soap in fancy dress. Let’s just hope this storyline doesn’t go rattling down the same path as Bates’ last prison stint. I think he only has so many get out of jail free cards in his pocket.

What do you think about Rose’s “surprise”? What do you think Thomas is going to do about Anna’s secret? Do you think we’ve seen the last of Alfred?