‘Downton Abbey’ recap: Season 4, Episode 4

Credit: PBS
Credit: PBS

A lot of ambition, a little extortion, and one veiled reference to incest and sodomy — there’s your recap of Episode 4 in a sentence; find a lengthier version below.

Alfred-the-footman still has his eyes on the kitchen at the Ritz, which is a little because he’s had to keep his eyes off Ivy, now that she’s snogging Jimmy, and a lot because he’s actually good at cooking and wants to pursue a passion. Daisy, who loves Alfred, must endure the pain of teaching him how to leave by tutoring him through a lesson on tarts stuffed with egg and cheese. Since the show takes every chance to reference facts and actual events from the time period, I’m guessing this was the invention of the breakfast burrito.

Alfred travels to London for the first round of competition, a cooking test. The chef/judge is French, and since this is a British show, that means he’s also a clown, as cued by a shift to playful bass-heavy background music. Alfred does a pretty good job, but, as he learns in a letter delivered to the Abbey, is not chosen to train with Chuckles, so he’s stuck at the Abbey. The world will have to wait for the invention of huevos revueltos.

Buying the farm

Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), Tom Branson (Allen Leech) and Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) move forward with foreclosures on some of the property’s tenant farmers in order to instead work the land themselves. When they say “work the land themselves,” they mean give it a cup of tea and a slap.

However, Grantham can’t go through with the first eviction: A debtor farmer dies and his son comes home to save the farm and family name. The son hopes to keep the land his family has worked “since the Napoleonic wars,” a reference that serves as an excellent reminder that the French lost.

Grantham sympathizes, but there’s a catch because the guy can’t pay off his father’s enormous debt. So Grantham just makes a personal loan. Remembering that he’d never wanted to foreclose, and had only been pressured to do so by Mary and Branson, I guessed that this was Grantham’s way to secretly impose his will upon his children. But I was wrong because when Mary discovers the loan, her conclusion is that her father’s a good man. This suggests the terrifying potentiality that Mary has a kinder heart than I do.

Speaking of black hearts, Thomas is up to something with Baxter, Lady Grantham’s new lady’s maid, who has endeavored to ingratiate herself. She’s talked to her lady about the nice things she’s heard of Lady Sybil, and she’s brought her lady orange juice for breakfast — because her lady is American, and Americans like orange juice, as if we’re the only people who ever thought to put the insides of oranges in a glass.

Anyway, turns out Baxter is a fake, and is only doing Thomas’ bidding, the endgame of which is for her to be his spy upstairs and share important gossip. For example, the estate might introduce a refrigerator. Sounds like the British figured out where to put the insides of their oranges.

The one true path

Anna (Joanne Froggatt) continues to reject Bates (Brendan Coyle), refusing to tell him about her attack. But he overhears her speaking with Mrs. Hughes about her “secret,” and then executes his weirdly aggressive hobble into Hughes’ office to rough it out of her. He threatens to resign — and leave forever, before Anna’s back from town — if Hughes won’t reveal the secret. I can’t decide if that’s a ridiculous threat for anyone to suggest or if that’s just the sort of thing Bates would make good on: “Oh, I’ll leave my wife! Just watch me! I’ll angry limp out that door!”

Hughes folds, but lies about the attacker, saying he was a stranger from outside the house, and not, as Bates rightly accuses, creepy valet Green. Then, finally, Bates and Anna reconcile, and we see him at his most scary-romantic, telling her, “You are made higher to me and holier because of the suffering you have been put through. … I have never been prouder or loved you more.” So I guess he means he’s in love with Jesus, which is nice, but this really isn’t the time.

I Love the 1820s

Also, at dinner one night, Lord Grantham offers a lovely adage suggesting wisdom about something, leading family members to suggest he pursue poetry. But then Maggie Smith exhales a hope that he won’t — because only one of their peers has been a poet, Lord Byron, “and we all know how that ended.” Sodomy and incest is how: We didn’t all know that, actually, but we did Wikipedia it.

OK, what else? Mosley (still) thinks he’s too good to be a footman. A former suitor of Mary’s, Napier, arrives unexpectedly, which, as the teaser of next week’s episode suggests, doesn’t bode well for the Abbey. Branson wants to move with baby Sybil to America. And somebody stole the mail knife Maggie Smith received from the King of Spain — she blames the new gardener, but that can’t be because he’s not French.

Episode grade: B

Follow Jane Borden on Twitter @JaneBorden


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