The gang's all here, wink-wink, nudge-nudge. Credit: PBS
In season 4, episode 3, Downton Abbey tackles the difficult and sordid topic of period key parties.
Since the war ended, all anyone at Downton can marvel over is how different the world is. But, at the end of tonight's episode, we get a piece of hard advice from Lady Rosamund: "A lot may be changing. But some things remain the same."
She's busted Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) for spending the night at the home of technically-still-married Michael Gregson, and presumably means to explain that wearing tuxedos to dinner instead of tails is not the same thing as adultery.
Edith hasn't been the only one indulging in hanky-panky this week, so Rosamund's insistence that some things remain the same also seems to echo the most timeless of truisms: People have sex.
The sloppy kind
It seems Tom Branson (Allen Leech) did, with Edna, the lady's maid. We last saw her sneaking into his room after she'd gotten him drunk, and now she threatens she might be pregnant, and demands to know he'd marry her if so, which must be what happens after Tinder dates.
Tom eventually confides his secret in Mrs. Hughes, who's generally suspected Edna of foul play, and handily cleans up the mess. She accuses Edna of planning to get knocked up, but only later, by another man, after she'd secured a marriage proposal from Tom. Then Hughes threatens to withhold a reference if Edna blabs, which is the way to tie up any loose ends in a plot downstairs. Peace out, Edna.
Meanwhile, Ivy and Jimmy are kissing in a closet, in the middle of the day. Daisy knows, and sends Alfred to walk in so he'll see proof that Ivy fancies someone else. He's so devastated, he decides to apply for a faraway cooking apprenticeship, which I'm pretty sure is how Othello reacted in an earlier draft of that play.
The modern love
Also, in London: black people! Rosamund has a full house — Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Tom came to deal with tax matters of the estate, Rose came because she loves to party, and two of the suitors from last week's episode came to court Mary and Rose. Rose convinces the group to go dancing at the Lotus club, where her date gets drunk, flings her around the dance floor and then abandons her in the middle of the song.
The dashing singer steps off the stage, grabs her hand and finishes the dance, saving Rose from humiliation — and inciting it in Rosamund who sends Branson to "fetch" Rose from the "black bandleader." So maybe her some-things-remain-the-same quote was really just about racism.
Mary's suitor, by the way, Tony Gillingham, is coming on strong. Turns out he's not actually engaged yet, and doesn't want to be anymore, because he's fallen hard for Mary. He proposes to her instead, even though he's only known her a few days, during which she's been depressed, bitchy and generally grieving. If that's what he's into, she was probably right to say "No." After she does, though, on the Abbey's picturesque grounds, he begs for one kiss. She obliges and during it, rabbits, chipmunks, songbirds and all of the animals of the forest come to watch and hum a tune. That last part didn't happen, but it may as well have — we doubt we've seen the last of Tony Gillingham.
Hopefully we'll also see his valet again, Mr. Green, perhaps while hanging from a tree. I don't normally wish bad upon a person, but he assaulted Anna (Joanne Froggatt) last week, and anyway, he's a fictional character. For that matter, the rape was also fictional, which we have to keep reminding ourselves in order to get through it.
Anna continues to refuse to tell her husband, Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle), though, for fear that Bates will kill the guy and then be put to death himself. If I lived in the house, I'd want to kill the guy too. I'd also want to yank on all those cords that ring the bells. Anyway, by keeping the secret, and internalizing the terror, Anna pushes Bates further away. At the end of the episode, she's planning to move back into the main house. The more true to the period the show hews, the more we fear that Anna will never see justice done for the crime.
The stuff of legend
In a far less upsetting nod to historical texture, Edith tells Gregson she has insider knowledge about the fabled upper-class house parties in which guests used a secret signal to return to their assigned beds before their valets and lady's maids arrived in the morning. Her parents attended one of these swinger parties, she says, but claim to have remained in their own beds throughout, which I think was also something Desdemona said in an earlier draft.