Warning, if you haven’t seen this week’s episode PLEASE don’t read any further. Because this was the week that Downton went dark – and I don’t mean the Dowager’s doom-laden warnings about electricity in the house have come true.
We all knew something was going to happen. ITV refused to let journalists see previews of the episode, and whenever that’s happened before the nation’s ended up in floods of tears over a major character’s death. But this time things were slightly different. At the start of the episode an ITV continuity announcer warned us there would be ‘violent scenes’. Definitely not something that’s ever been said about the ever-so-slightly-cuddly Downton before. So, of course we were waiting for it to happen (and waiting, and waiting; Julian Fellowes really likes to bring his major plot points out in the last few minutes).
Anyway, all started off fine and dandy with Lord Robert and Lady Cora opening up the Abbey for a house party and inviting a select group of guests to sip their best wine and eat Mrs Patmore’s best dishes. Everyone arrived, including the dishy new Lord Gillingham (Tom Cullen) who was obviously there to provide Mournful Mary with a reason not to wear black (she still is). And below stairs, we were introduced to the Lords’ and Ladies’ staff. Actually that’s not true, we were only introduced to one other valet, played by Nigel Harman – far too well-known an actor to be playing a bit part.
As ever, Julian served up his best one-liners for the Dowager Countess who got the chance to proclaim to the dinner table, ‘If I was to search for logic, I should not look for it in the English upper classes’. Ooh, she’s a card that one! Meanwhile Mournful Mary and the glamorous Gillingham (‘He looks like a pirate,’ pronounced Robert) were busy getting to know one another over dinner as he revealed he has ‘no children, no wife’. That’s helpful, Mary, because you don’t seem to have a child anymore – WHERE IS GEORGE?! Missing for the second episode in a row. I reckon evil Nanny West smuggled him out in that massive pram when she was sacked and no-one’s noticed yet. Still, Mary and her new would-be beau continued with their gentle flirting as they cantered round the estate on a pair of huge horses: ‘It’s good to be back in the saddle, I’ll be stiff as a board in the morning’. You know how to flirt, Mary!
Downstairs the on-going trauma of Mr Molesley continued to play out. Helpfully Jimmy the Footman managed to sprain his wrist whilst showing off to kitchen maid Ivy (I am SO bored of this storyline). So, Mr Carson decided Mr Molesley, now reduced to working as an errand boy at the local grocers, could fill in as footman for the big dinner. Molesley didn’t really see it as a huge step up: ‘I’m having my career backwards’ was maybe the line of the week.
Once they’d all been fed and watered, and a silly minor plot about how snobby Carson and Robert were being about having Dame Nellie Melba in the house (‘What does one say to a singer?’), the real meat of the episode kicked in. As Dame Nellie serenaded upstairs and down with O Mio Bambino, Anna slipped away from the concert as she had a headache. Lord Gillingham’s valet saw his chance. After flirting with her for most of the episode, and really getting Mr Bates’s back up, the evil valet decided he was going to get what he wanted. To be honest, I’m not sure whether the idea of a Downton character being raped was more shocking or if it was the punch in the face he gave her right at the beginning which seemed to come out of nowhere. It was definitely the most shocking plotline I’ve seen on the show.
As this happened in the closing minutes of the episode, there wasn’t much time for anything else, apart from Anna begging Mrs Hughes not to tell anyone what happened. She’s worried Mr Bates will kill the evil valet if he finds out and as he’s already a convicted felon he’d definitely hang this time. But we know this plot isn’t over – Mr Bates is bound to find out and who knows what will happen then? We’ll probably find out in the closing minutes of episode four.