Have things returned to a state of semi-normalcy at Downton Abbey? Edith (Laura Carmichael) seems resigned to spinsterhood; Matthew (Dan Stevens) has rescued the estate from financial ruin; Isobel (Penelope Wilton) is out to save the world; and Carson (Jim Carter) is trying to preserve Downton’s dignity by hiring more servants. Yep, business as usual.
Edith is beginning to bounce back after being jilted at the altar, with the help of some sage advice from her grandmother, the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith). “Edith, you’re a woman with a brain, and reasonable ability. Stop whining, and find something to do!” This is the woman who invented real talk, people.
But as one broken heart heals, two more are hurting. Downstairs, everyone is getting mail but Anna (Joanne Froggatt), who has heard nothing from Bates (Brendan Coyle) in ages. “I worry that he’s being gallant and trying to set me free,” she tells Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan). But in jail, an increasingly grizzled Bates is also dismayed to receive nothing. What’s going on?
There is a letter for Mrs. Hughes, however, and it arrives (via do-gooder Isobel) from former Downton maid Ethel (Amy Nuttall). She wants to set up a meeting with the Bryants, the grandparents of her son Charlie. (Downton refresher: Ethel had a son with a rich soldier who recuperated at Downton during its stint as a wartime hospital. He returned to the front, was a total jerk upon hearing Ethel was pregnant, and then died.)
The real drama hits when Tom (Allen Leech) arrives at Downton unannounced, pounding on the door in the pouring rain, which is never a good sign. His involvement in the Irish troubles has him on the run. In this case, he’s accused of plotting to burn an aristocratic Irish family’s home. Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) is following him to Downton, and Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) is understandably pissed. “Good God almighty!” he shouts at Tom. “You abandon a pregnant woman in a land that’s not her own, you leave her to shift for herself while you run for it?!” Everyone is sent to bed.
In the morning, Lord G is persuaded to pull some strings in London to keep Tom out of jail, for Sybil’s sake. “What a harsh world you live in,” he tells Tom.
“We all live in a harsh world, but at least I know I do,” Tom fires back. Snap!
Harsh world case in point: Ethel brings Charlie to Isobel’s house, where his grandparents are waiting. She’s decided to let the Bryants raise him, knowing they can provide for him in a way she’ll never be able to. “I give you my blessings for your whole life long, my darling boy,” she says, as she kisses him goodbye. “You won’t remember that, or me, but they’ll stay with you all the same.” Anyone who doesn’t cry as Ethel watches her son drive away should have their pulse checked.
There are more tears as Sybil arrives at Downton, into the arms of her weepy, relieved husband. She defends his actions to her family, but sides with them when it comes to taking refuge at her family home, at least until the baby is born. Tom doesn’t want to stay away from Ireland, but Lord G tells him, “You’ll be arrested the moment you touch dry land.” So we’re guessing they’ll stay put, for now.
After his jerkwad cellmate tried and failed to set him up last week, Bates returns the favor. Their cell is tossed again, and this time — surprise, surprise — something is found in his cellmate’s bunk. Bates is back on the good list, and soon a stack of letters from Anna is delivered. “They came when you were out of favor. Now you’re in favor again,” says his jailer/postman.
“Why, what have I done?” asks Bates, and we’re glad he does because we’re not 100% sure what’s going on in this shady jailhouse. But, as Anna says when she gets her own stack of suspiciously backlogged letters, “I neither know nor care, as long as I’ve got them.”
Edith, in the meantime, has found a pastime! American women will soon have the vote, and when Edith expresses anger (albeit reserved, Downton-y anger) that she doesn’t have the same right, Matthew suggests she write to the Times. She does, and it’s published. Do we see the beginnings of a single career woman?
As always, there are plenty of other breadcrumbs laid down. Matthew seems glum when Mary (Michelle Dockery) turns a nursery into a sitting room, so there may be something going on in the baby department. He also thinks Downton is being mismanaged, but Lord G cuts that conversation off (over cigars, natch) before Matthew can even get it started.
The stage is also set for romantic drama downstairs, because there’s a hot new footman on staff (“He looks like a footman in a musical revue!” exclaims the Dowager Countess). Jimmy Kent (Ed Speleers, above right) already has Thomas (Rob James-Collier) and the ladies in a tizzy, while cute new kitchen maid Ivy (Cara Theobold) has Alfred (Matt Milne) in a lather and Daisy (Sophie McShera), who likes Alfred, in a fury.
We’ll stay tuned to see how all of this plays out, but until then let’s all watch Anna and Bates read their letters by lamplight and know that everything will be OK.