Caution: This review contains spoilers.
Episode four of “Downton Abbey” put Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) in a bit of a tight spot: tell Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) why Anna (Joanne Froggatt) has pushed him away or let him leave Downton. She chooses the former, knowing that Bates’ departure would break Anna’s heart. As Anna predicted, Bates intends to take action against the perpetrator. Fans may need to dig up those “Free Bates” shirts if he does follow through on his vow.
The other focus of the episode concerns the running of the estate. Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Tom (Allen Leech) want to finalize the eviction of the Drew family, news that Robert (Hugh Bonneville) delivers at a funeral of all places. However, Robert later changes his mind and offers to help Mr. Drew with the arrears. Mary and Tom let him have his way on the matter because they recognize that Mr. Drew is a good man.
More developments come about for the other characters. Phyllis Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) arrives to serve as maid to Cora (Elizabeth McGovern). She has a history with Barrow (Rob James-Collier), who tasks her with being nice to everyone and keeping him informed of even the smallest details about the Crawleys and the staff. Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) goes to London and visits a doctor. Perhaps we can expect a new cousin for George and Sybbie? Also, Alfred (Matt Milne) takes a cooking exam at the Ritz in London, but he receives a rejection letter in the mail.
This season does not seem up to par with previous ones for many reasons. Firstly, there is the obvious and gaping hole left by the departure of Dan Stevens as Matthew Crawley. Mary seems to have no shortage of suitors, but they are old acquaintances or friends of hers, rather than the outsider and modern thinker that Matthew was. (That does not mean that Evelyn Napier and Lord Gillingham haven’t dispensed good advice to Mary.) On another note, we have the grandchildren, but they pop in and out only momentarily when the nanny is not around. Additionally, “Downton” has a large cast: too many subplots in a single episode can throw off the momentum and focus. There is a great risk of foreshadowing an issue but losing steam when the “great reveal” finally comes because there are so many other characters to share the spotlight.
With that said, there is one dynamic that never fails to disappoint: the bickering between Violet (Maggie Smith) and Isobel (Penelope Wilton). Always eager to help the villagers, Isobel convinces Violet to hire young Pegg as a gardener. At one point, Violet quips, “I wonder if your halo doesn’t grow heavy. It must be like wearing a tiara around the clock.” Unfortunately, she suspects the new gardener of being a thief, setting the stage for an investigation. Will Isobel play detective with Dr. Clarkson (David Robb) as her Watson?