Caution: This review contains spoilers.
Last night’s episode of “Downton Abbey” was a marked improvement from the previous week, even though it did not offer surprises. In many ways, it was a return to the quips, wit, and dinner pageantry that has always made the serial popular. Understandably, the characters (and fans) have been mourning Matthew’s (Dan Stevens) passing, but the plot direly needed to move forward.
The Crawleys throw a “surprise” dinner party for Robert’s (Hugh Bonneville) birthday, giving Rose (Lily James) an opportunity to sneak in a jazz band. Of course, the band is led by none other than Jack Ross (Gary Carr), the debonair singer who rescued her from embarrassment back in London. After the festivities, Mary (Michelle Dockery) discovers that Rose and Jack are more than just acquaintances. Thus, the question of interracial dating comes into play.
Meanwhile, Edith (Laura Carmichael) receives a letter from the doctor, confirming that she is pregnant with Michael Gregson’s (Charles Edwards) child. It seems she never gets a break, as she is despondent over Michael’s silence. Is Michael involved in shady business in Germany? In any case, it’s likely that the romance between Edith and Michael is over.
The highlight of the night was the clash between Isobel (Penelope Wilton) and Lady Violet (Maggie Smith). An ornate letter opener has gone missing from the desk of the Dowager Countess. Young Pegg (Joncie Elmore), the new gardener’s assistant, is the prime suspect. When another trinket goes missing, Lady Violet fires him, beginning a series of memorable discussions with Isobel over materialism and justice. For a detailed play-by-play, you may peruse an excellent review by Artsbeat columnist Dave Itzkoff. Dr. Clarkson (David Robb) makes a brief appearance to decide the final outcome: “I’d say that was game, set and match to Lady Grantham.” (Itzkoff may have gone too far in connecting the tennis language with his Superbowl style commentary. Nonetheless, his column is quite insightful and entertaining.)
The best quip of the night comes from the Dowager Countess as she says to Isobel, “I wonder you don’t just set fire to the Abbey and dance ‘round it, painted with woad and howling.” The chemistry between Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton is priceless.
A candidate at the Ritz dropped out, allowing Alfred (Matt Milne) to move to London after all. Despite her sadness over Alfred’s departure, Daisy (Sophie McShera) wishes him good luck at the last minute. Alfred’s position as footman is eventually filled by Moseley, after an amusing battle between Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) and Mr. Carson (Jim Carter). There has yet to be a play-by-play on that series of confrontations.
Ivy (Cara Theobold) is furious with Jimmy (Ed Speleers) for making advances after an evening at the movies. She recognizes that Alfred was a gentleman compared to Jimmy, which upsets Daisy.
Evelyn Napier (Brendan Patricks) and Charles Blake (Julian Ovenden) arrive at Downton, preparing to research estates in the area. Is the Abbey also in a precarious state?
Bates (Brendan Coyle) and Anna (Joanne Froggatt) try to move past her ordeal by having a romantic dinner out. Unfortunately, Anna knows that Bates sees murder. Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) rescues them from a haughty restaurant host, which guarantees them “a table for life”.
Next week, Mary takes on Charles Blake. Isobel discovers that the Dowager Countess is ill, which may bring that rematch after all.
“Downton Abbey” airs Sunday evenings on PBS Masterpiece.