TV Review: Russians, Art, and Boredom on ‘Downton Abbey’

Last week, Mary (Michelle Dockery) seemed pretty optimistic about having a holiday with Tony Gillingham (Tom Cullen) in Liverpool. However, now she looks ready to shake him off and move on to another suitor. She didn’t heed Charles Blake’s (Julian Ovenden) warning from beforehand that Tony was too boring. It’s rather puzzling why she insists on dragging on the affair rather than giving Tony the boot. It’s plain to see that Mary is bored, which probably makes the viewers feel bored as well. Even the fact that she’s seen by Spratt (Jeremy Swift) does little to enliven this part of the plot. One reason for the dragging pace is the fact that Mary’s suitors are not that appealing.

What is more enjoyable is the return of Richard E. Grant as Mr. Bricker. It’s only his second appearance on the program, yet he marks out a stronger presence than both Blake and Gillingham combined. Anyway, Bricker invites Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) to see a della Francesca at the gallery in London. Cora has always been portrayed as faithful to her husband Robert (Hugh Bonneville) and here is no exception in spite of how flattered she feels from Bricker’s compliments. It’s unfortunate that Lord Grantham can be a bit of a boor sometimes, ignoring Cora’s desire to still feel useful at the manor. I highly doubt that she’ll acquiesce to Bricker’s advances, but the art critic is bound to cause more trouble down the line.

The other thread worth paying attention to concerns Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) and Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), who disagree on whether or not to advocate to include Archie’s name on the war memorial. Archie, Mrs. Patmore’s (Lesley Nicol) nephew, was shot for cowardice and is disqualified from such honors. Carson insists that he won’t budge, but we know from the first episode that he detests being on the opposing side. There’s a hilarious one-liner from Mrs. Patmore as she implores Mrs. Hughes for help: “Everyone knows you can twist him ’round your little finger.”

As for other happenings in Downton, Rose (Lily James) is busy doing charity work in York with Russian refugees, who stop by later for tea and to view Romanov relics. It leads to an interesting encounter between the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) and Prince Kuragin (Rad Serbedzija), an old flame from the 1870s. It turns out Lady Violet is not so conservative as she seems, an observation that makes her relent somewhat on pressuring Mary to tie the knot with Tony. Meanwhile, Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) has been spending more time with Marigold, but her frequent visits do much to annoy Mrs. Drewe (Emma Lowndes). Thomas (Rob James-Collier) is looking into “choosing [his] own path,” the police appear to rule out Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle), and Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) gets to stay at Downton after all.

Overall, this episode is rather disappointing, adding some layers here and there but doing little for a “wow” factor. Some plot build up is great, but going too slowly can make for an anti-climatic wrap up of a season. One hopes that next week’s installment will change the course. However, it could very well be the end of “Downton” at season six, with the recent news that PBS only confirmed a sixth season. Last October, it was also announced that writer and creator Julian Fellowes would be working on “The Gilded Age” with NBC. Is season six the last one for “Downton Abbey”?

“Downton Abbey” airs Sunday evenings on PBS at 9|8c.

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