…an episode reminding us all the importance of “enriching the Béchamel.”
Last night’s episode, likely the strongest installment of the fourth season so far, overflowed with huge revelations and critical character moments, and we’ll get to them in due time. But a man needs his priorities, and my priorities (and heart) lie with Mrs. Patmore.
Back when the premiere first aired, I hoped beyond hope that we had not seen the last of Downton’s delightful cook grappling with newfangled kitchen paraphernalia. For a few weeks there, all hope seemed lost, as we never had a chance to return to that plot line (what with Anna’s attack taking center stage). But this patient viewer found himself rewarded twofold last night. The look of utter horror that overtakes Mrs. Patmore’s face while she watches Baxter, Cora’s newest maid, at work at an automatic sewing machine had me in (pardon the pun) stiches. She marvels at its automation, unable to grasp the utter witchcraft of that pedal. The way she hangs back as Baxter mends her torn apron reminded me of a hesitant child approaching a Doberman: curious but not curious enough to get too close.
While Mrs. Patmore could comprehend the benefits of a sewing machine at Downton, our favorite cook very nearly has a coronary when Cora comes downstairs to announce her desire to replace the icebox with a refrigerator. Poor Mrs. Patmore splutters half-hearted rejoinders, unable to formulate coherent thoughts in this time of unexpected tragedy**. This sequence is, in my mind, Downton’s equivalent of the Red Wedding. I’m afraid the Mrs. Patmore we once knew and loved is gone forever. #ArtistFormerlyKnownAsPatmore
** No ice deliveries? What form of blasphemy is this?
Interestingly, Patmore’s technological reticence plays into the bigger theme of impending modernity playing out over the course of the episode. She is not alone in her distrust of change; Robert himself falls victim to his sentimentality. After a Downton tenant named Drew dies, the significant debt he left behind to his son forces Drew the Younger to relinquish the tenancy in order to pay back Lord Grantham***. Despite Drew the Elder’s debt, Robert considers the family loyal and so decides to defy modern convention and allow his traditionalist leanings to guide him: he allows Drew to stay on, even providing him with financial support to pay off the debt and remain a Downton tenant indefinitely. Robert knows how hard out there it is for a pimp, so he’ll do anything to fly in the face of advancement! Take that sociological betterment! How’s it feel now? Guys, I think I’m sort of starting to see why Downton totally went bankrupt a few seasons ago because, um, Robert is a real dumb-dumb financially speaking. But this also shows he might have the burning ember of a heart in that ribcage? So that’s progress! Hurray Robert!
***Or something like that? I didn’t really care about the particulars, and neither did you if we can both pause, cut the BS, and be honest with one another. There, feel better?
If we’re keeping it real (and, as you know, that is the only way to keep it when it comes to Downton Abbey), the whole Bates/Anna fiasco ties into the concept of modernity too, as a snapshot of the changing nature of male-female interactions. While I’ve had my gripes with the rape plot overall, it has admittedly shed some light on this dark corner of women’s history, so that’s something. Having said that, boy oh boy was I glad when Bates overhears Mrs. Hughes and Anna talking in code about her attack. To make a long story short, he threatens to leave Anna forever if Mrs. Hughes doesn’t spill this can of unfortunate beans, so he now knows about her attack, and he really wants to go all Liam Neeson on the culprit. I mean like legit neck snapping, car door slamming, bridge heaving, electrocuting you while you’re strapped to a chair Neeson. Not sure about you, but that would very much tickle my fancy. #Taken3
Anna, of course, wants to protect Bates from the truth because she does not want him to go Neeson for some reason (oh right, jail and stuff). But underlying all that, of course, she fears Bates will be unable to look beyond the stigma of her as a rape victim. In a brilliantly subtle and symbolic moment, Bates rests his hand on Anna’s, stopping her from scrubbing those shoes she’s been cleaning since last week. For Bates, she has nothing to scrub from her soul, for she has been neither spoiled nor sullied; in fact, the needless suffering she’s endured has sanctified her, and his love remains as passionate for her as ever. Bates is a sensitive, modern man, breaking down and weeping over his wife’s torment****.
****This all works really well, but I can’t help but question the decision to turn Anna’s rape into Bates’s story, as it seems very much like a male writer taking this plotline in a direction he’s more comfortable with. Still, Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggatt crushed it.
Meanwhile, Alfred’s all about personal advancement, trying to realize his dreams of being Gordon Ramsay by attending a cooking test for possible employment at the Ritz. Ultimately, he doesn’t make it (maybe he’s too much beanpole, not enough cream puff?), but Carson hopes this strengthens his resolve while Daisy bounces all around the kitchen, delighted by Alfred’s failure because she is crushing all over that ginger face of his and totally hearts him 4ever. Seriously, though, I loved this plotline so much because it gave me that idea for Top Chef: Downton that I just came up with now.
When it comes to stagnation, it’s time for #MoseleyWatch! Looks like Carson figures Alfred’s a shoe-in for that cooking position and offers Moseley a preemptive gig as replacement footman, but Moseley’s still reeling from those gloves he’d have to wear, so he needs to think it over. In the meantime, Alfred flubs it and returns just as Moseley tells Carson he’ll accept the lowly position. *Sad trombone* Oh, Moseley, your misery delights us all so very, very much! Don’t ever change!
Elsewhere, Thomas and Baxter forge an alliance in douchebaggery, Branson wants to live in America, Robert’s birthday approaches and Rose wants on the party planning committee, Edith might be pregnant, Mr. Napier returns to Downton with eyes on Mary, the Dowager Countess thinks her new gardener is a thief or possibly just a connoisseur of all things Swedish, and did I mention EDITH MIGHT BE PREGNANT?
In short, this episode’s balance of witty comedy and dynamite drama fell in perfect balance, launching it to the front of the season’s installments so far. We’re halfway through now, and—like the best of Downton—it left me positively clamoring for more.
Until next weekend, Downtonites!
Snippets of Intrigue
– Thomas: “Mrs. Patmore is not what you’d call a futurist.”
– Dowager Countess: “The one thing we don’t want is a poet in the family!”
– Cora: “Is there any aspect of the present day that you can accept without resistance?”
Mrs. Patmore: “Well, my lady, I wouldn’t mind getting rid of my corset.”
– Dowager Countess [on Isobel’s passionate nature]: “Wars have been waged with less fervor.”
– Bates: “Nothing is over, and nothing is done with.”