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With Edna's absence (THANK GOODNESS), Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) was once again without a lady's maid -- a position that has now been filled thanks to Thomas's (Rob James-Collier) recommendation of some random woman named Baxter (Raquel Cassidy). Baxter, shockingly, seems really nice (she gives Cora ORANGE JUICE with her breakfast, which brings on a bout of the I MISS AMERICA FEELS), and is a total whiz with a sewing machine. If you've seen Land Girls, Baxter's face may be familiar as she was featured in that show's second season. She also appeared in the Doctor Who season six two-parter, "The Rebel Flesh" and "The Almost People." I've heard from a friend who has watched the whole season that the Baxter storyline as regards her connection to Thomas -- and his apparent hold over her -- isn't satisfactorily resolved this season. At this point given their similar coloring my guess is she is a relative of some sort. Thoughts?
Anna is still determined to keep the truth of her attack from Bates (Brendan Coyle), and this is NOT going well because she's moved back into Downton and can't even attempt to mask her emotional turmoil in Bates's presence. I mean obviously something is seriously wrong -- though apparently enough time has passed between this episode and the attack for her to know that she did not become pregnant (THANK GOODNESS...if Fellowes had gone THAT route I might have broken my television screen). Poor Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) is stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place as she wants to honor Anna's wishes, but she's sure that Anna SHOULD tell Bates and work through this as a couple.
Here is where things get a little weird for me. Bates basically corners Mrs. Hughes and blackmails her into revealing Anna's secret by threatening to leave. She does so, but insists that the rapist was a random, outside attacker that will be impossible to identify (of course Bates does NOT buy this, given that Anna's change in manner coincides the the end of the houseparty). I GET why Bates is upset...I GET his impulse to want revenge on the man who wounded his wife. But it really sort of astounds me that both Anna and Mrs. Hughes are positive Bates would just go out and whack the rapist, which kind of makes me re-think the whole, interminable storyline regarding the death of the FIRST Mrs. Bates. Setting aside Anna's trauma just for a moment, both women seem remarkably okay with the idea that Bates's teddy bear exterior masks a potential cold-blooded killer. Somebody talk me through this here -- I'm honestly not trying to make some sort of judgement call, because I get the desire to protect and the raw anger and grief Bates must be feeling when he hears WHY Anna has become so withdrawn -- but I wasn't entirely comfortable with the way he pushed Mrs. Hughes during their conversation (though goodness knows she can handle ANYTHING), or the way he starts to plot his revenge, certain of the rapist's identity -- never mind that, if he's caught, Anna may be avenged BUT she'll be left without a husband. That said, though, the scene where Bates and Anna FINALLY talk everything out and he reassures her of his love and her value in his eyes, reassures her that any guilt or shame that she's been struggling with are undeserved lies, that moment was beautifully played and heart-wrenching to watch.
WAIT A SEC. I just figured out my problem. I'M OVER-THINKING A SOAP OPERA. Moving on...
The big upstairs storyline involves the death of a longtime tenant and Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Branson's (Allen Leech) proposed plan to follow through on foreclosing on the lease, thereby allowing Downton to farm that tract of land. Robert (Hugh Bonneville) hates to seen the long-time tenants lose their lease, as they've worked Crawley property for...well, so long I can't remember. At the funeral he is approached by the son, Tim Drewe (Andrew Scarborough), who would like to halt the foreclosure, continue working his family's land, and pay off his father's debt. Robert is inclined to loan the man the money and views his earnest proposal as a good bet, but suspects (rightly) that Mary will object (BECAUSE THAT'S JUST THE WAY THINGS ROLL AROUND HERE, FOLKS). I was pleasantly surprised by how this storyline played out -- I expected Mary's rather more cutthroat business instinct to be proved correct, but instead when she discovers that her father loaned Drewe the money without a word to her, she's moved by his generosity and dedication to the longtime business association between the families. If anyone is a good business bet, I would hope this Drewe fellow rewards Robert's faith in him -- I see he's slated to appear in the season's final two episodes, so I suppose we'll see!
The whole kerfuffle over whether Drewe stays or goes seems to have reawakened Branson's socialist leanings, which gets him to dwelling on the fact that since he's been a part of the Crawley family he doesn't fit in anywhere -- more than a chauffeur but less than an aristocrat. (I expect that sense of new identity, of blending families is a side effect of marriage, Tom, but whatevs...) So he starts talking about moving to America, which as long as Leech is happy with his contract I don't see happening, but it gets Cora all worked up because she doesn't want Sybbie to leave -- but oh does she ever get the allure of America as the land of opportunity. (Robert, just HUG IT OUT with him. Bet you anything he'd stay then!) ;-) Side note: wasn't it great to see Sybbie and George in the nursery? And wasn't Branson ADORABLE with his daughter?! THE CUTENESS. I die.
Alfred (Matt Milne) is accepted to the Ritz's cooking program, and every spare moment is filled with cooking lessons from Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) and Daisy (Sophie McShera). Sophie is ALL torn up about the prospect of him leaving, but Mrs. Patmore continues to urge her to do the right thing and support his dreams, etc. Alfred is nice enough and all but I am PAST ready for Daisy to meet a fellow who is NUTS about her from the start! Anyways, all of her worrying is for naught as Alfred doesn't make the cut -- but it was an interesting "field trip" away from Downton, and one hopes he sticks it to Jimmy (Ed Speleers) and continues to pursue his dreams. I don't even get Jimmy's point now -- all he does is make snarky comments and moon after Ivy (Cara Theobold), and even she seems to be getting a bit sick of it all.
Molesley (Kevin Doyle) is extra pathetic this episode. When Carson (Jim Carter) thinks Alfred will be leaving, he broaches the possibility with Molesley of taking the position of footman. He hems and haws about it so much he offends Carson, who hilariously RELISHES telling Molesley off after he deigns to accept the come-down job-wise. HELLO. Would the man not rather be a footman, back in the big house as it were, than paving streets? He does not seem cut out for manual labor, just sayin'!!
There is a whole subplot involving Isobel (Penelope Wilton) attempting to find the son of a local widow a gardening position in Violet's (Maggie Smith) household. The whole did the gardener steal the letter opener thing felt kinda worthless EXCEPT for the fact that Isobel and Violet were back to snarking at each other. Honestly, I didn't realize how much I'd missed the more adversarial side of their relationship. ;-) I do wonder how Isobel's story arc is going to play out, now that she isn't actively involved in the day-to-day life at Downton, as she was in Matthew's day. I don't feel like the family is purposely cutting her out, but obviously both sides need to perhaps make more of an effort to connect, for George's sake if nothing else.
Wrapping things up, Mary gets an visit from an old friend -- Evelyn Napier (Brendan Patricks)! She should just marry him and get it over with. ;-) He's adorable. And apparently GAINFULLY EMPLOYED traveling the countryside with his boss, Charles Blake, and assessing the impact of the war on the sustainability of the country's estates...or something. I guess it perhaps boils down to seeing if they can pay their taxes?? Anyways...Mary is all STAY HERE, YOU'RE ADORABLE...and I can pick your brain about running Downton. So next week we get Charles Blake's introduction, and please FOR THE LOVE let him be less pathetic than Gillingham!!!
Oh...and did I mention that Edith (Laura Carmichael) is preggers?? OBVIOUSLY.
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