TV REVIEW: Downton Abbey - Episode Four

With Downton Abbey now safely in the possession of Matthew Crawley and Lord Grantham, attention is turned to getting the house in order with the arrival of a new footman. Meanwhile, Branson lands himself in hot water both sides of the Irish Sea with a loyal Sybil following in his wake.

Continuing with its weekly well-dressed melodrama, Downton Abbey has slipped back into everyone's lives like a warm, sequinned comfort blanket of tears, romance with a patchwork of Maggie Smith's one-liners. It's never been challenging viewing but last night felt like the show had relaxed into itself and was simply treading the well-worn path of previous episodes of light comedy followed by Lord Grantham shouting at someone in a belligerent manner. 

This someone was of course Tom Branson (Allen Leech) this time around, facing the Lord's fury after his political activities get him into trouble with the authorities, forcing him to abandon Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) in Ireland and run away to safety. It's the most interesting plotline of the episode and I'm a big advocate of any development that involves more Allen Leech. It also gave us one of the funniest scenes in the series so far as the Dowager Countess proceeded to side with Branson for the most hilarious reasons; namely that she didn't like the castle he was alleged to have helped burn down. But poor Branson, he just can't keep his mouth shut can he? But then again, he would be a much less interesting character if he did. And with that, we get to one of my gripes with this episode.

Downton has always been a fairly conservative show and maintaining or recovering the status quo has always been one of the key tropes across the series; Mary and Matthew should be together-Lavinia gets in the way-Lavinina dies of Spanish flu-Mary and Matthew get married is a classic example (and one I do keep coming back to because it's hilarious). Now we have Sybil and Branson's socially unacceptable marriage, they leave for Ireland and look set to make a life together outside of Downton. But that simply cannot be! It's just far too leftfield for the residents of Downton to cope with. So Mr Fellowes, master of convenience, gets Branson into trouble with the Anglo-Irish and Lord Grantham comes to the rescue by imprisoning his wayward daughter and the former chauffeur in the house. We're back to where we were in the last series, with everyone back at Downton. 

But wouldn't it have been far more interesting to have Branson and Sybil remain in Dublin and have the Crawleys go and visit them? Just think about it - the Dowager Countess bulldozing her way into Anglo-Irish negotiations with all the subtlety of an elephant but all the wit of Oscar Wilde. This is the roaring 20s after all, everything is going a little topsy turvy but short of the fashion, you can't tell that Downton even made it through the First World War. Martha Levinson kept going on about how the Crawleys can't cope with change, but we don't see them getting a chance to; everything just goes back to normal. I want a big shake-up, the kind of upheaval that the loss of Downton hinted at (though was of course conveniently averted).

Thank God then for Edith (Laura Carmichael), new footman Jimmy (Ed Speelers - from the film Eragon. Remember that? No me neither) and the ever-schemeing Thomas (Rob James-Collier). The first meeting between Jimmy and Thomas prompted both me and my friend to predict a future dalliance between the pair or at least provide O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran) with an opportunity for revenge so it'll be interesting to see where that goes. Meanwhile, Edith has soldiered on after the heartbreak of being left at the altar and gone all feminist on us. Hurrah! Maybe Edith will get a happy ending after all? 

Elsewhere in the episode, Daisy (Sophie McShera) has her hopes of love with the new footman whose name I still haven't learnt because of a pretty new kitchenmaid (the same kitchenmaid she's begged for from Mrs Patmore (Lesley Nicol). Oh Daisy), The Anna (Joanne Froggat) and Mr Baaates (Brendan Coyle) storyline continues to be a bit of a snorefest as something goes awry with the pair's letters and they pine over each other for a little while before getting their letters back and pining over them instead. And Mrs Crawley (Penelope Wilton) helps Ethel (Amy Nuttall) give up her son to his grandparents which was actually quite sad.

Tune in next week for more corseted shenanigans!

- Becky

You can read Becky's previous Downton Abbey reviews here.

Follow Becky on Twitter @beckygracelea
Or follow her blog

TV REVIEW: Merlin - Arthur's Bane Part Two