TV REVIEW: Downton Abbey - Episodes 6 & 7

In the aftermath of Sybil's sudden demise, Branson and Lord Grantham are at loggerheads, Matthew and Lord Grantham are at loggerheads and in fact, Lord Grantham falls out with just about everyone. Cora seeks to blame him, the Dowager Countess goes into damage repair, Bates is officially in the clear and Edith takes steps to escape her solitary lifestyle. 

After the monumental upheaval that was the fifth episode ,which saw one of the most beloved characters leave the show, Downton Abbey seems to have scaled back quite a bit. Episode Six continued in the excellent vein established by its predecessor and was thankfully not as weepy or traumatic. Maggie Smith has never given a bad performance in the show and here, she was excellent again, attempting to solve the marital difficulties between Cora and Robert. 

Whilst it handled it excellently, the episode was very much a foundation for the conflicts that are to arise for the remainder of the third series. They say you should never talk about religion at a dinner party though Lord Grantham was sort of asking for it by inviting the local Reverend round in an attempt to convince Branson that the christening should not be a Catholic ceremony. However, he failed to understand the power of the Crawley women en masse and the poor Reverend found himself made a complete fool of by the girls and Branson. It was a great scene, written well for the characters and allowing the Dowager Countess to once again steal the show.

Elsewhere, Matthew is still campaigning for his estate reformation though much of it is falling on the deaf ears of Lord Grantham who appears to be doing the 1920s equivalent of sticking his fingers in his ears and repeating 'la la la' at a loud volume until Matthew goes away. Though of course Matthew is right, because he's Matthew and he's awesome and I'm getting carried away again. Nevertheless, there's still an issue here and the treatment of the estate is fast becoming the most symbolic presence of the twentieth century in Downton. Whilst Lord Grantham represents the stoic attitudes of his predecessors, Matthew's middle-class pragmatism demonstrates the need for change. It's always been an interesting dynamic and one that is being continually brought to the fore after the first episode's insistence of the oncoming modernisation of the post-war era.

In Episode Seven, Branson's brother comes to stay and causes a bit of a stir as Branson decides that he will go reside with him in Liverpool with Sybil Jr while Lord Grantham huffs and puffs a bit. Again. Matthew locks horns with Lord Grantham over the management of the estate and manages to offend the existing estate agent while eventually winning the argument. Edith goes on a date with her new editor as she prepares to write her column and finally looks as if she's going to enjoy herself for at least a little while.

For a series that has been pretty great so far, the penultimate episode was actually pretty lacklustre in its predictability. The central conflicts that had been developing in the previous episode just sort of fizzled out, without any real explosion or argument. The issue of the state in particular had practically signposted episodes earlier that it was going to be the way in which Branson stayed at Downton Abbey. The christening was always going to go Branson's way, as predicted by Mary, and additionally, the return of Mr Bates had all the dramatic tension of a damp newspaper seeing as it was inevitable anyway.

One plotline that still has great potential though is the developing relationship between footman Jimmy and everyone's favourite panto villain, Thomas. Although we predicted in an earlier review that their relationship might be of a romantic nature, Julian Fellowes is still toying with us. The scene between Thomas and Mr Carson in the aftermath of the kiss was excellent from the knowing way that Carson handled the issue to James-Collier's performance. He's long been one of the standout actors and it is always good to see him given something else to do other than plot and scheme with O'Brian. It also offers Downton an opportunity to explore the issue of homosexuality in that time period and how vilified it was. But then again, that kiss was not necessarily one-sided... Could it be a case of Jimmy protesting too much or is he genuinely so disgusted by Thomas that he'll get him fired?

Another plus point of this episode was Hugh Bonnville's performance; despite all of his incredulity, Lord Grantham is forced into giving way on just about everything he disagreed with in previous episodes this time and Bonneville is managing to make his performance thankfully more than one note. The christening in particular was a fine exhibition of both his dramatic and comedic skills and was a nice, gentle scene with which to end the episode.

Other than the final scenes between Jimmy and Thomas, which could lead to some interesting issues being presented, there just seemed to be a lack of spark in the episode this time.

- Becky

You can read Becky's review of Episode Five here.

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