From the moment Lord Grantham mentioned how tired Isis looked, we all knew this day was coming. But that doesn't make it any easier. Rest in peace, you kindly Labrador.
It seems every season of "Downton Abbey" brings at least one high-profile death, and on the spectrum of tragedy, Isis' journey into the sweet hereafter lands somewhere in the middle, nowhere near as traumatizing as Matthew's farewell but a great deal sadder than, say, Lavinia's. (Let's be honest: None of us were too upset about that.)
The question now is what purpose Isis' death will serve in the narrative. Maybe it's to heal the rift between Lord and Lady Grantham, which it already appears to have done, or maybe it will simply throw Downton's patriarch into a fit of depression. After all, this is a guy who gets offended by other men petting his dog. I can't imagine he'll take her death too well. (And before you go thinking the Crawley family dog got killed off because she shares her name with a terrorist organization, think again.)
This week, we also say goodbye -- hopefully forever -- to Tony Gillingham, a guy who's proved to be as delusional as he is dull, telling Charles he can't break it off with Mary because "it wouldn't be honorable." Of course, he can't break it off with Mary because there's nothing to break off -- but whatever, let the poor guy believe what he wants. Gillingham finally does get the message, thanks to a scheme your average eighth-grader would probably consider a bit immature: Charles plants a kiss on Mary just as Gillingham and Miss Mabel Lane Fox exit the movie theater. It's a strangely anticlimactic resolution to the Mary-Gillingham romance, but hey, at least we're finally down to one suitor.
Now that the path to Mary's heart has been cleared, Charles is, naturally, headed off on a trade mission to Poland for up to a year. Just when it seemed like we were getting somewhere, that "somewhere" turns out to be Poland. Sigh. I fear we might reach the Great Depression before these two finally get it together. Where is a pigpen when you need one? At least we can take comfort knowing that Charles knows that Mary "went on a sketching trip" with Gillingham and doesn't seem too bothered by it.
Mary and Charles could learn a thing or two from Atticus and Rose, whose romance is moving forward like billy-o, culminating in an awkward-cute proposal following what may be the worst dinner we've seen yet this season on "Downton Abbey." Lord Merton's two sons really put a damper on their father's engagement to Isobel by pointing out her social and economic inferiority and by generally being about as charming as the Menendez brothers.
Understandably, Isobel wants to put the engagement on hold -- news that may be a relief to Violet. As she explains to Mary, the Dowager was so fixed against Isobel's romance with Lord Merton not because she was jealous of her new social position, but because she didn't want to lose her best gal pal.
"I've got used to having a companion, a friend, someone to talk things over with," she says. And darn if it isn't one of the most genuinely heartwarming scenes ever on "Downton Abbey." Maybe the best thing about this otherwise aimless season is the way the show is really putting Maggie Smith to use and turning Violet into a more fully realized character, not just a delivery mechanism for tart bon mots. (Not that we mind that, but of course she's capable of so much more.)
This week also brings a swift conclusion to the game of "Where in the World is Edith Crawley?" It turns out she hasn't really gone into hiding so much as she's just "gone to London for a few days," and all it takes is a visit to Gregson's office to find her.
Somehow no one at Downton has the good sense to think of this possibility until Atticus, who has known Edith for about 10 seconds, suggests it. Either Edith's family really isn't really that bothered by her disappearance, or they are the worst detectives since Inspector Gadget.
Cora and Rosamund fetch Edith, luring her back to Downton with yet another hairbrained scheme: She will "adopt" Marigold, claiming that the Drewes can no longer afford to take care of her. Miraculously, both Lord Grantham and Mary buy the story at face value -- Mary really has lost her touch, hasn't she? -- but it seems as though Anna and Mrs. Hughes know better.
This latest development takes this story line in a strangely undramatic direction. What are the stakes now? I mean, what will happen if Mary finds out that Marigold is actually Edith's daughter? Worst-case scenario, she continues being dreadful to her.
As the season begins to wind down, "Downton Abbey" seems to be widening its scope. This episode is not all that action-packed, but simply because it moves beyond the four or five rooms where 90% of the action on this show takes place -- we visit a London movie theater, the Bates' cottage, Mr. Mason's farm and a picturesque corner of the estate where Sybbie and Branson are playing -- it feels as though some dramatic change is underway, as though the "upstairs, downstairs" dichotomy that has always defined "Downton Abbey" is at last becoming more complicated.