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'Downton Abbey' recap: Bates set to go psycho

Downton Abbey (tv program)Julian Fellowes

Is Bates about to live up to his name and go "psycho"?

That’s the question we’re left with at the end of Sunday’s “Downton Abbey,” as the seemingly mild-mannered valet and wrongly convicted criminal, having learned about his wife’s rape, warns Mrs. Hughes that “nothing’s over and done with.” Given the ominous music swelling on the soundtrack, the indication seems to be that, yes, Bates is bent on revenge.

On the one hand, it’s hard to blame the guy for wanting a bit of justice. Bates is prompted to action after eavesdropping on Anna and Mrs. Hughes during their 823rd identical conversation about the rape and why it can’t be reported (OK, maybe it was more like the third, but boy it sure feels like more than that). He corners Mrs. Hughes and forces her to fess up, threatening to resign unless she does.

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She partially gives in, telling Bates that Anna was raped — though, vexingly, like every other huge confession on “Downton Abbey,” it’s done off-camera. She also fibs about one rather essential detail, the identity of the assailant. Rather than admitting that it was Green, Mrs. Hughes makes up a whopper about an anonymous rapist sneaking into the house and preying upon Anna.

It’s an obvious ploy to keep Bates from going postal, and he sees right through it. Bates reveals his knowledge to Anna, assuring her that she isn’t “spoiled” for him because of the rape — that, in fact, her suffering makes her “higher” and “holier” to him (frankly, that’s also a very problematic reaction). The couple decide to move back in together, though Anna, it appears, is the only one who is ready to really move on.

The question is just what Bates plans to do about Green. Is he going to go to the police, in a likely futile attempt at justice? Will he wait for Lord Gillingham to return to Downton and sneak some rat poison into Green’s pie? Or will he make a hasty trip to London and deal with Green in a more hands-on fashion? My guess is the last option, though I also wonder if his vengeance will extend to anyone other than Green. Perhaps I’m being paranoid, but he sure seemed angry at Mrs. Hughes, didn’t he? In any case, it’s an interesting turn for Bates, a character who has frequently been criticized for his boring saintliness. But just beneath all that heroic stoicism, there’s always been an edge, a faint suggestion that Bates harbors some darker inclinations.

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Outside of Anna and Bates, this episode lacked major plot developments and seemed more about setting the stage for the drama ahead. Cora has a new lady’s maid, Baxter, who is, at least on the surface, a ray of sunshine compared with the dreadful Edna. But she has some sort of shadowy connection to Thomas, who’s planning to use her as his spy. It’s a clever ploy by Thomas: She’s just like O’Brien, only far more personable, saying complimentary things about Lady Sybil, mending Mrs. Patmore’s apron and sucking up to Cora with glasses of orange juice. At this early stage, it’s hard to tell whether Baxter is genuinely nice and for some reason beholden to Thomas or whether she’s just very good at faking it. It’s also unclear what exactly their endgame might be: Do they have a specific goal in mind, or is Thomas simply trying to consolidate his power? We shall see.

Fresh off turning down Gillingham’s proposal, Mary is visited by one of her former suitors, Evelyn Napier, a.k.a. the guy who will forever regret bringing Kamal Pamuk to Downton. He is sweet and adorable in a bumbling British sort of way, noting that he hasn’t seen her “since the whole ghastly business” — that would be Matthew’s death. “It’s lovely to see you looking so lovely,” he says. At least officially, he is not there for romantic purposes but rather for work: He’s conducting a government study of the rural economy, determining which farms might be salvaged and reassuring the Crawleys that Downton is not one of the estates “in serious trouble.” Mary invites Evelyn and his boss, Charles Blake, to stay with them while they’re in the area, a development that promises intrigue of both the romantic and economic variety.

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Whatever practical advice Evelyn is able to provide, it could not come at a more opportune moment. This week Lord Grantham finds yet another way to mismanage the estate, secretly loaning a tenant, Mr. Drew, money so that Mary and Branson won’t evict him. This is the rare instance in which we’re meant to sympathize with one of Grantham’s many, many economically foolhardy decisions — he just wants to do right by a family that’s lived on the estate for generations, after all. Sometimes, Grantham’s paternalism has an upside. (Related: A broken clock is also right twice a day.)

But if Evelyn is hoping to woo Lady Mary, he has arrived at an awkward moment: Gillingham has just announced his proposal to Miss Mabel Lane Fox, and our heroine does not seem to be taking the news too well. Of course, she puts on a brave face for her family and pretends to be happy about the news, but we see her crying glamorously and know she’s dying a little inside. It’s all quite enjoyable — there’s nothing I enjoy quite so much as Lady Mary in stiff-upper-lip mode. I am curious how it will all shake out, though I think Evelyn is destined to be the male version of Lady Edith, constantly subjected by Julian Fellowes to inventive new romantic humiliations. (Speaking of Edith, we don’t see much of her this week, but there are signs of trouble in her relationship with Michael.)

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Or maybe the more apt comparison is to Mr. Molesley, who is fast overtaking Edith as the “Downton Abbey” character Fellowes loves to torture. This week he begrudgingly agrees to be a footman at Downton, but Carson rescinds the offer after Alfred fails to make it into the trainee program at the Ritz. While Carson’s frustration with Molesley’s snobbery is understandable, it would be nice to see the poor guy get a break one of these days.

There are also hints — or more like blunt declarations — that Tom Branson wants to leave Downton and start over in America. As he tells the entire family after dinner, he feels like an intruder, “a man without a home,” who feels it would be better for baby Sybil to start with a clean slate in a new country, "rather than being the daughter of an uppity chauffeur." For a guy who supposedly feels so out of place, Branson is awfully comfortable sharing his feelings, isn’t he?

 

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Twitter: @MeredithBlake

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Downton Abbey (tv program)Julian Fellowes
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