Downton Abbey Season 4, Episode 4: Honest Evolution

Anna confesses her dark secret to Mr. Bates amidst an increasingly changing Downton estate.


This week’s episode of Downton Abbey was filled with a series of unexpected (and somewhat expected) reactions and subtle twists. And, of course, we continue to plod along with the series’ running theme, as Mary so aptly articulates: “The world moves on and we must move with it.”

When a long-time Downton tenant, Mr. Drew, dies, leaving behind a sizable delinquency in payments, Mary and Tom want to foreclose the property and farm the land themselves. With an eye ever-trained on the sustainability of the estate, the two young family members work to convince Robert that this is the best plan from a business perspective. 

However, Mr. Drew’s son approaches Robert personally and invokes the idea that the relationship between the Crawleys and their tenants is a partnership. He wants to continue to farm, and to sustain the partnership, but cannot pay off the debt in full. Robert, in what Mary later terms an act of great decency, agrees to keep the family on and lend Mr. Drew’s son the money to cover the debt.

This act and the compromise it represents are demonstrative of just how far Robert has come in recent seasons. Formerly a stickler for the old rules of society and the no-holds-barred preserving of aristocratic tradition, Robert has softened a bit in his personal relation to members of other classes. Most of all, we have Tom Branson’s presence to thank for this growth. Before Tom, Robert would never have considered the possibility that someone from a lower class could understand the complexities of estate management - let alone an Irishman. He may still disapprove of Tom’s socialist roots, but his eyes have been opened.

We can also thank Matthew and Isobel for their role in Robert’s progress. They, too, came from a lower, working class background into his stuffy aristocratic world - though, by virtue of their relation to the Crawleys, they’re not as working-class as Tom. Being around Isobel with her noble commitment to the common man is no doubt thought-provoking for Robert - even if it was the object of the Dowager’s signature ridicule in this episode.

I’m glad to see him softening his resistance, especially if Tom leaves for the United States. Tom, who has always felt out-of-place in the Downton household, is considering starting over in America with baby Sybil. In that case, Robert and Mary will face the challenge of both saying goodbye to Sybil’s namesake, and being co-managers of the estate. Tom and Mary have alternately been a buffer between one another and Robert, so without Tom, the dynamic could change considerably. We will see just how far to the left Robert will go when he has to argue with his daughter over matters that he thinks she isn’t smart enough to discuss.

Then again, now that Evelyn Napier is back in the picture, Mary’s position is foggy. With Napier’s shady “government project” underway, and given all that Mr. Pamuk business, I can’t imagine that this is a romantic visit on his part. There seems to be something sinister about the way Napier is so cool-headed in the face of Mary’s enthusiasm for his advice. Let’s not conflate love and business here, Lady Mary. The results could be dangerous.

Robert’s patience and understanding will also be needed if Edith turns out to be pregnant. Edith spent a night with Michael Gregson before he left for Germany, and in this week’s episode she covertly visited a doctor in London. If I’m not mistaken, it’s the same doctor Matthew and Mary visited when they were having fertility problems. So what happens if Edith is pregnant, out-of-wedlock, by a married man she hasn’t heard from since he left for Germany to go become a citizen and divorce his wife for her? Why, what Downton does best, of course: drama.

Downstairs, Anna’s story developed further this week. She knows there is no baby; we are left to wonder how she found out, but probably the same way every woman finds out she’s not pregnant every month.

Then Mr. Bates overhears Mrs. Hughes imploring Anna to tell him the truth. In the privacy of her office, he demands that Mrs. Hughes tell him what’s going on, or he will resign. 

Mrs. Hughes says that she thinks the pain of losing him would finish Anna, and tells him the truth of what happened. However, she leaves out the identity of the perpetrator, and for good reason.

When Bates tells Anna he knows, he hints at vengeance.

“If it was the valet, he’s a dead man.”

Otherwise, the exchange between the loving couple is sweet, but overly chivalrous. When Anna sobs again that she is shamed and spoiled, Bates’ response is puzzling.

“You are not spoiled. You are made higher to me, and holier because of the suffering you’ve been put through. You’re my wife and I have never been prouder nor loved you more than I love you now at this moment.”

The idea that being raped (notice, we still haven’t actually heard the word rape) makes one holier is a challenging pill to swallow. I understand that he means to put her at ease, to counter her conviction that she is somehow unclean. But framing the act as anything other than a painful, experience for the victim does not solve any problems.

However, I can forgive the confusing suggestion because Bates - quiet, hardened, country boy Bates - is so darn poetic in that moment. Their love is palpable, and it is a relief that he finally knows. I only hope he won’t handle it in the way Anna fears.


Also downstairs, the ladies of the kitchen train Albert for his exam in at the Ritz Carlton in London. He has a natural talent as a cook, but barely misses the cut for the culinary program he aspires to. I imagine he will continue to practice and hone his skill, and maybe try again, especially since he has Mr. Carson’s support. Outside the kitchen, Carson comforts a dejected Alfred with a rare moment of straightforward praise.

“I reckon you work hard and you deserve to succeed.”

Mr. Carson is evolving and adjusting to the new century, too - I dare say even faster than the rest of them.

Other signs of the time in this episode include an electric sewing machine (brought by Baxter, Cora’s new lady’s maid) and a refrigerator, which Cora works hard to convince Mrs. Patmore to adopt, leading to one of the episode’s most chuckle-worthy quotes: when Cora asks “is there any aspect of the present day that you can accept without resistance?”, Mrs. Patmore responds in a whisper.

“Oh, my lady. I wouldn’t mind getting rid of me corset.”

If that’s not a mantra for Downton these days, I don’t know what is.

Post new comment

* Field must be completed for your comment to appear on The NewsHouse
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.