Alright, we admit Downton Abbey Season 6 Episode 4 wasn't quite as exciting as Downton Abbey Season 6 Episode 3 – which featured surprise returns, a wedding, and all kinds of pre-wedding intrigue – but it was certainly a solid installment.
And on the bright side, the random subplots this time around were vastly improved from the other random subplots we've been forced into this season.
Spratt and Denker and Spratt's fugitive nephew, I'm looking at you.
Gwen's triumphant return to Downton (with her husband, Mr. Harding, the women's college treasurer) was one of the better scenes, if not the best. It was also a surprisingly emotional moment.
At first, Gwen was slightly uncomfortable and chose not to reveal that she'd been a housemaid at Downton several years back.
That was totally believable – though she explained to Tom that her husband knew she'd been in service, the Crawleys didn't seems to recognize her, so there seemed no need to bring it up and risk making everyone else uncomfortable as well.
It easily could have gone the other way and made the Crawleys feel strange.
As progressive as they manage to be (most of the time, at least), they still have the odd lapse into retrograde, old-timey modes of thinking (like Cora's over the top freak-out at seeing the servants in her room).
Once Barrow blew Gwen's secret (in the cruelest, most underhanded, Barrowest way imaginable), Gwen came clean. The Crawleys (particularly Isobel) were thrilled to hear what a success story their former employee managed.
What no one was expecting was to hear a poignant reminder of Sybil's lovely nature. To be honest, neither was I.
I'll never forget [Sybil]. Her kindness changed my life.Gwen
Of course, we all remember, in early-Downton, Sybil rushing around trying to arrange things for Gwen. That was a plot that received a not insignificant amount of airtime.
It was lovely to get this impromptu trip down memory lane, as Gwen brought up all the times Sybil helped her out and the Crawleys recalled moments of Sybil's bizarre behavior that all clicked into place once they were told what she'd been doing.
Everyone looked suitably moved and it was a fantastic moment all around. Tom was practically beaming with pride hearing Gwen talk about his late wife's generosity.
It brought back the memory of seeing Tom totally lose it at Sybil's death scene, which itself brought me to tears all over again.
Elsewhere, Daisy reached peak critical annoyingness. Has Daisy ever been more infuriating than she was in this hour? I can't imagine that any viewer is sympathizing with Daisy's brash, stupid, and totally boorish behavior.
Are we supposed to be thinking Daisy is a huge ninny, or is this storyline just not landing the way it's supposed to? Is Julian Fellowes just epically failing (again) at presenting us with an empowered working class girl who isn't completely unbearable?
Daisy: "Not possible"? Don't give me "not possible."
Mrs. Patmore: All right, Madame Defarge, calm down and finish that mash.
Daisy had convinced herself, over the entire course of the first half of this season, that Cora had oh-so-subtly promised Yew Tree Farm to Mr. Mason.
In fact, Cora was actually doing her best to secure the farm for him – but she has no actual authority to do so. Obviously.
Daisy being, quite honestly, very stupid, refused to heed any warnings (primarily from Mr. Molesley) not to get her hopes up or Mr. Mason's. Instead, she riled this poor old man up and riled herself up – until it all exploded when Barrow (again, being Barrow) broke the news that the family was planning on farming the land themselves.
Daisy. Flipped. Out.
It was near-unbearable to watch Daisy slowly boil over with rage and eventually decide to confront Cora over her apparent "lie" and betrayal.
As the Greek chorus of servants stood around her, begging her not to be a damn fool and tank her job, she was totally deaf to their logic and instead only focused on her own irrational emotions.
Luckily, Cora convinced the family to give the farm to Mason at the eleventh hour, and Robert intercepted Daisy right before she let loose on Cora, telling the assistant cook the good news.
A very evil part of me was hoping that Daisy would lose her cool and look like a doofus yet again. Cora also seemed to be grimacing in anticipation of Daisy exploding at her.
In the end, though, it was very satisfying to see kindly old Mr. Mason walk around Yew Tree Farm, thrilled with his lot and convinced that his daughter-in-law had secured it for him. Little do you know, Mr. Mason...
In other downstairs news, Anna's pregnancy reached its critical point once again. As she felt the beginnings of a miscarriage coming on, Mary managed to snap into action and get her to the London doctor, saving the baby. You go, Mary!
Actually, Mary was on a roll in general.
I totally credit this to Tom. For some reason, being around her brother-in-law brings out the best in Mary. He tends to act as her moralizing check. It's sweet, and I love their (platonic) relationship. Tom becoming a true part of the Crawley family was the only upside of Sybil's death.
Other fantastic Mary moments included her randomly sorta complimenting Edith and backing her up with Violet, her discussion with Tom where she encouraged him to do whatever made him happy, and her flirty dinner with Henry Talbot.
And the above moments led to this gem:
Aunt Rosamund: That was nice of you, to praise Edith's plan.
Mary: A monkey will type out the Bible if you leave it long enough.
As well as this zinger:
Tom, you're my brother. I want what you want. In your work, in your life. No more Miss Buntings if you have any pity. But even in that, don't please us. Please yourself.Mary
To which we all say: Amen and bless, Mary! No more Miss Buntings, please and thank you.
Contrived as Henry's appearance at Downton was, his rapport with Mary is actually very enjoyable. Again, nothing can ever really compete with the inimitable Mary-Matthew chemistry, but quick-witted Talbot seems to me a much better potential love match for the steely Mary than either Gillingham or Charles Blake.
Seeing how this develops will be interesting, though after Matthew's death in a car, I'm sure that Henry's very conveniently problematic car-centric life will pose an issue between the two.
If Daisy was the most annoying person at Downton, the silver medal goes to Violet.
Much as I love the sassy Dowager, her insistence on keeping things just as they are (to the detriment of the hospital and the villagers' health) is beginning to become truly grating.
Violet is insistent that she know best, and her argument boils down to that she is generally against government influence – preferring instead to keep things managed by the nobles.
This is clearly an outmoded way of thinking and, embarrassingly for her, even her peers (like Lady Shackleton) are hesitant to back her up in the fight for control.
Can this hospital storyline just be over please? There are only so many times we can see Violet and Isobel verbally sparring about the good of the hospital before it becomes repetitive.
Actually, it's already repetitive, so let's just go ahead and stop now.
- The Carsons returned at the tail end of the episode. Adorably, they requested to keep their old titles – Carson and Mrs. Hughes – instead of being referred to as Mr. and Mrs. Carson. Everyone was enormously relieved, which was a great conclusion to the recurring joke of everyone being unable to remember to call her Mrs. Carson.
- Carson stepping out of the welcome back party and bidding farewell to his old room was a surprisingly sweet moment, though it was a bit squeezed in.
- My heart continues to bleed for Barrow, awful as he tends to be. His awkward conversations with Robert (with Robert chastising Barrow for outing Gwen, and Robert shooting Barrow down when he mentioned enjoying his time as butler in Carson's absence) were actually heartbreaking. Thomas is such an outsider, and his scenes with Baxter, his only confidant, do well to highlight the softer, more vulnerable side of him.
- Speaking of Baxter: she is just marvelous. She has such an interesting backstory, and the fact that Sgt. Willis returned to ask her to testify against Peter Coyle, the man who led her to be jailed for theft, was a smart return to that story and a great subplot for Baxter (who too often has nothing to do). Hopefully, her testimony (which I'm sure will come to pass) will be empowering for her, rather than debilitating. I also love the friendship between Molesley and Mrs. Baxter.
- Robert's random sudden pains are increasing in frequency and freaking me out. If he dies in the course of this season, it will be horrifying and depressing. Really hoping that doesn't come to pass. We already lost Isis!! We can't handle any more of this.
What did you think of this episode? Were you as irked at Daisy, or did you sympathize with her and understand her behavior? Remember that you can watch Downton Abbey online here at TV Fanatic to catch up on anything you've missed!
Caralynn Lippo is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.