Bates is back! And, consistency sticklers rejoice, his dodgy leg problem has mysteriously reappeared. His return gave us the chance to re-focus on the hierarchy downstairs and all the juicy tensions that affords. With Bates back, Thomas' position as valet – and at the house at all – is in real jeopardy.
Bates's place, of course, being the best buddy of the master of the house, is assured. "Stay in bed! Read books!" urged the Earl of Grantham. What a shame there's no television yet. I know an entertainingly patchy costume drama he could get into.
Anyway. After two intense, highly watchable episodes, things have gone back to being a bit rough around the edges. Lots of ducks are being lined up for a big series finale next week and I think it's safe to say that they must know a series four commission is more or less in the bag. Either that or next week's episode is 56 hours long. Because there are a lot of ends to tie up.
Still, at least O'Brien's motivations became slightly clearer. She just wants Alfred to succeed because he is her nephew. Maybe she has a whole succession of nephews and nieces who can take over the entire house, all armed with pursed lips, portentous one-liners and bars of soap.
Enjoyable moments? Lady Edith and the burgeoning romance (come on, it has to be!) with the Editor. The portrait with the left-footer outside the church. The flirting between Mrs Hughes and Carson. "Human nature is a funny business, isn't it?" "Oh, why didn't the poets come to you? They'd have saved themselves an awful lot of time and trouble."
What needs to come to the boil next week? Lady Mary's lack of pregnancy. Lady Edith's lack of husband. A role for Branson and baby Sybil. (Love that baby, by the way.) A cottage for Bates and Anna. Some hanky-panky for Ivy and/or Alfred and/or Jimmy (Thomas could watch). And a comeuppance for Thomas. Oh, and the financial difficulties of the estate (yawn).
Several random elements bear mentioning for their contribution. The musical score came into major effect this week and was, dare I say, rather affecting. Hairdressing this series has been superb and tonight the Marcel waves of Cousin Violet and Lady Edith were particularly finely tuned.
Best of all tonight, though, was the notable return of Isis, the Earl of Grantham's faithful labrador, the one with her own Facebook page. Having been absent for most of the series – in fact, we thought Thomas had locked her in the wood shed again – Isis was in virtually every scene in this episode. She looked thoroughly disdainful of all the goings-on. And rightly so.
Random Subplot Alert
"Downton must be self-supporting if it is to have a chance of survival." The whole business with estate manager Jarvis – who suddenly appeared as if he had been some major character all along – was perplexing. At least Matthew did not say the word "husbandry" repeatedly tonight. For husbandry is to Matthew what prostitution is to Cousin Isobel: the very lifeblood.
No, tonight Matthew was all about machinery, methods, techniques, investment and productivity. Yes, yes, yes, we get what's going on here: the voice of progress versus the voice of tradition. Blah blah blah. It all feels like so much exposition. It's all just a big set-up for some showdown in series four, surely?
Some deeply unsubtle hints have been dropped about potential future developments: Daisy could become a lady farmer. After all, he has access to her father-in-law's extensive tool collection! Alfred could become a gentleman cook. After all, he knows about parsley! Branson could run the place. After all his grandfather was a sheep farmer! Someone save us.
Golden Eyebrow Award of the Week
Carson – "Thomas was doing WHAT?" – was pipped at the post by Cousin Violet, who edges one step closer to receiving the Golden Tweezers. We had the brilliant mention of a hair-raising experience at the "tradesmen's hotel in Middlesbrough". We got Dame Maggie's Fifty Shades of Grey face: "What is The Scarlet Letter? It sounds most unsuitable." And we had this: "You cannot want your grand-daughter to grow up above a garage with that drunken gorilla?" How does she do it? You can give her the worst lines imaginable and they still come out like Shakespeare.
But the most golden of eyebrow moments came as a result of her trying to get Ethel the One-Time Prostitute removed. Ethel: "These days a working woman must have a skill." Cousin Violet, as if butter wouldn't melt but with explosive eyebrow protusion: "But you seem to have so many." Priceless.
Surprise Character Development
Hardly a surprise but tonight Mr-Stick-It-Up-Your-Jumper (Thomas) finally made his move to stick it up somewhere else. My heart went out to Rob James Collier, who plays Thomas with delicious, under-stated panache. This was a tough scene to make believable. Would Thomas really risk everything on the strength of a nudge from O'Brien?
We were supposed to imagine that his lust just got the better of him. But I was not entirely convinced of that. Nor of the idea that he would speak to Carson using the language of a 21st century gay rights campaigner.
Sorry, could you just repeat that awkward line of dialogue?
Thomas to Bates: "I'm still here. I'm as busy as a bee." A bee who smokes in corridors, wears a flesh-coloured leather glove of doom and likes to sting unsuspecting footmen with its unwanted kiss. That is one funny bee.
Cousin Violet to Cousin Isobel about Ethel: "You have surrounded this house with a miasma of scandal." No, Uncle Julian has surrounded this series with a miasma of randomness.
Carson to Thomas: "I do not wish to take a tour of your revolting world." Oh, go on, Carson, take the tour! We could sell tickets!
Thomas is to leave? With no reference? Frankly he is safer on the premises rather than off them. If he leaves Downton, he will cause untold havoc attempting to wreak his revenge from afar. Rose is coming! Rose who? Indeed. We know nothing of her other than she appears to be a blonde Helena Bonham Carter and is a fan of the Charleston. And Edith lasts one week as a lady columnist.