In episode six (or Part Five) of “Downton Abbey,” there are departures and arrivals and some arrivals or rivals. How quaint, in our era of email, it must seem to have snail mail given so much importance. Three letters bring important news to Downtown Abbey. It’s June 1922.
Downstairs there is plenty astir. Alfred (Matt Milne) gets a better letter than last episode. The letter he received in the last episode told him he had not been one of the lucky four to enter the chef’s course, but this letter informs him that a place has opened up when another student drops out. Alfred has been ranked fifth.
Alfred’s departure crushes Daisy (Sophie McShera) who blames Ivy (Cara Theobold). Ivy, of course, wasn’t so interested in the tall and gawky Alfred, but the smirky Jimmy (Ed Speleers). Jimmy has less to smirk about at the end of the episode. You’d think that this would leave an open space for poor Moseley, but Carson (Jim Carter) was offended by Moseley’s reluctance last episode.
Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) becomes a lady of mystery, or at least to the scheming Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier). This intrigue involves a surprise that Lady Rose has planned for the surprise birthday dinner for Lord Grantham. Thomas though pressures Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) to find out more. Baxter will reveal to Thomas some supposedly private conversations from upstairs between Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Cora (Elizabeth McGovern). Thomas may hope to pull strings, but the power below stairs turns out to be held by someone else. Hughes with Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) slyly move to change Carson’s mind.
In an attempt at rekindling their romance, Bates (Brendan Coyle) and Anna (Joanne Froggatt) decide to go on a date to an upscale restaurant. We are reminded again about class snobbery and how kindly American Cora is. Jimmy takes out Ivy but things don’t end well.
Upstairs there are two letters: one from America regarding Cora’s playboy brother Harold and one from London for Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael). Yet if the Crawley family has problems of its own with its playful girls. Lady Rose plans a surprise for Lord Grantham’s birthday which brings different levels of scandal to Downton Abbey. Lady Edith finds that she, too, might be the center of scandalous news.
All of this comes out to varying degrees at the big bash. Lady Rose (Lily James) rashly decides to bring her controversial love, the black American Jack Ross (Gary Carr) and his jazz band, to Downton Abbey to entertain the guests. It’s amusing at who is shocked and who is not. That upsets Carson, who must entertain the band downstairs until they set up to surprise Lord Grantham. Carson recovers after a brief spell of shock, and we are reminded at how much more progressive England was in the attitude toward slavery than America.
Lady Edith disapproves, but is admonished by Violet (Maggie Smith) who has already proven herself to be a better person than Isobel sometimes gives her credit after a bit of domestic misunderstandings at her own home.
While Robert Crawley worries about his in-laws in America and yet Tom (Allen Leech) confides to Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton) that he dreams of moving to America because he feels out of place in Downton Abbey.
Mary may have left Lord Gillingham to his fiancee, but she renews her acquaintance with Mr. Napier (Brendan Patricks) who is studying the state of large estates. His companion, Mr. Blake (Julian Ovenden), makes it clear that he’s not concerned with saving the aristocrats and their estates, but in how to feed the masses. While he defends himself by being oblique, Mary politely snarks at him. Is there a possible love connection in the future?
I like how the writers don’t let us forget that the repercussions of rape are long-lasting and not easily shrugged off. And in the same regards, Mary’s grief isn’t easily dismissed although her sadness gives her an allure to other men such as Lord Gillingham in the last episode and Mr. Napier in this one. This episodes reminds us that while class was important in Great Britain, race was more the focus in America. Yet I wonder if there shouldn’t be more blacks (both of the African and Asian sort) in the cast and background as well after reading an article about black Tudors.