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This week on Downton Abbey we finally see the house returned (nearly) to its former glory as Lord and Lady Grantham play host and hostess to some of their upper-class friends for a party. The arrival of these well-to-do guests and their servants causes a stir amongst the inhabitants of Downton, both upstairs and down.
Carson seizes this long awaited opportunity to prove that Downton Abbey is still the embodiment of class and hospitality as it once had been before the war. However, as has been the case in the past few years, he is met with changes and complications at every turn. First, he is dismayed to find that the guests themselves seem to be understaffed and he must make special arrangements for them to be well taken care of by his own men and women. Additionally, there are the added social intricacies of how to treat Dame Nellie Melba, a famous Australian opera singer who has been invited to perform at Downton, and her accompanist- as members of staff or along with the other wealthy guests. Upon discussing this sticky wicket with Lord Grantham they agree that the most appropriate course of action would be for the pianist to stay in the male servant's quarters and dine downstairs and for Dame Nellie to take her meals on a tray in her room and not with the guests.
During this conversation, Lord Grantham also tells Carson to include The Kitchen staff in Lady Cora's gracious invitation to attend the performance, a courtesy that would not have been extended to them before the war. However, for the sake of "modern times and all that," Robert decides this small allowance can be made. Cora, however, does not see her husband as modern a man as he thinks himself, and in fact she questions if she is "the only member of this family who lives in the twentieth century." When she discovers that Dame Nellie has been forced to eat alone in her room she is horrified by Lord Grantham's snobbery and insists that the performer not only join the guests for dinner, but also that she sit directly next to him. In the end, Lord Grantham's old-fashioned view of the world is tested once more when he realizes that Dame Nellie is quite a refined individual who even has a steady grasp of clarets. Carson is faced with yet another hurdle when Jimmy injures his wrist showing off in front of Ivy and Daisy and cannot serve at the meals. Carson enlists Molesley to take over Jimmy's footman duties for the time being, a task he eagerly grasps despite the position being below his training. His struggle for work has landed him as a mere delivery boy for Bakewell's and he is eager for the opportunity to get back into service.
Alfred also takes on an unconventional role in the group's effort to make Downton as accommodating a place as possible. The job of entertaining takes a terrible toll on Mrs. Patmore and during the final dinner of the house party, she is overcome by her anxiety and has a sort of panic attack. As the rest of The Kitchen staff is preoccupied with their own tasks, Alfred is forced to jump in and finish the sauces for the evening. The success of his coking reaffirms for Alfred that his future does not lie in waiting at table, but in putting food on it.
The male guests of the Crawleys create some excitement upstairs. Rose seems to be taking an interest in a rather more "suitable" suitor, one Sir John Bullock. Meanwhile, Edith invited Michael Gregson to attend the house party in hopes of him winning her parents favor. The plan does not seem to be going off well, for Lord Grantham continually dodges Gregson's company. He finally gets the Earl's attention by joining him and some other guests in a game of poker. One man, Sampson, has been notorious over the course of the party for robbing the other men of their money. Robert himself loses a "packet" and pleads with those around him not to tell Cora. For someone who was recently on the brink of losing his family's fortune, he certainly throws his money about quite recklessly. However, Gregson suspects foul-play and challenges Sampson to another game the next night. "[Reviving] a dubious talent from [his] misspent youth," he wins back his money and that which is owed to the other men and threatens that if Sampson does not pay up he will tell Robert about his cheating, which would ruin is reputation in the London clubs irreparably. Finally, when Gregson returns his "bacon," Robert seems to take an interest in this man and even hints that he may be coming around to him. While talking with Cora, he admits that though he still doesn't think him an ideal match for Edith, he finds him "a decent cove" and consents that "he did behave in a way that [he] thought was...really quite gentlemanly". With her parents' tentative stamp of approval, Edith's next step will be to break the news that she will be moving to Germany.
Things seem to maybe, just possibly, be looking up for Lady Mary as well. Among the guests at Downton Abbey is Lord Gillingham, Anthony Foyle. His late father had been a friend of the family, but he had not been to Downton in quite some time. The two seem to get on well from the start. Mary is even cheerful enough to go riding with him. During this excursion they discuss her loss and Anthony proves himself to be both comforting and sympathetic to her grief and his kind words seem to give some solace to her. He also offers advice on how to address the issue of the inheritance tax that she faces on Matthew's share of the estate, which in the end is quite helpful. Though as ever, Mary's love life is never without complication. First and foremost, Lord Gillingham is already promised to another woman, Mabel Lane Fox, though he does not seem terribly thrilled about the arrangement and is even so bold as to ask Mary to dinner when she is in London. And then of course, there is always the memory of her belovEd Matthew to contend with. Though it has been over half a year since his tragic death, she still wonders if it is appropriate to consider moving on. Even when she agrees to dance with Anthony, her brief happiness is interrupted by her distress when she realizes the gramophone playing the music is the very same that she and Matthew had danced to mere days before he was to marry Lavinia Swire, when they both realized they were still in love with one another. This new man and her feelings toward him seem to have taken her by surprise and she struggles to balance them with her ever-present sorrow.