With the Bates/Anna storyline dropping to a less-urgent gear this week, there was room for one of Downton Abbey's favorite pastimes: watching everybody squirm as the march of history jostles everyone as it stomps its way through the manor. Case in point: Rose presenting Lord Gratham with the "gift" of a performance by Jack Ross and his band, a fine way to liven up the usual Downton party scene. That Ross is a black man is played for amusing tension, with each scene a countdown to a new bug-eyed reaction from Downton's denizens. "What'll Carson say?? What'll Lord Grantham do?? OMG the Dowager Countess!"
While everybody's era-dictated racism is undoubtedly hilarious, the more interesting reaction comes from Mary, who is conveniently progressive when it suits her desires to have more of a day in the running of Downton, but seems to blanch at the sight of Rose and Jack's surreptitious make-out.
But was that reaction enough for Mary to crack the ranks of the week's most insufferable?
Lady Grantham: Cora has always been one of the most subtly sufferable characters on the show. She's quietly progressive—perhaps its her Americanness—but often a bit too quiet. Last night, however, she ended up saving the day for Bates and Anna, who were just trying to have a nice night out for dinner when they were thwarted by a snobby maître d. The sheer delight she took in shaming said snob was pretty great. (Bonus points, also, for being unshowily cool the whole black jazz singer situation.)
Mr. Carson: Carson always runs the risk of being too much of a cartoonish curmudgeon for everyone's tastes. But this week, his exacting torture of Molesley felt just right, if only for viewers who have been tired of Molesley's dithering. He actually made a pretty great case for why Molesley's prideful attitude towards the job offer was poisonous to his vision of Downton. He also had a very lovely moment with Alfred, as he tried to best deflect the young lad's open praise while still being obviously moved.
Isobel/Tom/Mary: Anything else Isobel, Tom, and Mary might have done in this episode was totally overshadowed by the lovely scene they shared in the children's nursery in which they reminisced about their lost loves. Each one shared a memory, not of their devastating losses but of how wonderful they felt with their significant others when they were alive. "Well, aren't we the lucky ones," Isobel says. How perfectly lovely.
Mrs. Hughes: It's almost unthinkable to slot Mrs. Hughes in the "Insufferable" column, but she pretty much deserved it this week. For one thing, though her heart (as usual) was in the right place, it was a bummer that she let Molesley off the hook and ruined Carson's perfect week. Even worse, though, was her gratuitous potshot at Ivy after Daisy went off on a tirade about how Ivy did Alfred wrong. First of all, Ivy wasn't wrong for spurning Alfred. That's her right. Second of all, how anyone could support Daisy (truly the Most Insufferable, but we're giving her the week off to avoid repetition) when she's acting like such a pill is beyond us.
Thomas: We love Thomas' conniving as much as the next person, but there's something annoying about how he's been going about it this season. This, obviously, is the fault of the Downton writers, who honestly haven't given poor Thomas much to do. But look, he's being awful to poor Baxter, who clearly doesn't want to be as bitchy as he wants her to be. Thomas deserves to be awful in his own right.
Lady Edith: Edith is going through some stuff, to be sure, now that it looks like she got herself knocked up by her now-absent baby-daddy Gregson. If that's not a perfectly womp-womp sort of development for Edith, we don't know what is. What pushes her into insufferable territory was her reaction to black bandleader Jack Ross. Honey, when your reaction to the sight of a black man is more aghast than Lord Grantham and the Dowager Countess? It's time to reflect.
Jimmy: After one rape storyline this season, we were more than a little terrified that the show would go there once again with Jimmy and Ivy. things held back, thank goodness, but we're still left with Jimmy—who's proved himself to be a right cock on almost every occasion thus far—getting overly handsy with Ivy and then acting like he has some divine right to her body. Keep on being the absolute worst, James.