Things with Harold have come to a head, and at a direct summons from Martha, Lord Grantham most unwillingly sets out for America to help as a character witness. Bates thinks he can't leave Anna at the moment and pleads with Mrs. Hughes to get involved, so Mrs. Hughes goes to Mary and tells her the version of the truth she related to Bates. Convinced, Mary goes to her father and gets him to take Thomas instead of Bates, and Thomas is unsurprisingly thrilled but still instructs Baxter to find out why Bates opted out – which Molesley happens to overhear. Anna thanks Mary for intervening, and Mary earnestly tells Anna she can confide anything to her, but Anna still can't bring herself to discuss it.
Isobel and Branson make a date to go to a political event in Ripon, but when the Dowager Countess comes down with a dreadful case of bronchitis, Isobel takes care of her instead. Branson goes to the rally and meets a young politically-minded woman, while Clarkson tells Isobel there's a real danger of the bronchitis turning into pneumonia, and with his nurses run off their feet thanks to a flu epidemic, Isobel tends to the not-completely-lucid Dowager Countess day and night, partially because she feels she owes it to the family and partially because the Dowager Countess is her bestie. The Dowager Countess comes out of it, thankfully, and she's not completely psyched to learn Isobel's the one who nursed her but seems to warm to the idea later.
Mary keeps after Blake, who tells her most of the landed estates aren't nearly maximizing what they could be doing with their land, probably because the owners aren't interested in working hard. Later, though, with most people out of the house for one reason or another, it's just Blake, Cora, and Mary for dinner, and Blake is interested in seeing the pigs that just arrived, so he and Mary head down – and find that the pigs have kicked over their water trough and are dying of dehydration. They work together all night to rescue them, getting themselves filthy in the process, which of course enables them to see each other in a new light. Throwing a spanner into the works, however, is the arrival of Lord Gillingham, who's passing through and spending the night – and who, as it happens, served together with Blake in the war. Lord Gillingham still seems quite taken with Mary, and the feeling still appears to be mutual even with Blake now possibly in the mix.
Edith has learned that the night Gregson arrived in Munich, after checking into his hotel he went out and never returned. She heads for London again, and Rose tags along, but runs off to meet up with Ross, leaving Rosamund to ask Edith to tell her what's got her so preoccupied. Under so much pressure, Edith breaks down and comes clean to Rosamund, who at least is at a distance from the rest of the family; she tells Rosamund she's planning to get an (illegal, of course) abortion. An emotional Rosamund, however, surprisingly and wonderfully tells her she'll support her whatever she does – including keeping the baby – but Edith doesn't think she can do that, so Rosamund resolves to go with her to the clinic or whatever. As they wait, Edith says she doesn't really want to do this but can't see how to get out of it – but when she hears the cries of a distraught woman, she changes her mind, although she isn't sure what her alternate plan is yet.
Ugh, Alfred writes that he's doing well at the Ritz, but since his father's ill, he's coming back for a visit and thought he'd drop by. Mrs. Hughes and Patmore, though. VERY UNDERSTANDABLY don't want any more nonsense from Daisy and Ivy, so they enlist Carson to head Alfred off and put him up at the pub. The next day, though, Alfred comes by anyway, and with her still being off Jimmy James, Ivy's much nicer to Alfred, and if he drops out of the program just on the strength of a couple kind words from Ivy I swear I will boycott writing about all these lunkheads for eternity.
Finally, this time, with Lord Gillingham comes Green, and the people in the know go very dark in his presence. A livid Mrs. Hughes confronts him, warning him to "keep to the shadows," but whether he's flaunting it or not, he lets it be known that he went below stairs during Dame Nellie's concert, and if looks could kill, not only would he be dead thanks to Bates's gaze, but the rest of us would be caught in the fallout.
Our technological snapshot du episode comes in the form of a close-up on a Western Union telegraph, which a uniformed courier is bicycling up to the Abbey. Inside, breakfast has just been cleared and the servants bustle about, but someone who's not rushing to attend to his duties is Bates, who instead comes in to see Mrs. Hughes and somewhat disbelievingly announces that Lord Grantham is going to America. Mrs. Hughes is like whaaaa, but Bates lets us know that whatever was in the telegram is causing his Lordship to leave today, as something's happened to Harold. Mrs. Hughes realizes that Bates will have to go too, but he urgently says he can't leave Anna at this point in time. Anyone keeping count of how many times Mrs. Hughes has been caught between a rock and a hard place this season?
And her job isn't going to be made any easier by the temper Lord Grantham is in, as he fairly barks at Cora -- who's in bed with her breakfast -- that he doesn't know how Harold can put him in this position, and on top of that he doesn't understand why Martha insists on him coming. Cora points out that she obviously thinks it will make a difference to Harold's fate, and Lord Grantham, I know it's not your home country, but given that you negotiated Branson out of a dark hole it's hard for you to claim you couldn't possibly be of any use. Lord Grantham snits that he knows "plenty of relatives of English earls who belong in jail," and if that's true maybe you can take the trip as research for a chapter of your tell-all book. Cora merely regards her husband with sympathy and he seethes, "I suppose we've made the decision." You're a good man, Lord Grantham, but you'll never stand a chance against your wife.
Mary is also still eating, but it's Mrs. Hughes who's in to see her as Mary tells her she can't stop her father from going. Mrs. Hughes knows that, but she wonders if Mary might intervene to stop him from taking Bates, as his absence would be very tough on Anna at the moment. Mary is like, look, we love all of you but we do need you to do your jobs, and when Mrs. Hughes brings up a special circumstance, Mary replies that she'll have to know what it is in order to help. I guess the oath on her mother's grave was permanently broken the last time Mrs. Hughes blabbed, right?
Downstairs, Bates tells Anna he won't go, but Anna won't hear of it. I was going to wonder if she'd put on the same brave face if she knew what was coming later, but given that she starts crying as soon as she leaves the room, I'd put a small amount of money on "no."