Bates is finally released, and he and Anna joy- and tearfully reunite. At Downton, Bates is greeted with enthusiasm, with Thomas being an obvious exception, especially now that he's got Bates' old job. Bates and Anna are offered a cottage on the property, which is a fixer-upper to say the least, but if anyone's going to have a can-do attitude about whipping the place into shape it's these two.
Against Lord Grantham's wishes, Matthew forces a meeting with Jarvis, Downton's managing agent. Jarvis, however, is much more on Lord Grantham's side in the running of Downton, and I was thinking how much Matthew must regret not bringing Murray in to even up the teams, so it doesn't surprise me when Matthew does in fact summon him, much to Lord Grantham's chagrin. Matthew also finds an ally in Branson, and when even Lord Grantham starts to come around to the ways of change, however reluctantly, Jarvis quits on the spot. Since I'm not sure he wasn't alive in the 1700s, it's probably for the best.
The continuing absence of a bun in Mary's oven prompts Matthew to get his equipment checked out in London, and when he's done, who does he run into but Mary, there for the same reason. She tells him that she had a little issue Down There that required a minor operation, but now she's fine, so they can get to making babies. Given how drastically different these two look in almost every way, I can't be the only one wondering how a kid of theirs would come out, can I?
The Dowager Countess, despite showing solidarity for Cora last episode, comes to Crawley House to lecture Isobel on taking Ethel in, but she comes to regret an offhand insult tossed Ethel's way when she later happens to see her crying in the street due to the ill treatment she's been receiving in the village. The Dowager Countess' solution is to place an ad for Ethel to find work at a healthy distance from Downton; Isobel isn't happy at the liberty taken, but Mrs. Hughes and Edith convince her it's for the best. Ethel does get one attractive offer, but it has the problem of being near her son and the Bryants, so she declines to pursue it. However, the Dowager Countess sees her actions through by having Mrs. Bryant over to meet with Isobel and Ethel, and Mrs. Bryant tells Ethel she'd be only too glad for Ethel to be in Charlie's life in some capacity, so it looks like Ethel's journey is going to end reasonably happily.
Ivy agrees to go on a chaperoned date with Alfred, but it's clear that she's still hung up on Jimmy James, and Daisy's stock continues to rise when she asks Alfred in front of everyone why he likes Ivy when she treats him so poorly. Jimmy James, for his part, is getting tired of Alfred being Carson's favorite and sabotages his serving efforts, but Carson is unimpressed with the both sides of the prank. Feeling down and lonely â€“ he has no family at all â€“ Jimmy James chats with Thomas, and even though Thomas' head is telling him Jimmy James isn't interested, he's clearly finding it hard to overcome what the other parts of him are saying (these parts have been led on by some calculatedly offhand comments from O'Brien), and soon, he can't restrain himself from sneaking into the sleeping Jimmy James' room and kissing him. Unfortunately, just at that moment, Alfred barges in to talk about Ivy, and all hell quickly breaks looseâ€¦ as you'd expect. A livid Jimmy James makes it quite clear that there's nothing between them, and the next day starts hitting on Ivy something compensatorily fierce.
Everyone notes the thick tension between the three boys, and Carson asks what's up, but Alfred keeps quiet until O'Brien puts the idea in his head that it could go badly for him if he doesn't speak up. But although Carson is shocked, he limits his initial response to dressing Thomas down in private. Thomas doesn't deny his actions, and adds that Jimmy James is innocent in the matter, and then Carson makes his pronouncement: Thomas will resign, citing Bates' return as the reason, and Carson will give him a good reference. However, this is not enough for the vengeful O'Brien, and she convinces Jimmy James to threaten to go to the police unless Carson withdraws his reference. Mrs. Hughes later finds a distraught Thomas and gets him to tell her the story, and she goes to Carson and tells him he can't allow Jimmy James to blackmail him in this way. Meanwhile, Thomas runs into Bates and tells him he envies him, and although Bates is short enough with him at that moment, the encounter leaves an impression on him, and he also senses O'Brien's hand in the matter, so he goes to Mrs. Hughes for the story. With everyone's hands below stairs tied, Bates makes the impressive play of telling Lord Grantham the whole situation, and Lord Grantham is, given his propensity to rail against nonconformity, rather surprisingly blasÃ© about the whole thing, but he still doesn't know how to help, so Bates finally goes directly to the downtrodden Thomas to ask for a weapon to use against O'Brien, and soon, Bates, with a whisper, is threatening to expose O'Brien's involvement in Cora's miscarriage back in Season One (although the message is coded so he doesn't understand it). Shaken to her core, O'Brien succeeds in getting Jimmy James to reverse his play with Carson, and I expect we'll see exactly how Arctic the Bates-O'Brien relationship gets as a result.
Edith pulls the Dowager Countess onto her side in the matter of the job, heads off to see the editor in London, and soon, she's announcing to the family that she's officially a journalist. However, his flirting prompts her to check him out, and when she realizes he's married, she tries to quit. However, the editor tells her that his wife is in an asylum, and while it sounds like a line, his emotion in saying that he's tied for life to a woman that no longer knows him seems real enough. It still looks like Edith is doomed never to have an uncomplicated relationship, but that doesn't mean she won't eventually welcome the action.
A cousin of the family, Rose, comes to stay with the Dowager Countess, and when she turns up, she sets off warning bells in Edith's mind, so she keeps a close eye on her as the two of them and Matthew head to London to stay with Rosamund. Rose quickly disappears, and thanks to a helpful cabbie, Rosamund et al soon discover that Rose is carrying on with a married man. They tell her that they won't betray her secret if she behaves herself for the rest of her trip, but they don't reckon on how good the Dowager Countess' hearing is, and soon the Dowager Countess is telling Rose that she's being shipped off to Scotland for a while. Rose doesn't actually tell them they haven't seen the last of her, but I have a sneaking suspicion about it.
Branson tells Mary that the christening has been arranged, but he was only planning to invite her and Matthew; later, though, he manfully asks Lord Grantham to come, saying Sybil would want him to be there. He also chooses baby Sybil's godparents â€“ Mary (aw) and his brother Kieran, whom he describes as a "rough diamond." Kieran proves to be more the former than the latter, as he only abandons his drunken plan to eat downstairs with the servants when Branson lectures him in the steeliest of tones about his rudeness. Knowing that Branson intends to take baby Sybil away and work with his brother, meeting Kieran is quite the shock for the family, but the Dowager Countess, of all people, has the solution â€“ hire Branson as Jarvis' replacement. Attracted by escaping his brother and the prospect of working closely with Matthew, Branson accepts with a minimum of fuss, and with Branson in place in Jarvis' old cottage, Matthew tries to carry out his plans, and after a shouting match (with Lord Grantham hilariously suggesting they put money into a literal Ponzi scheme), Lord Grantham realizes that Cora and Mary are seeing things Matthew's way (although I should mention Cora has gotten past her anger at her husband over Sybil's death), so he tells them he'll be taking a back seat to Matthew from now on. Branson, however, continues his bridge-building by making an eloquent speech to Lord Grantham about pooling their strengths for Downton's sake, telling Cora that he and baby Sybil will live at the house, at least while she's young, and bare-handing a catch to clinch the cricket match.
Oh, that reminds me! There's an annual cricket match against the town, and Lord Grantham is captain of the underdog house team; desperate for a win, he tries to get any able-bodied man around, including Branson and even Thomas â€“ which means that he wants Thomas, his best player, to stick around. Carson sniffs that Lord Grantham will have to make that happen himself, so Lord Grantham informs Jimmy James that Thomas will be staying on, and then oh-by-the-ways him that he's being made first footman. Jimmy James is placated enough not to raise a stink, but two policemen then show up saying that Alfred's made a complaint to them about Thomas. Lord Grantham pulls Alfred aside to tell him that Thomas didn't choose to be the way he is, and perhaps they shouldn't judge? Alfred goes along but is unhappy about it â€“ and he doesn't even know about being demoted to second footman yet.
With the opening and closing of many doors within, it's all appropriately dramatic, but the point is that we start with Bates' release from prison. Anna, awaiting him anxiously in a car, jumps out and runs to him when she sees him appear and while I've seen scenes of this nature play out countless times in movies and on TV, I think this is the first when the ex-con appeared in a three-piece suit and bowler hat. They embrace tearfully, he thanks God and Anna for his release and they kiss. Well, just Bates and Anna; despite all their piety, I'm not sure God needs to see this up close. Cut to the car, and when Bates sees Downton in the distance, he smiles...
...while inside, Alfred wonders how they should speak to Bates upon his return and Mrs. Hughes is like, uh, normally, maybe? Jimmy James, probably in an attempt to clarify Alfred's question, asks if they should pretend like the whole prison thing never happened, but Bates -- having just appeared in the doorway -- tells him that won't be necessary. I'd wonder why there isn't a bell at the servants' entrance to eliminate dramatic entrances such as these if I hadn't just answered my own question with my use of the word "dramatic." Everyone greets Bates warmly enough, with the exception of Thomas, who looks like someone at a will reading who got left nothing but the deceased's iguana. Bates greets "Thomas" with an appraising look and notes he's still there, and Thomas corrects him that it's "Mr. Barrow" now, but yes, he's still there and as busy as ever. Carson starts to say that there have been some changes and it sounds like he's going to address the matter of who's going to be valet to Lord Grantham, but he changes his mind and turns the subject to Sybil and he's got to be feeling awkward about the staffing decision if he'd rather bring up a tragic death than discuss it. Bates says he wrote a letter to Cora and then thanks the kitchen staff for fussing over him...
...while upstairs, Edith tells the breakfast crowd that the editor has written to repeat his offer and invite her to meet in London, and Matthew suggests she make the trip as she could see Rosamund and also go shopping. Lord Grantham, however, already having stiffened like he just found a servant's hair in his strawberries and cream, scoffs that the editor is just trying to convince Edith to write for "his horrible paper." Although Edith understandably declines to get into it with her father, she does say that she's going to make the trip, not least because she hasn't been to London in ages. Once she's gone, Lord Grantham asks Matthew not to encourage her before noting that Matthew has "trapped poor old Jarvis" into a meeting. Matthew replies that it won't take long, but since Jarvis is the agent, there are things they need to get straight, if Lord Grantham is with him? Lord Grantham snits that he's glad Matthew things there's a role for his agreement and honestly, I hope these two start to see eye to eye soon as their fights are not exactly the stuff of ticket sales. Branson evidently is of the same mind, as once Lord Grantham is gone he asks Matthew if he's sure he wouldn't rather "cut and run" like him and the answering look on Matthew's face suggests he's considered it... and not only one time either.