With leave to fill out his staff, Carson plans to hire a second footman and Thomas isn't thrilled that Carson is taking the time to train Alfred for first footman duty. His mood improves, though, when the adorable young Jimmy Kent shows up for an interview and is hired; less happy is Daisy, who finally gets the kitchen maid she's been on about, only to have her crush Alfred take an immediate and obvious shine to the new girl.
Bates has been cut off from receiving visitors and also, seemingly, from sending or receiving mail. Anna, assuming that Bates means to break off their relationship, is going out of her mind about it. In reality, though, Bates' cellmate Craig has some powerful connections and after their scheme to set Bates up last time failed, they've succeeding in having him declared a dangerous prisoner, which explains the cessation of his privileges. When he hears about this from his prison friend (not a euphemism), Bates is relieved that Anna hasn't given up on him and hatches a plan that ends with him planting the small package that was meant to be his downfall in Craig's bed. With his accuser discredited (I… guess? The prison politics aren't totally clear here), Bates' privileges are restored, and he and Anna are both thrilled at the rain of letters they each get as a result, however boring they surely are.
As a new co-owner, Matthew gets involved in the running of Downton; he complains about it at first, but before long he's looked over the books and concludes that Downton is being severely mismanaged. When Lord Grantham ignores his attempt to discuss the matter, Matthew goes to the Dowager Countess for advice, but while she tells him to do what needs to be done for Downton's sake, she does warn him that a tactful way to do so doesn't really exist. You know I love her, but maybe she's not actually the authority on that subject.
Having seen Ethel, Isobel shows up to Mrs. Hughes with a letter for her, and soon Isobel is hosting a meeting in which Ethel tells them that she'd like to send her son to live with his grandparents after all. Isobel gets Mrs. Hughes to arrange a meeting with the grandparents without committing to anything and despite the grandfather's harsh words (he's kept tabs on her), the pair of them offers to support Ethel so she won't have to, um, work so hard for the money. Ethel, however, won't be swayed and gives up her boy with tears and the appropriate musical accompaniment.
Edith has seemingly recovered, at least as well as can be expected, but she's casting about for a direction until the Dowager Countess literally tells her to stop whining and find something to occupy her time. (See? Tact!) She gets more than she bargained for, however, when Edith writes in to a newspaper to advocate for the full vote for women; when the paper publishes it, Lord Grantham is up in arms, which is rich given that if he'd just let her get married in peace, this wouldn't have happened.
Finally, a desperate, haunted Branson shows up to Downton with the news that Irish revolutionaries burned the Lord and Lady Drumgoole's castle in Ireland to the ground and he's been implicated in the crime -- fairly enough, since he was present for it. He and Sybil were forced to split up to make it out ahead of the law and Lord Grantham reams him out for leaving his pregnant better half in a distant land to save his own admittedly fine behind. Despite his ire, though, for Sybil's sake Lord Grantham goes to London to see the Home Secretary; while he's gone, Sybil makes it to Downton safely, but when Lord Grantham returns he informs them that Branson is known to have attended meetings at which the crime was planned, and as such the most lenient punishment he could work means Branson can never again return to Ireland. Sybil is not thrilled about the heretofore-unknown-to-her extent of Branson's involvement, and even less so about his almost-stated intention to return to Ireland regardless of the consequences. I can only hope he'll at least stick around for the birth of his likely stunning child.
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Carson is handing out the day's mail and it looks like everyone's got at least one letter today... everyone except Anna, who looks around plaintively, probably wondering how a couple of these maids are getting mail when no one even knows their names. Anna asks Carson if there's really no letter for her and he intones, "No, Anna. Once again, I'm afraid there's nothing for you." His tone is heavy, but he's still not much for softening the blow, is he?
Meanwhile, Bates similarly receives nothing and is similarly disappointed. The positioning of these scenes makes it rather blindingly obvious what's going on, even if we don't yet know the reason why. But they're going to drag out that realization for the characters, which is sadly fitting for anything involving Bates and Anna.
From the look of dread on his face when Lord Grantham proclaimed him co-owner of Downton, it's not surprising that Matthew is less than super-psyched about getting into the details of the place's management, but Mary tells him it's his duty now to do so. Matthew sighs that he doesn't want to challenge Lord Grantham, but Mary says he won't have any reason to -- he just needs to pull his weight. She's kind of impatient about it for someone who seriously almost went out of her mind before he finally coughed up the cash to keep the place afloat. Rather than point that out, though, Matthew asks Anna how Bates is, but Anna tells him she's not seen or heard from him in a while; they stopped permitting him to have visitors and he's not written to tell her why. And seriously, maybe Anna's too emotional to figure it out, but you'd think that between Mary and Matthew there would be enough brainpower to come up with the idea that maybe the visitation and mail issues are linked. (Okay, I meant to write "between Mary and Mary.") Anna brave-little-toasters her way on out of there...
...and then Isobel is popping in to see Mrs. Hughes again. After apologizing for "pushing in" on her, Isobel says that she did manage to see Ethel, and produces a letter Ethel asks Isobel to pass on to Mrs. Hughes. It's a lucky thing Isobel closed the door first so Anna doesn't see it and get all verklempt again. Mrs. Hughes recalls Isobel worrying that Ethel had fallen into bad ways, and Isobel's like, I hope you know what hooking is so I don't have to explain it? She goes on that Ethel is deeply miserable and that she wishes Ethel would accept her help, but she won't, so if Mrs. Hughes learns anything from the letter that might help, would she please let her know? As nosy as Isobel is, I'm a bit surprised she didn't read the letter herself, given that she could probably rationalize it as a righteous action. We certainly have ample evidence that it's what Mary would have done. Mrs. Hughes promises she will, adding that Isobel's concern does her credit. "But I suspect she will be too ashamed to face how far she's fallen." I mean, I take her point from many angles, but let's not forget Ethel was a pretty shitty maid. Isobel bids Mrs. Hughes good night.