Reunions prove complicated, good deeds go awry, and the personal becomes heartbreakingly political as Downton Abbey nears the conclusion of its third series.

The winds of change rise with every series of Downton Abbey, but as this year’s aristocratic exploits reach their height, it seems like life at Downton might look very different when our time with the Crawleys comes to a close.

Episode 7 began with something returning to normal – on the surface, at least. The long (long) awaited return of Mr. Bates from his unjust incarceration. Much joy and hand-shaking commenced in Downton upon his arrival, despite the fact that no one seemed to know exactly what to do with Bates. Anna was confident that Bates would resume his position as Robert’s valet, but for the time being, Bates seems to be doing much the same as he did in prison: very little, only with much nicer clothing.

Upstairs among the Crawley family, Matthew struggled with Robert to bring the estate into the 20th century, while continuing to worry about Mary not yet having conceived. Mary herself remained confident on that front, though she had to try considerably harder to emphasize the importance of family for her father, Tom, and Tom’s exceedingly unpleasant, visiting brother.

Edith, meanwhile, took steps away from her family, visiting London in consideration of the standing offer to write for a paper there. Isobel, on the other hand, found opportunities for change forced upon her by Violet, who took charge of The Ethel Situation in a definitive and unsympathetic fashion.

But it was the drama downstairs that caused the most radically ruffled feathers this week. After several episodes of burgeoning interest, Thomas finally tried (with a spectacular lack of success) to initiate a relationship with universally-lusted-after footman Jimmy. Unfortunately for Thomas, his assumption of Jimmy’s interest was based on a few patently blatant lies from O’Brien, and the object of his affection was disturbed (to put it mildly) to find Thomas in his bed in the middle of the night.

To further complicate matters, O’Brien’s nephew Alfred accidentally walked in on Thomas’ misbegotten attempt at romance. At O’Brien’s urging, Alfred reported his uncomfortable discovery to Mr. Carson, leaving Thomas at the mercy of both Carson and Jimmy’s respective responses to his actions.

The episode concluded with the Catholic christening of baby Sybil Branson, or at least its photogenic aftermath. Though stiff postures and sad smiles abounded, at least the Crawley family did seem to find common ground in rallying around their (totally adorable) new addition.

Next week (already!) brings the finale of Downton Abbey‘s jam-packed third series, at least until the December Christmas special. ITV says of next week’s episode:

There is excitement in the house and village as the annual cricket match approaches, and it brings out Robert’s competitive side.
As Violet’s great niece Rose arrives, a trip to London reveals there is more to her than meets the eye.
Thomas’s future is in Carson’s hands, but Bates may be an unlikely ally.
What secrets are Mary and Matthew holding back from each other?

Who is this “Rose” character? (And she does seem like a character!) How can Bates help Thomas? Don’t Matthew and Mary tell each other everything? And why on Earth are they all playing cricket?

We guess we’ll find out next week! The series finale of Downton Abbey airs on ITV Nov. 4 at 9 p.m.

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