That's not to say that the instalment didn't have its moments - Tom Branson running through the night in the wind and rain ("without a coat") was just a little bit ridiculous, although his appearance (minus Sybil) gave Hugh Bonneville a wonderful opportunity to bring out his best angry, righteous indignation.
Downton Abbey often struggles when it tries to get too political - it can be a little heavy-handed - but this episode largely managed to avoid delving too deeply into the Irish troubles, instead choosing to use them simply as a jumping off point for a family feud and the potential for trouble in Branson's marriage to Sybil.
The storyline was handled in quite a fun way, too; as well as the aforementioned rainy running, we got a mysterious phone call from Sybil before Branson knocked on the Downton door during dinner (and then insisted on hiding until guest of honour the Archbishop of York had gone on his merry way; incidentally, it's a shame we didn't spend more time with the Archbishop, who seemed an entertaining bore of a dinner companion.)
Anyway, it turns out that Tom's got himself in trouble; he was there as the Dromgoole castle was burned down (though he wasn't a ringleader, honest guv, and he feels bad about it now!)
Robert's less concerned about all this than the fact that Tom's left Sybil to get over to England all by herself when she's pregnant and a woman, and he explodes with pomposity and reddened cheeks. Luckily for us, Violet's there to make dry comments about how ugly the castle was, and how it might be a good thing it's been destroyed.
Sybil turns up safe and sound (of course), but there's more drama to come; Robert bizarrely goes to see the home secretary to plead for clemency (though he says repeatedly that it's all for Sybil, not for Tom), and he succeeds - though the duo can never return to Ireland. But Sybil's not impressed when she discovers via her dear father that Tom's been sneaking out to political meetings. Could this be the first sign of tension in their hasty union?
Naturally, this all gives the staff plenty of juicy gossip to keep them going, but perhaps they should be looking closer to home. In the other piece of over-the-top action this week, Ethel meets with Mrs Hughes and Mrs Crawley to explain that she thinks it's best if she gives up Charlie to his grandparents.
This is excellent because it means we get to meet the Bryants again; Mrs Bryant is still all nice and shivery, while Mr Bryant is still an insufferable, pompous buffoon (actually, he's just rude, and would do well to shut up once in a while). After Mrs Crawley has tried in vain to get Ethel to change her mind (and rebuked Mrs Bird for rudely refusing to help Ethel because she's a "fallen woman"), it's time to say goodbye to Charlie.
In some ways, it's difficult to feel truly invested in this; while Amy Nuttall is great at playing Ethel, the fact that she's not an integral part of Downton itself at this point means that her story seems less meaningful in some way. The show doesn't skimp on the emotion when it's finally time for Charlie to leave, though unfortunately it's so determined to pull on the heartstrings that they just snap.
Elsewhere, in this week's instalment of Banged Up Bates, Anna's crying in the corridors because she's not getting any letters from her husband. It turns out that he's been set up by some fellow prisoners and been named as a danger - hence the lack of visitors and mail.
It's still hard to care about Bates's imprisonment, which is strange, considering that he and Anna have been considered one of the show's most pivotal couples. But while in this episode Bates fights back and wins his right to love notes again, the rest of the prisoners remain so underwritten that it's hard to tell who's who.
Instead, we just see a range of various shady figures - literally, because the prison scenes are apparently shot by matchlight - passing back and forth and muttering either messages of support or hatred. This storyline has been ill-served; it would have been much more intriguing if we knew more about Bates's apparent nemeses and allies, but right now they just seem like crayon-drawn outlines.
Of course, this is Downton Abbey, so there are plenty of other things going on, too. Matthew's been checking out the Downton accounts now that he's (obviously unwisely) sunk his money into the estate, but no-one wants to listen when he realises just how bad things are. So he turns to Violet for advice; let's hope that this isn't a one-off, because it would be brilliant to see the pair team up in some kind of Odd Couple scenario.
Even if they don't, as Violet says in quiet satisfaction and barely disguised excitement, people's noses are going to be put out of joint if he starts changing the way things are done. This continues that Downton standard of the old versus the new (also seen in this episode when Mrs Hughes horrifies Carson by buying an electric toaster), but hopefully it will be a new and less obvious way of exploring the changes in aristocratic estates at the time.
But it was actually a quieter moment that intrigued me with Matthew; in a tiny scene that jarred with the rest of the episode, just by virtue of having nothing to do with anything else, it seems that Matthew mistakenly believed that Mary was pregnant. In fact, she wants to turn the nursery into a sitting room. Obviously this was slotted in here to foreshadow scenes to come, which will no doubt be much more insane, but this was a surprisingly thoughtful little vignette.
Meanwhile, Lady Edith's trying to get over the whole "being left at the altar" awkwardness, so Violet suggests that she finds something to distract her (though not gardening - "You can't be as desperate as that"). So Edith ends up causing a scandal by daring to write to The Times about women's suffrage (well, she causes Robert to briefly raise an eyebrow while Matthew looks on, all beatific smiles).
And because we don't have quite enough characters to deal with, we meet handsome new footman Jimmy, who looks like he could cause trouble as the women swoon and he questions Carson's authority (the horror!) Jimmy's arrival is also worth it just because it gives Lady Mary the chance to describe poor Alfred: "He does look like a puppy that's been rescued from a puddle."
Jimmy isn't the only new arrival to Downton, either; in a typically contrived lesson in "be careful what you wish for", pretty new kitchen maid Ivy arrives just as Daisy's about to proposition Alfred. Surely one day she will have some good luck? It's starting to seem a little mean, now.
It remains to be seen what Jimmy and Ivy bring to Downton - and it does seem a questionable move to introduce yet more people to an already overlarge cast - but on first impressions, both seem to be intriguing. Surely there'll be plenty room for scandal in the pantry, and if not we've got hints of a massive restructuring and baby drama to come. Anything can happen in Downton, so we'll just have to wait and see what comes next...
Downton Abbey airs Sundays at 9pm on ITV1.