Downton Abbey pulled a brilliant episode out of the bag last week with the shock death of Lady Sybil, but the problem with having such a surprise storyline - and a good episode - is that there's then a pressure to keep the standard high.
Whether Downton managed that this week is a bit of a mixed bag; unsurprisingly, the aftermath of Sybil's untimely passing was the most intriguing part of the instalment, while the other storylines largely struggled to keep up.
Perhaps the most moving parts of the episode came courtesy of Robert and Cora. As was hinted last week, Cora is furious that Robert - in her eyes - could have prevented Sybil's death if he'd only listened to Dr Clarkson. She's in full passive-aggressive mode, making veiled comments at every opportunity and refusing to allow Robert to return to the marital bed.
While Cora fumes, Robert is heartbroken - shouldering not only the death of his youngest daughter, and the guilt that he may have had something to do with it, but also his wife's opprobrium. So he turns where every man would - to his mother.
It's a testament to Maggie Smith that even when Violet is not spitting out one-liners or wry asides, she's still a captivating character. Whether she's murmuring about grief making one "so terribly tired" or counselling Robert, Smith's allowed to display even more dimension to Violet than she already brings.
But Robert isn't just moping around, either - in fact, he's furious with everyone and everything. So when Tom announces that his daughter will be Catholic, Robert is forced to "start his morning" early (and he's not happy about Tom's decision to name the baby Sybil, either, describing it as "ghoulish" when in fact everyone else sees it as kind of a lovely tribute).
Matthew, too, continues to show the worst timing ever as he forges ahead with his attempts to change the way the estate is managed. Naturally, this doesn't sit well with Robert, who takes everything as a personal attack in his vulnerable state. But a surprisingly entertaining consequence of Robert's anguish are the scenes with Mary, who refuses to appease her father, instead gently forcing him to see an alternative viewpoint.
Perhaps she's the only one able to get through to him at this point, but for whatever reason, these small moments - both when Mary defends Tom over the Catholicism and the name Sybil, and when she sticks up for her husband over the (actually quite tedious) management issues - are fantastic. The latter was a particularly poignant scene as she suggests Robert isn't really angry with anyone else: "It's because the world isn't going your way. Not anymore."
Elsewhere, I wasn't particularly invested in Ethel learning to cook with the help of Mrs Patmore - although any storyline which gives Carson a chance to huff is, obviously, golden - but it did climax in a wonderful moment. Robert is shocked to hear (via Carson via Molesley) that Isobel's lunch party, thrown to cheer up the downcast Downton ladies, is being catered by a FALLEN WOMAN.
So he bursts into the luncheon, all red-faced and puffy, to bring everybody home again. It's a wonderful moment as each and every one of the women refuses to leave - led, admittedly, by Cora, who will do whatever she can to defy her husband at this point. For once, the women have overruled the man, and even Violet puts her concern for etiquette aside for a bit of pudding. Things truly are changing in Downton.
Of course, Robert and Cora can't be angry with each other forever, so Violet does a little scheming to bring them back together. She contacts put-upon Dr Clarkson and urges him to "research" eclampsia - to lie, basically, and tell Robert and Cora that there was no real chance of saving Sybil. Clarkson mumbles and fumbles about ethics and all that, but of course he comes through for Violet, because who would defy the Dowager Countess?
I wasn't wild about this storyline - it seemed pat and unfair and dishonest and an easy way out for the couple to reconcile - but it does lead to a magnificent moment at the end of the episode, as Cora and Robert rush into each other's arms, racking with cathartic sobs, as Violet holds onto the mantlepiece and delicately looks the other way. Everything about this was touching, right down to the very framing.
If only everything about the episode could have been so accomplished; I still struggle to muster up any sort of feeling about the staff love triangle (though there was a curious sense of joy at hearing Mrs Patmore grumpily exclaim: "You're all in love with the wrong people"). And while Alfred was introduced as a sympathetic character caught between O'Brien and Thomas, he's souring faster than milk left on a radiator, using as he does poor Daisy - this week, by dancing the foxtrot with her but conveniently forgetting to mention that he just wanted to impress Ivy with his moves.
Meanwhile, the less said about the increasingly uncomfortable storyline between Thomas and Jimmy, the better - there's just a niggling, unsavoury sense of unwanted advance about it, and I'm just praying it doesn't tip over into assault territory. Surely the character of Thomas could be better served than this?
The relationship between Daisy and Mr Mason, on the other hand, continues to be wonderfully sweet, and while I'm not particularly invested in whether or not she takes up his offer to run the farm, I was pleased to see them together again.
Elsewhere, Banged-Up Bates trundles incessantly on as Mrs Bartlet retracts her testimony under the advice of vaguely evil prisoner and vaguely evil prison guard. Only Downton could hinge a murder case on whether or not someone had pastry under their fingernails. But Bates is not in jeopardy for long - one knife against the throat and guttural threat later, the guard and prisoner hastily retreat and Mrs Bartlet agrees to testify. So Bates will be out shortly, bringing to an end my attempts to care about the prison side of the show. Still, it was at least enjoyable to see everyone's joy at the news.
Overall, this episode of Downton had a lingering sense of gloom throughout - understandable, given last week, though I hope that the light relief will return sooner rather than later, because the show needs to get the balance right (it managed this with the incessant religion discussion, as Carson exclaims pompously about having "no great wish to persecute Catholics" and Mrs Hughes mutters: "They'll be relieved to know you no longer want them to be burned at the stake", brilliantly pricking his smug-balloon).
It's always a fine line to draw, but Downton is best when it has both the drama and the comedy. While the best bits of the episode were those focusing on the time after Sybil, that didn't stop it from feeling a little too heavy at times. Hopefully now that Robert and Cora have reconciled - and Bates is due for release - we'll get something lighter in the coming weeks.
Downton Abbey airs on ITV1.