Anna is upset that she has had no letters from Bates for weeks, nor has she been allowed to visit him in prison. She is convinced that he wants her to cut loose from him and get on with her life. Similarly, Bates has received no correspondence from Anna, even though she writes regularly. Unknown to either, a corrupt prison guard is confiscating their letters to punish Bates for striking his cellmate, who is in league with the guard in criminal activity.
Meanwhile, Robert and Matthew are settling into their new relationship, with Matthew co-owner of Downton Abbey, having invested his unexpected inheritance to save it from sale. As Matthew looks into the finances of the estate, he sees that it has been badly managed for years—something he means to reverse.
From Carson’s point of view, Matthew’s rescue of Downton Abbey means that the punctilious butler can bring the staff up to full strength at last. He hires a new footman, Jimmy, who has good looks as well as a good reference. Against Jimmy’s protest, Carson insists that he be called James. Another new hire is Ivy, a pretty kitchen maid, who gets the cold shoulder from Daisy, who is now the assistant cook.
On a dark and stormy night, while the Archbishop of York is being entertained at Downton, Branson suddenly appears at the door—a fugitive from Ireland, where he has been involved in the torching of great houses belonging to Irish sympathizers with British rule. The family is horror-struck to learn that Branson has left the pregnant Sybil to make her escape separately. He explains that he is at risk of imprisonment, while she is not. Sybil shows up the next day, and Robert makes a quick trip to London, where he uses his connections to secure Branson’s safety from arrest—as long as he never returns to Ireland.
Ethel, who has fallen into prostitution, meets with Mrs. Hughes and Isobel to offer to give up her illegitimate son, Charlie, to his grandparents, the Bryants. She had rebuffed their earlier attempt to adopt the boy. A meeting is arranged, at which Ethel says goodbye to her son. Then she returns to her wretched life.
In other action, Edith is casting about to make something of herself after her humiliation at the altar. She takes up the cause of women’s suffrage, getting a forthright letter published in the Times—to Robert’s consternation.
Finally, Bates manages to turn the tables on his enemies, planting contraband that frames his cellmate, thwarts the corrupt guard, and restores the long withheld letters—both to him and Anna. Now both husband and wife know that neither ever lost faith.