Freed from prison at last, Bates returns to Downton Abbey where his role remains unclear, since Thomas has taken Bates’s old job as Robert’s valet. However, all of the family and most of the staff are delighted to see him, with the notable exceptions of Thomas and O’Brien.
O’Brien continues to nurse her pathological grudge against Thomas by exploiting an unfortunate misunderstanding. Thomas, certain that Jimmy has been reciprocating his expressions of affection, steals into Jimmy’s room at night and gives him a kiss. Just then, Alfred barges in and is shocked beyond belief. Jimmy, too, is appalled—both at Thomas’s advance and at the possibility that Alfred thinks it was welcomed. Later, O’Brien encourages Alfred to tell Carson, which he does.
In an age when homosexuality was a crime, this incident is potentially explosive. Carson handles it by forcing Thomas to resign under the pretext that Bates is now taking his job as valet. In return, Thomas will get an all-important job reference. But O’Brien is not yet finished with her villainy…
Meanwhile, Robert is being tormented by change. Matthew’s blunt remarks about the mishandling of the estate cause the longtime overseer to abruptly resign. This saves Branson from a career in his brother’s car repair shop, since he is the perfect candidate to team up with Matthew and manage the property, despite Robert’s protestation that lost income can be made up with spectacular returns from a businessman in America named Ponzi.
Further vexing Robert, Edith’s career as a journalist is taking off. Little does Robert know that Edith’s editor is a married man with an ardent interest in her—nor does Edith realize this at first.
Then Violet’s great-niece Rose arrives for an extended stay. The restless teenager springs at the chance to accompany Edith and Matthew to London, where she steals away at the first opportunity to don flapper garb and call up her married boyfriend. The couple decamp to a jazz bar, where Matthew, Edith, and Robert’s sister, Rosamund, track them down. As punishment, Rose is sent to Scotland with her Aunt Agatha—“not a party person,” as Violet describes her.
While in London Matthew furtively visits a fertility doctor, only to discover that Mary has an appointment with the same physician. Hers is a follow-up to confirm that a secret operation has corrected her inability to conceive a child. The couple are now primed to produce an heir.
In other action: Violet gets Ethel out of the village by arranging a new job for her near her son’s adoptive parents. The yearly cricket match between the house and the village gets competitive juices flowing. And O’Brien convinces Jimmy to blackmail Carson into giving Thomas no reference at all, which will destroy his career. Despite their longstanding enmity, Bates pities Thomas and thwarts this scheme by blackmailing O’Brien with a cryptic hint about the notorious soap incident from the first season, which he hears about from Thomas.
But O’Brien’s plot continues to unfold, since she has incited Alfred to report Thomas to the police. Detectives arrive during the cricket game, but Robert prompts Alfred to change his story. The police leave, the house team pulls ahead in the match, and Thomas lives on at Downton Abbey—promised the new position of under butler, not least because of his cricket skills.