This episode, with its standard running time, seemed much tighter - there wasn't any waste, as even Daisy's repeated complaints about the oven turned into a disaster when it broke on the night of the big party. Only Downton could make a drama out of a broken cooker, and that's why it became popular; going back to its roots is no bad thing.
Mainly, the instalment focused on the future of Downton Abbey itself, with Robert's risky investment coming back to haunt him. It was great to see Lady Mary and Violet come up with a grand scheme to save it - basically, rinse Martha dry - and that's why they wanted the big party, to convince her that Downton's worth keeping.
The show fell down a little when it tried too hard and too obviously to flag up that Times Are Changing - the episode would have been much better without Mary preaching that the role of houses like Downton is to "maintain tradition" and Martha going on about America being a "little less formal". Much like Tom's boring outbursts at dinner last week, the show should stick to showing rather than telling, like with the "indoor picnic" (buffet) that results from that pesky smoky stove.
The real reason that this storyline was entertaining, though, was because it teamed up Mary and Violet - two of the most selfish schemers on television - and also pitted the Dowager Countess against Martha, properly this time. It had been a worry that Violet and Martha would have made peace following last week's episode, but thankfully the one-liners were flying, and there were more of them.
But particularly enjoyable was the fact that Violet had to be on her best behaviour, because she actually wanted something from "runaway train" Martha. While the writers still managed to give her apparently endless witticisms, slurs and asides to spit, around Martha she was the vision of restraint and pacifism. Well, kind of. The moment when Martha began to serenade her British counterpart was pure comedy, as Maggie Smith squirmed and twisted and put on a magnificent face of thinly-veiled horror.
The payoff of all this, of course, is that Martha knew what was going on the entire time but does not have the ability to help (there's a technical reason for it, but it's about as interesting as the whole entail thing from the first series). This is weirdly unsatisfying; while it's important that we have ongoing tension with Downton's finances, you couldn't help but root for enjoyably manipulative Mary and Violet.
And it also brings with it Martha's departure, which means we're going to have to say goodbye to the marvellous Shirley MacLaine just as she was getting into the swing of things. But maybe Downton will be saved despite that, because it seems Mary will nag poor Matthew to death.
Mary and Violet weren't the only ones scheming, either; it was great fun to see O'Brien and Thomas back to their old tricks, and turning their sights on each other for once, leaving Robert's shirts and Matthew's stained tail coat in jeopardy. It's hard not to feel sorry for poor old Alfred, stuck in the middle and the subject of the recriminations.
But it does give him an instant likeability, which isn't even dashed by his sudden romance with Reed, who's apparently meant to be the model of modern woman but actually just seems a bit scornful and cold so far. Hopefully, we'll find out more about her shortly, though it looks like Daisy has her eye on Alfred too, which could cause plenty of trouble. Was it just me who saw a little similarity between Alfred and dear departed William?
Elsewhere, Mrs Hughes's discovery of a lump was largely well done and mostly managed to avoid veering into unchecked sentimentality (except perhaps for her sudden tearful outburst). Mrs Patmore was pitched perfectly as a sympathetic ear and confidante... but who didn't necessarily help with her hysterical reactions.
It was also interesting to see Hughes desperate not to tell Carson about her illness, presumably for fear of being deemed unable to work, or possibly because she couldn't face the sympathy (though I hate to see them argue). And she got the all-important final lines as she talked about her new "perspective"; hearing her say: "One day I will die and so will he and you and every one of us under this roof" is almost unbearably sad and seems invested with a huge amount of meaning, considering Mary's bitter fight to cling on to Downton.
Meanwhile, the relationship between Edith and Sir Anthony remains entertaining enough, though it's disappointing that we haven't had any real build-up to it - certainly not on the level of Mary-Matthew or Sybil-Tom. It's a shame, because Laura Carmichael is a wonderful actress and would be able to handle it brilliantly, but as it is we're being asked to now believe that their coupling is basically a life-or-death situation.
With that said, there's still the nagging suspicion that Edith's so determined to marry Sir Anthony because her sisters are settled. Still, if it makes Sir Anthony happy I don't suppose there's a problem, since he's the nicest, humblest, most self-deprecating character I've ever seen, played excellently by Robert Bathurst. He walks around looking like he's constantly worried that he's offended someone, when really he's barely noticed.
It's a bit annoying that there was some false tension in this episode, as Robert forces Sir Anthony to send a letter breaking things off from Edith... and then backs down after his daughter does a little cry. Downton needs to choose - either let the couple be happy, or introduce tension that can't be resolved five minutes later with a couple of tears and a stern look from Martha. Still, we're in for another wedding now, apparently, which is bound to cause more drama.
The storyline that isn't quite working so far (putting aside "Ethel becomes a prostitute", which is hardly developed enough for us to think about yet) is Bates's time in prison. Aside from Anna's shocking admission that she's purchased a garter and Bates's perv-face, it's just not really involving enough at this point. There is the promise of drama with Bates's evil cellmate, but the music is so ridiculously sinister and Bates's growl of: "Don't ever threaten me" is too much even for Downton.
The only thing saving it is the fact that Bates does not seem to deny to his fellow prisoner that he's a murderer - could he have killed Mrs Bates after all? But even then it's probably just macho talk to protect himself more than anything else, disappointingly. If it turns out that Bates did whack the wife, I'll be thrilled, because it would actually inject some intrigue into proceedings.
Overall, though, this was a solid episode of Downton - and the large proportion of lines given to Violet didn't hurt, either. She might think that nothing brings success like excess, but the show figured out a way to stay on the right side of kitsch this week. Long may it continue!
Downton Abbey airs Sundays at 9pm on ITV1.