Downton Abbey continued this past Sunday with Part Two of its four-week run on Masterpiece Classic, and my suspicions that this is one of "those" shows that keeps getting better and better as time goes on has been happily confirmed. I'm going to try my best to confine my review of Part Two to one post, but I'm not making any promises. :) If you're new to the blog, or want to revisit my thoughts on Part One of Downton, here are the links: The Crawleys, The Servants. Now that I've had about three hours to familiarize myself with the world of Downton Abbey and the many, many "upstairs" and "downstairs" residents that call the estate home, I feel like I have a much better grasp on the characters and multiple, interwoven plotlines. Here's the summary of Part Two from the PBS website:
As Matthew and Isobel, the newly-arrived Crawleys settle into life in the village, Isobel offers her experience with modern medical techniques at the hospital, to the considerable consternation of Violet. Both Matthew and Mary bristle at the prospect of being matched to one another; still, Matthew indulges Mary's clever barbs even as a suitor in the form of Evelyn Napier is invited for a foxhunt, accompanied by the handsome attaché at the Turkish Embassy, Kemal Pamuk.
Downstairs, secrets reflect the ambitions, shames and desperate hopes of the servants, as housemaid Gwen tries to hide the contents of a heavy box set atop the wardrobe in her room; Carson abandons his customary dignity as he skittishly raids the pantry; and Bates refuses to share the source of his debilitating pain to his co-workers. Their concern and camaraderie markedly contrast the festering discontent of Thomas and O'Brien.
A sinister stranger barges into the house, demanding to speak to Lord Grantham, and an attractive stranger captivates Mary before setting into motion a chain of events that put the fate of Downton Abbey on even less stable ground.
Mentioning Anna brings me the opportunity to discuss what is fast becoming one of my favorite relationships on the show - the friendship (hopefully more? hopefully SOON? *g*) that develops between Anna and Bates (Brendan Coyle), the valet. When Bates and Anna find themselves alone in the servants quarters, and Bates teases her by saying "alone at last" - people, I kid you not, I melted. Brendan Coyle is just adorable. Of course, for every halting step forward in their relationship - such as "bonding" over the hilarious discovery that Carson (Jim Carter), the butler, had is secret life as a stage performer revealed in front of the Earl. While Carson was mortified at being embarrassed before lower staff members, the fact that Anna and Bates handled the news with discretion earns them, especially Bates, some much-needed grace from the butler's perspective. Bates's attempts to treat his limp on the sly with a painful-looking metal brace also reveal the sympathetic side of housekeeper Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), who I absolutely love now thanks to the kindness and understanding she shows him. The excrutiating brace reminded me of old-school scholiosis treatments - I have scholiosis and was treated with a brace for a time as a child, and believe you me as inconvenient and uncomfortable as my brace was, I am convinced it was nothing to the types of devices used to treat back curvatures even a mere fifty years ago. I desperately hope that Bates's reticence to share about his past (seriously, I'm dying to know the man's secrets!), and admit to vulnerability doesn't keep him and Anna apart forever...I would be crushed.
Matthew (Dan Stevens), the new heir, and his mother Isobel (Penelope Wilton) have begun to settle into life at Downton in earnest. Since Isobel was married to a doctor and trained as a nurse, she very naturally takes an interest in the local hospital where Violet (Maggie Smith), the dowager countess, serves as patroness. Isobel has some rather progressive ideas - she advocates the latest medical treatments and wants equal care for all patients, no matter what their social standing. And while these ideas may not seem all that radical today, in a world like Downton Abbey's that thrives on tradition and male dominance in areas like the medical profession, Isobel's push for improvements sets her at odds with Violet. I practically cheered when Isobel's suggested treatment for dropsy (I had no idea how awful that affliction is!) succeeded in saving the life of a poor farmer. Watching Isobel "butt heads" with Violet is going to be a lot of fun as this show progresses, and I'm really growing to love her character - Wilton has infused her with just the right balance of "modern" sensibilities and old-fashioned class. And watching Violet fume at having to share management of the hospital with Isobel was hilarious - Part Two continued the grand tradition set forth in Part One of giving Maggie Smith some of the show's funniest lines and seeing her steal scenes whenever she appears on-screen.
|Viscount Evelyn Napier|
Part Two of Downton Abbey succeeds on a grand scale, adding layers of rich characterization and raising the stakes for each member of the Crawley family and their servants. It is truly fascinating to witness how intricately entwined the lives and fortunes of the wealthy owners of Downton Abbey are with the servants who depend upon Downton for their livelihood. Unforunately for the Crawleys, Mary's dalliance with the Turk was not the secret she hoped - and like all hidden secrets and sins, the truth is sure to out and the impact will doubtless be felt by many more than just Mary (there's a lesson there, no?).
To anyone who may still be making their mind up about whether or not to watch Downton Abbey - I will say that this series pushes the envelope a bit more than many may be accustomed to in period drama. It definitely does not shy away from all aspects of life, the good and the bad. From my perspective, the show does not "cross the line" and become too explicit for my tastes (i.e., it cuts away from Mary's seduction scene), but I recognize that it may be too close to the line for others. I know that viewing tastes and preferences are varied among the readers of my lil' ol' blog, and I do try to recognize and be sensitive to that in my reviews.
What captivates me about Downton Abbey isn't just the smart script and gorgeous sets and costumes, but the raw authenticity of the characters. The characters' mistakes and actions - whether or not I agree with them, ultimately - have thus far, anyway, provided me with both entertainment to feed my period-drama loving heart and food for thought about the best and worse that humans are capable of. I'm looking forward to seeing where this wild ride takes the Crawleys and their servants next. :)