This episode of Downton Abbey covered a ridiculous amount of time, I'd say probably six months of 1918 are crammed into this one hour installment. Ridiculous? Yes. Fun? Absolutely. :) Here's the episode summary from the Masterpiece Classic website:
1918The simmering conflict between Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) and Isobel (Penelope Wilton) over the management of the convalescent hospital at Downton Abbey boils over this week, and I have to say I come down whole-heartedly on Cora's side. Isobel is a whiny, entitled, immature BRAT. When she was introduced last season I rather admired her no-nonsense approach to life and her son's status as Downton's new heir, but clearly her proximity with aristocratic power has gone to her head. Seriously, an adult woman of Isobel's age throwing the equivalent of a toddler's hissy fit (the whole "I want to be needed! I'LL GO TO FRIGGIN' FRANCE!" thing cracked me up) is ridiculous. It's not your house YET Isobel, get over your stupid self. Relieved for once to see her out of the picture for a while. *sigh* Cora's schedule changes were completely reasonable (I really liked that she was paying attention to the needs of her staff), plus Downton is still her FLIPPIN' HOUSE for goodness' sake.
Mary's new alliance has aroused Violet's interest in matters of suitability and love. With Sybil in mind, the Dowager Countess declares, "war breaks down barriers and when peacetime re-erects them, it's very easy to find oneself on the wrong side." Indeed, among war's greatest casualties at Downton are the prescribed roles and class boundaries. Thomas is exerting his authority over the servants with aplomb; Mrs. Patmore, Daisy and Mrs. Bird are cooking up a little something on the side; and Ethel has discovered an age-old way to support the war effort. But between Robert and Bates, faith and loyalty transcend class, offering hope when Robert needs it most. Because now, the war has threatened a far more serious casualty.
Now that there is no turning back from transforming Downton into a hospital and Mary seems resolved not to break up Matthew's engagement to Lavinia, Violet (Maggie Smith) seems itching for a new area where she can meddle with her inimitable style and sass. In a conversation with Mary (Michelle Dockery), Violet speculates that Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) must be crushing on a man beneath her social station since war breaks down class barriers and causes people to do all sorts of CRAZY things like that. (My question here is, even if Branson wasn't in the picture as far as Sybil is concerned, who the heck does Violet think she's going to fall for with most of the men her age 1) fighting at the front or 2) in a hospital ward?) ANYWAYS....this conversation puts Mary on the alert and she is shocked to discover her sister IN CONVERSATION with the CHAUFFEUR. Oh the scandal...(seriously Mary, give Sybil some credit, at least she was talking with him outdoors, in public as opposed to your episode with the Turkish diplomat...).
Speaking of Branson (Allen Leech), my chauffeur-loving-heart got a wonderful moment when he declared to Sybil that he would stay at Downton in this stupid job he hates until she decides to run away with him (my paraphrase). Seriously, Sybil, how can you just STAND there when he's laying bare his heart like that?! Sure, Branson is a little intense, a bit of a loose cannon, and goodness knows he has his issues but the way he looks at Sybil with such unabashed adoration -- gah! It slays me every single time -- see the final scene, during the hospital concert, as one of many excellent examples thus far this season. What interests me about Sybil and her views toward her privileged class -- I really do think that out of all the sisters she could throw everything off and end up genuinely happy. It would absolutely be a bumpy, likely rocky, road toward that end -- but the possibility is there, and her desire to follow the beat of her own drummer and stand on her own two feet, that would go a long way towards seeing her through (or so I like to think). :)
When Daisy (Sophie McShera) overhears that Bates (Brendan Coyle) is working in a local pub, one thing leads to another and word gets to a rather shocked Lord Robert (Hugh Bonneville) that his former valet has returned to the area and not let him know, or requested his job back. Considering the poor terms on which they parted in the first installment of this season, when Bates refused to divulge the Crawley family secrets his SKANK OF A WIFE threatened to reveal, it's no surprise Bates is unsure of his welcome. This is a classic example of why I love Robert's character -- he's not perfect but he really is a good man at heart, capable of great compassion, and when he takes the initiative to visit Bates, insisting to his wife that he must be the one to apologize to his former servant, I cheered. I loved the warmth and camaraderie of there reunion, the way that for a few moments, at least, class barriers were forgotten and two men with a long history together shared a moment as friends.
One of my favorite storylines in this episode is how a few of the servants start a soup kitchen for homeless former soldiers. This endeavor starts in Isobel's home, when after her departure for France Molesley (Kevin Doyle) and the Mrs. Bird (Christine Lohr) are left with little to do besides light house maintenance. Mrs. Bird starts the soup kitchen and is soon aided by Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nichol) and Daisy, the former setting aside food from Downton's kitchens and raising the ever-nosy suspicions of O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran). Never one to waste an opportunity to get her coworkers in trouble, O'Brien alerts Cora, but her plan backfires deliciously when Cora is thrilled with the soup kitchen and volunteers BOTH their services and MORE of Downton's food stores! That was absolutely priceless! And speaking of O'Brien, she has lost any goodwill points she gained by her brief flashes of kindness toward the shell-shocked Mr. Lang. The woman is a conniving, harping shrew. When Thomas (Rob James-Collier) is appearing more reasonable than you, well you know you're in trouble. (Love Mrs. Patmore though -- she may be misguided in her encouragement of Daisy as regards William, but her heart's in the right place in so many ways!)
Another of this episode's main story threads involves the disturbing news that Matthew (Dan Stevens) and William (Thomas Howes), now his servant, have gone missing at the front. I really liked how this development highlighted just how much Matthew's come to mean to all of Downton since he was first announced as heir -- he really has become part of the family, the son Robert never had (despite his insistence on marrying Lavinia, HA!). Edith (Laura Carmichael) shares a surprisingly heartfelt moment with Mary when she goes against her father's injunction to keep the news about Matthew from her sister -- I really felt like there was no ulterior motive at work, this was one sister realizing that another would want to know the truth, no matter how painful. I will even own that I have really liked Edith over these past two weeks -- her work with the hospital has really allowed her to blossom and come into her own (here's hoping the positive sticks!).
Belowstairs endures some undesired drama when Ethel (Amy Nuttall) is caught by Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) sleeping with one of the officers she'd been seen flirting with repeatedly. Ethel is promptly dismissed without a reference and actually has the gall to be surprised. Ethel I have news for you, you too are a first-class IDIOT. It's like she seriously thought there would be no repercussions for her actions?! Yeesh. It's a lesson in how not to win friends and how TO alienate people. The moment where Ethel returns at the end of the episode, alone and scared to beg help from Mrs. Hughes because she's pregnant (SHOCKER! That's what HAPPENS when you carry flirting with randy officers too far!) is priceless -- talk about a humbling moment, being forced to beg help from the very people you made no secret of disdaining because they made their livelihood in a manner you despised. Third unbelievably frustrating female character to eat crow this episode, CHECK.
This episode ended on what was, for me, a really sublime moment of Downton drama. :) The time has come for the hospital concert where, miracle of miracles Mary has agreed to perform "If You Were the Only Girl in the World" with the accompaniment of her sister Edith. First of all, if you haven't purchased the Downton soundtrack, do so immediately -- Alfie Boe sings the song on that album, and you can hear a clip of his performance here. Mary's about to lose it because she's just learned Matthew's missing, and everyone is all tense and upset and TENSE, and then lo and behold midway through the song Matthew and William walk in. You could've heard a pin drop -- well, only if you could hear a pin over me yelling at Mary through the television to run down the aisle and kiss Matthew already (or vice-versa, at this point I don't really care who makes the first move)! *wink* It was just such a perfectly realized moment, and felt like the end of a season with the palpable emotion and attraction between Mary and Matthew and everyone SO HAPPY.
But it wouldn't be the Edwardian soap opera I love if happiness was achieved that easily, would it?! Sure, Matthew's alive but he's headed back to the front, and he's still engaged to that twit Lavinia, and Mary is determined to be all noble and self-sacrificing. SIGH. And Anna (Joanne Froggatt) is ridiculously happy that Bates is back at Downton, and of course they jinx themselves by revelling in HOW HAPPY they are and how close they are to their goals (silly kids!). While I have no idea where exactly we are in 1918, precisely, if there's one thing this show teaches us it is that a lot can happen in an hour. *wink* Here's to next week! In the mean time, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this episode!
- Read my review of Series 2, Part 2
- Read my review of Series 2, Part 1
- My Downton Abbey pinboard is EXPLODING!
- For a limited time, watch this episode online at PBS.org
- Pre-order the Season 2 DVD (releases February 7th)
- Read Tasha's recap of this episode at Edwardian Promenade
And the second is the cast showing their affection for a very droll Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) from the PBS behind-the-scenes gallery for episode one: