This week's installment of Downton Abbey once again covered a ridiculous amount of time, but I can't really complain because it was AWESOME. I've got to say between this week and last week, 1918 has got to be the longest year ever. Here's the episode summary from the PBS website:
Devastating news from the front rocks the very foundations of Downton Abbey, and it is up to the Dowager Countess to buck bureaucratic protocol and bring Downton's men home. In an unwelcome return, Vera Bates threatens to make public the scandalous story of Lady Mary's ill-fated indiscretion. Desperate to contain the story, Mary appeals to the savvy opportunist Sir Richard Carlisle.
Mary is not the only woman to consider hard sacrifice. Some will make it against their will, some will be denied a chance, and some will refuse. Daisy may buckle from its pressure, while Lavinia desperately wishes for such a burden. Sybil must push back. And Cora, preoccupied with the running of the home, cannot see that a sacrifice may already have been made.
Well we all knew that Downton was going to be rocked to the core by devastating news from the front at some point, right? And it finally happens -- Matthew (Dan Stevens) and William (Thomas Howes) sustain severe injuries at the battle of Amiens. Plans are immediately put in place to bring Matthew to the Downton hospital, while William, as a lowly enlisted man, is denied transfer -- denied until Violet, the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) steps in and has her most awesome moments yet this season. I absolutely love how driven Violet is to bring William home. He may "only" be a former footman, "only" be an enlisted man, but he is Downton and Violet is nothing if not loyal. The Dowager Countess calls in every favor, pulls every string, in order to bring William home and shows extraordinary kindness and sensitivity when she learns that he has no hope of survival, his lungs destroyed by the force of a shell explosion. (Plus she CRIES at his wedding!) Kudos also to Edith (Laura Carmichael) for continuing her compassionate transformation and agreeing to serve as William's primary nurse. And it was a wonderful surprise to see Paul Copley, a.k.a. Matthews from the Hornblower films, as William's devoted father!
This episode was also the hour where Mary (Michelle Dockery) steps up and is more awesome than ever before. The news of Matthew's severe injuries rocks her to the core, but rather than freak out or retreat within herself she steps into action and determines to serve as his personal nurse. The empathy! The devotion! When will these two crazy kids admit they still love each other?? *sigh* And with Matthew's injuries Julian Fellowes plays the "he'll never walk again OR father children card" -- which we all know is a bunch of baloney because Matthew and Mary are destined to be passionate lovers at some point. You can't create that much repressed tension between two characters and never have a payoff, hmm? *wink*
ANYWAYS...Matthew's injuries bring Lavinia (Zoe Boyle) back to Downton to play the doting fiancee, and she's very nice and concerned and everything but oh so very boring when compared to Mary. Not to mention that she looks to be completely incapable of nursing Matthew through this period or of caring for an invalid beyond that. When compared to Mary there is NO CONTEST in my opinion -- Matthew can rely on Mary to tell him the truth about his condition because they just "get" each other like that, Mary does everything to put his needs before her pain, encouraging him to focus on his future, and -- AND!! -- when she makes the comment about marrying someone in name only, because you just want to be with that person, you KNOW SHE MEANS IT (because in part that stupid Turkish diplomat mess haunts her to this day). Perhaps the best thing to come out of this whole mess is Isobel's (Penelope Wilton) perfectly timed return from France, when she witnesses Mary's care for Matthew -- she wouldn't make such a bad daughter-in-law after all, hmmm? :)
O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran) is apparently having second thoughts about writing that EVIL CONNIVING Vera Bates (Maria Doyle Kennedy) that her husband has returned to Downton since the house is in such an uproar over their injured menfolk. And then she has the gall to be surprised that Vera seems determined to bring down the entire Crawley household in order to hurt Bates (Brendan Coyle) and Anna (Joanne Froggatt) by selling the Lady Mary scandal to the newspapers. Really O'Brien? Really, this is a surprise? SHE IS SO DUMB. *sigh* In other Bates & Anna news, though, how sweet was the moment when they go to church to pray? I loved that. Whenever they work through the crazy current Mrs. Bates issues they will be a SOLID couple. :)
I have never really understood why Vera thinks that releasing the story about Lady Mary's ill-fated encounter with the Turkish diplomat was the way to blackmail Bates. I appreciate the fact that Bates doesn't want Anna's name and reputation dragged through the mud, but Mary is the one who stands to be the real loser here -- and so, when Anna tips her off about Vera's plot, she bites the bullet and decides to level with Sir Richard (Iain Glen), her AWOL newspaper magnate suitor. From Sir Richard's brief introduction in Part 1, I knew he was manipulative, but Mary's humbling confession and plea for help proves just how low the man will go to get what he wants -- marriage to a newly humbled Mary and all the prestige association with the Crawleys will provide. Despite the fact that Mary is making a deal with the devil himself to keep her reputation, I cannot lie I really enjoyed watching Sir Richard thwart Vera's plans and in the process nearly give the woman an apoplectic fit. That, my friends, was fun -- I'll come to terms with the fallout of Mary's lamentable association with Sir Richard next week.
William's presence at Downton is making poor Daisy's (Sophie McShera) life a living hell as anguish over her friend's imminent death and guilt over making him believe she loved him reaches a breaking point. Everyone from Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) to William's father and other assorted staff members seem determined to pressure Daisy to keep up the charade and marry William just so he can die a happy man. OH THE GUILT!!! I really feel like McShera delivers some of her finest acting in these scenes, and raises my respect for the character of Daisy to previously unimaginable heights. The least subterfuge in her actions just tears Daisy to pieces, and while I understand why William's friends want to do anything to keep him happy, I really respect Daisy for wanting to do the right, for wanting to be true to herself, even if she bows to pressure in the end and marries William on his deathbed. (Side note: what the heck was with the vicar and snotty conviction that Daisy wants to marry William for his pension? Way to go Violet for putting that man in his place!) Once committed, Daisy shows a great deal of strength in her determination to stay by William's side until the end -- the wedding and his death were heartbreaking -- way to break my heart, Fellowes, by killing one of Downton's kindest characters!
Meanwhile Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) reaffirms my suspicion that she is a SAINT by revealing that she's been secretly supporting THAT INGRATE EX-HOUSEMAID Ethel (Amy Nuttall) and her illegitimate child. Apparently it would kill Ethel to thank Mrs. Hughes for going out of her way to help her out, grr!!! She still has some delusions that her major will want to do the right thing by her and the baby, but of course THAT'S not going to happen. Interesting to contrast how society views Ethel and the difficulties she faces in being a single mother and Jane (Clare Calbraith), a war widow with a young child, who convinces Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson that she can juggle motherhood and work at Downton.
This episode provides some nice Branson (Allen Leech) and Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) scenes -- I love these moments because there is always this delicious undercurrent of repressed romantic tension. Look, I cannot STAND Branson's politics, and the way he uses news of the murder of the tsar and his family in Russia as a springboard for romantic sacrifice is patently ridiculous -- but I still, still can't resist that look of utter devotion in Branson's eyes every time he looks at Sybil. I AM A SAP. (At least I own it, right?) I mean the moment where Branson touches Sybil's WAIST to stop her from leaving?! GAH!! Too perfect. The Romanov thing? That makes NO SENSE WHATSOEVER. Yet I cannot seem to resist Branson's jawline and puppy dog eyes! I NEED AN INTERVENTION PEOPLE. At this rate I am going to be clinging to Branson's devotion for Sybil and disregarding all else until having taken the leap of faith he makes her life a misery. WHO KNEW ALLEN LEECH HELD SUCH SWAY OVER MY EMOTIONS?! Bah!!!! :P
|My hair curls! I can look super cute! Too bad this is not the wedding I've always dreamed of!|
So as this episode ends, Mary has gotten herself in a royal mess with Sir Richard, who uses her moment of weakness to announce their engagement without any sort of discussion. Vera is TICKED that she can't sell the Mary story to the newspapers or Sir Richard will throw her in jail -- personally I think that woman needs to talk a long walk off a short pier if you know what I'm sayin'! :P With the war almost at an end everyone's life is closer than ever to completely falling apart. I LOVE THIS DRAMA! :)