Downton Abbey's second season continued on Masterpiece Classic last nght with a on hour episode -- and I just have to tell you, seeing the story parsed out in a one hour installment gave me a renewed sympathy for the Brits who, I believe, received one hour PER WEEK. It's a delicious sort of torture, being forced to consume this story in one hour increments. *sigh* :) Here's the episode summary from the PBS website:
As a convalescent home for wounded officers, Downton Abbey offers respite from the front. But Cora and Isobel, locked in a power struggle over running the home, wage domestic war, and Thomas in his new rank as acting-Sergeant is not one to broker peace.
Mary rejects Rosamund's dubious advice while Daisy reluctantly accepts Mrs. Patmore's — in both cases, new bonds are irreversibly forged. Meanwhile, Anna dares to hope when she spies a familiar figure in the village.
The changes at Downton bring the changing times into sharp relief, revealing the cracks in the foundation of what has always been and ceding power and influence to "upstarts," if you will, like Isobel and (*shudders*) Thomas (Rob James-Collier). I thought it was fascinating when O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran) suggests her old cohort Thomas would be an ideal manager for the "new" Downton (since he's always had SUCH a soft spot in his heart for the house and family...yeah right). When Thomas "dared" walk in the FRONT DOOR I thought Carson (Jim Carter) would have a heart attack -- it's ON between those two! It was interesting to see how upset O'Brien is on Cora's behalf at Isobel's encroaching influence -- it appears that her guilt over causing Cora's miscarriage runs much, much deeper than I'd ever dared imagine.That kind of complicated loyalty and relationship dynamic is just one of the reasons this show is so fascinating. Out of the two Series 1 "villains" at this point I hold out more hope for O'Brien's redemption -- she's abrasive, manipulative, and more often than not misguided but the fact that she's capable of regret (and compassion towards former soldiers like Mr. Lang) gives me hope.
Regarding the Crawley sisters, I loved seeing the kind Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) take the lead thanks to her nursing experience and serve as an example to her sisters Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Edith (Laura Carmichael). Edith was a pleasant surprise in this episode, I have to give credit where credit is due! The only good thing to come from Edith's sojourn to the local farm was discovering that she really was more than just a "fine lady," she had a real aptitude for unexpected things like farming when given the chance to apply herself. I LOVED seeing her throw herself into the hospital work, getting patients books to read, helping them write letters home, and most of all showing them real warmth, kindness, and compassion. I've decided Edith needs to marry a soldier, the end. *wink* When visiting General Sir Herbert Strutt (Julian Wadham for the win!) takes the time to call Edith's work to the surprised attention of her family I could've cheered. If this keeps up she could become a favorite of mine once again.
We also see Mary work in the hospital, though she doesn't seem to click with this work as much as her sisters do (though to her credit, this new, nicer Mary 2.0 is astonishingly nice and patient and not all about herself, yay for the transformative power of heartbreak!). :P I was rather surprised at the pressure Mary receives from her aunt Rosamund (Samantha Bond) to discredit Lavinia (Zoe Boyle) in Matthew's eyes, because OF COURSE a tale-bearer is going to win Matthew's heart after first crushing it to pieces. *rollseyes* Lavinia's big secret, the reason Sir Richard Carlisle was threatening her last week -- she apparently delivered secrets about her uncle's political activities to Sir Richard, which he then published, precipitating the Marconi Scandal of 1912. Kudos to Mary for not wanting to stoop to her aunt's level, though it does force her into the unenviable position of bonding with her romantic rival. *sigh* And how hilarious are Rosamund and Violet's (Maggie Smith) exchanges? The apple didn't fall too far from the tree with that one, hmm? And I think it is hilarious that Rosamund can go too far for Violet's taste -- the Dowager Countess is clearly in denial about what an influence she's been on her daughter's life!
Bates (Brendan Coyle) makes an all-too-brief reapparance for both me and Anna (Joanne Froggatt). :) Just a costuming note -- Froggatt looked absolutely adorable in her regular "street clothes," a refreshing change of pace from her servant's uniform. And I thought it was so neat seeing her experiment with Lady Mary's new curling iron -- I couldn't help but think how stressed I'd be if I was wielding styling tool like that, one that had to be manually heated on someone else's head -- I'd be concerned about burning off great chunks of their hair! ANYWAYS, so my dear darling Bates is back, secretly working in a pub while he tries to arrange a divorce from THAT EVIL SKANK VERA who surprise, surprise, wasn't faithful to him. I love the Bates/Anna scenes -- they are of course an adorable couple, but I think what I like best is the depth and intensity of the emotion between them, all the more powerful, perhaps, because they hardly ever touch. I love how Bates just treasures Anna, drinks her in with his eyes, wants to honor her, and even comments on her newly styled hair. *swoons*
My dear darling Branson's (Allen Leech) radical politics come once again to the foreground in this episode. While he certainly has cause to be upset with the establishment (a cousin was murdered in the Easter Rising hostilities), like so many who, I think, held up the politics of the likes of Lenin as an ideal but didn't live under them, he has a rather idealized view of a people's revolution (yeah, right, the tsar's daughters will be safe...). I loved the twist in having his plans to become a conscientious objector to the war thwarted by a legitimate health issue -- you can see this troubles him, since it is one thing perhaps to refuse to fight on idealistic grounds, but another to have that option forcibly removed from you -- thoughts? I feel as though being forcibly sidelined threatens to unman him, and his scenes with Sybil are frought with tension as she attempts to be a friend, to relate, to care for him. When Anna uncovers his plot to disrupt the general's visit to Downton, the tension in those scenes were just brilliantly played. I really thought for a second that Branson might have gone off the deep end and actually threatened the man with physical harm instead of cow dung. Branson's shock that the staff thought he'd murder someone was, in retrospect, actually pretty comical.
Mr. Lang (Cal Macaninch) brought the horrors of war home ot the downstairs staff in a heartbreaking way, as this episode revealed that he just couldn't cope with being around all of the officers that now call Downton home. This ends any speculation I had that his presence would make a lasting impact on the prickly O'Brien, but who knows? Fellowes could pull a fast one on us. :) I loved how classy Robert (Hugh Bonneville) and Mr. Carson were about Lang's unsuitability for the job, not focusing on that but recognizing his emotional problems and need for healing. Thankfully "protocol" wasn't at the forefront of anyone's mind. Also, Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nichol) -- good grief I love her, even though her advice to Daisy (Sophie McShera) is misguided. The woman is a gem and seeing her transfer her broken heart over her nephew's death to the newly enlisted William (Thomas Howes) just breaks my heart. The idea of kindly William in the trenches just KILLS me! Poor Daisy is, I'm afraid, in for a world of heart-ache if she doesn't summon the courage to be honest about her lack of feelings for William. THOSE POOR CRAZY KIDS!! Side note: Between Mrs. Patmore and Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) mothering William, the genuine family dynamic that develops belowstairs between THE NICE PEOPLE is on full display -- love it.
Looking forward, I expect a royal catfight to erupt between Isobel and Cora at any moment. And new housemaid Ethel (Amy Nuttall) is in for a world of hurt if she doesn't watch herself around the officers! Also, something is up with Robert and Cora's relationship...something is "off" and I'm anxious for the reveal! The unspoken pull between Mary and Matthew is just tearing me to pieces as well -- Mary is proving to be a far stronger, and far classier, person in many respects than I ever gave her credit for. And this is RIDICULOUS...this episode was an hour, half the lenght of last week's installment and this post is nearly as long as last week's. CRAZINESS. But that's how much I love this show. :) I'd love to hear your thoughts on how the story is progressing -- please remember to keep the comments as spoiler-free as possible if you've seen all of Series 2!
- Read my review of Series 2, Part 1
- Visit my Downton Abbey board on Pinterest (feel free to suggest images for me to "pin"!)
- For a limited time, watch this episode online at PBS
- Pre-order the Season 2 DVD (releases February 7th)
- Read Laurel Ann's recap & review of this episode at Austenprose
- Read Tasha's recap of this episode at Edwardian Promenade