As the last of the recovering officers depart Downton, the house is reverted to its former state — but not so its residents. The future looms large for a lost and melancholy Robert, an uneasy Bates, a determined Sybil, a cunning, ambitious Thomas and a desperate Ethel.
A stunning revelation deeply affects Robert and Cora and incites Richard to tighten his grip on Mary. But Mary has accepted her fate with detachment. Violet, however, will do no such thing, and even Carson reaches his limit.
Sybil discovers unlikely, however unenthusiastic, allies. A wedding is planned but fate cruelly intervenes. In its wake lay guilt, grief and, among the servants, fresh horrors.
With the end of the war, Downton Abbey is no longer a hospital and life can get back to normal, or so everyone thinks (little do they know). The war has ushered in a new era of "normal," one which will require change of every resident both upstairs and down -- adapt and flourish, or flounder trapped in the past. Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) has found fresh purpose in overseeing the Downton hospital, going so far as to mention an interest in Isobel's (Penelope Wilton) work with war refugees. She's eager to see Mary (Michelle Dockery) established and married, even if it is to the oily Sir Richard (Iain Glen), going so far as to shock Robert (Hugh Bonneville) by suggesting the convalescing Matthew must be removed from his future home if Mary has any hope of getting on with her life. While I like Cora for the work she's embraced during the war, for her willingness to use her position as mistress of Downton to help others, she has completely checked out of her marriage. She's willing to embrace the future (perhaps it is her American background? ha!) while Robert is floundering and depressed, no longer sure of his position or purpose in a postwar world.
Here's how I look at it -- Robert is in the midst of a classic midlife crisis. Not saying I like it, or it is particularly excusable, but it is what it is and I can't say that Fellowes blindsided me with the developments in this week's episode -- Robert's dissatisfaction has been pretty well telegraphed since the start of this season. I have decided, however, that Jane (Clare Calbraith) isn't a scummy manipulator. I think the whole Jane/Robert thing-that-almost-was was the result of two lonely, depressed people making poor choices -- or rather on the verge of making poor choices, since nothing actually happens between the two of them except some kisses. And that first kiss in the pantry? I can't deny it I busted out laughing it was so AWKWARD, only outdone by the subsequent makeout scene shortly following Cora falling victim to the Spanish flu. Sick wife does not equal time to spark with the pretty maid, Robert, yeesh! :P
My least favorite storyline this season has to be Ethel's (Amy Nuttall), because THERE WAS NO POINT TO IT. Goodness did this maid and her whining get on my last nerve. When Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) tells her that Major Bryant's parents are visiting Downton seeking some closure from their son's death, Ethel crashes the intimate lunch and and is promptly humiliated by Bryant's jerk of a father, played by Kevin McNally. Again with MORE AWKWARDNESS. While it was great to see Gibbs from the Pirates films in a production like this, did he have to be such a meanie? The only good thing to come out of this whole Ethel mess is when she realizes she can't give her child up because she actually loves him. Was owning your mistakes and resolving to do better for your son THAT hard, Ethel? Because the road to get to this point was torture to watch. *sigh*
Thomas's (Rob James-Collier) innate evilness has been curiously subdued for most of this season. He can still be snarky but he hasn't seemed so actively invested in making others miserable. He decides to dabble in the blackmarket and sinks all of his money into a store of foodstuffs which he then attempts to pawn off on a wary Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol). When the flour and other items he sells to the Downton kitchen turns out to contain plaster dust (ICK!!), he has a hissy fit -- his hopes for postwar prosperity, ill-gotten though it may be, are ruined. O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran) is oddly sympathetic -- she's also been a bit "off" this season. I need my Edwardian soap opera villains to commit to being villainous rather than wishy-washy, you know? Also, it just struck me that O'Brien is really Thomas's work wife...HAHA!!
I'm very curious where the show takes Daisy's (Sophie McShera) character next week and through season three. When a Downton wedding is announced (more on THAT in a minute), she takes an adorable interest in cooking the cake under Mrs. Patmore's tutelage (though why they were so gung-ho to start baking THREE MONTHS before the wedding is beyond me). Makes me wonder if Daisy has a future as a gourmet pastry chef. *wink* I love the warmth and camaraderie that has developed over the last two seasons between her and Mrs. Patmore, and given her trial by fire with the whole William ordeal, and the strength of character that revealed, I think she has a bright future.
The best moments of this episode involved romantic developments between my favorite couples, and these two hours delivered in spades. Now that the war has ended, Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) finds herself unwilling to slip back into her postwar -- and in her mind, pointless -- life as Downton's privileged youngest daughter. She finally, FINALLY tells Branson she'll run away with him -- and honestly she is such a measured character, taking her time thinking things through, I really don't see her coming to regret her decision. Her declaration anoints Branson (Allen Leech) with a positively incandescent glow of happiness (wasn't his reaction to the whole "a kiss is all you're getting until we're married" thing adorable? *swoon*)-- there's no politics, no family bashing, he seems genuinely earnest and committed to providing for their future, securing a job as a journalist in Dublin (who knew a chauffeuring resume could segway into journalism?!) where Sybil plans to work as a nurse.
Convinced that her family would object, Sybil and Branson hightail it to Gretna Green, which was AWESOME because that immediately calls to mind Lyida's elopement in Pride and Prejudice. Mary and Edith (Laura Carmichael) follow and convince her return, Mary sure that more time will let Sybil see the error of her ways (NOT!). Branson sleeping in the chair? ADORABLE. Branson all full of bravado in the face of Sybil's family while secretly fearing she might abandon him? FRIGGIN' ADORABLE! Branson refusing to bash Sybil's family, refusing Robert's bribe? CAN I CLONE THIS MAN?! (Side note: I really do think Robert's brief flirtation with Joan is what convinced him to let Sybil and Branson leave with his blessing. I mean complaining about Branson while the Joan thing was going on was a bit too much of the pot calling the kettle black, you know?)
Bates (Brendan Coyle) and Anna (Joanne Froggatt) are still dealing with the specter of Vera's death, even though it is *apparently* a suicide. I have my doubts. *sigh* Tired of listening to Bates whigging out about the investigation into Vera's death and worrying if he'll get arrested for purchasing the rat poison that killed her, Anna steps up and insists that Bates purchase a special license ASAP so they can get married. GO ANNA! She's determined to face whatever comes as Mrs. Bates 2.0, a woman with the right to STAND BY HER MAN. Heck yes, go Anna, I get it girl. Of course it never rains but it pours, and Anna and Bates finally wed while the specter of the Spanish flu is haunting Downton's halls, but that's okay because this show needs a life-affirming moment like that, and anyway we all know Bates and Anna are only allowed to be happy for approximately five minutes, give-or-take, before something else throws a wrench into their happiness. Love how in love Bates and Anna are, and calling each other Mr. & Mrs. Bates? Too sweet! (Another side note: how awesome was Mary's surprise of a specially-decorated room in Downton for Bates & Anna's wedding night? Super sweet considering she's facing the FUTURE OF DOOM with Sir Richard the stalker/CREEP.)
So Matthew (Dan Stevens) and Mary were awesome this week. Mary is of course determined to throw her life away on Sir Richard, even AFTER she finds out that he attempted to bribe Anna to spy on her. When Carson (Jim Carter) is told, he refuses to go work for a man he couldn't respect (CLASSY MAN), which leads to an extraordinarily painful moment between him & Mary, when she lashes out at him for abandoning her. I really couldn't blame her -- she's been clinging to Carson as the hope of an ally her new life with THE CREEP. (Thankfully Mary and Carson talk it all out by the end of this episode.) When the tingling sensations in Matthew's legs turn out to be more than phantom pains, the whole house erupts in celebration -- all except Mary, bereft at the news that Matthew and Lavinia's (Zoe Boyle) engagement is a go once again. Violet (Maggie Smith) in a wonderful moment of understanding surprises Matthew in his bedroom and drops the bomb that Mary's still in love with him and that he shouldn't be marrying anyone out of guilt or obligation (could she not give Mary this speech too?). Matthew's reaction is PRICELESS. (Side note, AGAIN: isn't Dr. Clarkson like the WORST DOCTOR EVER??? How he can hope to enjoy the Crawleys' patronage after the whole non-transected spine debacle is beyond me. And then when the flu hits he doesn't quarantine the house?? WHAT THE HECK???)
When the Spanish flu hits Downton and everyone literally starts dropping like flies at the dinner table, Matthew and Mary share one of their best moments in the series to date. Lavinia is upstairs getting sick (YAY! I'm mean, I know, but the woman needs to GO!), and Matthew puts a record on the new phonograph in the hall, and he and Mary DANCE. *swoon* And I promptly died of joy. The chemistry between Dockery and Stevens just sizzles in this exchange, especially when Matthew remarks that he and Mary were a failed "show," much like the origin of the song they're dancing to, and then there's this glorious second where you can see them both thinking -- but we don't have to fail, do we? And yes, Matthew's whole "you are my stick" comment was poorly-worded, but clearly he meant SUPPORT SYSTEM, right, and even though calling Mary his stick was awkward I still swooned a bit. :) Lavinia drags her sorry sick self downstairs and witnesses their kiss, which is THANK GOODNESS the kiss of death to her relationship with Matthew, forcing her to wake up and smells the coffee and realizes she needs to let him go. AND THEN SHE DIES. It was epic, because of course Matthew decides she dies of a broken heart, which means he has to be miserable for his whole life and never marry because he WAS GOING TO LEAVE HER ANWAY, dangit! *rolls eyes*
So, wrapping things up since this was the finale of Series 2 (Christmas episode airing next week with all new cliffhangers, I'm sure!). Matthew and Mary came *thisclose* to a declaration. UGH! SOMEBODY SAVE MARY FROM HERSELF ASAP! Sybil makes Branson the happiest man in the world = YAY! O'Brien nearly kills herself nursing Cora back from the brink of death (note to O'Brien -- confession is good for the soul, but does it count when the recipient is OUT OF HER HEAD WITH FEVER? Discuss...). Cora recovers and recommits to "being there" for Robert -- but is his heart in it? C'mon Robert, live your flippin' life! Mrs. Patmore and Daisy, should they ever decide to leave service, MUST open a bakery together. That plan has "win" written all over it. Also, Edith is in desperate need of the hope of her own happy ending -- she's come so far, please don't abandon her, Fellowes! And finally -- how heartbreaking was the look of utter horror on Anna's face as she stood frozen in shock while Bates was arrested for Vera's murder? THE DAY AFTER THEIR WEDDING NO LESS (so they got roughly 24 hours, not the normal five minutes of happiness)! A Downton without Bates is just unimaginable...oh the suspense! *wink* Thoughts?