Downton Abbey conclued its second-season run on Masterpiece Classic last night, and oh am I going to miss this show. Season 2 certainly upped the show's soap opera factor, and as I consequence was arguably less tightly plotted than the previous year -- but I can't complain twoo much because I LOVE THIS WORLD. Case in point, the above photo -- Downton at Christmas. DOWNTON AT CHRISTMAS?! I am SO there. Here's the episode summary from the PBS website:
Christmas reunites most of the Grantham family as Rosamund, her gossipy maid Shore in tow, arrives eager to introduce her new suitor to the family. But neither the Granthams nor the servants can escape into the season's merriment when they are forced to turn against one of their own. Not even games can pierce the gloom surrounding Downton, where downstairs the servants are desperate for guidance. Thomas and O'Brien are up to their old tricks, Daisy tries to make sense of her future, and Anna holds tight to endure the present.
Robert hopes that the annual New Years Shooting Party will lift everyone's spirits, but an ill-tempered Richard resets his sights on a familiar target. His petulant and brutish efforts to dominate Mary do not go unnoticed. But with his threat hanging over her head, Mary must choose between two kinds of ruin.
The passage of time has been one of this year's weakest strengths -- I mean we've had episodes that cover a month and episodes that cover nearly a year (or so it seems). This episode picks up roughly six months after the whole Spanish flu thing and the debacle of Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) getting hauled off in cuffs for the (alleged?) murder of his wife Vera. So the whole beloved valet is in prison thing is just one of many factors threatening to cast a pall over Downton's Christmas celebrations. But if there's one thing this family does and does well, it's the soldiering on, keep a stiff upper lip thing. *wink* Didn't the house look gorgeous -- the snow, the gigantic tree, the wrapped gifts? I've yet to visit the Biltmore Estate at Christmas time but I imagine the Biltmore in its heyday was very like the glamour we got to glimpse last night. Loved it. :)
So a murder trial involving one of Downton's own is a bit of a buzzkill when it comes to Christmas cheer, but I loved the way the Crawleys and their servants rallied around one of their own. They know Bates, and scandal or not they refuse to abandon him to his fate. I was especially touched by Mary's (Michelle Dockery) care and concern for Anna (Joanne Froggatt). Over the course of the last two seasons their relationship has started to blossom from just employer/employee into genuine friendship and regard. When Mary gave Anna the lovely heart-shaped brooch for Christmas I teared up -- and then when she insisted on attending the trial I nearly cheered. She may have a death wish when it comes to Sir Richard, but in all other respects her growth in the selflessness department has been a joy to witness.
I found it rather fascinating to watch the impact of the trial on Downton's household, especially Robert (Hugh Bonneville), Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), and even O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran), as they are called as witnesses for the prosecution. While all three (even O'Brien) are convinced of Bates's innocence, once they're on the stand their assurance starts to crumble as overheard words, spoken in anger, take on a more sinister meaning since Vera's death. Especially Robert, so sure that an Earl's recommendation will hold sway on the courtroom sees his confidence shaken by a clever and determined prosecutor. And when a verdict of guilty is returned, even O'Brien reminds us that she does, apparently, have a heart, as she's genuinely saddened for Anna and shaken by the verdict. (Seriously the woman mellowed out this episode big time...if this keeps up I'm going to be pulling for Mr. Lang to return so maybe she'll have a shot at a little romance!) I've got to say I was really rather impressed with Froggatt's acting this episode. She dug deep and delivered Anna's heartbreak in an achingly realistic way, all while never losing the resilient streak her character has always seemed to possess. Battered but far from broken, no?
Speaking of O'Brien, now is as good a time as any to touch on her and Thomas and their status as the "villains" of Downton Abbey. This episode left me more convinced than ever that O'Brien has the best hope becoming a character I can cheer for -- the fact that she's able to gin up some genuinely believable sympathy for Bates and Anna's plight is nothing short of extraordinary. Thomas (Rob James-Collier), on the other hand, will apparently stoop to anything to ingratiate himself with the Earl and/or undermine Carson's (Jim Carter) authority. I couldn't believe he friggin' kidnapped Robert's dog!!! That is a new low, yeesh! Of course he can't even execute a dog-napping plot smoothly (the humor no doubt a necessary component seeing as this episode aired at Christmastime in the UK).
Robert's sister Rosamund (Samantha Bond) returns to Downton for the holidays with her new maid Shore (Sharon Small) and a potential new suitor in tow, Lord Hepworth (Nigel Havers). Violet's (Maggie Smith) reaction to Hepworth was priceless (she was pretty much on fire for the entire episode, but her interaction with Hepworth was particularly awesome). Apparently Violet had a little something going on with the current Hepworth's father back in the day (ha! knew she was a pistol!), and she has some very valid concerns on her daughter's behalf that the apple hasn't fallen too far from the tree, as the saying goes. Violet's discussion with Robert over the right/feasibility of a woman "Rosamund's age" taking up with a fortune hunter was priceless -- especially when they both agreed the bottom line was that they see her fortune protected, the implication being that she's gonna do whatever she wants anyway. But even Rosamund, also known as the Aunt Who Gives Crap Advice, has her limit when Anna and Mary discover that her erstwhile beau is carrying on with her MAID. Oh the HORROR (the horror of course, being that this proves Violet right! ha!).
Daisy (Sopie McShera) was granted a particularly nice storyline this episode (finally). For some reason Shore takes an interest in Daisy's cooking abilities and gets Daisy to stewing about how she's all ignored and underappreciated, etc. Meanwhile William's father (Paul Copley) is still trying to connect with his daughter-in-law, and Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nichol) is tired of seeing Daisy put him off. In one of the funniest scenes in the series, Mrs. Patmore commandeers O'Brien and Thomas's Ouijja board to send Daisy a message from William. Hysterical how she's grown so much over the course of the show but buys that. Anyways, Daisy and Mr. Mason share a very sweet moment where he basically begs her to accept him as an adoptive father, and you can see the light bulb go on as she realizes that hey! someone cares about me! this could be good! This heart-warming scene was followed by her hysterical conversation with Mrs. Patmore where she basically demands a promotion -- Daisy is all prepped for a fight and Mrs. Patmore is all heck yes, if the money's in the budget you're in, NO PROBLEM! *wink*
So, finally let's talk about those crazy Crawley sisters. Edith (Laura Carmichael) doesn't have all that much to do in this episode except mope around that Sir Anthony Strallen (Robert Bathurst) -- remember him from season one? -- is back and won't come to the flippin' New Year's shooting party. Turns out there's a reason for that -- he was injured in the war and now carries his hand in a really awkward looking sling. But the real casualty of war here is apparently his eyeballs as he's strangely (and disturbingly) bug-eyed in every scene. (RUN EDITH!) Kudos him, he doesn't want to saddle Edith with a nursing job, but in the process he calls her lovely which means HE'LL NEVER GET RID OF HER. Edith can do better, I mean really this is possible, right? (Fellowes PLEASE TELL ME THERE IS A MASTER PLAN HERE!)
Sybil and Branson are AWOL in Ireland, presumably enjoying married life since Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) receives a letter that she's soon to expect her FIRST GRANDCHILD! Kudos to Cora she is back in a big way in this episode, working her American wiles on Robert (*wink*) that they are FAMILY dangit and she will NOT be denied visits with her grandchild! Presumably Robert will learn THE CHAUFFEUR'S NAME by Season 3. *sigh* Cora also decides there's no time like the holidays to tell Robert her and Mary's biggest secret, since it has become glaringly apparent even to her that Mary and Richard are extremely ill-suited for each other. I was seriously bummed that Cora's confession about Pamuk happened OFF-SCREEN (Fellowes, that is so very Greek tragedy of you, Violet would not approve!)...but bottom line, better six years late than never, right?
Robert handles the whole Pamuk conversation with admirable aplomb, all things considered. Apparently the war and his almost affair with the maid and Sybil's insistence on marrying THAT CHAUFFEUR have all worked together to make him sit back and really take stock of what's important in life. And really when you're valet is on trial for murder what's one more lousy scandal? For realz. I absolutely loved the moment where he confronts Mary with the truth and urges her to break with Richard for her own happiness, go to America, and find a cowboy to shake up the family! PRICELESS! That scene brought tears to my eyes it was so well-played by Dockery and Bonneville -- one of the best moments in the series.
Prior to Robert freeing Mary to break with Richard (Iain Glen), the newspaper magnate was nothing but a pill this episode, constantly whining about having to serve himself lunch because the servants were allowed to enjoy their own Christmas feast AT THE SAME TIME AS THE FAMILY (the absolute gall! yeesh...) or freaking out if Mary talked to Matthew about as non-relationshippy as Bates's murder trial. Matthew (Dan Stevens) is still unfortunately stuck on paying lip-service to his post-Lavinia's death vow to remain single (seriously think about that Matthew, MAKES NO SENSE), but throughout the episode we can see him mellowing on that score, as he's determined to aggravate Richard and foil his rival's every atttempt to control Mary. Isobel (Penelope Wilton) has been putting up with all of this but even she draws the line when Lavinia's father drops dead and Matthew completes his final almost-son-in-law duty of seeing to the man's ashes. The feisty, sassy Isobel I liked so well in season one returns with a roar when she basically tells Matthew to get over himself and save Mary from evil Sir Richard's clutches. SERIOUSLY, Lavinia's whole family is dead now, MOVE ON. :P
So, the stage is finally set, and the only thing standing in the way of Matthew and Mary finally making some progress in their relationship is a dead woman (and even she clears that up by sending a message to Daisy and Anna through the Ouijja board *rollseyes*). And people, it was worth the wait -- this proposal scene was just about practically perfect in every way. :) From the gently falling snow to Matthew gazing at Mary with unabashed adoration, I just loved that these two characters were finally getting this hard fought, longed-for moment. Mary's moment of vulnerability, then forcing Matthew to get down on one knee and say the words, because yes dangit I wanted to hear them too! -- oh I loved it. :)
Cue the happy sighs (yes, I needed THIS MANY PICTURES). :) This season has been nothing if not a roller-coaster ride, but people that's at least half the reason I love this show so much. It isn't afraid to go big. *wink* I'm a bit in denial that the wait for new episodes begins again -- but more confident than ever that the wait will be worth it. See you next year, Downton...
- Read my review of Series 2, Part 6
- Read my review of Series 2, Part 5
- Read my review of Series 2, Part 4
- Read my review of Series 2, Part 3
- Read my review of Series 2, Part 2
- Read my review of Series 2, Part 1
- Order the Season 2 DVD
- For a limited time, watch this episode online at PBS.org
- Read Tasha's recap of this episode at Edwardian Promenade
- Read Laurel Ann's recap of this episode at Austenprose