Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Downton Abbey, Part Three

The fabulous Downton Abbey continued Sunday with Part Three of its (*sob* only) four-part run on Masterpiece Classic. As much as I'm excited and curious about the upcoming Classics productions - Any Human Heart, Upstairs Downstairs, and South Riding - goodness, I'm going to miss this show. Thankfully, season two of Downton is already in the works, with the recent announcement that it will be followed by a Christmas special, so we have a lot to look forward to in the 2012 Masterpiece Classic schedule already. :) Here's the summary of Part Three from the PBS website:

The fair has come to town, and with it comes romantic hopes for several Downton Abbey inhabitants. In a triumph of the absurd, Violet asks a baffled Matthew to use his legal acumen to dissolve the entail — the very document by which he is to inherit Downton Abbey. Matthew's findings and his hopes for Downton cement his growing closeness with Robert, and a new warmth suffuses his encounters with Mary. But Mary's thaw doesn't extend to her sister Edith, as their competition becomes crueler. Cora simply wants Mary married, but newly circulating rumors may hinder that aspiration. Meanwhile, Violet's power struggle with Isobel moves from the hospital grounds to the annual flower show as Isobel casts her democratizing gaze upon Violet's prize-winning roses.

A kind gesture by Bates is not lost on Anna; but he cryptically professes to not being capable of more. Sybil discovers the politics of gender and class, with the help of the socialist chauffeur, Branson, and Carson discovers that several valuable bottles of wine have gone missing. The vulnerable kitchen maid Daisy, under increased pressure and ire from a fretful Mrs. Patmore, possesses a dangerous secret that she learned upstairs.
I loved the fact that the show brought us an honest-to-goodness turn of the century fair. Such an event is really a great social equalizer, as both Downton's servants and the younger family members derive enjoyment from the colorful occasion. This episode brought Mrs. Hughes's (Phyllis Logan) past to light, as she is reunited with her girlhood beau, Joe Burns (Bill Fellows), who longs to rekindle their romance. It was really rather heart-wrending to watch this storyline play out, as in Part One Mrs. Hughes expressed some doubts about dedicating her life to service. Her choice to stay at Downton is a powerful illustration of the sacrifice of a life "in service," while also speaking to how her life, rising through the ranks of Downton's staff, was a very real career choice that changed her perspective on life and independence, if that makes sense. 

Another part of the reason Mrs. Hughes chose to stay at Downton was because she is really sort of a mother-figure to the downstairs staff, and a commanding officer to those whose plots and shenanigans cross the line and threaten to disrupt the balance of the downstairs order. Poor William (Thomas Howes), the second footman, goes through the absolute wringer this episode. He's still crushing on Daisy (Sophie McShera) who, bless her lil' ol' heart, is still pining after Thomas (Rob James-Collier), who really ups the villainy quotient here. Thomas is just frustrated, and when his plans are thwarted he turns mean, and William is sadly an easy target. He asks Daisy to the fair, and she's got so many stars in her eyes that she can't (yet!) see Thomas for what he is - a manipulative jerk. William may be rather simple, but after the events of the fair I have a great deal of respect for his character. He's extraordinarily kind, and much more deserving of the title of gentleman than Thomas could ever hope to be.

Thomas's partner-in-crime, the lady's maid O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran) is equally frustrated, and turns to plotting upset among the Crawley family when she catches wind of the rumor that Daisy's burdened by a heavy secret - she witnessed Mary and her mother carrying the Turkish diplomat from her room back to his following his untimely demise. O'Brien plays on second sister Edith's (Laura Carmichael) jealousy of Mary by apprising her of Daisy's secret, and Edith, being a respected member of the family manages to pull the secret from the vulnerable Daisy with little trouble. I suspect, or should I say rather hope, that Thomas and O'Brien's machinations will backfire in their faces and we'll get to see them receive the comeuppance they so richly deserve!

Violet (Maggie Smith) and Isobel's (Penelope Wilton) continued rivalry provided some of this installment's most memorable and funny scenes. Violet finally gets to show up Isobel when she correctly diagnoses the hand rash Isobel's butler, Molesely (Lionel Guyett), is suffering from as a plant allergy instead of the infection Isobel diagnosed and unsuccessfully attempted to treat. Maggie Smith's "harrumph" of victory was SO funny! In addition the hospital, Violet and Isobel take their very genteel, private "war" to the battleground of the annual flower competition. Poor Violet is in complete denial that she wins first prize every year as a courtesy for being the Dowager Countess. I was unexpectedly delighted when after much ribbing from both Isobel and her son, Robert, Violet "graciously" decides to take it upon herself to award the cup to the well-deserving Molesly's father and his gorgeous prize roses. I love the fact that Violet had to ultimately make the decision to do so herself, it was an extraordinarily classy moment, both humorous and touching when Violet refuses to admit to the soft-hearted gesture - I think she derived no little sense of satisfaction from being recognized as magnanimous. *wink*

Matthew (Dan Stevens) is finally starting to acclimate to life at Downton and begins to take a genuine interest in the running of the estate. I really loved the developing friendship between Matthew and Robert (Hugh Bonneville) as Matthew begins to look on Robert as mentor and friend. Robert proves to be much more than "just" an aristocrat, and Matthew's open regard and growing respect for Robert and his desire to better Downton creates a father/son relationship between the two, much to Mary's chagrin. Sadly for Edith, and a harbringer of events to come, Matthew has no interest in the often-overlooked middle Crawley daughter. He's attracted to Mary (Michelle Dockery), but at the same time very, very wary of her due to her anger over being displaced as heir because of the entail. I thought it was absolutely hilarious when Violet asks him in his capacity as a lawyer to look into breaking the entail (the swivel chair moment ranks right up there with the "what is a weekend?" comment). I love that Matthew has enough character to do so seriously smf I believe he'd willingly give up his status as heir if it were feasible. But since, at this point, it isn't, the awkward position that places him in with regards to Mary is rather painful to watch since he's highly aware his presence causes her pain.

Mary is still reeling over losing her virtue to a man who died in her bed, and that coupled with her potent anger her strictly proscribed social role has the makings of an explosive combination. I got really annoyed when she blew up at her mother Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) over being "beyond saving" because she'd "taken a lover." Maybe I'm arguing over semantics but one night does not equal "taking a lover" in my book - the latter implies relationship growth or repeated action, and Mary and the diplomat never moved beyond the lust stage, nevermind that she seemed to not really know what was going on. I suspect that before this season of Downton Abbey ends, Mary is in for a RUDE awakening. Until this point she's been operating under the impression that her privileged status as daughter of a respected peer makes her untouchable. But when word of a rumor that Evelyn Napier will not pursue a relationship with her because of her character (read: lack of virtue), Cora recognizes even if Mary does not that the clock is ticking on Mary's opportunities to marry advantageously and with her reputation intact.

Youngest Crawley daughter Sybil (Jessica Brown-Findlay) continues to dabble in "revolutionary" class ideas by helping housemaid Gwen (Rose Leslie) apply for secretarial work. I absolutely hated seeing Gwen's career hopes crushed in this episode - she's tempted to give up, but Lady Sybil won't allow her to admit defeat. Sybil is (thus far, anyway) easily the most sympathetic and likable of the sisters. She seems genuinely interested in Gwen and the two strike up a friendship of sorts in this episode that Sybil's older sisters wouldn't dream of initiating at this stage in their lives. Last week saw the brief introduction of the new family chauffer, Branson (Allen Leech), who proves to share Sybil's views on social equality. Though I suspect that Sybil will prove to be a relative innocent where Branson is concerned both politically and personally. Not only is he good-looking and personable, but he's got an appealingly roguish manner about him that I think could prove irresistable to Sybil. I loved the scene where Sybil makes her entrance in her "shocking" harem-pants style dress, and Branson peeks through the window grinning at her decked out in such forward-thinking fashion.

Bates (Brendan Coyle) and Anna (Joanne Froggatt) prove once again to be the stars of this week's installment and the heart and soul of Downton's staff. I love how Bates is settling into his role as valet and taking on a sort of father figure/protector status towards staff members like William when he's abused by Thomas or Daisy when she's manipulated by Thomas and O'Brien. Of course this is setting him up with a big target on his back, but after seeing Bates slam Thomas against the wall in this episode I have no doubt he can handle whatever comes his way. Seriously, was that moment not wonderful? I had no idea Brendan Coyle had that in him, be still my heart! My Bates/Brendan Coyle crush became a full-fledged obsession in this episode, particularly after he sneaks a tray to Anna when she's sick with a cold in the maids' quarters. How sweet and adorable was that?! The flowers! The romantic tension! I LOVE IT! And despite the fact that Bates has some dark secret that prevents him from pursuing Anna, I nearly cheered when she was the one to declare she loved him. You go girl, that's all I've got to say. :) I've always liked Brendan Coyle, but I simply adore how Downton Abbey has provided him with a character that's transformed him into such a sweet, romantic leading man.

Ending on the ominous scene of Edith penning a letter to the Turkish embassy, I can't wait to see how that plays out. Edith is so jealous she's blind to the potential ramifications of her rash action, as are those who fed her jealousy by apprising her of the rumors about Mary. One of the many things this show does so well is reveal how intricately intertwined the lives of the Crawleys are with those of their servants. The ability for all of the downstairs staff to have their livelihoods depends on the physical and economic "health" of their upstairs "family," and with the entail still being questioned and tested and Mary's reputation hanging by a thread, it could be argued that the Crawley fortune is a house of cards waiting to tumble at the merest hint of scandal. As Cora so wisely tells her recalcitrant eldest daughter, times may be changing, but it's unlikely they'll change enough to impact Mary's future the way she assumes. This is British drama at its finest, a worthy way of celebrating Masterpiece's landmark 40th anniversary. I loved every moment of this installment and can't wait to see where the show takes these characters next!

Catch up with or revisit my other Downton Abbey reviews:


Renee said...

It was fun to read your recap, and I, too, will miss this show. My top moments of episode three: Bates bringing Anna the dinner tray; Bates shoving Thomas against the wall; Mrs. Hughes's beau winning her a doll at the fair; Violet giving the cup to Moseley. Loved this episode!

Kristin said...

I also love reading your recap posts. :) Sunday's show was awesome! I thought it was hilarious when the cook was trying to talk to Daisy about Thomas. And I loved it when Violet awarded the cup to Molesly's father! Also loved the interactions between Bates and Anna.

The youngest daughter is by far my favorite...I thought I might could sympathize with the middle daughter at first, but not anymore. :) I hope the conclusion is amazing!

It looks like I need to keep watching Masterpiece even after "Downton Abbey" is over. Is that Matthew Macfadyen I see? :)


Heidenkind said...

I don't think Daisy's going to realize Thomas is a bad sort. She's an idiot.

And if we don't find out what Bates' dark secret is, I'm throwing something at the TV. ;)

Lori said...

Please please please let the Bates/Anna saga continue in series 2!! I fear after reading the PBS summary for ep 4 that things are not going to end very well, though I am keeping hope after seeing an ITV promo on YouTube showing them about to kiss (no doubt that will be interrupted by evil Thomas or O'Brien).

Nice review, Ruth!

Unknown said...

@Renee Ann - Why thank you! :) So, so many good Bates moments in this episode! And the doll scene with Mrs. Hughes at the fair was really sweet. :)

@Kristin - Thank you too! I love any discussion of Masterpiece shows. :) And oh my goodness, I can't believe I forgot to highlight Mrs. Patmore's scenes! When she was trying to explain Thomas to Daisy I started laughing so hard!!

I hope next week wildly exceeds my expectations too. :) And you are correct - the next production (after an encore of "The Unseen Alistair Cooke") will be starring the one & only Matthew Macfadyen!

@heidenkind - Sadly I think you are correct. I just hate that being around Thomas is turning her MEAN. :P And yes, I may attempt violence against my TV as well if we don't get some clarity as regards Bates!

@Lori - I know, I read that Part Four summary on the PBS website too and it's stressing me out! But the near kiss scene gives me hope...however like you say it's probably worthless getting excited about it since Thomas and/or O'Brien is apt to spoil the moment. Oh, the DRAMA! And thank you too! :)

Laurel Ann (Austenprose) said...

This episode left me reeling. So much going on. Never a dull moment. I think in Edwardian standards, Mary is a fallen women. Remember her concern about even being alone in a room with Pamuk. I think just gossip could kill a ladies reputation. Where there is smoke there is fire. She's a goner socially I fear, and her mother knows that. Wait till Granny finds out. Great recap. You energy amazes.

Unknown said...

@Laurel Ann - Thanks for dropping by! :) I agree, the pace of this episode left my head spinning, but in a good way of course. The scripting and pacing were just superbly handled! And I think you are correct about Mary being a fallen woman...I guess what I was trying to express was a bit of annoyance on my part with her propensity for exaggeration. Though as you say, by the standards of the day it was warranted. I can't WAIT to hear Granny's reaction. And thank you for the energy compliment, sometimes I wonder if I'm going overboard with my recap/review posts! ;)

Roving Reader said...

I can't wait to come back and read your reviews once my DVD of Downtown Abbey FINALLY arrives from PBS! I am so ready to jump into the series.

Unknown said...

@Roving Reader - Oh my goodness I cannot WAIT to hear what you think of this series!!! Has PBS shipped your order yet? :)