Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Downton Abbey, Part Four

Sunday night, Downton Abbey concluded its stellar, amazing, so-good-it-blew-my-mind-over-and-over-again first season run on Masterpiece Classic. How on EARTH am I supposed to wait an ENTIRE YEAR for series 2?! And how am I going to manage to stay away from spoilers when the show airs in the UK?! *sigh* Well, I will just have to cross that bridge when filming news starts leaking on the internet. *wink* Series 1 has been quite the wild ride, and I've enjoyed every second of this brilliant, well-crafted production. Here's the Part Four episode summary from the PBS website:

Change is in the air as the politically awakened Sybil rallies for the women's vote, in direct violation of her father's rules. But when Sybil is swept up in the violence surrounding the reading of the election results, Matthew wins a heart by defending the girl and bringing her to safety. Meanwhile, back at Downton Abbey, persistent rumors about a family member cause a rift between Cora and Violet. And, a surprise announcement from Cora complicates the larger issue of Downton's fate.

In London, Mary gains a shocking insight, and her Aunt Rosamund — displaying a more than passing resemblance to her mother, Violet — freely dispenses dubious advice to Mary. Meanwhile, Thomas and O'Brien enlist the reluctant, smitten Daisy to bring about Bates' downfall, but Bates seems determined to do it himself, much to the distress of Anna, who finds an opportunity to delve into Bates' past. Concerned about the security of her position, O'Brien sets her spite on a new target, and a misunderstanding provokes a dangerous act of sabotage. Again, Downton is to be hobbled by the entail.

At a resplendent garden party, actions and betrayals come home to roost, and important news arrives that dwarfs the issue of inheritance.
The youngest Crawley daughter, Sybil (Jessica Brown-Findlay), continues to explore her newly awakened passion for politics, aided by the chauffer Branson (Allen Leech). Needless to say, it's obvious there's a little cross-class romance brewing between the two of them - at least on Branson's part (more on that later). I love the fact that for all Branson can come across as rather cocky and impertinent when in the company of other servants, he's got something of a protective streak when it comes to Sybil - especially since, for all her forward-thinking, she's still extremely naive about the potentially volatile nature of politics. Robert (Hugh Bonneville) is of course outraged that one of his daughters would dabble in politics, irregardless of the potential dangers OR any sense of her "proper" position in society. It's interesting to see Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) and Mary (Michelle Dockery) defend Sybil's attendance at the first rally when it's revealed. One has to feel a little sorry for Robert being so outnumbered by strong-willed, forward-thinking members of the opposite sex in his family. *wink* While Robert, perhaps understandably, lays at least partial blame at Branson's door for Sybil's interest in politics, it speaks very highly of his character that he recognizes Sybil's responsibility in her choices and doesn't take some sort of misguided aristocratic "high road" and fire the servant for his daughter's actions. Times are definitely changing, no?

The drama belowstairs reaches a new critical boiling point with Thomas (Rob James-Collier) and O'Brien's (Siobhan Finneran) renewed efforts to rid Downton Abbey of Bates's presence by attempting to frame him for stealing bottles of wine. I cannot stand these characters - which of course reflects very well on each actor's ability to play a villain. Thomas isn't satisfied unless he's being manipulative, and it becomes clear throughout this installment that he is ready to kiss Downton goodbye. Stymied at every turn in his hopes of becoming a valet, with rumors of a coming war he approaches the local doctor about becoming a medic. Unfortunately, Thomas is the type of villain who becomes crueller when he realizes he has nothing to lose. As hard as it was to watch Thomas plot against Bates, at least Bates held his own and pushed back. I couldn't stand seeing him manipulate the naive Daisy (Sophie McShera) or belittle William (Thomas Howes), the latter more vulnerable than ever since he's worried about his mother's declining health. (Side note: How nice was it to see Mary encourage William to visit his mother, proving she's not so self-centered as to be unaware of the pain of others?) While at times it seemed like Thomas's plotting would be allowed to continue indefinitely, it's refreshing to see character, in the cases of Bates and William, specifically, win out in the end over lies and manipulation. Side note: How awesome was it when substitute cook Mrs. Bird (Christine Lohr) sticks up for Daisy and manages to win over the high-strung Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nichol)? Mrs. Bird is QUITE the diplomat, and that's no small feat in the tumultuous world belowstairs.

One of my favorite relationships in this series has been the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law "dance" between Cora and Violet (Maggie Smith). At the beginning of the series it seemed as though Violet could barely tolerate the fact that her son married an upstart American heiress (oh the HORROR!). But through the upheaval over the entail, Matthew's new position as heir, and Downton's questionable future, Violet and Cora have found themselves united by a common purpose - securing the future of their family. Violet's reaction to the news that her eldest granddaughter's virtue has indeed been compromised by the Turkish diplomat was PRICELESS! I've always loved Maggie Smith's film work, but she takes her brilliance to new heights in Downton Abbey and reveals a deft comic timing and a gift for understatement that I don't think I've ever seen on such glorious display. Both Cora and Violet have very clear vision when it comes to Mary's precarious social position. And as hard as it may have been for them to fathom when cousin Matthew was announced as the new heir, both women realize that he may be Mary's best hope of salvation and security - if only her pride will allow her to recognize it. Funnily enough, Mary and Matthew's future also unites Violet with her erstwhile rival Isobel (Penelope Wilton). Just when all of the Crawley matriarchs appear to be uniting with a common purpose, Mary's pride (read: hormones and mood swings) may drive Matthew away for good...

When Sybil decides to attend an election results rally in clear defiance of her father's wishes - and Branson's good sense - she's wounded in a fight that breaks out (the scene seemed a tad reminscent of the riot scene in North and South). She's rescued by Matthew (Dan Stevens) who had been working late - and while she sees stars over her new hero, much to Mary's chagrin, it's a potential source of conflict between the oldest and youngest sisters that is never really pursued (perhaps they're saving it for Series 2?). I like Dan Stevens well enough, but I've always had trouble seeing him as a really romantic lead. However, that all changed during the scene where he & Mary have a very frank conversation over dinner following Sybil's rescue. When he told Mary to basically quit playing games with him, he positively smoldered - and then they kissed. Excuse me while I go swoon. :) Mary's headstrong pride can be annoying, but goodness she NEEDS a man like Matthew in her life, one who can give as good as she can and who won't allow himself to be run roughshod over, or discarded like a child's unwanted toy. And that, of course, is the problem for Mary - Matthew doesn't play by the aristocracy's rules. He doesn't want to be an option for her - he wants to be the love of her life - and the cliffhanger over that point is killing me. Julian Fellowes has made me emotionally invested in a couple that I was never sure could work, dang it! *sigh*

The characters in this series are so incredibly well-drawn. For example, the bitter rivalry between Mary and Edith (Laura Carmichael) is just one example of how a character can have you cheering for them one second and then wanting to smack them upside the head the other over an incredibly stupid or mean-spirited act the next. When Downton started, I felt so sorry for Edith since she was clearly the "overlooked" sister. Her frustration is not unwarranted, but when her anger at Mary led her to write the Turkish ambassador, revealing Mary's fall from grace to the world, I could've screamed. Doesn't she realize that lowering herself to that level is sure to backfire? And backfire it does, when Mary sees an opportunity to pay Edith back for spreading rumors about her and the Turkish diplomat - she manages to handily destroy Edith's hopes of a proposal from Sir Anthony Strallen (Robert Bathurst). The sad thing is, it's obvious that Edith and Anthony could, I think, get on very well together. I do hope that this storyline is perhaps revisited in Series 2 - I would hate to think we've seen the last of the kind Sir Anthony. Though if Edith doesn't get her act together, he really deserves better. LOL!

We're treated to major headway in this installment in the Bates (Brendan Coyle) and Anna (Joanne Froggatt) relationship - THANK GOODNESS! Oh how I love those two. :) Bates is obviously carrying a lot of guilt around about his past which, we discover, includes a stint in jail for theft (*gasp*)! His guilt goes a long way toward explaining his reticence in fighting for his position against Thomas's schemes - he doesn't feel he deserves any breaks. But Anna, being the intrepid woman that she is with an undying faith in Bates's goodness takes it upon herself to investigate Bates's past. I want to give her a big hug and a rousing "you go girl!" I love her initiative! And their "near kiss" stole my breath I wanted it to happen so badly! Couple of things - I am really stressed that Bates's wife is going to re-appear in Series 2 to throw a wrench in the budding Bates/Anna romance. Though I really, really don't think Bates is the type lie about still being married. But in the world of Downton, who knows?! I am intrigued by the possibility of Molesely (Lionel Guyett) making a play for Anna's affections, though, because (so far) I really like his character, and I think if he pursued his interest in Anna it could create some fantastic angst on Bates's part. A girl can dream, right? And how adorable was it when Bates tells Anna that yes, she does have an admirer, but he doesn't identify himself as the man in question?! Yet another swoon alert. Brendan Coyle, you astound me with your marvelousness and I love you. Seriously. :)

Series 1 of Downton Abbey ends on a hopeful note for some characters and the promise of heartbreak and more drama for others. Thanks to Sybil's support, housemaid Gwen (Rose Leslie) has been offered a secretarial position with the new telephone company. When Branson brings the happy news to Gwen, serving at the garden party, and he, Gwen, and Sybil share a celebratory hug, I absolutely loved the look on his face when Sybil walks away. The ever-wise Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) recognizes the chauffer is in danger of losing his heart to a daughter of the house - a most inappropriate relationship by a traditionalist's standards. But given that Sybil is such a forward-thinking woman, I rather hope a cross-"class" romance is explored in Series 2. :) There's also hope for sweet William now that Daisy realizes Thomas is such a devious scumbag. William's really come into his own throughout this series, and I LOVED watching him snap and finally start to beat the you-know-what out of Thomas - that moment was a long time coming.

One of the most shocking twists in this episode was the revelation that Cora was pregnant with her fourth child. This had the potential to change everything if the baby turned out to be a boy - Robert would at long-last have a male heir. I thought Matthew handled this news with a great deal of class. Unfortunately for him, the uncertainty this places on his future blows up his hopes of an engagement to Mary (who shockingly admits to her mother that she's been in love with him for ages!). Mary's aunt (and Violet's daughter) Rosamund (Samantha Bond - yep, that's Miss Moneypenny from the James Bond films!) urges her to keep her options open - if the baby turns out to be a girl, she can "always" agree to marry Matthew later. Unfortunately this turns out to be a moot point when O'Brien's machinations cause Cora to miscarry. And wasn't it interesting to see the tables turned on Violet as this daughter who is so like her dispenses advice to Mary that backfires. Because by this point Matthew is fed up with Mary's games - their fight at the end of this episode was positively heart-rending! The tragedy surrounding the baby highlights some of Downton Abbey's strongest relationships - the genuine love and affection between Robert and Cora, and the intricate way the lives of the servants can become entwined with that of their employers. When Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) comforts the heartbroken Mary, that scene was so sweet I could've cried. For many who sacrificed their lives to service, their employers for better or worse became the family their jobs didn't allow them the freedom to have.

I will be very curious to see whether or not Thomas's plans to join the army as a medic do in fact pan out and he leaves the cast as a series regular. I'm completely open to the idea of a new villain, just in case you're listening Julian Fellowes. :) I'm also anxious to see how O'Brien's character changes over the course of Series 2. Her guilt over causing Cora to slip and lose her baby - which turns out to have been a boy - has got to be crushing. I was really glad we saw that O'Brien wanted to make things right - unfortunately her change of heart came too late for Cora and her unborn child. It will be fascinating to see the ramifications of O'Brien's selfish, rash action play out in future episodes.

There is SO MUCH MORE I could say about Downton Abbey. SO MUCH MORE GUSHING I could include in this post. The scope and genius of this show simply astounds me. Julian Fellowes has created a glorious world that I've relished getting lost in each week, and I can't wait to return to Downton Abbey to see the cliffhanger of all cliffhangers - the advent of World War I - and how that world-shattering event impacts the characters I know and love (or love to loathe, depends on the person! HA!). I'm just in complete awe of the script's grasp on each character, and whether you love them or hate them the compelling storyline each individual has in this ongoing drama.

Once I rewatch this series on DVD, I'm planning at least one more post where I hope to highlight any additional scenes that were cut for the PBS broadcast. Until then, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this show! If you've missed any of my previous Downton Abbey reviews, here are the links:


Kristin said...

I really loved the conclusion...I can't decide whether it or the third episode was my favorite. I was a little disappointed with the ending, though. :) I loved the show, and I know they had to leave some things for the second series, but I wanted at least a few things to be tied up a little more neatly than they were.

I can't stand the Thomas character and all of his plotting evilness. But I actually felt the tiniest bit of pity for O'Brien at the end, when I saw her guilt.

Anyway, I really loved it, and I'm looking foward to the second series. But I'm also looking foward to watching the rest of the Masterpiece shows. :)


Renee (BlacknGoldGirlsBookSpot) said...

Wow you pretty much covered it all Ruth! I was SO excited when I saw that note at the end of the program saying that a second series was in the works! I have to say that I'm most excited to see where the romances go. Yeah, I'm allll about romance LOL! I'm with you, I'd love to see a cross class romance between Sybil and Branson since they are two of my favorites. Of course you know how much I love Maggie Smith and her character's wit is priceless! I think we need to DEMAND that this series be released at the same time in the US and in Britain so there are no spoilers!!! What do you say? Hahaha at least Upstairs, Downstairs looks like it has potential!

XOXO~ Renee

Unknown said...

@Kristin - I'm with you...maybe we just need to decide that the entire 2nd half of this production was the best? ;) I know what you mean as well, I have a hard time with cliffhangers...but thank goodness the 2nd series is confirmed, otherwise this would be a TV tragedy of epic proportions!

I am glad that O'Brien showed some remorse at the end...otherwise that would've just been too much, heartless beyond belief. It will be fascinating to see how this impacts her character in Series 2.

And we have some fantastic looking shows to look forward to - I'm especially excited about Upstairs Downstairs considering its similarity to Downton.

@Renee - Thanks girl! :) Sybil is definitely my favorite sister (at the moment anyway), and Branson's character shows a lot of promise. I do wish that Downton would air simultaneously here and in the UK...but at least we know it's coming. SOON. :)

Lori Benton said...

I finished the series a few minutes before I read your review. I'm as big a fan as you, Ruth. And really? A whole year until the second series? Well, JF set the bar very very high.

Lori Benton said...

Ruth, did you tell me that Netflix will be streaming the uncut British versions, and that's not what we got from PBS?

Heidenkind said...

Yes, Bates--so many questions, so little answers. I loved it when he was all, Yeah that's mah woman. :P ANYway, I can't wait for the next season!

Traxy said...

Excellent review! I agree with everything you say, Ruth! :) Oh, while Edith's letter was damaging to Mary, I still feel like Mary could carry it, in a way. It's "yeah, she needs to be knocked down a peg or two!" but with what she told Strallen, I was absolutely mortified for Edith. He seemed such a sweet guy and she seems quite pleased at his interest in her and then her sister just ruins her prospects in such a cruel way. GAHHH!! Wicked thing to do! And I don't mean "wicked" in a Ron Weasley type way.

I could say a lot of things about the ending of this episode, but I'd just be repeating what you've already said so it's a bit redundant. :) Looking forward to series two!

Renee said...

The best part of episode four for me was reading this line: "A second season of Downton Abbey is in production."

Other top moments: William beating Thomas and afterward Carson comforted William. Carson practicing his telephone voice. Bates and Anna gazing at each other and talking and almost kissing. And any scene which featured a great line from Violet!

Love reading your recap. It's almost as good as watching it again!

Unknown said...

@Lori - YAY! I just knew you'd love it! :) Julian Fellowes has got his work cut out for him, but I have no doubt Series 2 will live up to this one. At least it had better! ;) And yes, Netflix should be streaming the uncut DVD version. I have heard that somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 minutes was cut from the PBS broadcast version for commercials & the like. So I'm eager to restart the series on DVD, hopefully this weekend!

@heidenkind - Well said. :) GREAT moment. Maybe next season he'll ACT on it! LOL!

@Traxy - Thank you! And I can definitely see where you're coming from in regards to Mary - she could in the long run handle the knocks better, perhaps. I do hope though that somewhere along the line Edith can find some happiness and not have it sabotaged...of course that would knock down the drama factor. ;)

@Renee Ann - LOL, I agree! And oh goodness, it was SO gratifying to see William take Thomas down a peg or two or three. LOVED that. And Violet - oh goodness when Maggie Smith delivered that "put that in your pipe and smoke it line" I could've died I was laughing so hard!

Lori said...

I still need to watch the last part again to fully take in everything, but I must (quite shamefully!!) admit that I almost became more interested in the other couple dramas b/c of Bates continued inability to admit anything to Anna!! It was becoming a bit painful. Yes, the near kiss was brilliant, but he really needed to admit he loves her b/c you know they're gonna bring Vera around to complicate everything next season.

I completely agree that the kiss between Mary and Matthew was the same moment my feelings changed over those two.

You must remind me to remain steadfast and resist the internet when series 2 starts in England or else I will read as many spoilers as possible!

Unknown said...

@Lori - I need to re-watch Part Four again as well - the whole series, actually. I got sidetracked by my discovery of the SyFy show Sanctuary - have you seen it? As my friend Rachel on Facebook commented, "It's so Canadian!" LOL!

Back to the subject at hand...I totally get where you're coming from. Julian Fellowes is going to need to be careful with how he scripts the Bates/Anna relationship, because in skating so close to the will they/won't they line if nothing ever happens it's easy to get frustrated. I really do wonder what happened to his wife...if she's even alive?! Maybe she's in an asylum!!! That would be trippy, LOL!

Yes, seriously I will be after you to avoid spoilers! We need to keep each other strong so we can enjoy the surprise!

Lori said...

HA! I have seen bits of Sanctuary but I didn't get hooked. I'm not sure why b/c you know how I love anything Canadian! I think it's b/c it's the actress from Stargate SG1 and I could never fully get into that. I should probably give it a chance though.

I just know Bates' wife will show up. And you're absolutely right about walking that fine line; thing is I could handle it if Bates would just go ahead and profess his love for Anna and then the wife shows up to complicate things. You can't keep up the will they/won't they indefinitely with the same old obstacle.

Unknown said...

@Lori - Considering how Canadian Sanctuary is, I'm completely shocked you haven't gotten into it. I've never watched Stargate so I don't have a bias against Amanda Tapping...and I really like her in this show, so far anyway.

EXACTLY...I really hope this Bates situation is handled right. I don't know why I don't have more faith in Julian Fellowes...but I'm so invested in the Bates/Anna storyline I'm paranoid, I guess. LOL!

Lori said...

I was being biased b/c Stargate can be a bit cheesy at times. Of course since I often love cheesy, I don't know why that didn't work for me. LOL! I'll have to check out Sanctuary again since you think it's good. I'm sure it's quite different.

Surely Julian Fellowes will have enough sense not to anger the legions of Bates/Anna devotees!

Unknown said...

@Lori - I can see that about Stargate - I've watched a few random episodes here and there and some have been pretty cheesy. ;) I think you will LOVE Sanctuary!

Here's hoping our faith in JF isn't misplaced! :)

Susannah said...

I watched the entire season today (I'm sick) and LOVED IT! I dashed over here, since I figured you probably had written some about it. I was not disappointed. :) The end WAS super-frustrating, but at least there is a little progression in a few of the relationships. I love Bates and Anna to death, and Branson--oh my WORD. I'm crazy about him. And I even tend to be biased against Irishmen. ;)

The characters are so well-done--they are so multi-faceted (and as you said "a character can have you cheering for them one second and then wanting to smack them upside the head the other over an incredibly stupid or mean-spirited act the next").

In that way, it reminds me of "North and South", and I agree, that riot scene was similar.

Ohh--and I am a fellow fan of Brendan Coyle. I have adored him in N&S and Lark Rise, and he is again an amazing, upstanding guy.

And the part when William punches Thomas!! Definitely one of my favorite parts. That dirty rat had been needing that for a looong time.

Okay, now that I've left a novel on your blog... I'll quit gushing. ;) I might just need to do a post about it so I can get it more of the squealing out of my system.

Unknown said...

@Polka Dot - I'm so glad you came by to share your thoughts about Downton Abbey! Isn't it fun to watch the whole season in a day? I did that myself with some friends a couple of weeks ago - once you start it's IMPOSSIBLE to stop. :)

I am so looking forward to more Bates/Anna in season 2, and hopefully MORE Branson! I loved him. :)

I hope you do your own Downton post!