Monday, January 9, 2012

Downton Abbey Series 2, Part 1

Downton Abbey finally, FINALLY returned to Masterpiece Classic last night and oh my WORD was it worth the wait. There's so, SO much I want to talk about -- but rather than make this a who's who post, I think I shall endeavor to dive right in and talk about the relationships and story developments that intrigued me most. Of course, if I leave something out (oh the HORROR *wink*), fee free to bring it up in the comments. :) Here's the Episode 1 summary from the PBS website:
Fall 1916 — Spring 1917

In the throes of the Great War, uncertainty and worry have taken up residence in the great house of Downton Abbey. Some newcomers arrive, met with varying degrees of welcome; some young men are absent, desperately clinging to survival in the trenches of France; and some men remain at Downton, their discontent festering.

Robert, ever the honorable patriarch, struggles with the uneasiness of a diminished house and the suspicion that the uniform he wears is empty. The Crawley women, too, attempt to find their place in the new climate, as Isobel helps chart a new course for one sister and Branson exerts his influence over yet another. Among the servants, love is in the air — O'Brien being, as always, the exception — until Bates makes a decision that crushes the hearts of the two people who love him most.

News about Matthew stuns the house, and Mary has a revelation of her own. Downton Abbey itself is to be made useful, transformed into a convalescent home for wounded officers. In wartime, not even the seemingly immutable Dowager Countess, Violet, remains entirely unchanged!

While Series 1 ended with the declaration of war, Series 2 opens  two years later, with the war in full swing and Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) in the thick of the 1916 Battle of the Somme. The stark contrast between the filth and danger of trenchwarfare and life at Downton Abbey is stark and jarring. At first blush, life at Downton seems almost unchanged -- there is still a miniature army of servants, under the "command" of Mr. Carson (Jim Carter), the butler, tending to the upkeep of the great house and the needs of its privileged family. But upon closer examination, the staff is running thin, absent of one footman -- the conniving, EVIL Thomas (Rob James-Collier) -- with the remaining one, William (Thomas Hawes), eager to fight -- and the great hall transformed into a concert stage for a hospital fundraiser. It's fascinating to me to see individuals like Mr. Carson, driven to see the status quo maintained even at the expense of their health, when the war is hell-bent on changing everything, and way of life that Downton and its inhabitants have enjoyed is past its zenith.

The first big news of this installment is Matthew's engagement to Lavinia Swire (Zoe Boyle), daughter of a solicitor. His mother Isobel (Penelope Wilton) brings the news that he plans to bring Lavinia to Downton, coinciding with Mary's (Michelle Dockery) return home, crushing Robert (Hugh Bonneville) and Cora's (Elizabeth McGovern) hopes that their heir would reconcile with their headstrong eldest daughter. Lady Mary can be a bit of a mess, but despite that she is one of my favorite members of the Crawley family, and in the two years since we last saw her on-screen she appears to have mellowed somewhat. Though we're not given much of an idea of what she's been up to -- other than living in London -- it seems clear that the long reach of the war has managed to give her some perspective. And her veneer of strength in the face of the news of Matthew's engagement, followed by her collapse and later, heartfelt prayers for his safety, just killed me. So yeah -- I can't stand Lavinia and I'm sure she's too syrupy sweet for her own good.

The middle Crawley daughter, Edith (Laura Carmichael), has really shot any good will I tried to muster for her after Series 1. I had felt kind of bad for her -- she seems to have that classic overlooked middle child thing going on -- but the glee with which she sprung Matthew's engagement on Mary just screamed harpy to me. And while I think it is interesting that she's the one who insists on learning to drive, really a bit of forward-thinking there, her fascination with a hick MARRIED FARMER just cracked me up. And she thinks Mary has poor judgment?! Just sayin'...

It looks like I'm going to get my wish from last season for more Branson the chauffeur (Allen Leech) and Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) moments, THANK YOU Julian Fellowes! :) They give Bates and Anna a run for the honor of favorite couple. SERIOUSLY. Could Branson get any more freaking vulnerable and adorable and PERFECT?! I love how Leech plays Branson's unease at various points throughout these two hours and being one of the few men not in uniform. And his blatant adoration for Sybil just KILLS me. Sybil, with her compassionate heart, is of course going to be the first Downton daughter to step WAY outside her comfort zone and train to become an auxiliary nurse. (Side note: loved her cooking lessons, and Cora's pride in her daughter's most irregular accomplishments!) When Branson drops Sybil off for nursing training and declares HIS LOVE, how, HOW on earth did Sybil just stand there? If she breaks his heart I will be CRUSHED! What fascinates me about their dynamic is how she represents everything that frustrated him about the class system in Series 1, but in the years since his arrival at Downton he's apparently fallen hard for the Earl's youngest daughter. I loved the moment towards the end of this installment where Branson dares to let slip to Cora that Sybil will probably want to skip a family dinner in favor of nursing work -- he seems to believe in her and what she wants to do more than anyone else. Plus he's always looking at her with just a touch of awe, as if she hung the friggin' moon. Sybil m'dear you could do MUCH WORSE than marry a man who adores you. Just sayin'! :)

Now on to my other favorite couple -- Bates (Brendan Coyle) and Anna (Joanne Froggatt). Recalling how Bates went through absolute hell when he first arrived at Downton, I loved hearing the rest of the staff sing his praises and recognize what a flipping GEM he is. :) They get about five minutes of happiness before that gets all shot to hell but oh what a wonderful moment. With the inheritance from his mother, Bates is sure he'll finally be able to convince his wife to grant him a divorce. When he and Anna start making plans for the future (living in a cottage on the grounds! starting a family! running a small hotel together -- SQUEE!!!), I could've cried because Anna was so perfectly, wonderfully, incandescently happy. And then the other shoe drops with the arrival of Mrs. Vera Bates (Maria Doyle Kennedy), who is a vile, conniving SHREW (and yes, when Bates called her a bitch I cheered). When she blackmails Bates into leaving with her, threatening to expose Lady Mary's scandalous behavior with the ill-fated Turkish diplomat, oh my goodness I wanted to throttle her. Bates's nobility in refusing to divulge the real reason behind his sudden departure to the Earl, Anna's loyalty and faithfulness while having all of her dreams STOMPED on -- oh that second hour sans Bates was painful.

Robert is in an interesting and dangerous position at the start of this series. He was noted for his nobility and kindness throughout Series 1, but with a war on and the social dynamic he's existed within all his life changing and realigning, he's a bit adrift. It was quite painful to see the realization that his services are not required or wanted in the active duty army, and I suspect this sense of uselessness and discontent will be an open door for who knows what sort of turmoil in his personal life. His relationship with Cora doesn't seem to be nearly as solid as it was throughout Series 1, and that makes me extraordinarily nervous. As lady of the house Cora has been able to maintain her position and role in life and her family to a large degree, unlike her husband who chafes at being relegated to a figurehead role.

Vera skyrocketed to the "honor" of villain #1 after last night, but we also saw the return of Thomas and O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran), the latter Cora's lady's maid. Thomas has obviously not remained unaffected by his work as as a medic in the trenches -- but I still don't trust him as far as I can throw him. He manages to get himself shot and with carefully planted suggestions to Cora from O'Brien, get himself transferred to work at the hospital near Downton. I would love to see him become a better person, but for as nice as he tried to be to the despairing officer blinded by a gas attack, I rather suspect that the harsh realities of war and its aftermath will solidify his conniving and power plays. (Feel free to prove me wrong, Thomas!)

O'Brien is a bit of a puzzle. On one hand, I'm shocked by her audacity in conveniently "forgetting" that she caused Cora to miscarry her baby two years earlier, and after THAT debacle she still constantly manipulates her mistress into getting her own way. (Of course Cora rather asks for it sometimes, but as O'Brien is the instigator I lay most of the blame at her door.) What interests me about her character here is the flash of humanity and compassion she shows towards Bates's replacement, Mr. Lang (Cal Macanich), a victim of shell-shock. When watching the episode last night, my first thought was that she was intent on corrupting him, but a friend on Facebook suggested the possibility that O'Brien isn't immune to love -- and THAT my friends would be an extraordinary twist for a character renowned for her selfishness. Thoughts?

I really should say something about the newbies, shouldn't I? First of all, the new maid Ethel (Amy Nuttall) is getting on my last nerve. That girl is going to be TROUBLE! (The main signal to that point being that I was actually glad O'Brien was giving her a hard time, go figure!) I get that you want to better your lot in life, etc., but do you have to belittle and alienate everyone else while you're at it?? YEESH. Also, I need theories about what dark secrets Lavinia is hiding from Matthew (I'm guessing it is an illegitmate child)! Because her meeting with Mary's latest suitor, Sir Richard Carlisle (Iain Glen), was a quick signal that that rebound relationship is surely doomed. Speaking of Mary's newspaper/gossip rag magnate (depending on your point-of-view), why oh why does Glen's return to a meaty period drama (he played the oily Mr. Preston in Wives and Daughters) have to be playing ANOTHER less-than-honorable character? I think he has a nice face. *sigh*

AND let's see, who else haven't I talked about? Oh, poor Daisy (Sophie McShera)! I fear she is headed for a world of hurt in dealing with William -- he's become more assertive and she just doesn't seem to have it in her to set proper relationship boundaries. *sigh* Also, Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nichol) -- oh I LOVE her. That woman is a trip! Especially enjoyed her take on Sybil's desire to learn to cook. *wink* And isn't Mrs. Hughes's (Phyllis Logan) loyalty and concern for Carson too sweet?? Oh and I mustn't forget Violet, the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) -- she is as full of herself as ever. Now that Downton is slated to become a convalescence hospital, I predict many a clash with Isobel and Cora over the propriety of such a move.

If you made it to the end of this post, thank you (your reward is this LOVELY Branson and Sybil picture). :) Now, I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on Downton's return and your hopes for the second series! If you've seen the entire second season, please try to remain spoiler-free in your comments since yours truly is doing her level best to live in suspense. :) If this first installment is any indication, this season of Downton promises to be even more drama-filled than its debut. I seriously love everything about this show, even the characters I loathe (here's looking at you, vile Vera!) -- the stories, the clothes, the sets, the juxtaposition of frontline war life with the homefront -- oh my word this is a world I can't fathom ever getting old.


Ella said...

I am so glad that you finally got to watch this!!!! Now, because I have seen the whole thing, I can only remark on where you are at ;-)

Finally, someone else who loves Sybil and Branson as much as I do!!!!!!!!! Mary and Matthew are my favorite couple, followed right behind by Sybil and Branson. I love Branson....despite his political views

Lavinia...yep. I hate her. She is way too sweet and good for me. Isn't that terrible ;-)

I could go on and on....but I guess I will stop there <3

Rissi said...

SO happy to know you enjoyed this, Ruth! I will definitely be blogging about it as soon as I watch it, but if I see it to completion before you, I will definitely warn readers about spoilers. =)

Ella - you are not alone, girl! I love Sybil and Branson (they are so cute together).

Renee said...

I love reading about the episode all over again. So glad to start 2012 with this great series. Can't wait to see what happens with Bates and Anna!

Unknown said...

@Ella - I ADORE Sybil and Branson! The way he looks at her, so adoringly, GAH!!! It just kills me! (BTW, regarding Branson's politics...he seems to have set those by the wayside, at least temporarily, hmm?)!!! Hiss!!!! I am ready for her to leave already. Though props to Mary for being so NICE (said grudgingly)...

@Rissi - Girl I am NUTS abotu this show! Looking forward to your blogs -- regarding spoilers, all bets are off as soon as I see an installment. ;)

@Renee - Thank you! :) I can't wait for Bates to return either -- hour two was a little forlorn without him!

Anne Mateer said...

I'm right there with you! Love Sybil and Branson. Almost died when stupid Vera Bates forced Bates to resign. That new Ethel girl is a piece of work. And what's up with Moseby? He was such a good guy before but I hate the way he's sidling up to Anna. I feel more sorry for Mary. What's so crazy is that the new guy is basically what Matthew was that she refused (i.e. not aristocracy, just has money)! She and Matthew really need to be together. Cora is an idiot for continuing to trust O'Brien. I still hate Thomas. And what's up with Edith? Kissing a married man--and a commoner, no less! Oh, how to wait another week for the next installment!

Charity said...

I've always loved Mary; I understand her in ways that many people don't seem to, so I was delighted that her loss of Matthew has really changed her for the better. My heart hurts whenever she and Matthew are together -- but apart.

I really wish I could root for Sybil and Branson more, but my dislike for radical communist politics kind of makes me leery at her marrying him.

To be honest, I'm disappointed in how Julian Fellowes handled not only Robert and Cora, but the entire Mr. and Mrs. Bates fiasco. Vera is a cliche and it is such a painful waste of an extraordinarily good actress -- she hams it up here and she's really capable of so much more. I have a hard time really hating her here in spite of everything simply because she spent fourteen episodes of "The Tudors" making me fall in love with her Katharine of Aragon. I seem incapable of hating Maria Doyle Kennedy in anything!

I DO hate Richard Carlisle, however. Without giving anything away, you'll have even more reason to hate him later in the season. =P

Unknown said...

@Anne - ARGH VERA!!! :P And Ethel...she has to be headed for trouble, her introduction has painted her as too much of a loose cannon. I forgot to mention Moseley didn't I? I felt rather sorry for him in Series 1, but now I'm convinced he lied to the doctor, and the way he approaches Anna just makes my skin crawl. And the thing with Edith -- good grief she lost any sense she had, didn't she???

@Charity - I KNOW. Mary has had her harsh and brittle moments, but I've always felt there was a compassionate hear there, and her separation from Matthew is just killing her, you can see the toll it has taken. Of course I too love that it has changed her for the better. And her class towards Lavinia -- very nice.

Without giving too much away, do Branson's politics become a big issue again? He fits well as a type of the time period, and while I disagree with his politics as well, I get the feeling (perhaps wishing, I know) that his love for Sybil is mellowing him out a bit, redirecting his priorities. Keeping my fingers crossed there. :)

Robert makes sense to me in this episode -- however Cora is completely checked out. As far as Mrs. Bates goes, I've never been able to sit through The Tudors so I have no prior attachment to Maria Doyle Kennedy -- though I am really looking forward to her turn in the Titanic miniseries.

While she is cliche -- so much of Downton is high drama, and seeing the high drama in this glittering setting -- well I can't help but eat it up. ;)

Glad to know I'm not off-base on Sir Richard...haha!!

Debra E. Marvin said...

Where to begin? Well, I've seen a lot of posts and blogs today
and spent two hours on the LIVE twitter party last night. Then, watched it again quietly to catch what I'd missed the first time.

Ethel has moxie on her side. (cheek) You know she's just not the new maid. She's bound to be tangled in someone's story line!

I'm so glad you told me where I've seen Richard before. Not a big stretch on characters there.

Okay, I admit I felt sorry for Edith when the note came at breakfast. Not saying she didn't deserve everything she's brought on herself but...ouch.

So - was that the same farm couple who Isobel saved with the needle aspiration procedure?

Mary and Matthew's scenes were so amazing last night. wow. the train? And were Dan's eyes that light-blue in Sense and Sensibility? Notice that the music always comes on with Matthew?

Sure, I had a small moment of pleasure seeing Thomas quaking in his boots but I then started to feel sorry for him too. What's with that? And OBrien - empathy for Lang? War changes things. I'd say.

Which begs the question =what else is Bates hiding? Struggling with guilt that makes him feel unworthy? I thought he was capable of murder last night (would Mrs. Hughes have intervened?)

oh, and the clothes? wow. okay, that's enough.

Heidenkind said...

Thank you for the linkage, Ruth! I don't think Lady Mary's mellowed, I think she's been beaten down. Sir Richard is someone she'd never even look twice at in season 1, and now they're practically engaged?!? Mary's thisclose to scraping the bottom of the pavement. Next thing we know her life will be montaged and set to "Like a Rolling Stone".

As for O'Brien and Lang, she has HORRIBLE taste in men. Just the fact that she likes him makes me highly suspicious of him. He's probably a German spy.

Jenny B. Jones said...

Of course, I love Downton, but it was all too much for me in Sunday's premiere. My head was starting to hurt from all the story threads. But still enjoyable. My concern is that since there's going to be a DA 3, that we are going to see certain relationships really drawn out. I predict either Matthew or Mary (or both) will marry and then in the VERY end, will find their way back to one another. I also predict at least one of the sisters gets preggo prior to marriage.

Unknown said...

@Debra - Wasn't it GRAND?! :) I can't wait to rewatch it in its entirety!

Okay, I will cut Edith some slack there for about 2 seconds -- I have to say though that I really liked the wife's gumption in taking on a daughter of the house and getting her husband back in-line!

And yes, that was the same couple that Isobel saved with the needle procedure!

Mary and Matthew -- every moment with them was amazing. And the train scene just about did me in! I will have to pay closer attention to Matthew's musical cues...

I would love to see O'Brien and/or Thomas change for the good but I don't know about that happening.

And seriously -- Bates has some secrets, doesn't he? I can't wait to discover them! :)


@heidenkind - You're welcome! Enjoyed the post! :) And good point about Lady Mary -- she's definitely been taken down several notches. Maybe you could make this montage??? Just an idea? LOL!

And that is a very interesting idea about Lang -- maybe he IS a spy and he'll turn O'Brien into a victim!!! The possibilities are endless! That would really be something wouldn't it? LOL

Unknown said...

@Jenny - I was just talking about that very issue with my Mom last night. I could definitely see Matthew and/or Mary marrying the "wrong" person and then somehow finding their way back to each other at the series finale. And wouldn't it be something if Edith got preggers...from a FARMER or something. :P

Charity said...

Mary is very sweet to Lavinia. I think she changed the most out of the three sisters, although Edith does soften at times. =)

Yes... and no; in the next episode, his politics are HUGELY important. *clamps mouth shut*

Cora is behaving very strangely. With Robert... well, you'll see.

Poor MDK, when it was broadcast in the UK she did an interview where she asked people to PLEASE remember that she was acting -- on television, she was content to be "the most hated woman in England," but she was concerned that it might reflect on her as well. I hope it didn't! And yes, I'm thinking she'll delight me in "Titanic." I hope. ;)

Cliches bother me as a writer, because I can always see a huge variety of ways in which they can be improved on. Had I written Vera, I would have introduced her with much more subtlety and cunning -- perhaps befriend Anna in town and then about three episodes in, we discover who she really is. But alas, it is not to be. =)

Patti said...

Ruth, I think you know that I don't watch much in the way of current fare, whether that be TV shows or feature films. Far and away, I am stuck in the 40's and 50's.

That said, my daughter (Ella) has gotten me hooked on Downton Abbey, and we enjoy watching it together. I haven't seen last night's episode yet, but I am definitley ready for it. What a fabulous show!!

And I just have to say that I think Lord Grantham is a mighty fine looking man, and I would enjoy seeing more development of his storyline. (Yes, I betray my age here...while I do think Matthew and Branson are cute, I'm more in Hugh Bonneville's stage of life, so, no surprise, he appeals to me.)

Kristin said...

I just finished watching it online, and it was amazing! :)

I'll admit that I couldn't stand Mary in the first season. But I actually like her now. She has mellowed out and she's much kinder and (I think) less selfish than she was.

I thought we had gotten rid of Thomas, but I guess not. That would have been too much to hope for. :) And I'm definitely thinking that O'Brien has a crush on Mr. Lang.

I really didn't get as bad of a vibe from Lavinia as I did Sir Richard. But I don't like either one of them. :)


Lori said...

Ruth, I love hearing your theories about what might happen...I will force myself to make no relevetory comments, so therefore I will make no comments! HA! I do agree I love Branson and Sybil, but I really ended up so much more invested in the Matthew/Mary story this season. I think you will end up writing so much more about them in the weeks to come!

I just realized that Cal Macanich was in The Woodlanders with Rufus Sewell--I kept thinking I knew him and didn't like him for some reason and now I know why! He destroyed poor Rufus in that movie!

Unknown said...

@Charity - You mean I might actually start to like Edith? I can't wrap my head around that... :P

I do know where you're coming from regarding cliches -- they can bother me as well, but in the case of Downton I look for the high drama, I guess. :) However, I would love to read/see a version of the Anna/Vera storyline where their meet plays out as you suggest -- that is a very intriguing "what if"!

@Patti - I'm so glad you and Ella are enjoying Downton! My mom and I love watching it and discussing it too. :) And you have no argument from me regarding Lord Grantham -- I think Hugh Bonneville is fabulous, especially in this series!

@Kristin - I COMPLETELY agree with you about Mary. She's definitely changed the most thus far. And I'm very curious about how much, if at all, the war will change Thomas and/or O'Brien for the better...right now I'm thinking O'Brien as the most hope in that regard. :)

@Lori - HAHA!!! You're killing me Lori! ;) I suspect you're right about Matthew & Mary -- their scenes were so poignant in this installment that it just ripped my heart to shreds.

Interesting connection about Cal Macanich -- okay now I'm wondering if Tasha is right and he will turn out to be a German spy. LOL!

Jess said...

I cannot convey to you how much I can't WAIT for this to come to dvd!
Loved your review, looking forward to the rest ;)

Unknown said...

@Jess - Oh I understand, believe me! :) Glad you enjoyed my post -- looking forward to hearing your thoughts on more Downton! :)

Anonymous said...

Oh, it was everything I expected an more. Although did they cut some episodes? I just do not remember seeing anything about Matthew and Lavinia in Season 1. Anyhow, the one question I cannot wait an answer for is what is the deal with lavinia and Richard Carlisle...hmmm...there is something going on there. Can't wait for episode 2.

P.S. Is it me or do the introductions by Laura Liney a bit awkward?

Unknown said...

@The French Table - Hi Mariangie! Lavinia is a new character for Season 2, so no, didn't miss her in Season 1 at all. And I can't wait to find out Lavinia's secret past -- I am desperate to know what hold Richard has over her! Bring on episode 2!! And I COMPLETELY agree with you about Linney's introductions, they are SO AWKWARD!

Debra E. Marvin said...

I am totally addicted to this. I bought the soundtrack, you know. Thanks to Ruth, I think!
Seriously, the theme song, which starts up when we see that adorable English retriever walking up the path toward DA, always gets my blood racing. Just a few notes and I'm a goner. I think I have new appreciation for addictive behaviors.

Browse around online and you can find way too much to feed your addiction. Like commenting on blogs :)

Tomorrow night! I'm excited. It's almost here! Will we find out what Richard has on Lavinia? A kiss between Sybil and Branson? Will someone off Mrs. Bates? (I volunteer) And what will happen between OBrien and Lang.

And, didn't I hear some rumors about Cora and Robert? A little trouble in Paradise? Hmmm.

And what will the Dowager Countess say to make us choke on our crumpets?

Unknown said...

@Debra - I've been listening to the Downton soundtrack ALL WEEK -- isn't it fabulous?!

I am SO excited about tomorrow night's episode. I am looking forward to finding out Lavinia's big secret and DYING for a kiss between Sybil and Branson. *swoon* ;)

I have heard some rumors too about Cora and Robert but I refuse to try and substantiate them...I want to be as surprised as possible! It is abundantly clear from this first installment, though, that something has changed their relationship dynamic!