Monday, January 23, 2012

Downton Abbey Series 2, Part 3

This episode of Downton Abbey covered a ridiculous amount of time, I'd say probably six months of 1918 are crammed into this one hour installment. Ridiculous? Yes. Fun? Absolutely. :) Here's the episode summary from the Masterpiece Classic website:

Mary's new alliance has aroused Violet's interest in matters of suitability and love. With Sybil in mind, the Dowager Countess declares, "war breaks down barriers and when peacetime re-erects them, it's very easy to find oneself on the wrong side." Indeed, among war's greatest casualties at Downton are the prescribed roles and class boundaries. Thomas is exerting his authority over the servants with aplomb; Mrs. Patmore, Daisy and Mrs. Bird are cooking up a little something on the side; and Ethel has discovered an age-old way to support the war effort. But between Robert and Bates, faith and loyalty transcend class, offering hope when Robert needs it most. Because now, the war has threatened a far more serious casualty.
The simmering conflict between Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) and Isobel (Penelope Wilton) over the management of the convalescent hospital at Downton Abbey boils over this week, and I have to say I come down whole-heartedly on Cora's side. Isobel is a whiny, entitled, immature BRAT. When she was introduced last season I rather admired her no-nonsense approach to life and her son's status as Downton's new heir, but clearly her proximity with aristocratic power has gone to her head. Seriously, an adult woman of Isobel's age throwing the equivalent of a toddler's hissy fit (the whole "I want to be needed! I'LL GO TO FRIGGIN' FRANCE!" thing cracked me up) is ridiculous. It's not your house YET Isobel, get over your stupid self. Relieved for once to see her out of the picture for a while. *sigh* Cora's schedule changes were completely reasonable (I really liked that she was paying attention to the needs of her staff), plus Downton is still her FLIPPIN' HOUSE for goodness' sake.

Now that there is no turning back from transforming Downton into a hospital and Mary seems resolved not to break up Matthew's engagement to Lavinia, Violet (Maggie Smith) seems itching for a new area where she can meddle with her inimitable style and sass. In a conversation with Mary (Michelle Dockery), Violet speculates that Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlaymust be crushing on a man beneath her social station since war breaks down class barriers and causes people to do all sorts of CRAZY things like that. (My question here is, even if Branson wasn't in the picture as far as Sybil is concerned, who the heck does Violet think she's going to fall for with most of the men her age 1) fighting at the front or 2) in a hospital ward?) ANYWAYS....this conversation puts Mary on the alert and she is shocked to discover her sister IN CONVERSATION with the CHAUFFEUR. Oh the scandal...(seriously Mary, give Sybil some credit, at least she was talking with him outdoors, in public as opposed to your episode with the Turkish diplomat...).

Speaking of Branson (Allen Leech), my chauffeur-loving-heart got a wonderful moment when he declared to Sybil that he would stay at Downton in this stupid job he hates until she decides to run away with him (my paraphrase). Seriously, Sybil, how can you just STAND there when he's laying bare his heart like that?! Sure, Branson is a little intense, a bit of a loose cannon, and goodness knows he has his issues but the way he looks at Sybil with such unabashed adoration -- gah! It slays me every single time -- see the final scene, during the hospital concert, as one of many excellent examples thus far this season. What interests me about Sybil and her views toward her privileged class -- I really do think that out of all the sisters she could throw everything off and end up genuinely happy. It would absolutely be a bumpy, likely rocky, road toward that end -- but the possibility is there, and her desire to follow the beat of her own drummer and stand on her own two feet, that would go a long way towards seeing her through (or so I like to think). :)

When Daisy (Sophie McShera) overhears that Bates (Brendan Coyle) is working in a local pub, one thing leads to another and word gets to a rather shocked Lord Robert (Hugh Bonneville) that his former valet has returned to the area and not let him know, or requested his job back. Considering the poor terms on which they parted in the first installment of this season, when Bates refused to divulge the Crawley family secrets his SKANK OF A WIFE threatened to reveal, it's no surprise Bates is unsure of his welcome. This is a classic example of why I love Robert's character -- he's not perfect but he really is a good man at heart, capable of great compassion, and when he takes the initiative to visit Bates, insisting to his wife that he must be the one to apologize to his former servant, I cheered. I loved the warmth and camaraderie of there reunion, the way that for a few moments, at least, class barriers were forgotten and two men with a long history together shared a moment as friends.

One of my favorite storylines in this episode is how a few of the servants start a soup kitchen for homeless former soldiers. This endeavor starts in Isobel's home, when after her departure for France Molesley (Kevin Doyle) and the Mrs. Bird (Christine Lohr) are left with little to do besides light house maintenance. Mrs. Bird starts the soup kitchen and is soon aided by Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nichol) and Daisy, the former setting aside food from Downton's kitchens and raising the ever-nosy suspicions of O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran). Never one to waste an opportunity to get her coworkers in trouble, O'Brien alerts Cora, but her plan backfires deliciously when Cora is thrilled with the soup kitchen and volunteers BOTH their services and MORE of Downton's food stores! That was absolutely priceless! And speaking of O'Brien, she has lost any goodwill points she gained by her brief flashes of kindness toward the shell-shocked Mr. Lang. The woman is a conniving, harping shrew. When Thomas (Rob James-Collier) is appearing more reasonable than you, well you know you're in trouble. (Love Mrs. Patmore though -- she may be misguided in her encouragement of Daisy as regards William, but her heart's in the right place in so many ways!)

Another of this episode's main story threads involves the disturbing news that Matthew (Dan Stevens) and William (Thomas Howes), now his servant, have gone missing at the front. I really liked how this development highlighted just how much Matthew's come to mean to all of Downton since he was first announced as heir -- he really has become part of the family, the son Robert never had (despite his insistence on marrying Lavinia, HA!). Edith (Laura Carmichael) shares a surprisingly heartfelt moment with Mary when she goes against her father's injunction to keep the news about Matthew from her sister -- I really felt like there was no ulterior motive at work, this was one sister realizing that another would want to know the truth, no matter how painful. I will even own that I have really liked Edith over these past two weeks -- her work with the hospital has really allowed her to blossom and come into her own (here's hoping the positive sticks!).

Belowstairs endures some undesired drama when Ethel (Amy Nuttall) is caught by Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) sleeping with one of the officers she'd been seen flirting with repeatedly. Ethel is promptly dismissed without a reference and actually has the gall to be surprised. Ethel I have news for you, you too are a first-class IDIOT. It's like she seriously thought there would be no repercussions for her actions?! Yeesh. It's a lesson in how not to win friends and how TO alienate people. The moment where Ethel returns at the end of the episode, alone and scared to beg help from Mrs. Hughes because she's pregnant (SHOCKER! That's what HAPPENS when you carry flirting with randy officers too far!) is priceless -- talk about a humbling moment, being forced to beg help from the very people you made no secret of disdaining because they made their livelihood in a manner you despised. Third unbelievably frustrating female character to eat crow this episode, CHECK.

This episode ended on what was, for me, a really sublime moment of Downton drama. :) The time has come for the hospital concert where, miracle of miracles Mary has agreed to perform "If You Were the Only Girl in the World" with the accompaniment of her sister Edith. First of all, if you haven't purchased the Downton soundtrack, do so immediately -- Alfie Boe sings the song on that album, and you can hear a clip of his performance here. Mary's about to lose it because she's just learned Matthew's missing, and everyone is all tense and upset and TENSE, and then lo and behold midway through the song Matthew and William walk in. You could've heard a pin drop -- well, only if you could hear a pin over me yelling at Mary through the television to run down the aisle and kiss Matthew already (or vice-versa, at this point I don't really care who makes the first move)! *wink* It was just such a perfectly realized moment, and felt like the end of a season with the palpable emotion and attraction between Mary and Matthew and everyone SO HAPPY.

But it wouldn't be the Edwardian soap opera I love if happiness was achieved that easily, would it?! Sure, Matthew's alive but he's headed back to the front, and he's still engaged to that twit Lavinia, and Mary is determined to be all noble and self-sacrificing. SIGH. And Anna (Joanne Froggatt) is ridiculously happy that Bates is back at Downton, and of course they jinx themselves by revelling in HOW HAPPY they are and how close they are to their goals (silly kids!). While I have no idea where exactly we are in 1918, precisely, if there's one thing this show teaches us it is that a lot can happen in an hour. *wink* Here's to next week! In the mean time, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this episode!
In closing I want to share two behind-the-scenes images that I found absolutely hilarious! The first is from am Entertainment Weekly feature, showcasing Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, and Dan Stevens (I just love their expressions!):

And the second is the cast showing their affection for a very droll Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) from the PBS behind-the-scenes gallery for episode one:


Lori Benton said...

Oh no. 1918. I'm braced for the flu.

How many eps will there be? I can't recall right off how many there were last season. Great recap as usual Ruth.

I think Isobel NEEDS to be in a hospital tent in France, where some General of some regiment and all his officers are wounded and the surgeons are busy so SHE has to take command of the troops and win the battle or the day or the war or whatever. Think that might get it out of her system? ;)

Olivia said...

Seriously, Isobel, she's not the boss of anything. Anyways, how about the moment when Mary was singing and Matthew and William walked into the room. It was magic and perfect.

Heather said...

Ok! I am so loving season 2 although the suspense is killing me ;) I thought it was so good and I have a LITTLE hope that perhaps the creator will let the characters have a little happiness.
One thing that I've been wondering about since episode 2 when Branson says that his noble Communists would 'never kill a bunch of young girls" (the tsar's family) and we know that they do. Will that cause him to waiver in his support of communism? And like Lori said, the flu's coming...will the family be able to get through all that? I'd think probably not, it will touch them in some way. I'm dreading the return of Bate's wife. Maybe she'll have a mysterious accident or something. And poor Ethel...she really had it coming. Saw that a mile a way!
hehehe...well...I love this show. So glad there's a corner here to blather on about it ;)
great review!~

Unknown said...

@Lori - I think you're onto something there, Lori. Isobel could really thrive on the front! ;)

Downton will air through February 19th, if memory we have four more weeks! I also think the last two weeks will be two hour episodes again.

@Liv - OHMYGOSH IT WAS SO MAGICAL AND PERFECT AND WONDERFUL!!!!!!! I loved it. One of the best moments of the series, EVER!

P.S. Liv, I am so happy you're watching this show. :)

Unknown said...

@Heather - You and me both. :) I am told through reliable sources that the Christmas episode (which we're getting as the final episode this season) does give us some satisfaction on the happiness front. Keeping my fingers crossed.

And I HOPE that Bates wakes up...he wouldn't want to admit it but he's living a pretty sweet life in comparison to many, and once the reality of communism starts to come out I hope he re-evaluates his priorities.

STUPID STUPID ETHEL. She was so dumb. :P

Thanks for stopping by, I love chatting about this! :)

Joanne said...

Love your recap and comments, as usual, Ruth! I got a little silly, though, when Mary & Edith were performing for the soldiers...I thought, oh dear, let's not venture into The Sound of Music territory and start singing The Lonely Goatherd!! Violet's expression at everyone singing, including Lord Grantham, was priceless (and SO her!) I, too, went searching for some videos and photos of behind-the-scenes and you're not going to believe this!! You know who comes across as the sweetest, funniest, and jokiest person of them all when off set.......Thomas! Yes, he is a KICK, and so is his evil sidekick, Mrs. O'Brien. Out of character and off screen, they are funny!! But be careful, you'll stumble across some spoilers out there on youtube, so tread carefully!

Anne Mateer said...

Yes, I was yelling, "Run! Run to him, Mary!" in that scene. Fortunately we had the lights dimmed so I couldn't see hubby and son rolling their eyes at me. ;)

Loved O'Brien and Ethel and Isobel getting their comeuppance. Now if someone would just take Thomas down a peg or two. Of course Mrs. Hughes did a little bit and of course he would think it was Bates.

I was so happy that Edith and Mary were getting along. And poor William. I wish Daisy would just really fall in love with him. I don't think I can stand to see his heart broken.

Can't wait for more!

Heidenkind said...

Thank you for the link again, Ruth. :) That picture with Carson is too cute.

I loved the scene with Mary and Matthew singing SO MUCH! I seriously want a musical edition of Downton Abbey, like yesterday.

I can't believe Cora annoyed you that much. lol I have to admit it was nice not having her around in this episode though. :P

Unknown said...

@Joanne - Thank you! I agree -- I liked the one song but I'm kinda glad it didn't go into a full fledged musical revue. ;)

That is HILARIOUS that Thomas...I mean Rob James-Collier (*g*) is the funniest guy out of character. Poor be so nice and so good at playing a loathsome baddie!

@Anne - I am a bit concerned about Bates -- with Thomas in a position of power in the house I'm afraid Bates has a big ol' target on his back.

I know what you mean about William...I don't know how I'd take him getting his heart broken like that!

@heidenkind - You're welcome, love your recaps!

And if a musical edition of Downton Abbey was a magical as as that Mary/Matthew moment, heck yes I'll be on board with that!

And it wasn't Cora who annoyed me but Isobel, LOL! I loved Cora in this ep, LOL!

Rissi said...

This was a beautiful episode - I had already forgotten about the joyous reunion between Matthew/Mary and William's return (so sweet!). Mary's genuine emotions were on full display in that moment. =)

Keep watching for that Christmas episode - it is lovely.

Unknown said...

@Rissi - Re: Mary - I know! It's so rare to see her THAT open and happy, isn't it? She's normally a bit more reserved. ;)

I've heard good rumors about the Christmas episode - I'm looking forward to it (and the rest of this season)!

Kristin said...

The musical lover inside of me made me tear up in the singing scene before Matthew even got there. :)

I once read a book about writing that talked about the importance of making your characters suffer, with little breaks of happiness. The creators of this show really go for that, huh?


Charleybrown said...

I've never before seen a period drama have an effect like this one does where the characters get under our skin (in good and bad ways)! I had to chuckle at your description of Isobel's pouting but it reminds me that this is yet another plotline where I thought Fellowes derailed a bit. Perhaps I'm biased because I love Penelope Wilton (and her character of Mrs. Crawley) and hated to see her became too self-righteous. Also, I had hoped to see a romance develop with her and Dr. Clarkson after the first season.
I also cringed a bit at "that twit Lavinia" but understand in your passion for Mary that Lavinia is the objectionable obstacle! But from the beginning of this season, I somehow knew I would like Lavinia while still hopeful for Mary. I liked seeing the relationship that develops between Mary and Lavinia - interesting dynamics!

With regards to the quality of plot/happiness quotient for this season, I can't help but imagine it as an inverted bell curve - strong start and satisfying ending but not without its sagging flaws through the middle episodes. I still love Downton Abbey but would advise fans to lower your expectations for some of the far-fetched plot twists, clich├ęs, etc that did not match up to the excellence of the first season in my opinion. There is one particular plotline re: Bonneville for which I will never forgive Fellowes and can only hope that it's been resolved and not to be dredged up again in season 3 but then again it's his job to put us through the ringer with each and every character that has become so embedded under our skin!! :)
P.S. I love that pic with Jim Carter too!

Unknown said...

@Kristin - Wasn't it awesome? Excuse me while I swoon... ;) And you are SO right...this show has that push/pull DOWN!

@Charleybrown - You are so right -- it is fun to see Downton's fame spread. :)

I love Penelope Wilton too, please don't get me wrong! I am curious where Fellowes takes her character from here...if the pendulum doesn't swing back towards reasonable to some degree -- well yes, I think I will come to the conclusion that Fellowes got a bit carried away.

And I can't help it...maybe I will change my mind about Lavinia...but so far she is so colorless to me when compared to Mary. We shall see! :)

I've managed to evade blow-by-blow spoilers, but I do have some hints on where things are going in the second half of Downton's run this year...and I'm VERY curious how the Bonneville "twist" hits me. I will of course document it here. :)

Everyone, thanks for stopping by as always!