Monday, January 30, 2012

Downton Abbey Series 2, Part 4

This week's installment of Downton Abbey once again covered a ridiculous amount of time, but I can't really complain because it was AWESOME. I've got to say between this week and last week, 1918 has got to be the longest year ever. Here's the episode summary from the PBS website:
Amiens, 1918

Devastating news from the front rocks the very foundations of Downton Abbey, and it is up to the Dowager Countess to buck bureaucratic protocol and bring Downton's men home. In an unwelcome return, Vera Bates threatens to make public the scandalous story of Lady Mary's ill-fated indiscretion. Desperate to contain the story, Mary appeals to the savvy opportunist Sir Richard Carlisle.

Mary is not the only woman to consider hard sacrifice. Some will make it against their will, some will be denied a chance, and some will refuse. Daisy may buckle from its pressure, while Lavinia desperately wishes for such a burden. Sybil must push back. And Cora, preoccupied with the running of the home, cannot see that a sacrifice may already have been made.

Well we all knew that Downton was going to be rocked to the core by devastating news from the front at some point, right? And it finally happens -- Matthew (Dan Stevens) and William (Thomas Howes) sustain severe injuries at the battle of Amiens. Plans are immediately put in place to bring Matthew to the Downton hospital, while William, as a lowly enlisted man, is denied transfer -- denied until Violet, the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) steps in and has her most awesome moments yet this season. I absolutely love how driven Violet is to bring William home. He may "only" be a former footman, "only" be an enlisted man, but he is Downton and Violet is nothing if not loyal. The Dowager Countess calls in every favor, pulls every string, in order to bring William home and shows extraordinary kindness and sensitivity when she learns that he has no hope of survival, his lungs destroyed by the force of a shell explosion. (Plus she CRIES at his wedding!) Kudos also to Edith (Laura Carmichael) for continuing her compassionate transformation and agreeing to serve as William's primary nurse. And it was a wonderful surprise to see Paul Copley, a.k.a. Matthews from the Hornblower films, as William's devoted father!

This episode was also the hour where Mary (Michelle Dockery) steps up and is more awesome than ever before. The news of Matthew's severe injuries rocks her to the core, but rather than freak out or retreat within herself she steps into action and determines to serve as his personal nurse. The empathy! The devotion! When will these two crazy kids admit they still love each other?? *sigh* And with Matthew's injuries Julian Fellowes plays the "he'll never walk again OR father children card" -- which we all know is a bunch of baloney because Matthew and Mary are destined to be passionate lovers at some point. You can't create that much repressed tension between two characters and never have a payoff, hmm? *wink*

ANYWAYS...Matthew's injuries bring Lavinia (Zoe Boyle) back to Downton to play the doting fiancee, and she's very nice and concerned and everything but oh so very boring when compared to Mary. Not to mention that she looks to be completely incapable of nursing Matthew through this period or of caring for an invalid beyond that. When compared to Mary there is NO CONTEST in my opinion -- Matthew can rely on Mary to tell him the truth about his condition because they just "get" each other like that, Mary does everything to put his needs before her pain, encouraging him to focus on his future, and -- AND!! -- when she makes the comment about marrying someone in name only, because you just want to be with that person, you KNOW SHE MEANS IT (because in part that stupid Turkish diplomat mess haunts her to this day). Perhaps the best thing to come out of this whole mess is Isobel's (Penelope Wilton) perfectly timed return from France, when she witnesses Mary's care for Matthew -- she wouldn't make such a bad daughter-in-law after all, hmmm? :)

O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran) is apparently having second thoughts about writing that EVIL CONNIVING Vera Bates (Maria Doyle Kennedy) that her husband has returned to Downton since the house is in such an uproar over their injured menfolk. And then she has the gall to be surprised that Vera seems determined to bring down the entire Crawley household in order to hurt Bates (Brendan Coyle) and Anna (Joanne Froggatt) by selling the Lady Mary scandal to the newspapers. Really O'Brien? Really, this is a surprise? SHE IS SO DUMB. *sigh* In other Bates & Anna news, though, how sweet was the moment when they go to church to pray? I loved that. Whenever they work through the crazy current Mrs. Bates issues they will be a SOLID couple. :)

I have never really understood why Vera thinks that releasing the story about Lady Mary's ill-fated encounter with the Turkish diplomat was the way to blackmail Bates. I appreciate the fact that Bates doesn't want Anna's name and reputation dragged through the mud, but Mary is the one who stands to be the real loser here -- and so, when Anna tips her off about Vera's plot, she bites the bullet and decides to level with Sir Richard (Iain Glen), her AWOL newspaper magnate suitor. From Sir Richard's brief introduction in Part 1, I knew he was manipulative, but Mary's humbling confession and plea for help  proves just how low the man will go to get what he wants -- marriage to a newly humbled Mary and all the prestige association with the Crawleys will provide. Despite the fact that Mary is making a deal with the devil himself to keep her reputation, I cannot lie I really enjoyed watching Sir Richard thwart Vera's plans and in the process nearly give the woman an apoplectic fit. That, my friends, was fun -- I'll come to terms with the fallout of Mary's lamentable association with Sir Richard next week.

William's presence at Downton is making poor Daisy's (Sophie McShera) life a living hell as anguish over her friend's imminent death and guilt over making him believe she loved him reaches a breaking point. Everyone from Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) to William's father and other assorted staff members seem determined to pressure Daisy to keep up the charade and marry William just so he can die a happy man. OH THE GUILT!!! I really feel like McShera delivers some of her finest acting in these scenes, and raises my respect for the character of Daisy to previously unimaginable heights. The least subterfuge in her actions just tears Daisy to pieces, and while I understand why William's friends want to do anything to keep him happy, I really respect Daisy for wanting to do the right, for wanting to be true to herself, even if she bows to pressure in the end and marries William on his deathbed. (Side note: what the heck was with the vicar and snotty conviction that Daisy wants to marry William for his pension? Way to go Violet for putting that man in his place!) Once committed, Daisy shows a great deal of strength in her determination to stay by William's side until the end -- the wedding and his death were heartbreaking -- way to break my heart, Fellowes, by killing one of Downton's kindest characters!

Meanwhile Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) reaffirms my suspicion that she is a SAINT by revealing that she's been secretly supporting THAT INGRATE EX-HOUSEMAID Ethel (Amy Nuttall) and her illegitimate child. Apparently it would kill Ethel to thank Mrs. Hughes for going out of her way to help her out, grr!!! She still has some delusions that her major will want to do the right thing by her and the baby, but of course THAT'S not going to happen. Interesting to contrast how society views Ethel and the difficulties she faces in being a single mother and Jane (Clare Calbraith), a war widow with a young child, who convinces Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson that she can juggle motherhood and work at Downton.

This episode provides some nice Branson (Allen Leech) and Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) scenes -- I love these moments because there is always this delicious undercurrent of repressed romantic tension. Look, I cannot STAND Branson's politics, and the way he uses news of the murder of the tsar and his family in Russia as a springboard for romantic sacrifice is patently ridiculous -- but I still, still can't resist that look of utter devotion in Branson's eyes every time he looks at Sybil. I AM A SAP. (At least I own it, right?) I mean the moment where Branson touches Sybil's WAIST to stop her from leaving?! GAH!! Too perfect. The Romanov thing? That makes NO SENSE WHATSOEVER. Yet I cannot seem to resist Branson's jawline and puppy dog eyes! I NEED AN INTERVENTION PEOPLE. At this rate I am going to be clinging to Branson's devotion for Sybil and disregarding all else until having taken the leap of faith he makes her life a misery. WHO KNEW ALLEN LEECH HELD SUCH SWAY OVER MY EMOTIONS?! Bah!!!! :P

My hair curls! I can look super cute! Too bad this is not the wedding I've always dreamed of!

So as this episode ends, Mary has gotten herself in a royal mess with Sir Richard, who uses her moment of weakness to announce their engagement without any sort of discussion. Vera is TICKED that she can't sell the Mary story to the newspapers or Sir Richard will throw her in jail -- personally I think that woman needs to talk a long walk off a short pier if you know what I'm sayin'! :P With the war almost at an end everyone's life is closer than ever to completely falling apart. I LOVE THIS DRAMA! :)


Anne Mateer said...

I LOVE reading your recaps, Ruth. They make me feel as if I've watched it all over again, but this time with you in the room saying all the things I was thinking! :)

Ok, hate Sir Richard (he is the devil), but loved him snuffing Vera's plan. Oh, Mary and Matthew break my heart! And poor Daisy. And poor William. Anna and Bates praying together made me cry.

I do love how the war has brought out the best in the girls. And I love how the whole Downton family (upstairs and downstairs) cares for each other. Now if they'd only have some fitting justice for O'Brien and Thomas, I'd be happy, I can't stand them!

Laurel Ann (Austenprose) said...

Great recap Ruth. This episode was definitely a dark one. I am still not sold on Branson as the the right man for Sybil. He is using dubious guilt tactics to pressure her to agree to run away with him. Jane Austen would not approve. ;-)

Unknown said...

@Anne - Thank you, that means a lot! :) It is a little cathartic to type out everything I was incoherently screaming at the TV, LOL! ;)

I know what you mean about Sir Richard...thwarting Vera, that was priceless. I enjoyed that way too much considering what a jerk he can be, ha!

O'Brien is losing it -- for the last two weeks Thomas has actually seemed reasonable by comparison. :P

@Laurel Ann - Thank you! And trust me, I know Branson has his issues. But I like him anyway -- I CAN'T QUIT HIM! LOL!

Heather said...

This episode killed me. KILLED me! lol. Aftern this, Im hoping next week's episode is a little more upbeat. I couldnt stand poor William dying...and Mrs. Bates....well, what are the chances both she and Sir Richard will both perish in some terrible accident? She makes me want to get all stabby with a hat pin.
And Sir Richard. Yuck. I cant stand the thought of him being Mary's husband. He's just a suave rat.
I was disapointed in Lavinia too (who really LEAVES when a sick and wounded person tells you to?) but it made Mary look all the better, and I'm all for that :)
I'm a little confused about Edith and her strange romantic tryst. It was so out of left field and then never mentioned again. Will that storyline be picked up again at some point?
Oh, and Branson, he sorta irritates me with his guilt trips. And his now being ok with the killing of the Grand Duchesses and the whole Romanov family shows how wishy-washy he is, and how he can take any situation and mold it to fit his ideology. He seems naive about his politics and in need of a good waking up.
Oh, so much to think about.... Is it Sunday yet? ;)

Patti said...

I have to wait until later in the week to read your Downton reviews...because I DVR it and watch it on Tuesdays. So I haven't seen this episode yet.

I totally love this show. My daughter recently bought Season 1, and as soon as Season 2 is out, we will probably be getting that one as well. SUCH a wonderful drama!

Unknown said...

@Heather - You and me both, LOL! Lavinia...yeah...she is such a limp dishrag. I just CANNOT warm to her at all.

Good point about Edith...she has definitely been in the background for the last 2 weeks, so I'm looking forward to more of her story development before the season is out.

I'm all for giving Branson a good wake-up call, I DESPERATELY want him to get one. C'mon, Branson, don't let me down! LOL!

@Patti - Oh be sure and come back and let me know what you think. So glad you and Ella are enjoying it - I think Season 2 is at a preorder price of just $19.99 right now - can't wait! :)

Heidenkind said...

...which we all know is a bunch of baloney because Matthew and Mary are destined to be passionate lovers at some point. lolololol Well, you can't keep a good man down, as they say. ;)

Lady Violet really rocked in this episode! I loved the scene where she bullied the priest, too. Who did he think he was?

Heidenkind said...

Oh, thank you for link again this week! :)

Rissi said...

This episode was dynamite, wasn't it!? I LOVED Mary's change of heart and genuine emotion in this one - even if the whole won't-father-children thing is a bit cliched. ;D

Unknown said...

@heidenkind - HAHA!!! You are so right. ;) Lady Violet was amazing, I've really been waiting for her to cut loose and she delivered big time in this episode. And you're welcome, I enjoyed your recap as always!

@Rissi - YES! After Violet, Mary was the rockstar of this hour. :)

Joanne said...

Ruth, wonderful recap, as usual, and ditto to everything you said! This was such an emotional episode -- hurray for Violet for really taking the bull by the horns and pulling us through this difficult time with William (my little heart). And while I'm all for giving him peace as he left this world, I'm not a fan of the guilt and pressure everyone is putting on poor Daisy! My goodness, that girl's blank stare every time she's pushed on William just makes me cringe! I so wanted her to have a change of heart and warm up on her own to William's love instead of being dragged - literally - to the altar (or deathbed). -sigh-

Charity said...

I watch these episodes with a friend and she was literally cussing out Branson this week. I won't repeat what she said, but it related to the news of the Russian royal family and his reaction.

Lady Violet is eternally awesome, and I'm glad Mary is redeeming herself this season. I love it that she has truly changed.

I can't ever watch the end without bawling, though.

Kristin said...

I can only handle so much suffering and drama, and Downton Abbey is really pushing it right now. :)

The wedding was beautiful, with the flowers and everything (Daisy's hair made her look like a flapper).

Lady Violet + Mary = awesome.

I don't really like Branson, though. :)


Unknown said...

@Joanne - Thanks! I completely agree with you about the guilt everyone was laying on Daisy - it was just over the line. Poor William though - if there is a silver lining, I am glad he did die happily. I think Daisy will ultimately come out of this stronger, though -- at least that is my hope!

@Charity - HA! I can imagine! Trust me I KNOW HE IS A MESS but I like him anyway. WHY CAN'T I BE MORE RATIONAL?!? :P

Mary is amazing this season, I love it!

@Kristin - No kidding -- this episode really uppped the ante in the suffering department. *sigh* And Daisy was so cute at the end, even though my heart was just breaking for her knowing how miserable she was with the whole charade. And see my comment to Charity re: me, I wish I was more logical where he is concerned. Cause he has a LOT of growing up to do! *sigh* :P

Anonymous said...

This was the saddest episode ever. Mary and Matthew are breaking my heart... I can still see Mary's face when they brought Matthew in. So sad.

Is it me or did anyone else think that the new widowed maid caught the eye of Lord Grantham? it was for a split second but I think I saw a twinkle in his eye.

But I think my favorite Downton Abbey news is the casting of Shirley Maclain as Lady Grantham's mother. Can you say catfight... Edwardian style? :D I can't wait and see what story will eb written for Maggie Smith and Shirley Maclain's characters.

Nat at RA FanBlog said...

I love you recaps too, Ruth. I've watched Downton for the past two weeks on TV and then went back and caught up on the previous S2 episodes on pbs's website. Then I became desperate for more and tried to watch episodes on YT, but only saw a few spoilers. (BUT OH, THE SUSPENSE!!!) After Downton airs each week, I also stick around and watch Sherlock. Now I'm hooked on that too! (Thought of you.)

seannaapproved said...

You still like Sybil and Branson????????????? What???

I absolutely hate them now. How could he so easily belittle the tradgedy of the Romanov murders as just a "sacrifice" for the "the cause"!! I really used to like Sybil, but she was all swoony over Branson, EVEN after he was callous over the Romanovs. Really, do they even have compassion???

Unknown said...

@The French Table - Oh that look on Mary's face was just tragic! And I suspect you're on to something with the new maid...makes me nervous just thinking about it!

And I completely, 100% agree with you and the news about McLaine's casting as Cora's mother...that is gonna be awesome!

@Nat - Thanks my friend! I am ready for new Sherlock, speaking of that... :)

@Sean - I'm crushing on Allen Leech, it makes no sense, I know. Plus holding out hope for his redemption until Fellowes absolutely crushes that possibility.

Ella said...

Ruth, girl, I am going to be a Branson fan until he does something really, really stupid. So if it is just you and me....well, we will make that work =D He makes me melt. Well, he and Matthew do. I'm such a sap with this show.

I do hate that it covers such a huge amount of time. Seeing the whole thing, yep, it still bugs me. But I deal with it because I am not Jullian Fellowes =D If I had been the writer, I would have taken it a little slower.

Ethel is a storyline I would love for them to have done without. I hate to say it, but I never felt as interested in her as I should have been

Nat at RA FanBlog said...

I have Season 2 as #1 in my Netflix que... so no waiting for the rest of the episodes to air!

By the way, I think Branson is a jerk, but like to look at him. That scene where his shirt is unbuttoned in the doctor's office... SWOON! :)

Unknown said...

@Ella - THANK YOU, ELLA! :) I really appreciate the company regarding the Branson issue. And YES, we can definitely make that work. :)

I'm inclined to agree with you about Ethel, at least thus far into the season...

@Nat - Yay for you! :) I like to look at Branson too, that is a big part of my problem. HA!!