Monday, January 16, 2012

Downton Abbey Series 2, Part Two

Downton Abbey's second season continued on Masterpiece Classic last nght with a on hour episode -- and I just have to tell you, seeing the story parsed out in a one hour installment gave me a renewed sympathy for the Brits who, I believe, received one hour PER WEEK. It's a delicious sort of torture, being forced to consume this story in one hour increments. *sigh* :) Here's the episode summary from the PBS website:

As a convalescent home for wounded officers, Downton Abbey offers respite from the front. But Cora and Isobel, locked in a power struggle over running the home, wage domestic war, and Thomas in his new rank as acting-Sergeant is not one to broker peace.
Mary rejects Rosamund's dubious advice while Daisy reluctantly accepts Mrs. Patmore's — in both cases, new bonds are irreversibly forged. Meanwhile, Anna dares to hope when she spies a familiar figure in the village.

When Matthew accompanies a visiting General to Downton, a dinner party brings much of the war's painful demands into sharp relief, claiming one victim and very nearly several others. Branson's ambitions are revealed and William's aspirations are fulfilled. And Edith, finally, catches someone's eye.

This episode sees plans to transform Downton Abbey into a convalescent home for wounded officers realized, a move that results in no end of disruption and family drama among the Crawleys. Knowing that the real "Downton," Highclere Castle, actually served this purpose during World War I, I am curious as to how much of the home was given over to this wartime benevolence. As an outside viewer it certainly *seems* as if the house is large enough to still afford the family a good deal of private quarters, no? But all that aside, the turmoil that the convalescent hospital brings to Downton results in some fantastic drama, particularly between Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) and Isobel (Penelope Wilton). I've always rather liked Isobel's non-nonsense approach to life in general, but I confess that after this hour I wouldn't have blamed Cora if she'd yanked out all of her hair. The way Isobel bullied and pushed herself into "commanding" Downton's hospital was ridiculous -- I found myself wondering if the chance to exert some power within Downton's walls as the heir-apparent's mother was too great a temptation to resist. All I have to say to that, Isobel, is Matthew's (Dan Stevens) not in charge quite yet...

The changes at Downton bring the changing times into sharp relief, revealing the cracks in the foundation of what has always been and ceding power and influence to "upstarts," if you will, like Isobel and (*shudders*) Thomas (Rob James-Collier). I thought it was fascinating when O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran) suggests her old cohort Thomas would be an ideal manager for the "new" Downton (since he's always had SUCH a soft spot in his heart for the house and family...yeah right). When Thomas "dared" walk in the FRONT DOOR I thought Carson (Jim Carter) would have a heart attack -- it's ON between those two! It was interesting to see how upset O'Brien is on Cora's behalf at Isobel's encroaching influence -- it appears that her guilt over causing Cora's miscarriage runs much, much deeper than I'd ever dared imagine.That kind of complicated loyalty and relationship dynamic is just one of the reasons this show is so fascinating. Out of the two Series 1 "villains" at this point I hold out more hope for O'Brien's redemption -- she's abrasive, manipulative, and more often than not misguided but the fact that she's capable of regret (and compassion towards former soldiers like Mr. Lang) gives me hope.

Regarding the Crawley sisters, I loved seeing the kind Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) take the lead thanks to her nursing experience and serve as an example to her sisters Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Edith (Laura Carmichael). Edith was a pleasant surprise in this episode, I have to give credit where credit is due! The only good thing to come from Edith's sojourn to the local farm was discovering that she really was more than just a "fine lady," she had a real aptitude for unexpected things like farming when given the chance to apply herself. I LOVED seeing her throw herself into the hospital work, getting patients books to read, helping them write letters home, and most of all showing them real warmth, kindness, and compassion. I've decided Edith needs to marry a soldier, the end. *wink* When visiting General Sir Herbert Strutt (Julian Wadham for the win!) takes the time to call Edith's work to the surprised attention of her family I could've cheered. If this keeps up she could become a favorite of mine once again.

We also see Mary work in the hospital, though she doesn't seem to click with this work as much as her sisters do (though to her credit, this new, nicer Mary 2.0 is astonishingly nice and patient and not all about herself, yay for the transformative power of heartbreak!). :P I was rather surprised at the pressure Mary receives from her aunt Rosamund (Samantha Bond) to discredit Lavinia (Zoe Boyle) in Matthew's eyes, because OF COURSE a tale-bearer is going to win Matthew's heart after first crushing it to pieces. *rollseyes* Lavinia's big secret, the reason Sir Richard Carlisle was threatening her last week -- she apparently delivered secrets about her uncle's political activities to Sir Richard, which he then published, precipitating the Marconi Scandal of 1912. Kudos to Mary for not wanting to stoop to her aunt's level, though it does force her into the unenviable position of bonding with her romantic rival. *sigh* And how hilarious are Rosamund and Violet's (Maggie Smith) exchanges? The apple didn't fall too far from the tree with that one, hmm? And I think it is hilarious that Rosamund can go too far for Violet's taste -- the Dowager Countess is clearly in denial about what an influence she's been on her daughter's life!

Bates (Brendan Coyle) makes an all-too-brief reapparance for both me and Anna (Joanne Froggatt). :) Just a costuming note -- Froggatt looked absolutely adorable in her regular "street clothes," a refreshing change of pace from her servant's uniform. And I thought it was so neat seeing her experiment with Lady Mary's new curling iron -- I couldn't help but think how stressed I'd be if I was wielding styling tool like that, one that had to be manually heated on someone else's head -- I'd be concerned about burning off great chunks of their hair! ANYWAYS, so my dear darling Bates is back, secretly working in a pub while he tries to arrange a divorce from THAT EVIL SKANK VERA who surprise, surprise, wasn't faithful to him. I love the Bates/Anna scenes -- they are of course an adorable couple, but I think what I like best is the depth and intensity of the emotion between them, all the more powerful, perhaps, because they hardly ever touch. I love how Bates just treasures Anna, drinks her in with his eyes, wants to honor her, and even comments on her newly styled hair. *swoons*

My dear darling Branson's (Allen Leech) radical politics come once again to the foreground in this episode. While he certainly has cause to be upset with the establishment (a cousin was murdered in the Easter Rising hostilities), like so many who, I think, held up the politics of the likes of Lenin as an ideal but didn't live under them, he has a rather idealized view of a people's revolution (yeah, right, the tsar's daughters will be safe...). I loved the twist in having his plans to become a conscientious objector to the war thwarted by a legitimate health issue -- you can see this troubles him, since it is one thing perhaps to refuse to fight on idealistic grounds, but another to have that option forcibly removed from you -- thoughts? I feel as though being forcibly sidelined threatens to unman him, and his scenes with Sybil are frought with tension as she attempts to be a friend, to relate, to care for him. When Anna uncovers his plot to disrupt the general's visit to Downton, the tension in those scenes were just brilliantly played. I really thought for a second that Branson might have gone off the deep end and actually threatened the man with physical harm instead of cow dung. Branson's shock that the staff thought he'd murder someone was, in retrospect, actually pretty comical.

Mr. Lang (Cal Macaninch) brought the horrors of war home ot the downstairs staff in a heartbreaking way, as this episode revealed that he just couldn't cope with being around all of the officers that now call Downton home. This ends any speculation I had that his presence would make a lasting impact on the prickly O'Brien, but who knows? Fellowes could pull a fast one on us. :) I loved how classy Robert (Hugh Bonneville) and Mr. Carson were about Lang's unsuitability for the job, not focusing on that but recognizing his emotional problems and need for healing. Thankfully "protocol" wasn't at the forefront of anyone's mind. Also, Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nichol) -- good grief I love her, even though her advice to Daisy (Sophie McShera) is misguided. The woman is a gem and seeing her transfer her broken heart over her nephew's death to the newly enlisted William (Thomas Howes) just breaks my heart. The idea of kindly William in the trenches just KILLS me! Poor Daisy is, I'm afraid, in for a world of heart-ache if she doesn't summon the courage to be honest about her lack of feelings for William. THOSE POOR CRAZY KIDS!! Side note: Between Mrs. Patmore and Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) mothering William, the genuine family dynamic that develops belowstairs between THE NICE PEOPLE is on full display -- love it.

Looking forward, I expect a royal catfight to erupt between Isobel and Cora at any moment. And new housemaid Ethel (Amy Nuttall) is in for a world of hurt if she doesn't watch herself around the officers! Also, something is up with Robert and Cora's relationship...something is "off" and I'm anxious for the reveal! The unspoken pull between Mary and Matthew is just tearing me to pieces as well -- Mary is proving to be a far stronger, and far classier, person in many respects than I ever gave her credit for. And this is RIDICULOUS...this episode was an hour, half the lenght of last week's installment and this post is nearly as long as last week's. CRAZINESS. But that's how much I love this show. :) I'd love to hear your thoughts on how the story is progressing -- please remember to keep the comments as spoiler-free as possible if you've seen all of Series 2!


Heather said...

Im so glad this show is back! I havent watched most of the show so I will just skim through--- but I think its so beautifully done and really jumps in feet first with drama, doesnt it? I love that all these characters are so multi-faceted and flawed but likeable. All but Thomas and O'Brien of course. I cant wait til they get theirs ;)

Rissi said...

Great thoughts, Ruth!

I think you'll find some of your notions proved true but also, it really was amazing how better the sister's are with each other in S2. I loved each of them for their better traits - how they've changed and grew to respect them all for their pursuit to do what is right.

Heidenkind said...

Thank you for the linkage again, Ruth!

Heck, *I* thought Branson was going to murder someone. He was acting cray cray through this whole episode.

As for Mary telling Matthew about Lavinia... INORITE?! I can just imagine his reaction if Mary started blabbing about that whole thing to him. Why didn't Lady Violet tell him herself, or better yet tell his mother? But of course that's not the point; the point is Mary needs to fight for her man and she's not. Maybe she's not that into him after all.

Unknown said...

@Heather - Oh catch up as soon as you can! O'Brien may surprise you. ;)

@Rissi - Thank you! And thus far I definitely agree with you about the sisters...they never fail to surprise. :)

@heidenkind - You're welcome!

Agree about Branson - the rapid flip is what cracked me up, when he was all "I wasn't going to KILL HIM, WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?!" Clearly he is not as bad-ass as he would like people to think.

I agree with you that Mary needs to fight for her man, but I also rather admire the fact that she's not into the whole scheming thing this time around. I can't see her tattling on Lavinia to Matthew and him going "oh heck let's get married because you SAVED me" you know? But stranger things have happened (or will happen) in this show. HA!! ;)

Anne Mateer said...

I definitely am thinking more and more highly of Mary. I believe she truly loves for the first time, putting Matthew's happiness and peace above her own. I'm so glad Edith got some redemption after kissing the married farmer. Bates and Anna. Ah. But Bates coming back with Thomas now in charge? Both Carson and Bates will be in it with Thomas! I can't stand that guy! I still don't trust O'Brien, either, in spite of her actions.

One hour was sooo short. And a week so sooo long! Can't wait for more!

Unknown said...

@Anne - I think we're on the same page as regards Mary. :) It certainly was a jam-packed, full hour, wasn't it? I'm concerned about Bates's return with Thomas in a position of power too...but he's pretty strong. :)

Here's to next week! :)

Rissi said...

In reference to Helen's comment: I wouldn't have wanted Mary to "fight" for Matthew because as Ruth said, that would have made her about the same as last season. She is an altogether different and better person. She reverts a little bit, but above all, she realizes the error of her ways - and the relationship between the girls and their father is priceless too. =)

Unknown said...

@Rissi - Good to know Mary's not perfect, that would be too wierd!!! ;)

Kaye Dacus said...

It was an electric curling iron. In the scene when Anna is practicing on her own hair, you can see the cord stretching over to the wall!

Unknown said...

@Kaye - I didn't notice the cord! Was that an editing faux pas or was it supposed to be? Anna was treating it like a very new item...

Kaye Dacus said...

It looked like a cord from that era, so I'm sure it was meant to be there.

Unknown said...

@Kaye - Oh cool! Well given the concern about dusting the outlets and looking for vapors in Part One, I'm not surprised Anna was extra careful. ;)

Kristin said...

I just finished watching it...

I totally thought Branson was going to murder the general. But now I can see that that might have been overboard, even for this show. :)

I'm so glad that you mentioned the interactions between Rosamund and Violet. I meant to comment on that last the scenes were it's just those two, they honestly seem like mother and daughter. Mannerisms and expressions and everything!

I thought that Livinia's secret would be bigger than it was. And I can't believe I'm saying this, but I liked Edith in this episode.


Unknown said...

@Kristin - ME TOO! Of course I'm not sure anything is "too overboard" for this show -- but the switch w/ Branson did kind of crack me up. ;)

Rosamund and Violet are SO ALIKE, it just amazes me. Great "family" chemistry between those two!

I was really thinking Lavinia was hiding a kid, but I guess causing a major political scandal is nothing to sneeze at, hmm?