Monday, February 13, 2012

Downton Abbey Series 2, Part 6

Masterpiece Classic granted viewers a super-sized, two-hour episode of Downton Abbey last night, and OH MY WORD was it action-packed to say the least. I think I have whiplash...but that is one of the many reasons I love this show, the unabashed manner in which it embraces all things dramatic and crazy and over-the-top. *wink* Going to try and cover all of the major relationships, so this post is apt to be all over the place. Here's the episode summary from the PBS website:

As the last of the recovering officers depart Downton, the house is reverted to its former state — but not so its residents. The future looms large for a lost and melancholy Robert, an uneasy Bates, a determined Sybil, a cunning, ambitious Thomas and a desperate Ethel.

A stunning revelation deeply affects Robert and Cora and incites Richard to tighten his grip on Mary. But Mary has accepted her fate with detachment. Violet, however, will do no such thing, and even Carson reaches his limit.

Sybil discovers unlikely, however unenthusiastic, allies. A wedding is planned but fate cruelly intervenes. In its wake lay guilt, grief and, among the servants, fresh horrors.

With the end of the war, Downton Abbey is no longer a hospital and life can get back to normal, or so everyone thinks (little do they know). The war has ushered in a new era of "normal," one which will require change of every resident both upstairs and down -- adapt and flourish, or flounder trapped in the past. Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) has found fresh purpose in overseeing the Downton hospital, going so far as to mention an interest in Isobel's (Penelope Wilton) work with war refugees. She's eager to see Mary (Michelle Dockery) established and married, even if it is to the oily Sir Richard (Iain Glen), going so far as to shock Robert (Hugh Bonneville) by suggesting the convalescing Matthew must be removed from his future home if Mary has any hope of getting on with her life. While I like Cora for the work she's embraced during the war, for her willingness to use her position as mistress of Downton to help others, she has completely checked out of her marriage. She's willing to embrace the future (perhaps it is her American background? ha!) while Robert is floundering and depressed, no longer sure of his position or purpose in a postwar world.

Here's how I look at it -- Robert is in the midst of a classic midlife crisis. Not saying I like it, or it is particularly excusable, but it is what it is and I can't say that Fellowes blindsided me with the developments in this week's episode -- Robert's dissatisfaction has been pretty well telegraphed since the start of this season. I have decided, however, that Jane (Clare Calbraith) isn't a scummy manipulator. I think the whole Jane/Robert thing-that-almost-was was the result of two lonely, depressed people making poor choices -- or rather on the verge of making poor choices, since nothing actually happens between the two of them except  some kisses. And that first kiss in the pantry? I can't deny it I busted out laughing it was so AWKWARD, only outdone by the subsequent makeout scene shortly following Cora falling victim to the Spanish flu. Sick wife does not equal time to spark with the pretty maid, Robert, yeesh! :P

My least favorite storyline this season has to be Ethel's (Amy Nuttall), because THERE WAS NO POINT TO IT. Goodness did this maid and her whining get on my last nerve. When Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) tells her that Major Bryant's parents are visiting Downton seeking some closure from their son's death, Ethel crashes the intimate lunch and and is promptly  humiliated by Bryant's jerk of a father, played by Kevin McNally. Again with MORE AWKWARDNESS. While it was great to see Gibbs from the Pirates films in a production like this, did he have to be such a meanie? The only good thing to come out of this whole Ethel mess is when she realizes she can't give her child up because she actually loves him. Was owning your mistakes and resolving to do better for your son THAT hard, Ethel? Because the road to get to this point was torture to watch. *sigh*

Thomas's (Rob James-Collier) innate evilness has been curiously subdued for most of this season. He can still be snarky but he hasn't seemed so actively invested in making others miserable. He decides to dabble in the blackmarket and sinks all of his money into a store of foodstuffs which he then attempts to pawn off on a wary Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol). When the flour and other items he sells to the Downton kitchen turns out to contain plaster dust (ICK!!), he has a hissy fit -- his hopes for postwar prosperity, ill-gotten though it may be, are ruined. O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran) is oddly sympathetic -- she's also been a bit "off" this season. I need my Edwardian soap opera villains to commit to being villainous rather than wishy-washy, you know? Also, it just struck me that O'Brien is really Thomas's work wife...HAHA!!

I'm very curious where the show takes Daisy's (Sophie McShera) character next week and through season three. When a Downton wedding is announced (more on THAT in a minute), she takes an adorable interest in cooking the cake under Mrs. Patmore's tutelage (though why they were so gung-ho to start baking THREE MONTHS before the wedding is beyond me). Makes me wonder if Daisy has a future as a gourmet pastry chef. *wink* I love the warmth and camaraderie that has developed over the last two seasons between her and Mrs. Patmore, and given her trial by fire with the whole William ordeal, and the strength of character that revealed, I think she has a bright future.

The best moments of this episode involved romantic developments between my favorite couples, and these two hours delivered in spades. Now that the war has ended, Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) finds herself unwilling to slip back into her postwar -- and in her mind, pointless -- life as Downton's privileged youngest daughter. She finally, FINALLY tells Branson she'll run away with him -- and honestly she is such a measured character, taking her time thinking things through, I really don't see her coming to regret her decision. Her declaration anoints Branson (Allen Leech) with a positively incandescent glow of happiness (wasn't his reaction to the whole "a kiss is all you're getting until we're married" thing adorable? *swoon*)-- there's no politics, no family bashing, he seems genuinely earnest and committed to providing for their future, securing a job as a journalist in Dublin (who knew a chauffeuring resume could segway into journalism?!) where Sybil plans to work as a nurse.

Convinced that her family would object, Sybil and Branson hightail it to Gretna Green, which was AWESOME because that immediately calls to mind Lyida's elopement in Pride and Prejudice. Mary and Edith (Laura Carmichael) follow and convince her return, Mary sure that more time will let Sybil see the error of her ways (NOT!). Branson sleeping in the chair? ADORABLE. Branson all full of bravado in the face of Sybil's family while secretly fearing she might abandon him? FRIGGIN' ADORABLE! Branson refusing to bash Sybil's family, refusing Robert's bribe? CAN I CLONE THIS MAN?! (Side note: I really do think Robert's brief flirtation with Joan is what convinced him to let Sybil and Branson leave with his blessing. I mean complaining about Branson while the Joan thing was going on was a bit too much of the pot calling the kettle black, you know?)

Bates (Brendan Coyle) and Anna (Joanne Froggatt) are still dealing with the specter of Vera's death, even though it is *apparently* a suicide. I have my doubts. *sigh* Tired of listening to Bates whigging out about the investigation into Vera's death and worrying if he'll get arrested for purchasing the rat poison that killed her, Anna steps up and insists that Bates purchase a special license ASAP so they can get married. GO ANNA! She's determined to face whatever comes as Mrs. Bates 2.0, a woman with the right to STAND BY HER MAN. Heck yes, go Anna, I get it girl. Of course it never rains but it pours, and Anna and Bates finally wed while the specter of the Spanish flu is haunting Downton's halls, but that's okay because this show needs a life-affirming moment like that, and anyway we all know Bates and Anna are only allowed to be happy for approximately five minutes, give-or-take, before something else throws a wrench into their happiness. Love how in love Bates and Anna are, and calling each other Mr. & Mrs. Bates? Too sweet! (Another side note: how awesome was Mary's surprise of a specially-decorated room in Downton for Bates & Anna's wedding night? Super sweet considering she's facing the FUTURE OF DOOM with Sir Richard the stalker/CREEP.)

So Matthew (Dan Stevens) and Mary were awesome this week. Mary is of course determined to throw her life away on Sir Richard, even AFTER she finds out that he attempted to bribe Anna to spy on her. When Carson (Jim Carter) is told, he refuses to go work for a man he couldn't respect (CLASSY MAN), which leads to an extraordinarily painful moment between him & Mary, when she lashes out at him for abandoning her. I really couldn't blame her -- she's been clinging to Carson as the hope of an ally her new life with THE CREEP. (Thankfully Mary and Carson talk it all out by the end of this episode.) When the tingling sensations in Matthew's legs turn out to be more than phantom pains, the whole house erupts in celebration -- all except Mary, bereft at the news that Matthew and Lavinia's (Zoe Boyle) engagement is a go once again. Violet (Maggie Smith) in a wonderful moment of understanding surprises Matthew in his bedroom and drops the bomb that Mary's still in love with him and that he shouldn't be marrying anyone out of guilt or obligation (could she not give Mary this speech too?). Matthew's reaction is PRICELESS. (Side note, AGAIN: isn't Dr. Clarkson like the WORST DOCTOR EVER??? How he can hope to enjoy the Crawleys' patronage after the whole non-transected spine debacle is beyond me. And then when the flu hits he doesn't quarantine the house?? WHAT THE HECK???)

When the Spanish flu hits Downton and everyone literally starts dropping like flies at the dinner table, Matthew and Mary share one of their best moments in the series to date. Lavinia is upstairs getting sick (YAY! I'm mean, I know, but the woman needs to GO!), and Matthew puts a record on the new phonograph in the hall, and he and Mary DANCE. *swoon* And I promptly died of joy. The chemistry between Dockery and Stevens just sizzles in this exchange, especially when Matthew remarks that he and Mary were a failed "show," much like the origin of the song they're dancing to, and then there's this glorious second where you can see them both thinking -- but we don't have to fail, do we? And yes, Matthew's whole "you are my stick" comment was poorly-worded, but clearly he meant SUPPORT SYSTEM, right, and even though calling Mary his stick was awkward I still swooned a bit. :) Lavinia drags her sorry sick self downstairs and witnesses their kiss, which is THANK GOODNESS the kiss of death to her relationship with Matthew, forcing her to wake up and smells the coffee and realizes she needs to let him go. AND THEN SHE DIES. It was epic, because of course Matthew decides she dies of a broken heart, which means he has to be miserable for his whole life and never marry because he WAS GOING TO LEAVE HER ANWAY, dangit! *rolls eyes*

So, wrapping things up since this was the finale of Series 2 (Christmas episode airing next week with all new cliffhangers, I'm sure!). Matthew and Mary came *thisclose* to a declaration. UGH! SOMEBODY SAVE MARY FROM HERSELF ASAP! Sybil makes Branson the happiest man in the world = YAY! O'Brien nearly kills herself nursing Cora back from the brink of death (note to O'Brien -- confession is good for the soul, but does it count when the recipient is OUT OF HER HEAD WITH FEVER? Discuss...). Cora recovers and recommits to "being there" for Robert -- but is his heart in it? C'mon Robert, live your flippin' life! Mrs. Patmore and Daisy, should they ever decide to leave service, MUST open a bakery together. That plan has "win" written all over it. Also, Edith is in desperate need of the hope of her own happy ending -- she's come so far, please don't abandon her, Fellowes! And finally -- how heartbreaking was the look of utter horror on Anna's face as she stood frozen in shock while Bates was arrested for Vera's murder? THE DAY AFTER THEIR WEDDING NO LESS (so they got roughly 24 hours, not the normal five minutes of happiness)! A Downton without Bates is just unimaginable...oh the suspense! *wink* Thoughts?


Heather said...

I have a confession to make--- I made my husband go out with my to Best Buy to buy season 2 on friday after a crummy day and we parked ourselves in front of the tv and watched the last 4 or so hours of season 2. AWESOME!!! Now Im just sad that we have months and months to go until season 3, but so glad there will be a season 3! I was just wondering if anyone knows if the creators of this show plan to take it on for several seasons to come. I'd love to see the Crawleys do the jazz age (I have a feeling Edith is going to blossom as a flapper and thank her lucky stars she didnt marry before she got to enjoy the 1920s).
Maybe I'm a cynic but I'm wary of Sybil and Branson's longtime happiness, although I;d love to see it happen. I just think going from a princess who doesnt even make her own bed to living in a tenament somewhere in Ireland will be a bit of a shock to Sybil. But I know we're coming upon the Irish Civil War so that will make for some very interesting plot twists for the young couple.
And sheesh...I'd been hoping Lavinia would catch the flu but I feel a little bad about it now ;) a LITTLE. lol.
As for the bad guys...what I love about this show is that the villains are also well rounded and at some times pitiable. I really hope that Thomas and OBrien have a chance to rise above their pettiness and conniving. O'Brien seems on her way.
And Mr. Bates....that man CANNOT catcha break! Good grief! Surely they'll get some happiness. It seems weird to murder someone in a fit of passion with poison.
But the Christmas special and cant wait for season 3!

Kristin said...

As for Robert and Jane, my thought process was: You goober! You want to know why you weren't alerted that your wife was dying from the flu?? You were off somewhere kissing a maid! Good grief.

I like Branson now. :) I guess his politics were what kept me from liking him before.

All I can say is: Wait until you see the Christmas special! :) There is a scene of near perfection and a line from Lady Violet that still makes me giggle when I think about it.


Ella said...

I love, love, LOVE the Sybil/Branson developments in this episode. I mean, that kiss in the garage, Branson's face....oh I swoon! Even though I have seen it before, I still swoon =)

And the dancing scene with Matthew and Mary. I love it. I hate that I have a problem with Lavinia, but she is standing in the way!!!! That being said, all this angst has given Dan Stevens a chance to do an amazing acting job!

I cannot stand Ethel. Why did we have to have that storyline? It was pointless and ridiculous.

Yep--I LOVE this show!!

Heather said...

Of course I'm long winded and I thought I'd give my thoughts on Ethel's storyline, because I dont see anything as not having a purpose in this show.
There are several storylines in this season that has to do with women having the chance to throw convention to the wind and follow her heart, but social constraints make her take pause. Mary is resigned to marry Senor Creepo (his real name I'm sure) because she doesnt want the social ridicule of her Turkish trist. Sybil is ready to throw her reputation, social standing, and family relationships to the wind for Branson, and Anna tells Bates that she will live in sin with him because she doesnt care what people think. Which is all well and good and romantic to talk about, but I think Ethel is the cautionary tale. She shows what happens to a woman in a "Man's World" when she is reckless and doesnt check her passion. Ethel is the 'worst case scenario' for all these women and their passions and adds to depth to why they might pause before committing social suicide.
Ethel's predicament is also one that did happen in 'the good old days' and really shows how trapped a woman can be by one bad decision while a man can just walk away. I'm thinking her story will give weight to the women's movement and that wild attitude of independence and free will that women took on in the 1920s.
And as for Lord Robert's indescretions with Jane, while I thought they were totally uncomfortable (I think I hid my head and said "nooooo! Dont!!!:) I think it will come in handy for him to relate to his daughters who act in different ways out of reckless passion, and will give him more understanding of their motives and mistakes.
That's more than 2 cents, I know...but ah well ;)

Anne Mateer said...

Some quick thoughts:

I hated Lord Grantham and Jane giving in to each other, but was so happy that they both knew the right thing to do in the end.

Stupid Ethel. What did she think his parents were going to do? Just hand over buckets of money so she didn't have to work and could be respectable again? She looked just as bewildered by their proposal as she did when she got sacked for getting caught with the man in the first place! Where did she grow up--under a rock?

Oh, Mary and Matthew!

And oh, Bates and Anna!

I wonder if the devil incarnate (Sir Richard) is the one who offed Mrs. Bates so she could never sully his wife's reputation?

So glad Thomas got his due. I think he should go work for Sir Richard. They deserve each other.

And O'Brien showed her true selfish self by wanted to unburden herself while her mistress was dying. I mean, seriously. O'Brien is the only one that benefits from that!

And I do worry a bit about Branson and Sybil. I didn't think she made enough declarations of love, though she talked a lot about him being her ticket out of there.

Lady Violet just gets better and better. Love her!

And poor Edith. i really am feeling sorry for that girl. She needs a good man--and yet, knowing the history of the period, so many good women in England were left without a man to marry after the Great War, so I fear for her future.

Heidenkind said...

Haha! I totally agree that all the moments between Lord G and Jane in this episode were completely awkward. It was like Bonneville was thinking, "Do I really have to?" There was no chemistry between those two at all. What a n00b.

Bates soooooooo killed his wife. hehehe >:)

Unknown said...

@Heather - I have the Season 2 DVDs as well -- but I'm doing my best to hold off watching them until AFTER next Sunday. :)

I'm happy there will be a Season 3 as well, and I'm really hoping that Edith finds happiness sometime soon! With the great character growth she's experienced this season she deserves it.

Out of Thomas and O'Brien, I agree, O'Brien seems the most likely to make a permanent turn-around. Mr. Lang earlier this season seemed to hint at that at any rate. :)

And EXCELLENT point about Ethel's storyline! I hadn't given it that much credit(clearly, HA!), but you have some great ideas. I wonder if she'll be back in Season 3, because the maid who left to be a secretary in Season 1 disappeared...the position seems to be kind of a revolving door. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Unknown said...

@Kristin - SERIOUSLY! LOL! If Branson will stay focused and not get in trouble I have high hopes for his happiness with Sybil long-term. Looking forward to the Christmas special! :)

@Ella - Wasn't it marvelous?! :) And Dan Stevens, I really have liked what he's done with the character of Matthew. I do love me some angst and this show delivers in spades. ;)

@Anne - I agree -- the fact that Robert is the one who stepped away saved that situation for me.

I'm holding out a faint hope that Sir Richard had something to do with Vera's death because of her connection to Mary's story, but who knows?!

I'm super worried about Edith but I am holding out hope that somehow, somehow Julian Fellowes has a master plan for her own happy ending!

@heidenkind - Ha! I know! Bonneville was clearly not cut out to be a great seducer in this storyline. LOL! And I'm seriously concerned you're right about Bates. :P

Rissi said...

I have to confess, Robert's character went down a lot in my viewpoint. There was no physical contact apart from those kisses but he mentally cheated on his wife - and had Bates not interrupted, who knows!? Maybe they would have gone "all the way." Jane was certainly "willing." Still... I do feel like Robert changes in subtle ways.

Cannot wait to find out your thoughts on the magnificent finale. =)

EHisCDN said...

I love this show! I watched it for probably over 16 hours straight and all day long today to finish the entire series (I just have the Christmas special left!).

I just really want Mary and Matthew to get together already although I am enjoying watching their struggle. I just could not stand if that possessive creepazoid of a fiance of her's actually ended up sticking around. NO ONE likes him. He's abusive and just all around horrible. If you can't get even get along in the honeymoon phase of your engagement or put up with each other what does that say about your marriage?

Matthew was kind of annoying me. I know he was doing the honourable thing and sticking by T but in the long run I don't think he's doing anyone any good. I'm so glad Lady Violet spoke to him. At first I didn't like her but now I appreciate her for who she is and find her hilarious. Watching her duke it out with Isobel is always fun. Frankly Isobel kind of annoys me at times although she was kind of walked over about the hospital.

One thing about this series is that the characters evolve so much. It also deals with women's rights and their struggle for equality. You see it through all of the daughters and how they gain new skills and in their efforts at choosing husbands.

I just love this series! I don't know how I'm going to wait so many months to see more episodes! I also loved your post about the show with all the capital letters and exclamation marks. It was EXACTLY how I felt while watching the show.

I also didn't care much for the Jane and Ethel storylines. I wanted to like Jane but she just kind of filled a place and didn't have much of a personality and history other than her son. Ethel is just a pain in the butt and really childish.

Patti said...

Well, for a change I am ahead of you on the viewing! I bought my daughter (Ella) the Season 2 DVD for her birthday, so we watched this past Sunday's episode and next week's season finale this morning.

I am probably in the minority here, but I was hoping Cora would be one of the ones who died. I haven't liked her this season at all, and I do believe Robert needs a romantic storyline. Had Cora died, they could have pursued the angle of Robert loving someone beneath his station. But with her living, to pursue the Jane/Robert storyline just makes Robert an adulterer, and I couldn't root for him in that.

I love Granny. She has some amazing one-liners.

Anyhow, this is a wonderful show. I totally love it. How can we possibly wait for season 3 to air?

Unknown said...

@Rissi - Now having seen the Christmas special, I think Robert's almost affair really changed him for the better in some ways -- made him more understanding fo the times, the dangers, and the pull of society on his daughters. And it almost goes without saying I'm happy about where Cora and Robert end Season 2. :)

@EHisCDN - Once I start watching this show I can't stop! Completely agree with you about Richard, he's been horrible!

Isobel really got on my nerves this season, but now that I have seen the Christmas special I think (hope) she's turned a corner.

Thanks so much for sharing your comments and thoughts abou the show, and I am really glad you've enjoyed my recaps! :)

@Patti - So in my Christmas episode post, you'll have to let me know if that installmetn changed your thoughts on Cora -- I am really happy with where she and Robert are relationship-wise in that installment.

Bring on more Downton! :)