Monday, February 20, 2012

Downton Abbey Series 2, Part 7

Downton Abbey conclued its second-season run on Masterpiece Classic last night, and oh am I going to miss this show. Season 2 certainly upped the show's soap opera factor, and as I consequence was arguably less tightly plotted than the previous year -- but I can't complain twoo much because I LOVE THIS WORLD. Case in point, the above photo -- Downton at Christmas. DOWNTON AT CHRISTMAS?! I am SO there. Here's the episode summary from the PBS website:
Christmas, 1919

Christmas reunites most of the Grantham family as Rosamund, her gossipy maid Shore in tow, arrives eager to introduce her new suitor to the family. But neither the Granthams nor the servants can escape into the season's merriment when they are forced to turn against one of their own. Not even games can pierce the gloom surrounding Downton, where downstairs the servants are desperate for guidance. Thomas and O'Brien are up to their old tricks, Daisy tries to make sense of her future, and Anna holds tight to endure the present.

Robert hopes that the annual New Years Shooting Party will lift everyone's spirits, but an ill-tempered Richard resets his sights on a familiar target. His petulant and brutish efforts to dominate Mary do not go unnoticed. But with his threat hanging over her head, Mary must choose between two kinds of ruin.

The passage of time has been one of this year's weakest strengths -- I mean we've had episodes that cover a  month and episodes that cover nearly a year (or so it seems). This episode picks up roughly six months after the whole Spanish flu thing and the debacle of Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) getting hauled off in cuffs for the (alleged?) murder of his wife Vera. So the whole beloved valet is in prison thing is just one of many factors threatening to cast a pall over Downton's Christmas celebrations. But if there's one thing this family does and does well, it's the soldiering on, keep a stiff upper lip thing. *wink* Didn't the house look gorgeous -- the snow, the gigantic tree, the wrapped gifts? I've yet to visit the Biltmore Estate at Christmas time but I imagine the Biltmore in its heyday was very like the glamour we got to glimpse last night. Loved it. :)

So a murder trial involving one of Downton's own is a bit of a buzzkill when it comes to Christmas cheer, but I loved the way the Crawleys and their servants rallied around one of their own. They know Bates, and scandal or not they refuse to abandon him to his fate. I was especially touched by Mary's (Michelle Dockery) care and concern for Anna (Joanne Froggatt). Over the course of the last two seasons their relationship has started to blossom from just employer/employee into genuine friendship and regard. When Mary gave Anna the lovely heart-shaped brooch for Christmas I teared up -- and then when she insisted on attending the trial I nearly cheered. She may have a death wish when it comes to Sir Richard, but in all other respects her growth in the selflessness department has been a joy to witness.

I found it rather fascinating to watch the impact of the trial on Downton's household, especially Robert (Hugh Bonneville), Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), and even O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran), as they are called as witnesses for the prosecution. While all three (even O'Brien) are convinced of Bates's innocence, once they're on the stand their assurance starts to crumble as overheard words, spoken in anger, take on a more sinister meaning since Vera's death. Especially Robert, so sure that an Earl's recommendation will hold sway on the courtroom sees his confidence shaken by a clever and determined prosecutor. And when a verdict of guilty is returned, even O'Brien reminds us that she does, apparently, have a heart, as she's genuinely saddened for Anna and shaken by the verdict. (Seriously the woman mellowed out this episode big time...if this keeps up I'm going to be pulling for Mr. Lang to return so maybe she'll have a shot at a little romance!) I've got to say I was really rather impressed with Froggatt's acting this episode. She dug deep and delivered Anna's heartbreak in an achingly realistic way, all while never losing the resilient streak her character has always seemed to possess. Battered but far from broken, no?

Speaking of O'Brien, now is as good a time as any to touch on her and Thomas and their status as the "villains" of Downton Abbey. This episode left me more convinced than ever that O'Brien has the best hope becoming a character I can cheer for -- the fact that she's able to gin up some genuinely believable sympathy for Bates and Anna's plight is nothing short of extraordinary. Thomas (Rob James-Collier), on the other hand, will apparently stoop to anything to ingratiate himself with the Earl and/or undermine Carson's (Jim Carter) authority. I couldn't believe he friggin' kidnapped Robert's dog!!! That is a new low, yeesh! Of course he can't even execute a dog-napping plot smoothly (the humor no doubt a necessary component seeing as this episode aired at Christmastime in the UK).

Robert's sister Rosamund (Samantha Bond) returns to Downton for the holidays with her new maid Shore (Sharon Small) and a potential new suitor in tow, Lord Hepworth (Nigel Havers). Violet's (Maggie Smith) reaction to Hepworth was priceless (she was pretty much on fire for the entire episode, but her interaction with Hepworth was particularly awesome). Apparently Violet had a little something going on with the current Hepworth's father back in the day (ha! knew she was a pistol!), and she has some very valid concerns on her daughter's behalf that the apple hasn't fallen too far from the tree, as the saying goes. Violet's discussion with Robert over the right/feasibility of a woman "Rosamund's age" taking up with a fortune hunter was priceless -- especially when they both agreed the bottom line was that they see her fortune protected, the implication being that she's gonna do whatever she wants anyway. But even Rosamund, also known as the Aunt Who Gives Crap Advice, has her limit when Anna and Mary discover that her erstwhile beau is carrying on with her MAID. Oh the HORROR (the horror of course, being that this proves Violet right! ha!).

Daisy (Sopie McShera) was granted a particularly nice storyline this episode (finally). For some reason Shore takes an interest in Daisy's cooking abilities and gets Daisy to stewing about how she's all ignored and underappreciated, etc. Meanwhile William's father (Paul Copley) is still trying to connect with his daughter-in-law, and Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nichol) is tired of seeing Daisy put him off. In one of the funniest scenes in the series, Mrs. Patmore commandeers O'Brien and Thomas's Ouijja board to send Daisy a message from William. Hysterical how she's grown so much over the course of the show but buys that. Anyways, Daisy and Mr. Mason share a very sweet moment where he basically begs her to accept him as an adoptive father, and you can see the light bulb go on as she realizes that hey! someone cares about me! this could be good! This heart-warming scene was followed by her hysterical conversation with Mrs. Patmore where she basically demands a promotion -- Daisy is all prepped for a fight and Mrs. Patmore is all heck yes, if the money's in the budget you're in, NO PROBLEM! *wink*

So, finally let's talk about those crazy Crawley sisters. Edith (Laura Carmichael) doesn't have all that much to do in this episode except mope around that Sir Anthony Strallen (Robert Bathurst) -- remember him from season one? -- is back and won't come to the flippin' New Year's shooting party. Turns out there's a reason for that -- he was injured in the war and now carries his hand in a really awkward looking sling. But the real casualty of war here is apparently his eyeballs as he's strangely (and disturbingly) bug-eyed in every scene. (RUN EDITH!) Kudos him, he doesn't want to saddle Edith with a nursing job, but in the process he calls her lovely which means HE'LL NEVER GET RID OF HER. Edith can do better, I mean really this is possible, right? (Fellowes PLEASE TELL ME THERE IS A MASTER PLAN HERE!)

Sybil and Branson are AWOL in Ireland, presumably enjoying married life since Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) receives a letter  that she's soon to expect her FIRST GRANDCHILD! Kudos to Cora she is back in a big way in this episode, working her American wiles on Robert (*wink*) that they are FAMILY dangit and she will NOT be denied visits with her grandchild! Presumably Robert will learn THE CHAUFFEUR'S NAME by Season 3. *sigh* Cora also decides there's no time like the holidays to tell Robert her and Mary's biggest secret, since it has become glaringly apparent even to her that Mary and Richard are extremely ill-suited for each other. I was seriously bummed that Cora's confession about Pamuk happened OFF-SCREEN (Fellowes, that is so very Greek tragedy of you, Violet would not approve!)...but bottom line, better six years late than never, right?

Robert handles the whole Pamuk conversation with admirable aplomb, all things considered. Apparently the war and his almost affair with the maid  and Sybil's insistence on marrying THAT CHAUFFEUR have all worked together to make him sit back and really take stock of what's important in life. And really when you're valet is on trial for murder what's one more lousy scandal? For realz. I absolutely loved the moment where he confronts Mary with the truth and urges her to break with Richard for her own happiness, go to America, and find a cowboy to shake up the family! PRICELESS! That scene brought tears to my eyes it was so well-played by Dockery and Bonneville -- one of the best moments in the series.

Prior to Robert freeing Mary to break with Richard (Iain Glen), the newspaper magnate was nothing but a pill this episode, constantly whining about having to serve himself lunch because the servants were allowed to enjoy their own Christmas feast AT THE SAME TIME AS THE FAMILY (the absolute gall! yeesh...) or freaking out if Mary talked to Matthew about as non-relationshippy as Bates's murder trial. Matthew (Dan Stevens) is still unfortunately stuck on paying lip-service to his post-Lavinia's death vow to remain single (seriously think about that Matthew, MAKES NO SENSE), but throughout the episode we can see him mellowing on that score, as he's determined to aggravate Richard and foil his rival's every atttempt to control Mary. Isobel (Penelope Wilton) has been putting up with all of this but even she draws the line when Lavinia's father drops dead and Matthew completes his final almost-son-in-law duty of seeing to the man's ashes. The feisty, sassy Isobel I liked so well in season one returns with a roar when she basically tells Matthew to get over himself and save Mary from evil Sir Richard's clutches. SERIOUSLY, Lavinia's whole family is dead now, MOVE ON. :P

Matthew apparently takes this conversation to heart as he practically begs Mary not to throw herself away on Richard during a moonlit walk hunting for the AWOL Isis. Mary finally comes clean about the Turkish diplomat incident, the root of all her self-loathing, etc., going so far as to compare herself to Tess of the D'Urbervilles (REALLY??). Matthew is a little taken aback but all in all he takes the news really well and sticks to the main point which is Mary MUST DITCH RICHARD.

Which brings us to the Servant's Ball. This much anticipated affair was touch-and-go until word came down from London that BATES WOULD LIVE (in prison, but living is living, right?). So Mary decides that yes, now is the time to FINALLY BREAK UP WITH RICHARD, and somehow this all escalates into Matthew actually throwing a punch at the creep and a tussle which breaks Violet's least-favorite vase (WIN). So Richard is GONE (Mary is very classy re: the send-off), and now Downton can finally get down to the business of partying. This Servant's Ball thing means Matthew has to dance with O'Brien (awkward) and Thomas dances with anyone who he thinks might advance his social aims, including Violet (another one of my favorite moments in this episode -- Smith and Collier looked like it was all they could do not to break out in laughter!).

So, the stage is finally set, and the only thing standing in the way of Matthew and Mary finally making some progress in their relationship is a dead woman (and even she clears that up by sending a message to Daisy and Anna through the Ouijja board *rollseyes*). And people, it was worth the wait -- this proposal scene was just about practically perfect in every way. :) From the gently falling snow to Matthew gazing at Mary with unabashed adoration, I just loved that these two characters were finally getting this hard fought, longed-for moment. Mary's moment of vulnerability, then forcing Matthew to get down on one knee and say the words, because yes dangit I wanted to hear them too! -- oh I loved it. :)

Cue the happy sighs (yes, I needed THIS MANY PICTURES). :) This season has been nothing if not a roller-coaster ride, but people that's at least half the reason I love this show so much. It isn't afraid to go big. *wink* I'm a bit in denial that the wait for new episodes begins again -- but more confident than ever that the wait will be worth it. See you next year, Downton...


Ella said...

Thank GOODNESS you reviewed it so I can go nuts. I have been keeping the news about the proposal all bottled up......and yet WASN'T IT FANTASTIC!!! I was giddy the entire time.

I missed Sybil and Branson tremendously, but I have high hopes for the two of them having a huge story line in Season 3! A baby is going to make things very interesting.

Here is what I hope: NO MORE ETHEL!!! NO MORE JANE!!!! And I hate to tell you, I think Edith will be keeping Sir Anthony

Rissi said...

YAY! Ruth finally made it to the grand finale! =) I am so happy that you enjoyed this season, Ruth - and doesn't that end make all the minor flubs worth it!? I think it does and then some. ;D

Cannot wait for S3.

Charity said...

I like Sir Anthony. It would be fitting if Edith wound up with him, since he always did like her. (Still, poor Edith! Both her sisters get handsome young suitors and she doesn't? That's hardly fair!)

The last four minutes of the Christmas finale pretty much made up for everything that annoyed me all season long. I had to refrain from beating a friend over the head last night, because she is less than enthusiastic about Mary and Failed To Appreciate The Moment. =P

Unknown said...

@Ella - LOL! Oh it was SO GOOD! Thoroughly enjoyable -- and the ending was perfect. I thought I'd miss Sybil and Branson more than I did -- I think that's because of how her letter served as a catalyst for that great scene between Cora & Robert when she tells him she WILL be involved in her grandchild's life. So sweet. :)

Also, I share your hopes (and reservation about the Anthony thing...)!

@Rissi - Amen to that! ;) And you are SO right -- the ending was superb. Bring on Season 3!

@Charity - I don't exactly NOT like Sir Anthony...I just like Edith so much more NOW than when she first met him in Season 1, I want her to have her own "grand passion." I need to be convinced that she can have her happiness with Sir Anthony...I'm open to it, but need convincing. ;)

And *gasp*! Someone not appreciating those final five minutes?! I can't wrap my head around that...

Kristin said...

Okay, Mary's expression in the picture of the brawl is priceless! :) I just had a good laugh at that.

Proposal scene= perfection! Snow, seriously?? I loved it. :)

The whole thing with Daisy and William's father was so sweet.

Possibly my favorite Violet moment ever (other than the swiveling chair scene from season 1: why does every day involve a fight with an American?) was when Richard tells her that they'll likely never meet again, and she says, "Do you promise?" or something like that. :) Still makes me smile.


Anne Mateer said...

We were driving home on Sunday night so I FINALLY got to watch it tonight!

Oh, my! LOVED Daisy and William's dad. She needs someone to be on her side.

Why, oh why, can't Robert see through Thomas?

Poor Edith. Yea for Sybil and Branson.

"Do you promise?" from Lady Violet was my absolute favorite line.

And oh how I cheered for Matthew and Mary. My heart was so happy.

Anna and Bates are always wonderful, no matter what they are going through. And don't you just love Mrs. Hughes? I was a little disappointed with Carson and his being ready to let Anna leave because he didn't want the taint on the house.

All in all, I'm pretty satisfied with the season and looking forward to next year!

Laurel Ann (Austenprose) said...

Sad too to see the season end. I forgot to write about the fight scene between Matthew and Carlisle. I love it when English men fight over women. Queue music "It's Raining Men" please.

Thanks for all of your wonderful recaps Ruth. I know how long these things take to put together, and I appreciate your dedication, and...sense of humor.

Until next season, adieu

Lori Benton said...

For all this season's flaws (and they were few but felt many compared to season 1) I end it with a happy sigh.

Then catch my breath for whatever Fellowes means to throw at us next season!

I think it's time for me to own these. I'll need tiding over this time.

Unknown said...

@Kristin - I know, Mary's face cracks me up in that screen cap!

I loved the snow during the proposal scene, but how Mary wasn't shivering in her gown is beyond me. ;)

@Anne - How did you stand the delay? LOL ;)

Looking forward to where Daisy's character goes now that she has family and some moxie. :)

Yeah, I was a little disappointed with Carson's take on the Anna/Bates situation, but it was very much in keeping with his character, I think.

@Laurel Ann - Me too. :) Love the song idea, ha!!

And thank YOU for your kind words, Laurel Ann, that means so much coming from a master recapper & reviewer like yourself! They do take a while but the result is worth it, I hope! :)

@Lori - Happy sighs all around! :) You should be able to get a great price on the seasons with all of the hype/popularity, at least I would think so!

Heidenkind said...

I love that screen cap of Matthew punching Sir Richard! Priceless.

I feel the opposite about Thomas and O'Brien. I like Thomas more now and think he has a chance of being redeemed-ish. Yeah, the whole stealing-the-dog thing was pretty low, but O'Brien's the one who gave him the idea! And being Lord Grantham's valet is, like, his DREAM. I feel like he wants to be a better person but doesn't have the right skill set, you know? :) Whereas O'Brien does all her "good deeds" out of guilt.

I totally cried during that scene between Lord Grantham and Lady Mary. So sweet.

Debra E. Marvin said...

Oh my. I watched this twice on Sun night and I'm ready to see it again. Loved this last show!! And it def made up for any little disappointments!

But I would like to have seen a bigger brawl. Crikey! One punch? We needed at least one more. Matthew was protecting two womens' honor after all.

This was a completely satisfying end. Cora and Robert happy again and things are looking good for all their girls! And a Finian grandchild!

Wasn't the time space between the last episodes six wis not months? Victory Day (v day) became Veterans Day I thought. So I thought that was supposed to be Nov

Oh I agree about Thomas and OBrien. I think he might be redeemed. Maybe guilted out by Robert's new faith in him? I think ive enjoyed OBrien's growth the most.

Next sneason: the Irish revolution. And Edith will come center stage I hope!

Debra E. Marvin said...

Oh my. I watched this twice on Sun night and I'm ready to see it again. Loved this last show!! And it def made up for any little disappointments!

But I would like to have seen a bigger brawl. Crikey! One punch? We needed at least one more. Matthew was protecting two womens' honor after all.

This was a completely satisfying end. Cora and Robert happy again and things are looking good for all their girls! And a Finian grandchild!

Wasn't the time space between the last episodes six wis not months? Victory Day (v day) became Veterans Day I thought. So I thought that was supposed to be Nov

Oh I agree about Thomas and OBrien. I think he might be redeemed. Maybe guilted out by Robert's new faith in him? I think ive enjoyed OBrien's growth the most.

Next sneason: the Irish revolution. And Edith will come center stage I hope!

Heather said...

Ah. So good. So, so good! I loved this episode. Such a relief to have Creeptastic Sir Richard given the boot, topped off with an awesome quip from dear Granny :)
I'm just relieved that it wasnt all heartache and suffering. You never know these days ;) I hope season 3 opens with a fantastic wedding! And then poor Edith running off to London to chop off her hair and learn the Charleston! Also curious if we'll see much of the turnoil in Ireland through Sybil. So much of the drama seems to happen directly in Downton, I wonder if season three will stay as enclosed or if it will open up to the world a bit more. no matter what, I love this show :) and I'm not ashamed! lol!

Unknown said...

@Tasha - I know! Mary's face cracks me up. Interesting thoughts about Thomas and O'Brien...I guess my read on Thomas has been that he is just waiting for the chance to stab Carson in the back...and that I am not cool with. :P (Also, glad I am not the only one that cried during Robert and Mary's father/daughter moment.) :)

@Heather - AMEN to that! :) I think Fellowes knew he had to leave us with some hope for the family at the dawn of a new decade. :) And I completely agree with you -- over-the-top drama and all I love this show!

Lori said...

Glad you loved it, Ruth! Oddly, I'm lacking for anything more to say about it, except thank goodness it all ended well...ok, except for Bates still being in jail! I did read an article the other day with Julian Fellowes hinting that we may not have seen the last of Patrick Gordon. It sounded like he hasn't written all of season 3 yet and hasn't decided whether to continue that storyline.

Unknown said...

@Lori - You were so right, the season NEEDED to end with this episode. The Bates in jail thing is still a bit of a downer. And I've got to say I'm glad we perhaps haven't seen the last of Patrick would be a real shame to only have that storyline crop up for one random hour!

Lori said...

Well, those seemingly one-off storylines were starting to frustrate me, but Fellowes finally wrapped up a lot of loose ends in the Christmas ep. so I'm pleased. I worry about Bates, but you've got to have some cliffhangers for the next season!

Debra E. Marvin said...

What I always wonder about is how you wrap up s season before you get thenod for the next.

Is it the end or THE END?

Unknown said...

@Lori - I hear you on the Bates thing...he and Anna had better get a wildly happy wonderful ending whenever this show does end, because goodness knows they are overdue for a break!

@Debra - Hmm...good question. ;)