Friday, February 15, 2013

Downton Abbey Series 3, Part 6

Editorial note: I've been trying to get this post written all week, people. Stupid sinus/throat issues getting in the way, but I will PERSEVERE!

I don't know about you people, but when Masterpiece airs two hour installments of Downton Abbey I'm left EXHAUSTED. *wink* This week's episode is the season three finale, preceding next week's American season three finale (which is, in actuality, last year's Christmas special). Taken as a season conclusion I actually think it is perhaps one of the show's strongest to date, packed with the requisite drama and enough resolution to various on-going storylines and character issues that you think "I can live with this"...(until the Christmas special hits, at any rate).

This episode opens with Bates's (Brendan Coyle) release from prison, about six episodes after he SHOULD have gotten released. Seriously that storyline lasted for years, if not decades. Yeesh. Anna (Joanne Froggatt) is, of course, incandescently happy, which I like, but methinks she is SO happy she's deluded herself into thinking that everything is going to be sunshine and roses from here on out for her and the mister. Hold up, Anna...because as much as Downton needs Bates as the earl's valet so he can sort of run things behind the scenes (let's face it, a leader of men Thomas most assuredly is not), I suspect that season four is going to see Bates's latent anger issues come to the fore. We all know they are there, right? I'm pretty sure prison has (understandably) seeded bitterness and barely suppressed rage that he barely managed to keep in check this episode. Look on the bright side, Bates, you and Anna have your own fixer-upper now!

A big chunk of this installment involves O'Brien's (Siobhan Finneran) determination to ruin and humiliate Thomas (Rob James-Collier) by encouraging the mistaken belief that Jimmy (Ed Speleers) returns his affections. The level of cruelty here is quite frankly astounding to me (by this show's standards at any rate). I know O'Brien was irritated when Thomas (VERY SLIGHTLY, all things considered) undermined her nephew's acclimation to the household, but nothing he did this season warranted this kind of payback in the least. O'Brien's latest power trip is her most out of control and seems especially cruel, considering her thoughtless manipulation of others' deepest, most personal feelings and desires.

In that day and age, Thomas's sexual orientation was a crime -- so when he makes a horribly awkward overture to Jimmy, which is interrupted by Alfred (Matt Milne), the latter two are horrified -- not only by the moral and legal implications, but in Jimmy's case because he feels that his masculinity is "tainted" by association (O'Brien takes FULL advantage of this, blech). While previously I was kind of intrigued by the possibility of a Jimmy/Daisy (Sophie McShera) romance, Jimmy kind of turned into a jerk under pressure here and goodness knows Daisy doesn't need THAT. And I'm thinking that now Ivy (Cara Theobold) is going to be thinking Alfred looks pretty nice now that Jimmy is in the middle of all this whacked-out drama, which means she might actually TRY to be Daisy's rival for the gangy footman's affections. *headdesk*

 At any rate, the resulting, barely-contained scandal is just heartbreaking to watch unfold -- considering O'Brien whipped the whole thing into a frenzy, seeing the finger-pointing and accusations fly between the male members of the downstairs staff is just...sad. And it results in some of James-Collier's best acting of the series -- love him or loathe him, I feel one cannot deny that he has given Thomas much-needed layers of the depth and humanity this season. He's finally become something more than *just* a cardboard villain. Side note: As sad as this whole mess is to watch unfold, I'm not gonna hide it, watching Carson (Jim Carter) try to repress his urge to have a stroke when dealing with the "scandal" of Thomas's sexuality (is it a scandal when EVERYBODY KNOWS ABOUT IT?) was pretty hilarious, as it flies in the face of everything he holds most dear -- i.e., propriety.

Much of this installment is also taken up with Robert's (Hugh Bonneville) continued insistence on being dragged into the post-war twentieth century kicking and screaming by his son-in-law Matthew (Dan Stevens) and the latter's new ally, that HORRIBLE LOW-CLASS CHAUFFEUR SON-IN-LAW Branson (Allen Leech). This dynamic fascinates me. Let's put aside for a second that lawyer Matthew's only real qualification for running and reforming Downton is some middle-class know-how (not knocking the validity of his advice, I just find his lack of...credentials a little humorous) -- what Robert's really fighting is perhaps arguably the sanctity and elite status of his class, a class whose exclusive hold on power and prestige went out the window with war (and, arguably earlier with the sinking of the Titanic, if you buy into Walter Lord's thesis).

Anyways...all this time, and I still think Matthew's people skills in relation to his father-in-law needs some work. But also, Robert needs to get over himself. Happily all of this happens to some degree in this episode, largely facilitated by a surprisingly DIPLOMATIC Branson (shocker, no?). Grief seems to have done a great deal to mellow Branson's perspective on Sybil's family, and I love that he's honest and mature enough to own that. I was honestly quite shocked when, confronted with his jerk of a drunk brother (Ruairi Conaghan), he actually takes up for his mother-in-law and insists that his brother respect her invitation into the Crawley home for baby Sybil's christening, earning Mr. Carter's approval at long last.

Awkward, much?
Robert and Violet's (Maggie Smith) awkwardness at the christening is a humorous cap on the extraordinarily awkward dinner conversation in last week's episode, where Robert attempted to strong-arm his equally strong-willed son-in-law into foregoing the latter's desire for a Catholic baptism and LOST rather spectacularly. Violet and Robert, in particular, are slow to accept Branson but I love how the rest of the family has rallied around both him and his daughter, especially Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) and Mary (Michelle Dockery). It is really wonderful to see both of these women take Sybil's dearest wishes to heart in her absence.

Family bonding at work!
Violet takes my advice from last week (HA!) and concocts the brilliant scheme of installing Branson as Downton's new estate manager, a position that needs filling now that Matthew drove the former manager into retirement and one that would allow Branson and Sybil Jr. to remain within the Crawley family sphere of influence. Well played, Grandma. Honestly I think this type of job is a perfect fit for Branson -- it allows him to remain a part of the Crawley family but it doesn't confine him to some sort of office job which, I think, would be wholly unsuited to his personality. Unfortunately for Robert, this also gives Matthew a strong ally in the implementation of his "radical" schemes to overhaul the way in which Downton is run. Robert fights change with a bullish, oft-times childish tenacity for most of this installment's two hours -- but seeing him finally come around to Matthew's point-of-view, and to begin to truly accept Branson as a valued member of the family is extraordinarily rewarding.

Sybil's absence leaves a void in female character category, and so Fellowes introduces Rose (Lily James), Violet's great-niece come to visit Downton under the completely ridiculous pretext that she "hates cities" or some such rubbish. She is an absolute train wreck waiting to happen, simmering with restless energy, jumping at the chance to return to London with Matthew (who is a LITTLE OBSESSED with the fact that his wife isn't expecting yet...seriously have they even been married a year?) and Edith (Laura Carmichael), the latter having decided to accept the newspaper editor's offer to write a regular column. Anyways, to make a long story short, about the only added value Rose brings to this storyline is that her loose morals and affair with a married man (hello Ribbentrop from Upstairs Downstairs) introduce the 1920s flapper culture, which one really doesn't get to see infiltrate a country estate like Downton. So she's an idiot...but she does give Violet one of her finest moments, as the savvy Dowager manages to ask just the right questions to deduce Rose's penchant for trouble without actually having anyone betray her behavior outright. Well-played, Violet, well-played as always. And Fellowes, if you could give us more scenes of Violet and her daughter Rosamund (Samantha Bond), that would be awesome. I find their prickly dynamic hilarious.

"I'm just a TORTURED SOUL, 'k?"
Now, let's talk about Edith. It's been a long time coming, but she is finally showing some signs of coming into her own, and I love that. The gumption it took to step out of her family's shadow and decide to pursue a career as a writer, all I can say is girl, I didn't know you had it in you. :) On her first meeting with THE EDITOR, Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards), it is abundantly clear that Gregson not only has an extraordinary appreciation of Edith's writing talents but he's QUITE TAKEN with her looks (points to her for outshining her rather SEVERELY PERMED hair). And honestly, Gregson is rather cute in a bookish sort of way, and I'm predisposed to like him since the actor played friggin' ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE in the short-lived Murder Rooms all seems well, right? Until Edith displays a SHOCKING amount of common sense and does the 1920s version of Googling your date by calling the operator and getting the 411 on Gregson's personal life. And LO AND BEHOLD he's married. But he's not just married, OH NO, he's married to a LUNATIC who is locked away in an asylum! BOOM! IT IS SHADES OF JANE EYRE & ROCHESTER ALL OVER AGAIN!!! The dramatic potential of this hot mess has suddenly reached EPIC PROPORTIONS and needless to say I cannot wait to see how it unfolds. My prediction is that sometime in season four, overcome by his passionate desire for a life with Edith, Gregson tries to kill his wife and then the Crawley family is embroiled in ANOTHER trial scandal, only this time involving actual FAMILY. *horrors!*

So, now let's attempt to wrap things up. Apparently my long-standing wish of two seasons has finally been granted, as Ethel (Amy Nuttall) accepts a new position that will allow her to occasionally see her young son. Of course this is NO THANKS to Isobel (Penelope Wilton), who would apparently rather keep Ethel wallowing in misery as her cook than facilitate seeing her established in a new position where her salacious history isn't fodder for the gossip mill. Instead it is Violet who once again makes things HAPPEN (thank goodness) -- sure, she wasn't as into rehabilitating Ethel as Isobel was, but her desire to eliminate a local scandal really did have Ethel's best interests ultimately at hear -- and as Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) so wisely concurrs with the Dowager, that's never going to happen at Downton where EVERYONE and their cousin knows Ethel's history. So YAY, happy ending there...but I shudder to think what Fellowes has in store for Isobel next season. If she's going to stick around she needs a MAJOR character overhaul IMO.

Matthew and Mary have ended this season on a very strong note, given their propensity for near-constant bickering so soon after their marriage. I loved how deeply they were each concerned about having children, with each of them SO worried they were the one "at fault" that they were sneaking around, going to fertility doctors in secret (and in Mary's case under an ASSUMED NAME!). But seriously, for all that Fellowes thought we needed Matthew having really awkward conversations about impotency issues, we learn Mary had to have SURGERY and it it's kept so vague we're never told what exactly occurred??? I mean c'mon. *sigh* But all that aside, I love seeing them IN love, and their commitment to each other and their relationship. So sweet and a long time coming all things considered. :)

The episode culminates in what we're told is an annual house vs. town cricket match, which is all kinds of a big deal...and I find that hilarious since we've gotten nary a mention of such an event until the end of season three. But whatever. *wink* There is a lot of hilarity surrounding this as poor Molesley (Bernard Gallagher) talks a good game but is apparently a pretty pathetic player, and Branson -- who was corralled into playing under EXTREME duress -- ends up saving the game for the home team and earning his father-in-law's undying devotion. Or something close to it, at any rate. But in the midst of all this sportsmanship and male bonding are undercurrents of tension that I can only assume are the seeds of conflict for season four.

Takin' care of business...
Bates, annoyed beyond belief at O'Brien's manipulation of the Thomas/Jimmy situation, does what he does best and forges an unexpected alliance with Thomas to check the latter's ruin and put a stop to O'Brien's power play. Thomas gives him one powerful phrase -- her ladyship's soap -- and O'Brien is reduced to a quivering, stuttering mess, left scrambling to keep her most shameful act secret. (Nice to know Fellowes plans to possibly revisit that plot thread!) Because of Robert's sudden obsession with winning cricket matches, Jimmy is promoted to first footman in exchange for dropping his insistence that Thomas get sacked without a reference, and Thomas (who is apparently some sort of cricketing wizard) gets to stay and is promoted to "under butler." Needless to say this was NOT what Bates had in mind when he got out of prison intent on repossessing his job as Robert's valet. I'd like to see a kinder Thomas next season, one who can, occasionally, get along with the likes of Bates, but I'm not going to hold my breath. However, I'm inclined to think that if this season was about Thomas's ruin, next season may be all about O'Brien's destruction...thoughts?

All things considered, I feel this was a fairly strong way in which to wrap up the major threads of season three, leading into the Christmas special, while leaving enough questions in the mix to fulfill the requisite spicy drama quotient for the upcoming fourth season. Seeing Robert finally come to accept that some change does not mean his life will be destroyed -- rather, enriched stronger relationships with Matthew, Branson, and the rest of his family -- was really rather gratifying. But hang onto your hats, fandom, because the peace bought for the sake of a cricket match is going to be, I suspect, extremely fleeting for all parties concerned. *wink* Anything I've missed? Chime in with a comment! :)


Rissi said...

Yes, this is the last vestiges of the happiness. Unfortunately.

Memorable things about S3:

- Robert opening up to new ideas and coming to accept Branson.
- Mary and Matthew's wedding! Yes. We waited for that TOO long. :)
- Bates release. Yes! Does anything else need to be said!?

(There is a delightful moment between he and Anna as well as Cora and Robert in the Christmas special. *smile*)

That whole Edith/Editor thing? Not cool. And I am super displeased with her more so after the finale.

Hope you enjoy the last episode, Ruth. I for one, cannot wait for S4. :)

Kristin said...

These are my two main thoughts for this episode.

1. Carson in the cricket clothes. So weird! And a bit hilarious. In the bonus features they talked to the actor and he's like, "Finally, after three years, I got a wardrobe change!"

2. I'm pretty sure this is the episode where Edith says something like the idea of a married man flirting with her was unacceptable. And I'm like, what?? How quickly she has forgotten the farmer KISS! Seriously? No need to act all high and mighty now. Poor girl. I wonder if she'll ever end up with someone young and unmarried.


Unknown said...

@Rissi - Oh things can't be that bad. ;)

Here's the isn't like Edith has ever given me a reason to view her as some sort of paragon of moral virtues. And this is, above all else a SOAP opera.

I think she's gotta fall before she can find her way...similar to the process Mary had to go through after her episode with the Turk, viewing herself as "irredeemable."

@Kristin - OMG you are SO right about Carson. The clothes and the level of ACTIVITY he was exhibiting was downright bizzare, LOL!

And also thanks for reminding me about Edith and her fling with the farmer! :P

Anne Mateer said...

You (as usual) covered things quite well. Here are a few of my observations:

The whole Rose storyline seems like it came straight from The House at Riverton.

Violet is awesome. She cared more about Ethel than Isobel ever did, even though she also cared about their reputation, she worked things out for Ethel's good.

I knew the word Bates whispered to O'Brien was about the soap! I hope that comes back to haunt her even more than it already has!

Poor Edith. I can't believe after all she's been through they are now giving her the Jane and Rochester storyline! Can't the girl ever have any happiness?

Love the couples, that Branson is softening toward the family and they toward him.

One question I did have: did every man in England just have white cricket clothes always at the ready????

Heidenkind said...

My major thought is that I'm disappointed it was Rose partying in a flapper dress and not Edith. Also, did the guy who played her editor look like he could be related to Colin Firth?

Jess said...

Aw, sorry to hear you're not feeling good :(

Man, these were two packed episodes, no?

But that's fine because, once again, five cheers for Branson! He's my favorite :)
lol--that moment with the photo of the priest and Robert--! Violet is simply spectacular.

Expectedly, Rose is already annoying me in the extreme. She won me over in very few categories during the Christmas special. . . but there's still something about her that's very shallow, and I'm a little disappointed that she's going to be a series regular, apparently. Ah well, it opens lots of possibilities for s.4!

lol--Edith's 'Google call' was an ingenious move, indeed.

The cricket game turned into one of my favorite moments of this series. It was a much-needed breezy English summer afternoon, and tied many loose ends up rather well. And Matthew and Mary were absolutely adorable!

Unknown said...

@Anne - Thank you!

I have yet to read The House at Riverton, but I've heard fabulous things about it -- and now you have me very curious!

Also, I thought the blinding "universality" of the cricket clothes was a bit funny as well. :)

@Tasha - PREACH. Seriously, Edith as a flapper would've been AWESOME. Also, I can totally see Gregson being a Firth cousin at the very least. :)

@Jess - I'm doing much better today, thank you!

And yes, two completely packed installments! :)

Agree with you about Rose...she is annoying me but I'm curious to see where they take her character in season four. VERY curious. :)

Anonymous said...

I can't wait to read your review about the 90 minute episode that was on tonight, set in the Scottish Highlands. ;)

Rachel said...

I love you Rochester ( I mean...erm... Michael Gregson )

Unknown said...

@Meghan - Working on it, I promise! :)

@Rachel - I wish his first name was Edward at least... ;)

Traxy said...

I thought the whole point was that the publication of "Jane Eyre" made the UK rethink their divorce laws ... but here, he's in basically the same situation as Rochester.

I hope it can be resolved somehow. Hey, wouldn't it be TERRIBLY CONVENIENT if Mad Wife got consumption or something and died? ;)

Unknown said...

@Traxy - For realz. And it would be TERRIBLY CONVENIENT if Mad Wife up and died. I've pretty much decided that needs to happen. ;)