Downton Abbey Season 2, Episode 1 (Aired Sunday, January 8 )
5. Float like a Butterfly: Dowager Grantham wrestles large floral arrangement into submission
One would think that all it would take is one withering stare to make the offending flora pop out of the vase and bolt across the floor (I know I would.) But no, Dowager Countess circled the table like a ninja, and quite rightly too! Those cowtails could have poked someone’s eye out. You know, all this floral arranging has left me feeling quite parched. I think I’ll have the footman bring me some tea.
4. Shell Shock: The smirk is wiped off Thomas’ face
And it only took the trench warfare and exploding shells that he was trying to avoid, by volunteering as a medical corpsman, to do it. Admit it; you loved seeing fear replace the self-satisfaction on Thomas’ face, didn’t you? But even in the face of unimaginable carnage, Thomas manages to worm his way out – with the help of O’Brien, a cigarette lighter, a German sniper – and the bit of information he pulls out of Matthew after he (small world) runs into him in the trenches. And what’s the deal between him and O’Brien anyway? Is she hoping for romance? Even Mrs. Patmore knows he’s ‘not a ladies man’. Are they just two miserable people bonded by their gossipy misanthropy? Or does he have something to hold over her? Does he know about the soap slip? Will he eventually turn on her too to get what he wants? As evil as they are, it was interesting to see Thomas and O’Brien fleshed out a little more in this episode. A little less Boris and Natasha, and a little more human. I can’t say I have any more sympathy for them because it is a simple reality that every character in this show, from the richest to the poorest, is living under the weight of the repressive social constraints of the day, so these two get no special dispensation from me.
3. Little Deuce Coupe: Lady Edith learns to drive
Lady Edith, the Edwardian Jan Brady, is desperate for someone, anyone, to notice her and if that requires her to drive a tractor, then so be it. Maybe I’ve been watching EastEnders too long, but when I saw Lady Edith taking driving lessons, I thought the inevitable end to this subplot would be a traffic fatality. I never dreamed she’d end up driving a tractor or rolling in the hay with a married farmer. Though to be quite fair, all we saw was a kiss — as did the farmer’s wife — and she had already treated the farmer’s wife with the same entitled disregard she usually aims at her sister. But that priceless look on Edith’s face, when Lord Grantham said they’d written to say she was dismissed, made me wonder; Was there more than a kiss? Was it the hopes of another love cruelly dashed, or was it something else? Because, just how delicious would it be for Lady Mary if it turned out that little Miss Edith Crawley (Miss Edith ‘His countryman deserved to know how he died: In the arms of a slut’ Crawley) turned out to be the sister who ended up up the duff without a paddle?
2. We’ll Always Have Ripon: Lady Mary and Matthew say goodbye at the train station
Sigh. The longing, the promises, the steam! Am I the only person who thinks Amtrak needs to bring back the steam locomotive (if only for the cinematic possibilities)? As Lady Mary and Matthew stood face to face, we could almost see her heart beating through her coat, and the gesture of giving him her beloved good luck toy was achingly sweet and innocent. But why didn’t she tell him she loved him!?! We know that’s why she went there. But then, Lady Mary expresses her true feelings only to the servants. Why is that? I don’t know, and being that it is 1917, and almost 70 years before Oprah, I don’t suppose we’ll explore the answer to that. In the meantime, why is she hanging around with that sleazy tabloid baron? Why was he threatening Matthew’s new fiance, Lavinia? Does he know about Mr. Pamuk? He may have heard the rumors, but again, it’s 1917 and with no cell phones to hack into, what’s a sleazy tabloid baron to do other than pretend to be a suitor. I hope I’m wrong. (But why doesn’t her Mother warn Mary about the dangers of the tabloids? Afterall, she should know: She used to be Evelyn Nesbit!) Poor Carson: This is going to kill him for sure. And what about Matthew? He must still love Mary – why else would he make sure he kept her good luck charm in his pocket? Will it help him return to England – and to her? All this speculating is exhausting. Where is that footman with my tea?
1. If You Wanna Know If He Loves You So: Anna & Mr. Bates kiss!
And about damn time! It only took him four years to plant one on her – and propose. And then Anna had to commit the Cardinal Sin of soap characters everywhere: She declared herself to be happy! Why Anna, WHY? As soon as she said, ‘In my whole life, I never thought I could be as happy as at this moment’, I thought, ‘Oh crap, here comes the other shoe’ – and right on cue, enter the evil almost ex-wife. Of course, when Mrs. Bates first arrived at Downton, I have to admit I was distracted trying to place her face until I quickly remembered that the actress starred in The Tudors, playing Queen Catherine of Aragon, the wife King Henry VIII tossed aside for Anne Boleyn. Hopefully our Anna will fare better than that Anne. But right now, while her head is intact, her heart is broken as Mr. Bates seeks to protect her and the House of Grantham from scandal without explanation. Good thing Mrs. Hughes has her eavesdropping priorities straight. But why doesn’t Mr. Bates ever fully defend himself against false accusations and malice? What is this ‘I am nothing’ stuff about? Being the bigger person is one thing but this is getting ridiculous, because there’s noble, and then there’s noble to the point where I just want to smack you, Mr. Bates.
Oh dear. I just remembered I haven’t got a footman. Or any tea. Note to self: Write to Thirteen & WLIW and suggest they offer Footman Services as a Pledge Premium Gift. That should do the trick. Til then…
The Dowager Countessdown in Five
Dame Maggie Smith does get some of the best lines in the show, but what takes them from good to great is the delivery of The Master. It is also a testament to the creative judgment of the scriptwriter & director that he understands the line the Dowager Countess Grantham walks with both the story and the audience: They never send her over that line into wacky sitcom neighbor territory. Just when you start to think Violet’s middle name might be Shecky, they pull her back and allow her serious and vulnerable sides to show through. But let’s forget about the serious and vulnerable right now, and instead serve up some lovely snark, Edwardian-style, from episode 1:
1. ‘My, my, you’re very well-placed if you’re ever in trouble with the law.’
2. ‘The truth is neither here nor there. It’s the look of the thing that matters.’
3. ‘Do you think she’s mad, ill, or working for the Russians?’
4. ‘That’s a relief. I hate Greek drama, when everything happens off stage.’
5. ‘Cora’s flowers always look more suited to a First Holy Communion…in southern Italy.’
6. ‘So that’s Mary’s replacement. Well, I suppose looks aren’t everything.’
OK, I do watch Sesame Street, so yes I know that’s six lines, not five. But I couldn’t decide between them, can you? And by the way, I’m thinking that we should start a Facebook campaign to put Maggie Smith’s face on Mount Rushmore. Who’s with me?
Downton Dish is written by Deborah Gilbert, a British television maven and editor of the E20 Chronicles, a free, weekly Eastenders e-newsletter, and an Eastenders column in the Union Jack Newspaper.
For more on the world of Downton Abbey, visit PBS Masterpiece online.