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Downton Dish – Episode 2

Downton Abbey Season 2, Episode 2 (Aired Sunday, January 15)

This week, as Downton Abbey is transformed into a military convalescent hospital, and Cousin Isobel turns into Leona Helmsley, it might be time to note that there are some critics who have complained that with this sophomore season, Downton Abbey has become like a soap opera. But these critics are wrong: Downton Abbey has always been a soap opera – right from the start. In the land of Shakespeare, the designation ‘soap’ doesn’t have the same negative connotations it has here. There, soaps are on at night and have better production values, often great writing, and actors (not models) playing the roles. It is soap on a grand scale — like every great drama is. And like with any great soap, it is the secrets, more than anything else, that drive that drama.

At Downton, every character, great and small, has a secret. Some characters have secrets from us (the audience), and some characters have secrets from each other (that we know about), making us want to scream at the telly. This week, it is a few of the secrets from each other that are putting our Downtonians in peril and giving us that ‘uh-oh’ feeling: Lord Grantham never told Cora about Thomas’ thievery, so she has no idea what she’s doing asking for his return to Downton; Cora also doesn’t know what O’Brien did to her and thus continues to be entranced by her; Anna and Mary don’t know that Bates is trying to protect them, or from what, so they think nothing of having Sir Richard investigate Bates’ whereabouts, allowing him to (possibly) walk right into contact with Mrs. Bates; Poor William has no idea that Daisy’s marriage acceptance was cooked up by Mrs. Patmore (and no one eating the pudding knows that Daisy held the grater under her armpit before she grated the suet!).

5. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Swire: Lavinia Spills Some Beans

OK, so now we have an explanation as to why Sir Richard was threatening Lavinia. Maybe, although I’m not entirely convinced. I mean, what would he gain by exposing her to her intended? Seems like that bit of information, that she was his source and thus kicked off the Marconi Scandal (an insider trading scandal that brought down numerous British government officials in 1912) would expose him as much as her. There has to be something else, don’t you think? And what a small world it is that, starting with the Titanic, all the big news stories of the day somehow directly involve the inhabitants of this country house, Downton Abbey? If this keeps up, by Season 4, Thomas and O’Brien will be plotting to kidnap the Lindbergh baby. And then there’s Mary, showing her softer side by not exposing Lavinia to Matthew, but will that come back to haunt her in the future? If Lavinia turned on her uncle to save her father, will she turn on Mary to save herself or her relationship with Matthew? It’s interesting that despite what some think of her, Mary is really an innocent, at least in the ‘whom she should trust’ department.

4. She Drives Me Crazy: Increasingly Bitter Branson Goes ‘Carrie’ on Us

Branson tried to turn the Downton dining room into the prom scene from Carrie during the General’s visit – thwarted only by an alert Anna (who should get a gold medal for running those stairs in a corset) and the firm hand of Carson. Is it the politics that are making Branson increasingly bitter and angry? Or is it really Lady Sybil’s romantic ‘let’s be friends’ rejection? He attributes his sudden anger (at England and Sybil) to his cousin being killed in the Easter Rising (a 1916 attempt by Irish Republicans to end British rule in Ireland), but why did he hold that in for a year and suddenly get bitter over it now? His heart murmur is really just a metaphor, isn’t it?

3. Phantom of the Opera: O’Brien Changes Her Tune

Just how does O’Brien always manage to hypnotize Lady Grantham so handily without actually swinging a pocket watch in front of her? Cora does tend to have a curious expression on her face whenever O’Brien is speaking to her in those quiet tones, sometimes even tilting her head the way your dog does when he’s trying to figure out what you’re saying. But despite all, clueless Cora does O’Brien’s bidding again and again. The reptilian Thomas is awfully curious as to why the change in O’Brien, who now declares herself the protector of Lady Grantham, the woman she once plotted against. Do you think he’ll be satisfied with the answer she’s given him as to why? Or will he pull the true guilty conscience story out of her? And if he does, what will he do with the info? And how much do you just love the contempt and loathing that is written all over Carson’s face whenever Thomas is in the vicinity? Delicious. Me thinks these heads will continue to bump up against one another (Carson did hear Thomas and O’Brien plotting Mrs. Crawley’s downfall), so one must hope that Carson will prevail.

2. Lost & Found: Edith Finds Her Place

No character swings back and forth between sympathetic and Machiavellian as wildly as Lady Edith. Last season she plotted the ruin of her sister. Last week, in one spoiled, exasperated sentence (“But what about my dress!?”) she went from Jan Brady to Nellie Olsen. This week she’s Clara Barton. Is it that she finds kindred spirits in these wounded soldiers, whose injuries render them ‘spare parts’ as well? Or has she just seen enough to finally grow up and out of her self-pity? Whatever the reason, Edith, the stealth Crawley, goes about the business of the details of kindness completely overlooked, as usual, by her family. And judging from the look on his face, no one was more surprised to hear her work praised by the General than Lord Grantham (you needn’t look so shocked, Dad!). Now someone please call the dentist because poor Cousin Isobel is grinding her teeth down to little nubs.

1. Who You Gonna Call?: Anna Sees a Ghost!

In the village, Anna thinks she sees Mr. Bates, but he quickly disappears as a truck drives between them. If it was him, just how did he limp away so fast? If Mary and Anna were aware of the poison Mrs. Bates wants to spread about them, Mary would never have innocently asked Sir Richard and his ‘world of spies, tip-offs and private investigators’ to investigate Bates’ whereabouts for Anna. But Bates never said. Sigh. We have no idea what Mrs. Bates said to Sir Richard’s contact, other than Bates is now doing his best Alfie Moon (minus the loud shirts) in a village pub. When Anna finds him, she seems not as starry-eyed as she has been; she seems cautious, but soon can’t help but start planning a future. And then they do it again: He says, ‘It won’t be long now.’ What have I told them about making happiness pronouncements like that? Will they never learn? Why do these characters never listen to me?

And speaking of listening: Last week someone in the comments section mentioned the theme music that plays whenever Matthew enters the scene. So I paid special attention to that while watching this week’s episode, and she was right! Now I’m thinking I need to get some theme music for myself, carry it on my iPod and play it whenever I enter a room.

Dowager Countessdown

The troublesome Lady Rosamund figures into most of this week’s contenders:

5. ‘I say, if someone’s going to manage things, let it be our creature.’

4. ‘I don’t know many people who’d threaten me behind the laurels.’

3. ‘Really Rosamund, there’s no need to be so gleeful. You sound like Robespierre lopping off the head of Marie Antionette.’

2. ‘Classic Rosamond; She’s never more righteous than when she’s wrong.’

1. ‘There is no ‘always’ about the Painswicks. They were invented from scratch by my son-in-law’s grandfather.’

On that last score, the Dowager’s remarks could come out of current events: If you believe tabloid reports, Prince William’s aristocratic set have always looked down upon the Middletons because they are ‘invented from scratch’ (ie; self-made millionaires). Seems some things don’t change.

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.

  • Veronica

    Branson and Sybil have theme music as well during their scenes together. Even more reason for you to have your own theme music :)

  • Emily

    I woke my husband up with my laughing when I read about Daisy holding the grater under her armpit! I liked Cousin Isobel before but she is actually getting on my nerves now. I liked how she would speak up but I think she has been going a little too far. As for Lady Edith, what she did to Mary last season was vile but I do have a soft spot for her. I have a hard time liking Mary and she is mean. I guess her personality has changed since she can show kindness now to her rival but couldn’t be kind to her sister which led to Edith exposing her. Of course, Edith was still wrong to do it.

  • Nancy miller

    I love the comments written by Deborah Gilbert. her comments mirrored ones that I had just shared with a friend. I immediately called Laurie and told her to read them. I’m sure that she’ll enjoy them just as much as I did.

  • Debs/E20Launderette

    @Veronica: Yes, I’m currently debating between ‘Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen’ and ‘Brick House’.

    @Emily: This is why aristocratic Edwardian couples have separate bedrooms.

    @Nancy: Thanks!

  • Christine

    As a mother of three, my heart always goes out to the overlooked child; there’s usually one. It’s been delightful watching Lady Edith’s forays into new interests, driving and comforting the soldiers. Also, a nurse’s cap off to Lady Sybil for being the first Grantham to shake off the bondage of proscribed lives of the aristocracy. Lord Grantham, Cora, and Mary are looking more and more lost as if relics of a vanishing age–not yet changing their roles in life as if dinosaurs mired in La Brea tarpits.

  • Christine

    My goodness! I thought I was observant. I missed the theme music and the and the armpit thing. I’ve got some keeping up to do! More to come after the next episode.

  • Christine

    Being a working class America, I’m wondering if the sirname is Crawley, where does Grantham (sp) come from?

  • Christine A

    I’m the one who asked about the Crawley/Grantham ?

  • Tony D

    I am writing from England. (BTW I have seen all of Season 2 plus the Christmas Ep but I will make NO spoilers, I promise.)

    Regarding the Crawley/Grantham question. Once upon a time a Mister Crawley would have been ennobled by the monarch. On being ennobled you are asked to nominate a place where you want to be the “whatever” of. In this case an Earldom was being bestowed and so Mister Crawley would be asked to nominate a place in the kingdom where he wished to be Earl of. Mister Crawley would have had some kind of attachment to Grantham in Lincolnshire and so asked for that place to be where he became Earl OF….Grantham. So Crawley in this case is a surname and Grantham is a place.

    Crawley is coincidentally a place, I know, but in this case it is the surname.

  • Carolyn

    Thank you for so perfectly nailing the position Cousin Isobel has taken this year, it is absolutely maddening, Leona Helmsley she is and I can’t stand it.

  • Debs/E20Launderette

    @TonyD: Thank you for that explanation. I know that the Queen still has her Honours List, bestowing MBEs and OBEs and giving people the titles ‘Sir’ or ‘Dame’, but am I correct that there are no new Lords and Ladies?

    Of course, when I hear the name Grantham, I automatically think of Leslie Grantham.

  • Tony D

    It is a good idea to draw distinction between titles that have been in families for centuries and those that are bestowed now. The awarding of honours like MBEs, OBEs and Knighthoods (there are dozens some in the gift of the Queen alone and some in the gift of the government) is just like many other countries that have honours. Like the French have the Legion of Honour, for example. OK, the Knighthoods and Damehoods are “titles” but they are different from things like Earldoms and Dukedoms which were/are hereditary.

    When a man or woman is given a Peerage today this is now so that they can sit in the House of Lords for their lifetime only. (Many people would like to see that stop and it probably soon will.) In fact they are political appointments by government and opposition and the Queen just rubber stamps them. They echo the old aristocracy in that they are “Barons” and “Baronesses”. (Julian Fellowes is now a Baron as he is quite politically active) But this title was always the most junior of the old titles but so they do carry much social cache also.

    To go back to the old hereditary titles – Duke, Earl, Marquess, etc: These hereditary titles (always men) now no longer sit in the House of Lords and neither do their descendants. The titles carry on through the family and so does any property. Some of them are very wealthy (some are as poor as church mice) and carry no political power any more.

    It still possible for the Queen to appoint a new member of the hereditary aristocracy. (She made her grandson Prince William a Royal Duke, for example.) However, to all intents and purposes, there will be no more hereditary aristocrats appointed. Margaret Thatcher recommended to the Queen that four or five were created but four of them were either bachelors or had only daughters. We will not see their like again but those whose families still have the titles will hold on to them for ever.

  • Debs/E20Launderette

    A few comments just got lost in the recent URL shift. If yours was one of them, don’t feel bad. Just repost. We love to hear from you!

  • Louis

    Another excellent recap. But Debbie, you’re forgetting what obviously should be your music: the “EastEnders” theme song!! And for when you’re leaving, the “DUF DUF” music!!

  • Debs/E20Launderette

    @Louis: Good thought, but given the high mortality rate in Albert Square, that could be dangerous.

  • Louis

    Too true, Debbie, too true.

    Sorry the other comments got lost, O’Brien and Thomas have a lot to answer for. (Though it could be Vera Bates behind this.)