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.
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.