The Downton Dish – Downton Abbey Season 2 Episode Recap
Episode 6 (aired Sunday, February 12)
British television maven and blogger Deborah Gilbert keeps you in the know with entertaining recaps of each episode of Downton Abbey Season 2. Count down the top 5 moments of each episode, including the Dowager Countess’ best zingers.
And what have we all learned this week, class? For starters, we all learned how to pronounce shaz lllonnnng (let it cradle across the back of the tongue). Yes, that’s shaz lllonnng, not the oh so common ‘chaise lounge’, heathens. Was this news to anyone else? Maybe you fancy pants, arugula chomping, socialist elites already knew this posh pronunciation, but I bet it was news to those watching from the comfort of their Le Zee Garcon se Repose…
5. Arsenic and Old Spice: Anna & Mr. Bates Jump the Broom
And she still calls him Mr. Bates: Cute as a button. Or a little kinky. You decide. But they’re married! Mazel tov! Maybe. Somehow Mrs. Bates’ death was ruled a suicide, making it all possible. If I recall, when the camera panned across her dead on the floor, there was some broken china there, right? So did she drink poison in her tea and collapse? Bates was awfully worried that he’d be in trouble if the police figured out that he’d bought the rat poison (at, he says, her request.) In fact, he looks worried all the time now. But why would they ever think that he bought the poison? I’m starting to think that the issue here is that Anna is color blind: That’s why she can’t see all the red flags. He was desperate to be rid of the late Mrs. Bates, but do you think he did it? But even without a heart shaped bath tub the happy couple have one honeymoon night together, to make their pronouncements of love and happiness, which telegraph the impending doom. If the bookies were making odds over who would be most likely to be taken away from Downton in hand cuffs, one would have thought the odds on favorite would be Thomas, not Mr. Bates. But there they were, the Old Bill, waiting to perp walk Bates past the gobsmacked staff and off to prison. Though in that last shot it looks like Anna is the one who’s in prison. FREE THE DOWNTON TWO! And speaking of criminal: Major Bryant’s parents show up at Downton and we see just where the Major got his charm. After their initial shock at Ethel’s announcement, they decide they want to buy the baby. And who can blame them? While the Neiman Marcus catalogue already offered Housemaid’s Bastards by 1918, overseas shipping was tricky. In Bryant’s Father referring to baby Charlie as ‘the nameless offshoot of a drudge’ (not a person, not a woman, not even a maid: A drudge), we see, clearly defined, class snobbery at its most base. Ironic that this argument was about him wanting to raise the baby as a gentleman. Clearly the Bryants are operating off the Cliff Notes version of Webster’s Dictionary, which is why they overlooked this part of the definition, ‘a courteous, gracious and honorable man’. Overlooked it completely. But Ethel made the Solomonic choice and chose love over money: Poverty with Charlie. Now, with Jane gone, can’t they find a job for her at Downton?
4. Little Bird, Little Chaveleh: Lady Sybil Makes Her Long Awaited Decision
Does everyone in England elope to Gretna Green? I could just imagine all the EastEnders fans out there giggling over that development, and the car chase that followed. Interestingly enough, before this season of Downton Abbey started, PBS had a press preview at The Times Center in New York, which featured an appearance by some cast members as well as Producer Gareth Naeme. After the Q&A, I had a few minutes to chat with Mr. Naeme and when I brought up the subject of EastEnders, he said he was not a fan. So it was pretty amusing to see Sybil and Branson’s attempted elopement, and the ensuing car chase, which so closely mirrored the classic Gretna Green elopement of Ricky and Sam on EastEnders (but with Mary, Edith and Anna giving chase instead of Grant, Phil, Pat and Frank). Car chases were much more enjoyable when the top speed was about 25MPH, weren’t they? But here’s the thing: How could Lord Grantham condemn his daughter for wanting to marry the chauffeur when all he can think about is bonking the maid? Is it that while he fancies himself to be a reasonable and compassionate Lord, it is Sybil who truly sees the egalitarian future and wants to be a real part of it? He gives it lip service while she lives it, taking it a step too far for his tastes. He wants to just dally downstairs while keeping those lines of subservience intact. When Branson says ‘Sybil’, and Lord Grantham corrects him with ‘Lady Sybil’ it lays bare the crux of his existential crisis: That title is the only thing that separates him, and his family, from the chauffeur and staff. We see him trying to assert the superiority of his title, because at the end of the day, it is all he has. Maybe he now sees that he never did anything with his life but hold a hereditary title to pass forward. It is the tradition of voluntary adherence to the system, that is (as Sybil put it) ‘all that nonsense’ that is really all he’s got. Of course he and Sybil reconcile before she leaves Anatevka. And Branson really needent worry about being torn to pieces by wild dogs. Somehow, I don’t think Isis is up to it.
3. All About Thomas: Fasten Your Seat Belts, It’s Going to Be a Bumpy Night
You know what they say about the Mayan calendar, about how this December the earth is supposed to lurch to a stop and start spinning in the opposite direction? It may have just happened. This week, Thomas and O’Brien had moments of being sympathetic characters. Only moments though. ‘I’ve been tricked – taken for the fool I am’ said Thomas after being beaten senseless by some sacks of flour. You think Martha Stewart is tough? Now we see why she has to be. At the hands of a gang of counterfeit baking supply salesmen, Thomas Harrington suffered from a brief loss of cunning, during which we almost could feel sorry for him. Almost. Not quite. What was he to do? He couldn’t find the thugs because they’d taken all his money and emigrated to set up shop on Canal Street selling fake Fendi bags. But he swiftly recovered and set out to make himself indispensable at Downton – he’s clearly out to get Carson Channing’s job (and life). Was it merely revenge for Carson telling him that Downton is not a hostel so (essentially) on your bike!? Now it’s Thomas’ turn. Even at Lavinia’s funeral, oddly enough, while everyone else was in black tie, Thomas was in white tie. And when sick Carson came downstairs to check on the silver for tomorrow, and found Thomas claiming it had all been taken care of, we wanted to yell, ‘Sorry Bucko, you’re the one the silver needs to be protected from!’ Thomas looks well pleased with himself when entering the room to do Carson’s job, doesn’t he? Will Mary save Carson? One hopes so. We hate to think of Downton in the evil clutches of Thomas, but we can see how it could happen: With Lord Grantham feeling both guilty about his dalliance and indebted to O’Brien for her nursing of Cora, if she plants the idea in Cora’s head that Thomas should replace aging Carson, will he go for it? As for O’Brien, thinking Cora is on her death bed, she comes very close to confessing about the soap slip and asks for forgiveness. Now that she’s well, will Cora remember and ask her what that was all about?
2. Quite Contrary: Mary Serves Up Some Feisty (With a Side Order of Haughty)
This week we see a bit of the fire coming back into Lady Mary. She is showing signs of standing up to Sir Rupert; Questioning him about wanting to bribe Anna to spy, his motives for coming to Downton during the flu crisis, and even pulling her arm away when he tries to prevent her from following everyone to Lavinia’s deathbed. And when he asks her point blank, ‘Do you still love Matthew?’, she answers with a question, the cryptic, ‘Would I ever admit to loving a man who preferred someone else over me?’ Not exactly the ‘no’ he wanted, but it’s as good an answer as Sir Rupert is going to get from her. It seems that everyone knows she’s still in love with Matthew. Isn’t that why Lord Grantham refers to Lavinia’s death (more than a tad self-centeredly) as her, ‘last gift to us’? Even Granny compares Mary to Juliette (and remember how well her romance turned out – yeah, thanks Gran). So shall we blame all this on Shakespeare? The popularization of this idea that all true, great loves must be doomed? Is this even true? Or is it just a way of creating escapism and validation for housewives who didn’t marry a great love, but instead settled for the lump who’s farting into the other end of the couch? As for Mary, while we love to see her wake up, we hate to see her haughty side return with it. When she intentionally tries to hurt Carson by saying within his earshot, ‘butlers will be two a penny now that they’re all back from the war’, we just want to slap her. If she marries Rupert, Carson is the only thing that stands between her and oblivion (and even though they make amends later, she doesn’t truly apologize). But then again, how could we not love her dishily cynical, conversation-stopping, ‘aren’t all of us stuck with the choices we make?’, which was an arrow that hit the bullseye with everyone in that room. But all of that cynicism melted with a gramophone and a dance to a song from a show that flopped. When Mary responded that they were a show that flopped, it posed the question; would that show be Taboo or Hellzapoppin? Not sure. But poor Lavinia. In case we were to forget that Lavinia was the innocent in all this, her deathbed Pieta was there to remind us. And now comes the guilt. Instead of correcting course, the guilt makes Matthew tell Mary, ‘we’re cursed, you and I’. We’re cursed? Is he kidding? Who isn’t cursed in this house? And when he follows that by saying they could never be happy now and should accept that this is the end, all it does is throw her back into Sir Rupert’s dangerous arms. Who is going to save her now?
1. No Play For Mr. Grey: The Lord Has an Existential Crisis
You’ve got to feel at least as sorry for Lord Grantham as he feels for himself, right? I mean, how’s a guy supposed to have a decent mid-life crisis when there are no convertible sports cars or hair plugs around? Even though a fling was always an option, it must have been tough going, back in the day. When he says, ‘Do you ever wonder what it was all for?’, we sense that he is referring to his life as much as the war. Of course, that the person he’s complaining too has it quite a bit worse than him never really occurs to him. A servant doesn’t get the luxury of a mid-life crisis. They just work til they keel over. But Lord Grantham has lost his way and is trying to find it again, and he thinks he knows just where the GPS device is – somewhere on Maid Jane – and he’s determined to go all TSA on her til he finds it. For her part, Jane is more than willing: ‘I wish you knew how much I want to help’. Help? Is that what the kids are calling it now? When he says to Cora, ‘If you’re turning American on me I’ll go downstairs’, one doubts she realizes that he means that literally. We can always count on Carson though, can’t we? He was not pleased. Not at all. We all know he slammed that tray down just to let them know they’d been rumbled. And talk about a face like thunder; his eyebrows just about leapt off that face and chased Jane down the hallway. Even though Lord Grantham is presented as a caring boss, he has just enough entitlement and snobbery to remind us of who and what he is. When Cora becomes deathly ill with the Spanish flu, he leaves O’Brien to care for her, and then complains that his life has gone over a cliff in a single day. His life, not Cora’s. Even then, he is thinking of himself first. But in the end all was reconciled between Robert and Cora when she apologized for not devoting every molecule of her being to paying attention to him every single second of the day. Typical. Ah, as Rocky and Bullwinkle say, ‘All’s well that ends well.’
To me, the best quote was actually just the look she gave Mary at dinner, after Matthew announced his wedding plans, but here are a few other gems:
5. “No doubt you regard this as unorthodox, me pushing into a man’s bedroom uninvited.’
4. “Marriage is a long business.”
3. “Wasn’t there a masked ball in Paris when cholera broke out? Half the guests were dead before they left the ballroom.”
2. “All this unbridled joy has given me quite an appetite.”
1. “Don’t be defeatist dear, it’s very middle-class.”
I can’t believe that next Sunday will be the last Downton Abbey episode of this season. I shall miss it, how about you?
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.
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