Monday, January 30, 2012

The Televangelist: 'Downton Abbey' Season 2, Ep. 4

Posted By on Mon, Jan 30, 2012 at 10:26 AM

Everyone has things to do except meeeeeee!
  • Everyone has things to do except meeeeeee!

Pacing, pacing, pacing. Last week Matthew and William returned home from their woodland adventure unscathed, and this week (between which at least eight or months have passed, since Ethel has given birth to a rather large baby) both are terribly wounded in one of those "alright lads ... for England" scenes where scores of soldiers dutifully rush out of the foxhole and into machine gun fire. Coming so soon on the heels of Matthew's harmonious return, the scene seemed to lack a certain oomph, like we had spent our worrying and hand-wringing emotions up in the prior episode wondering if Matthew and William were injured, captured or dead. In fact, their previous return now feels like a dream sequence, an "if only" kind of concoction, whereupon we learned the real truth of it this week. From the very first moment, Episode Four was steeped in misery. Despite a few lighthearted moments at Lady Violet's (or the Vicar's) expense, the horror of the war has finally, literally, hit home.

This episode was about loyalty, and Downton was positively brimming with it. Mary is a loyal nurse to Matthew's bedside until (and through) Lavinia's arrival. Lavinia, who has always seemed meek and weak of spirit, draws upon some hidden emotional reserve and pledges her life to her broken fiancé, to whom she can never be "properly" married (the mourning over Matthew's dormant genitalia was a diverting little river running throughout the episode, as the "oh!" factor registered on everyone's faces starting with the the Earl of Grantham). Despite the fact that everyone, even the clueless Robert, can see that Mary loves Matthew, Mary must (because of her scandal with Pamuk) honor her wedding commitment to Sir Richard Carlisle. The return of Vera Bates, thanks to O'Brien (a move so stupid not even Thomas wants any part of the spoils) has forced Mary back into the tabloid baron's arms in order to get him to repress the story. Whether Mary thinks he would really break off the engagement or not is uncertain. At this point, things between the two are frosty at best. If Mary was not actually in love with Matthew, the two might have made a decent pair. But Mary's buried affections have turned her face into a porcelain mask, which Sir Richard sneers at, probably out of jealousy that her heart is not truly with him. Because, in the end, he goes along with the plan to trick Vera Bates into selling him the story, and then stormily cajoles and threatens her should she ever try to touch his fiancée's name again. To this, like any good villain, Vera veritably shakes her fist in the air, swearing vengeance on her husband. Though Mary's heart remains loyal to Matthew, she keeps her commitment with Sir Richard, and he in turn remains loyal to her. Their relationship is probably far more accurately representative of high-society marriages at the time, and seeing them carry through with their wedding would be a more realistic path, though perhaps not a very emotionally satisfying one.

In the poor man's sick ward, even Thomas displays a shocking working-class camaraderie towards William, with whom he has always quarreled and bullied. And Daisy, poor Daisy, is forced to make good on a little lie that spiraled out of control, in an increasingly macabre series of tests. It was never something Daisy should have agreed to, but she is weak-willed, and Ms. Patmore, grieved by the death of her nephew and worried for sweet William's emotional health, more or less forced her to declare a love for him she never felt before he left for war. Now, on death's door, William wants to marry his sweetheart in front of the entire household just before he slips away. Twisting the guilt knife, he assures Daisy that this will at least give her a widow's pension, since he won't be around to care for her. Daisy's face here says it all. She's consumed with guilt and stress, but her doormat personality will not allow her to stand up to her surrogate mothers pushing her forward. Even though Mrs. Hughes appears to give her an out by saying, "well Daisy, do you want me to tell him you're not coming?" she does so in that sort of tone your mother uses that says "I am very disappointed in you." Daisy, of course, feels she has no choice but to carry on. After all, he's going to die right? And doesn't that thought just make you feel even guiltier for thinking it?

Speaking of pressing a girl into uncertain emotional territory, Sybil continued to find excuses to go to the garage to see Branson, quarreling with him as he brashly implores her to not turn her back on her political beliefs or, most of all, him. "Bet on Branson!" Interactions between the two this season have been reduced more of less to this formula:

Sybil: (creeps into the garage)
Branson: (sits reading a paper / changing the oil)
Sybil: So ... someone needs to be driven somewhere later.
Branson: Very good m'lady. Also, there are lots of political things happening, and I'm riled up!
Sybil: Oh Branson, I thought we said we wouldn't talk of such things ...
Branson: I can't help it, I'm Irish! You're a posh English girl, you can't understand.
Sybil: (sigh) Perhaps I understand better than you think but ... perhaps I don't.
(They stare into each other's eyes)
Branson: Are you ready to run away with me now?
Sybil: How can you ask that of me? Heavens! I ... I ... I must go!

Wash, rinse, repeat. For two years and counting ... wake me up if they ever kiss!

Back in the manor, the sham wedding between Daisy and "the corpse" (as Thomas whispers to O'Brien) takes place, under the weepy gaze of the household from upstairs and down. Daisy, doing her duty (and finally seeming to believe in it, showing a change in her already), stays by William's side until he expires. Not even Violet using a telephone could lift one's spirits from that decidedly sad closure.

Next Week: More Bates drama, Mary continues to nurse Matthew, Robert and Cora quarrel, and a mystery man with extensive burns swears the household should know him (but who could he be??)

Musings and Miscellanea:

— Despite Mrs. Hughes' acts of goodwill, Ethel snaps at her and begs her to do more. Mrs. Hughes agrees to give Major Mustache Bryant a letter from Ethel, but it's clear he wants nothing to do with her now that she has his son. This is one plot I have almost no interest in. Ethel was only a member of staff briefly, and not a well-liked one at that. Her continued ill-mannered behavior towards Mrs. Hughes is just grating.

— The moment that really made me tear up was Isobel and Matthew being reunited. I wanted to shout "MAMA'S HERE!"

— Continuity Watch: Cora exclaims "how will we ever get word to Isobel?!" even though Isobel had given her address to Molesley, who was standing right there as Cora said this.

— This new maid Jane bears a resemblance to a younger Cora. And with Cora 1.0 now preoccupied with running the house, and Robert annoyed that everyone seems to have something the do except him, I worry for the way he looked at Cora 2.0 so tenderly in the living room ...

— Didn't that cut on Matthew's cheek look a little bit like a swastika?

— "I am no Jacobean, but ..." "You give power to these little people and it goes to their heads!" "Not that I'm asking you to compromise your moral scruples..." — just a few of Lady Violet's gems.

— Mary really handled everything utterly without flaws in this episode.

— Anna and Bates in the church was a sweet and beautifully filmed moment.

— "Somebody just walked on my grave" - Daisy. Mary "feeling" something having happened to Matthew I understand, given their connection. But are we meant to take from Daisy having the same feeling that she may care for William more than even she thinks?

— Lavinia really won me over in this episode, anyone else?

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