I think Robert, Earl of Grantham summed this episode up the best: "the whole situation is certainly odd. That I freely admit." What was the point of Peter/Patrick? To Matthew feel even worse? To prove that despite finding a real confidence and sense of herself, Edith is still a desperate spinster who will gladly marry an old man, a poor farmer or a manipulative burn victim, as long as they throw a little kindness her way? In my original viewing of this season of "Downton," this was the episode where I started to think the wheels were really coming off. Let's take a look before we give it to Branson to work on in the garage:
One person who can always be counted on to salvage something mediocre is Lady Violet, who was absolutely on fire in this episode. The subplot of Isobel wanting to keep Downton as a "working" house was aggressively presented and rather out of character given that she had more or less been banished the last time she was at Downton for interfering too much. Her declarations were met with some master manipulations by the Dowager Countess, sending Isobel packing once again (and leaving us with some fantastic zingers from the Dowager, not to mention some splendid acting, which is never a surprise).
The Mary/Matthew storyline picked up some steam by way of a third party - Sir Richard pulls an O'Brien on Cora and gets her to do his bidding, inviting Lavinia back unexpectedly to tend to Matthew and keep Mary away from him. Matthew is what humanizes Mary. Without him, she is cold and sharp, with her emotions hidden deep behind her porcelain mask. With Matthew injured and Lavinia back in the picture, Mary is forced to go back to being the wife-to-be of Sir Richard, which puts her back in Season One Mary Mode: coldly commenting on "his lot" versus her lot, snapping at Edith regarding Peter/Patrick, and using her powers over Carson to steal him away from Downton. To this last point, however, one can see why Mary would want to take that route. Carson is not only an incredibly competent butler, but he is also a friend and confident to Mary, and would help ease her anxieties and misery at being in that huge house alone with Sir Richard. Though there wasn't much of Matthew in this episode (aside from a few depressive diatribes and one very intriguing twinge), Mary carried the weight of their story in excellent form, casting doubt upon and bucking up for the fact that the two who are truly in love may never be together.
Because Julian Fellows is Julian Fellows (that would be the creator of "Downton Abbey" and "Gosford Park," for those who remember it), there will always be someone sleeping with someone they shouldn't be, and usually it's an Upstairs Man and a Downstairs Woman (though we've also seen other permutations). This season we've had the Ethel fling (the repercussions of which we cannot, much like Major Mustache, seem to shake), and now it seems that since Robert is bored and feeling left behind by the family, and most essentially, neglected by Cora, that he is making far-too-friendly conversation with Cora 2.0, Jane. Robert is pretty clueless and devoid of much personality, but would he really take things that far? And more importantly, do we really care?
I'm being harsh on "Downton" this week, but that's because I just don't feel it is quite living up to the smashing success of the first season. I have personally complained about pacing and the time jumps, but I've also had friends email me about the show and say "wait, where are we? What year is this?" which has let quite of few of the character pairing suffer. Sybil and Branson, caught eternally in the script I posted last week, continued their will-they-won't-they dance that ceased to be interesting a few episodes back. Bates and Anna, the emotional crux of the first season (for those of us not convinced into like Mary yet, anyway), have been reduced to non-characters stuck in the same story week in and week out. In the form of my Sybil-Branson scene, I present to you, Bates and Anna, The Continuing Saga:
(Bates and Anna sit happily together knitting/drinking tea/giggling)
O'Brien: What are you two so happy about?
Anna: We're in love and everything is going right.
Bates: Nothing can touch us now!
(Later, Bates slowly enters the scene, head down)
Anna: What's wrong?
Bates: (sigh) Vera is back and doing something evil.
Anna: Well who cares, let's just run away!
Bates: (long sigh) I can't, I'm a good guy now.
Anna: Good guys are boring. Ravish me!
Bates: (even longer sigh) I need to try and get rid of her
again again again.
Every. Single. Week. Wake me up when they get married! Of course, now Vera is dead. But that's not going to keep a bitch down, is it?
The other "bad" moment takes us back to Sir Richard. He has suffered from character assassination, much like Isobel, Sybil and Branson before him. He began as an, admittedly, arrogant newspaper man, but has turned into a mustache-twirling villain who thinks that intimidation and control will bring Mary back to him. Sir Richard is now the poster child for an emotionally abusive relationship. Take, for example, his conversation with Mary where he basically says, "I have the means to destroy you. I want you to be happy. NEVER cross me. Kisses!" Perhaps because Lavinia is such a neutral figure, a girl we cannot hate because she has nothing hateable about her except for keeping Matthew and Mary apart (which is not her fault) Sir Richard must bear all of the weight of the man we can't wait to be kicked to the curb. But does he deserve such treatment?
Oh Peter/Patrick … you were badly maimed in the war, but didn't manage to be quite as weirdly lovable as Richard Harrow from "Boardwalk Empire," hmmm? But don't worry, Edith will still marry you. The Patrick story, like so many of these one-off plot lines this season, could have had more emotional impact if it had been dragged out further and if the stakes had been higher. It was obvious from almost the very start that this was an impostor, a fact that became clearer and clearer as the episode progressed. But it was all resolved within an hour's TV time - Peter/Patrick left of his own accord, hurting Edith's feelings and making everyone confused and uncomfortable for an afternoon. Beyond that … are the writers really telling us there isn't anything more interesting going on in that manor than this?
"Downton" has always been a soap opera with costumes and afternoon tea, but the silliness quotient has really been on the rise for Season Two. There are so many deeper issues to explore - the breaking down of the class structure, the impact of returning veterans and what their lives are like, even the relationships between the characters that could really stand some more time and better conversations - that the show has unfortunately curiously shied away from.
Next Week: Looks like PBS is combining the next two episodes for a two-hour block of Downton, reasons unknown. But what we do know is: Mary loves Matthew, Vera Bates may have died from arsenic poisoning (by whose hand?), Branson and Sybil come clean about their non-relationship which is a now a relationship, and a grave illness strikes the manor.
Musings and Miscellanea:
— I didn't bother to mention much more about Sybil and Branson because they followed my script from last week almost to a T! (I've never written that phrase out before … is it to a "t"? a "tee"? How can I not know this?)
— Daisy also continued on with her "I'm guilty! I'm guilty of marrying William when I shouldn't have!" refrain. I feel bad for the girl, I do. She's clearly developing a little bit of a backbone, but the stronger women of the house are still pushing her to be something she never wished to be in the first place.
— Thomas looks great in casual wear.
— I loved the clock chiming scene. So great.
— "I'm American, I don't share the English aversion to comfort" - Cora.
— How can Mrs Hughes say that there is no proof for Major Bryant's parents that their late son was the father of Ethel's big-headed lad? Mrs Hughes and others saw their interactions, and Mrs Hughes herself witnessed them sleeping together. I suppose the parents might just think it was a servant conspiracy.
— Fashion Alert: The arrival of the tux!
— Fashion Police: Mary is repeating those two dresses again (and again and again)
— I really love the Mrs Hughes / Carson relationship. It's not romantic, but it carries deep affection. Same with Carson and the Earl!
— "The trick of business is to mind your own" - Anna
— A funny little "Downton" parody from SNL last week:
— Shocking! "Downton Abbey" stars out of costume (check out O'Brien and Mrs Hughes! And Carson! Love it. Also, Rob James Collier is much more attractive than that picture they used. Google him, you'll see).
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