PBS aired two hours of "Downton Abbey" back to back last night - click here for my recap of the first hour.
What a marvelous ending for what was a truly great third season. True, the season is not technically over - there's still next week's grand finale, which finished up as the Christmas Special episode in England - but even if it had ended right here with that slow-motion bounding and bounding, I would have been completely satisfied.
To air these two episodes together was a strange choice, as I mentioned in my recap of the first hour, because while that first hour spent a lot of time on setup, the second hour was like a freight train of plot. The oddest abutment of the two would have to be Mary's sudden announcement that she had just been to London. When did that happen? In the last fifteen minutes? It's easy to forgive those weird bits of editing, though, when the finale gave everyone (save Edith, of course) a more or less happy ending.
As happy as I was about Mary and Matthew's talk and Anna and Bates setting up house and the three men who have been at odds all season - Robert, Branson and Matthew - all coming together in the end to help the estate move forward, the two biggest stories were the advent of Rose, which I'll get to in a bit, and the immense payoff of years of watching the series with how things ended for Thomas.
Mary may be the most interesting of the Upstairs lot, but Thomas is absolutely the best character Downstairs. There are so many great stories and relationships that have unfolded among the servants, but no one has gone through more than Thomas. I suspect most viewers have always disliked him, but I've always been drawn in by his deep pain covered by a brash exterior. Thomas has always only wanted to be loved and accepted, and since he's spent his life with a chip on his shoulder and in constant competition with everyone, people don't take to him easily. His love life is 0-for-3 (as far as we've seen on the show), Carson has never liked him, and he's always been thrown over for Bates, his nemesis when the series began.
I mentioned in the last hour's recap that for Bates to hold such a grudge against Thomas still seemed petty, and sure enough, Bates came through this hour as Thomas' savior and redeemer - so much so that Thomas ended up promoted beyond Bates. Rob James-Collier is one of the best actors on the series, and he was in full display of his talents last night, from his horror at being let go without a reference to his tears in front of Mrs. Hughes to his acknowledgement to Bates first of his jealousy and secondly of his defeat. Thomas has always had nuances that O'Brien never did - O'Brien has come across as increasingly evil, particularly this season. Why would she attempt to not just get rid of Thomas but ruin his life? What good would that do her?
"Downton Abbey" without Thomas would be a poorer show, and I was so happy to see that Thomas was kept on (thank God for cricket!) with the ultimate holdover O'Brien: "her ladyship's soap." I like that Bates wielded that weapon in the name of good even though neither he nor Anna would ever know what it means. But it was a nice, redemptive moment (and a great payoff) to have Thomas put down the final trump card, and to see O'Brien finally silenced for her huge Season One sin.
So much else happened, particularly in the weird and sudden story of Rose, who flew into Downton and back out again to London to carry on with a married man and serve, really, as a one-girl reminder to us and to the Crawleys that the Jazz Age has arrived. Rose's story will make a little more sense in context (barely) next week, when the Crawleys head up to Scotland to visit Rose and her parents, Shrimpy and Susan. For now though, her intrusion as "the freewheeling one," perhaps to replace Sybil, I met with mixed emotion. Just keep her away from Branson!
Elsewhere, Ethel's problems were solved by the Dowager, who as Isobel pointed out would have sold the child to the butcher to be chopped up if it kept the family out of scandal ("good thing it didn't come to that"). Her main objective - like Carson - is always to keep the Crawleys in the clear at any cost. Losing Ethel as a character won't be any great loss, but seeing her arc come to a close so satisfyingly was nice. Edith, on the other hand, was lead astray by yet another married man (just like that farmer, if you remember that whole mess), who borrowed his story directly from Jane Eyre. Poor Edith - she deserves a good fate, and it would have been nice for her to have some Jazz Age fun before she attempts to settle down again.
Finally, of course, the cricket match brought everyone together - Branson played, Molesley was hilariously no good, and even Clarkson got in on the action. Beautifully shot, beautiful to watch unfold, with another "everyone lived happily ever after" ending with the unification of Crawleys and Branson. But this is a soap opera, lest we forget, and there is still a big finale left. Don't expect everything to shine so brightly forever ...
Musings and Miscellanea:
- Does it never rain in their version of Yorkshire?
- I love Rosamund and was so happy to see her, even in a few small scenes. Her diction and displeasure at Rose's antics (especially the response "how very expensive" regarding the cab who waited for her while she conducted her affair!) in London, as well as her mother tricking her, were great.
- "Get back in the knife box, Miss Sharp!" - O'Brien to Anna
- Lavender was really the color in 1920, wasn't it?
- Anna and Bates are so cute again, and a good team (just like Mary and Matthew). Even Cora played her part well this week by supporting Robert when lambasted by Matthew, but then speaking sensibly and coaxing him rightfully into a better future for Downton.
- "If I shouted blue murder every time someone tried to kiss me at Eton, I'd have gone hoarse!" - Robert
- I like how open everyone's discussions about Thomas' sexuality were. As Bates said, everyone "knew," but as Mrs Hughes pointed out, it was only when it became "confirmed" that it was a problem. Carson's reaction was unsurprising, but I liked that Thomas replied, "I am not foul. I am different from you, but I am not foul." Most surprising, perhaps, was Robert's accepting attitude, taking the pragmatic approach that as long as Thomas could play cricket and the scandal was hushed, things might as well continue as they were.
- Apparently the info desk at the Telegraph was the Google of the 1920s!
- Of course Robert would be drawn to Ponzi's scheme ...
- "Yes but it was an hour [spent seeing my children] every day ..." - Violet. Her interactions with Isobel are the best.
- I loved Branson's speech about making one's gifts available to the family for the greater good. Beautifully put.
- "She's forgetting you were in the trenches and not her." - Mary, talking about Edith and Matthew. Is Edith the new Isobel?
- "Do you have to be such a big girl's blouse about it?" - Bates, cracking me up.
- Loved all of Molesley's teachings about cricket before the match. Hilarious.
- Interesting twist that it was Alfred, in the end, who wanted to turn Thomas (and potentially Jimmy) in. He has that O'Brien blood after all!
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