Monday, February 27, 2012

THE 84TH ANNUAL ACADEMY AWARDS & RED CARPET

The 84th Annual Academy Awards are part of movie history but now the real fun begins -- reviewing the show and the red carpet. Billy Crystal gave it his best shot but the show felt like it was put into a time machine and leaned too heavily on nostalgia and what we used to love about the movies. I loved Christopher Plummer's and Meryl Streep's acceptance speeches and laughed at Angelina's vampy stance that is sure to replace Tebowing in Hollywood for the forseeable future. The red carpet was a bit of a snoozer (but I did love Jolie in Versace and Gwyneth in snow white Tom Ford). Read my full minute-by-minute review here:http://www.lookonline.com/oscars2012.html Photo: Getty

Sunday, February 26, 2012

IT'S OSCAR SUNDAY!

In just a few hours Hollywood's biggest stars will walk the red carpet at this year's Academy Awards. Who will take home top honors? I liked The Help (Octavia Spencer is a lock and Viola Davis may just beat our Meryl Streep for Best Actress), The Descendants (George Clooney at his best) and Moneyball (Brad Pitt doing some of his best work, too). I'll be reviewing the show -- and of course, the fashion -- for lookonline.com. See you in Hollywood!

Monday, February 20, 2012

DOWNTON ABBEY SEASON TWO FINALE RECAP

Downton addicts rejoice! We got the finale we were hoping for. It was cinematic, dramatic and beautifully acted. The final scene of the show with Mary and Matthew proclaiming their love amid the falling snow is one of the most romantic love scenes I've ever seen on television. Everything fit together beautifully. Okay, so Lavina giving her blessing from the great beyond for the couple to marry was stretching it a bit, but you just had to go with it. It was great escapist yet intelligent fare at a time when the real world has gone mad. Bravo to Julian Fellowes and the entire Downton cast!

Among those reviews that have sung Downton's praises this season, there's been several grouchy pieces dismissing the show as nothing more than a dressed up soap opera to which I say: what's your point? Of course Downton Abbey is a soap opera if, by that you mean a drama set in a fantastical place with multiple characters whose lives intersect in dramatic and sometimes over the top ways and whose love lives pale in comparison to those of mere mortals. The difference is that Downton is a brilliant and satisfying soap opera. Many episodes, this one in particular, could function as a stand alone movie. Fellowes' nimble handling of story and character development set against what is surely the most lush cinematography on television has made watching the show a transporting experience.

Much has been made about why Downton is so popular here in the United States. Why are six million people tuning into a show about British aristocrats and their servants at the twilight of the British empire? What is it about his lordship's benevolent interactions with his servants (arguably Lord Grantham has two long standing bromances with both Bates and Carson) that makes us care? How can Americans, in the age of The Jersey Shore and other hit reality show vulgarities, find a show sexy that waited six episodes in to give viewers the first kiss between its most attractive characters? Maybe the answer is that culturally we're not going to hell in a handbasket after all. There are enough of us that actually want to watch something that is good -- well written, well acted with some history lessons sprinkled in. (Admit it, you feel smarter just watching this show!) There's just so much of watching idiots make fools of themselves to make one feel better about oneself that we can take.

And, of course, we tell ourselves that Downton Abbey brings us back to a simpler time when the world's problems were not as overwhelming as they are now. But, on that score, we are dead wrong. Think back to that quaint battle scene where Matthew and William are gravely injured at the front. 20,000 men were killed on the first day at the battle of the Somme. The Spanish flu, which mainly struck the already decimated population of young people after the war was the most destructive pandemic of all time killing 250,000 in Britain. And women had no rights at all (Well, now that you mention it, the more things change, the more they stay the same) How can a show about a world of inherited privilege be so popular when our real lives are filled with stories of Occupy protesters and a presidential race where one party's front runner happily admits he doesn't worry about the poor? Sure the lavish sets and costumes help, but I believe our attraction to Downton lies in its appeal as a fable of sorts -- a fairy tale where handsome princes come to the rescue and women are worth fighting for at a time when everywhere we look goodness does not win out, bad people don't pay for their sins -- they get paid more to sell their stories.

The sum of Downton's appeal can be found in the season's final scene. Matthew and Mary, the show's hero and heroine are together at last and all is right with the world. We can forgive Julian Fellowes for giving us too much Ethel, Daisy and Patrick/Peter the burn victim this season because he wrote an absolute perfect ending. Matthew and Mary together at last! I actually screamed when I knew Matthew was going to propose. (My husband, who has become used to my devotion to the series, left the house when it came on so I could enjoy a good cry in peace) Never looking more gorgeous than they both did at that moment, the couple stand together in their evening finery as the snow falls lightly around them. (There's a reason Ralph Lauren sent his models down the runway last week to the strains of Downton's soundtrack) Matthew, having finally overcome his guilt over Lavinia's death, asks Mary if she will stay at Downton rather than run off to America to wait out the period of scandal that is sure to hit once Sir Richard, her scorned ex-fiance, puts the story of Mr. Pamuk dying in her bed in all the papers he owns. As an aside I will tell you I sobbed during the scene where Mary learns her father knows of her misdeeds and he tells her to "go to America, find a cowboy in middle America and bring him back to shakes us up a bit." Lord Grantham, the father every girl would love to have (except maybe Sybil), is back in fine form. I was a puddle! Matthew's request to have her stay at Downton surprises Mary because when she told Matthew of her ill-fated night of passion with Pamuk earlier, he seemed so hurt. ("Was it love?" he asks sounding close to tears. No, she tells him, it was lust! "I am impure!" Mary cries having hurt the man she loves.)

My favorite Grantham daughter, who has grown much more worldly and weary through the season, replies they've had their chance and lost it. "We carry more baggage than the porters at King's Crossing" then asks "You've forgiven me?" No, says Matthew pausing for effect. "I don't believe you need my forgiveness." Then, the big payoff: "You've lived your life and I've lived mine and now it's time we lived them together." Mary so wants to let herself believe what she's hearing, but says, "Don't take me there unless you're sure." Matthew, who just last week -- and earlier in the episode -- was committed to living a life of misery that he thought he justly deserved having caused Lavinia to die of a broken heart (helped along by the Spanish flu of course)-- has had his own change of heart. He tells Mary he now believes Lavinia would not have wanted him to be sad. (And he doesn't even know about the Ouija Board!) and says,"Then will you?" Mary, to her infinite credit, doesn't let being the fallen woman of Downton get in the way of being proposed to properly. "I won't answer unless you kneel down and ask me." A smiling Matthew now knows the "uppity minx" (Mrs. Hughes' apt description of Mary) is back having broken free of the dastardly Sir Richard and is ready to give him her heart. "Lady Mary Crawley will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?" Of course she tells him yes and the couple joyfully embrace as the camera cuts away to a shot of Downton Abbey standing majestically in the snow with a few lights left on beckoning the faithful to return next season. The End. Sigh.

Notes on other plot developments After hearing damning testimony from O'Brien, Mrs. Hughes and Lord Grantham, Bates is found guilty of the "willful murder" of his ex-wife Vera and is sentenced to hang. I used to love Bates, but his martyrdom got on my nerves in the end. The only way the prosecution could have known of those conversations offered in testimony is if Bates himself recounted them. Sorry, but no one is that noble. And poor Anna. What will become of her? Bates sentence is commuted to life in prison and Anna, together with Lord Grantham, Mr. Murray and Matthew are going to work to overturn the verdict. The continuation of this storyline threatens to veer into truly sudsy territory. As much as I've loved 'Banna' and Brendon Coyle as Bates, I fear that Fellowes has painted himself in a bit of corner here and it might be best to say good-bye to this story and give Anna a new chapter. "Promise me you'll make new friends and live life," Bates tells Anna when we last see them together. Anna, please listen to him. We'll really miss you Brendan Coyle, but we don't see any other way out of this.

Lord and Lady Grantham's marriage is seemingly back on track although they are still at odds over Sybil's decision to run off and marry Branson (in a letter from Ireland she tells her parents she's pregnant but asks them not to tell her sisters). "We're to have a Fenian grandchild?" says Robert referring to Branson's support of Irish nationalism which is sure to cause problems next season. Cora, who is far more pragmatic about her daughter's marriage says if there is a revolution, "It might be helpful to have a contact from the other side." Later, after the Servants Ball (How priceless was it to see Matthew dancing with O'Brien ("Crikey!") and Mrs. Patmore?!?), the subject of Sybil comes up again and Cora tells her husband: "I won't be kept from my first grandchild. It isn't what I wanted for her, but we must accept it." Cora wants to go to Ireland to visit (they skipped the wedding) and invite them to come to Downton. "And the chauffeur?" asks Robert. "Him too." Branson grew on me as the season progressed. Allen Leech's scenes with Hugh Bonneville were terrific so more of that would be welcome.

Speaking of the daughters of Downton, Lady Edith briefly reunites -- if only to be rejected -- with Sir Anthony who has been wounded in the war. He tells her he's too old for her and that he'd never let someone as "young and lovely" as she be saddled with being his nursemaid for life. Those crumbs of a compliment are enough to make her want to hang on to him. Poor Edith, I hope she gets a real shot at romance next season. She's had some interesting story lines this season, now it's her turn to have a relationship that last beyond two episodes.

Downstairs, Carson is chagrined to have to be forced to deal with the prospect that Thomas may become his lordship's new valet now that conniving footman has once again schemed his way into a better position. His stunt to steal Isis and then recover her had me very nervous. We have forgiven Thomas a lot of things, but if that dog had disappeared or died that would have been it for him. On the flip side, we can't say we're immune to his charms. I loved the way he asked the Dowager Countess to waltz at the servant's ball. O'Brien, who was shown to have a little more of a conscience over her reluctance to testify against Bates, continues to intrigue. (Does she know something about Vera's death? We're not sure about this one. Could be) She's still Downton's wicked stepmother, but it seems as if the weight of carrying around her secret about causing Cora's miscarriage is starting to get to her. I suspect that the arrival of Lady Cora's mother (Shirley Maclaine) next season will offer all sorts of interesting confrontations. The Daisy-Mrs. Patmore storyline got a little too much screen time in the finale, but served its purpose of moving the story out of the annoying place it had been in for too many episodes. Daisy's protestations over her deathbed marriage to William had grown tiresome. By choosing to show another side of the kitchen maid (who is sure to have been promoted to assistant cook when we next see her) with William's father as his new 'daughter' gave the story a new poignancy that was, in the end, quite moving.

Sir Richard got his walking papers in quite dramatic fashion. After verbally abusing Mary in front of the family one too many times and telling Matthew Lavinia knew he never loved her, Matthew loses it. "You bastard!" he cries and punches him out. The scrum is broken up by Lord Grantham. When the Dowager Countess comes in to see what all the fuss is about Sir Richard tells her they likely won't meet again she says, "Do you promise?" Priceless. The morning after, Mary tells Sir Richard she didn't want their last words to be angry ones. Really? She has a soft spot for the man that basically blackmailed her into marrying him? A little perplexing, but we'll let it slide. "I'm sorry if I used you," she tells him. I wouldn't worry, Mary. I think you were pretty evenly matched on that score. Will he publish the story of Mr. Pamuk? I think he will, but it will have blown over by the time season three rolls around. And what of Haxby Park? Even though Sir Richard bragged to Mary that he would sell the estate at a profit, it might be far more interesting to have him inhabit that house and become the Crawleys new neighbor married to a vengeful and jealous bride.

Isobel went from one of the season's most annoying characters to one of my favorites in this episode. No longer the wartime harpie, she was shown to be the smart, compassionate woman once again that we met in season one. Not surprisingly, she asked Robert if she could attend Bates' trial with the family to offer her support and proved helpful in her motherly role. But her best scene came just before the servants' ball when she told Matthew to "fight for" Mary. I loved when she uttered the line, "Please don't invoke the name of that sweet dead girl again!" Mother did indeed know best. We can expect good things to come, I'm sure, when Isobel becomes mother in law to Mary.

I thought the story line about Lady Rosamund, her snotty maid and that loser lord who wanted to marry Rosemund for her money while sleeping with the help was extraneous and very predictable. There's something about Rosamund I find quite creepy. Ever notice her brother, the otherwise affable Lord Grantham, has virtually nothing to do with her? I think we should all follow his lead and ignore her.

So what can we look forward to next season? A beautiful wedding for Matthew and Mary that will either kick off or end that season. I can't wait for the costumes for that! More gorgeous cinematography (yes please), more great lines delivered by Maggie Smith, fresh plotting by Thomas and O'Brien and more harrumphing from Carson. We can hardly wait.

Photo credit: London Evening Standard

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Monday, February 13, 2012

DOWNTON ABBEY SEASON TWO EPISODE SIX RECAP


If this was the pre-finale episode, God knows what we can expect in Downton's final episode of the season. I know I sound like a broken record, but Julian Fellowes packs so much into every episode it's head spinning. Last night, there were four engagements and a funeral. Positively epic! I hadn't known that last night's broadcast, billed as episode seven, which actually aired as two separate shows when it was shown in the UK, was going to be two hours long. Although I could have easily paused it on my television, I dared not move from my sofa for fear of missing one withering look from Lady Mary, a brief but telling exchange between O'Brien and Thomas, a disapproving harrumph from Carson or a clever line of dialogue uttered by Violet. And it's a good thing, because there wasn't a wasted minute of this supersized edition of Downton.

It's 1919 and the last vestiges of war have been removed from Downton. Most of its inhabitants find themselves at loose ends unsure of what they're to do now that the wounded (at least the ones with the visible scars) have left the great house.

The marriage of Lord and Lady Grantham seems to have been severely battered by the war as we see the couple at opposite ends of virtually every argument. When Cora raises the issue about Matthew leaving Downton now that all the other patients have gone so that he -- and Mary -- can get on with their lives, Robert is aghast and heads out on a walk to the village. It's become clearer with every episode that Lord Grantham feels overwhelmed by the estrogen level at Downton and craves the camaraderie of a son. He meets Jane on the grounds and inquires about her son, the 12 year-old Freddie, and tells her he's written to the headmaster of Rippan Grammar to help the boy gain acceptance to the school. Looking for someone to share his despondency, he asks her if she misses her husband to which he replies, "I have Freddie." The Earl tells her he is haunted by his thoughts of "Poor William" and paralyzed Matthew. "Do you ever wonder what it was all for?" he asks the stunned housemaid before she scurries off into the house.

When Sir Richard arrives he seems to sense Lord Grantham's mood perfectly when he says, "When the war is over the first emotion is relief; the second is disappointment." How true, says his lordship, let's get some tea.

Thomas, no longer able to hide behind his uniform and determined to leave his former life of service behind, has decided to try his hand in the black market and boasts to O'Brien that despite investing all his money buying a stash to resell to customers like Mrs. Patmore he'll be "well fixed as soon as the word gets out." In the meantime, Thomas tells her he'll wrangle a few weeks stay at Downton until the money starts rolling in. "I shouldn't count on it," says O'Brien who knows Thomas isn't exactly loved by anyone upstairs or downstairs at the house.

Bates, (Who for some reason, I'm feeling a bit annoyed with -- perhaps because he's put our good hearted Anna through so much), is dressing Lord Grantham for dinner when his lordship absentmindedly wonders aloud why Vera didn't leave a note if she committed suicide and raises the question of where she got the poison then apologizes for raising the issue with Bates. Anna, in the meantime, is stopped in the hallway by Sir Richard who asks her into his bedroom (which is not so coincidentally just the right shade of red for the devil's lair) and basically bribes her to spy on Lady Mary and report back on who she sees, where she goes and what she says. What a guy.

Later, the entire family gathers for dinner when the topic of the 'new fashions' come up. It's an amusing scene which cleverly informs the viewer about just how much the world has changed since the war and who is and isn't a fan of the dawning of the new post-war age. Having exchanged his formal cutaway for a tuxedo as is the latest style now, Lord Grantham jokes that he almost came down in a "dinner jacket" to which Violet replies, "Why not a dressing gown or pajamas?" Ever the modern woman, Isobel says she likes the "new fashions -- shorter skirts, looser cuts" because they're better for "getting things done." The old, restrictive clothes were better suited for swanning around on a chaise lounge. "I'll stick to the chaise lounge," says Violet.

Sybil, disbelieving that Granny isn't a fan of the new way of doing things says, "Surely you can't want things to go back to the way they used to be?" to which Violet replies: "Of course I do and as quickly as possible." What about you, Papa? Sybil asks. Lord Grantham, looking glum, tells his family: "Before the war I believe my life had meaning, I'd like to feel that once again." Someone is having one hell of a mid-life crisis.

When Mary mentions the boyish women's haircuts that are all the rage in Paris, Matthew says he hopes she won't try one. Lavina and Richard try to reinsert themselves back into their respective fiance's bandwidths to no avail. Lavina pipes up with: "I don't know how feminine they are." Mary's retort: "I don't know how feminine I am" and Sir Richard's lame attempt at reminding her he's in the room: "Very, I'm glad to say."

Listening to her father and "Granny" pine for the way things used to be send Sybil (almost) into the arms of Branson and she leaves the house and goes to the garage. She tells him, "I feel so flat after the hustle and bustle of the last two years" and that she knows now she can't go back to the old way of life. Hearing all this, Branson expectantly asks her if she's made up her mind about running away with him. "Not quite," she tells him.

At the end of the evening Carson and Mrs. Hughes are sitting in the servants quarters having tea as he regales her with tales of all the new kitchen and bathroom gadgets to be used at Haxby Park describing then as "something out of a film with Theda Bara." Mrs. Hughes, who, I'm convinced, would have gladly been Anna to Carson's Bates, asks him, "Will you be happy there?"

"I will regret leaving Downton every minute of every day," he says. I have to say, Carson is the role Jim Carter was born to play. (Carson has so many great scenes in this episode thanks to Carter's pitch perfect depiction of the butler's snobbery and confusion over the emerging new world order.) "I thought I'd die here and haunt it ever after, but I think I can help (Mary) in those early years when it's important to get it right." Mrs. Hughes, who has never been a big fan of Mary, tells Carson she thinks her ladyship is an "uppity minx" (How great is that!) "who's the author of her own misfortunes." Just then, Anna comes in and tells both of them of Sir Richard's attempt to bribe her.

Upstairs, Bates is helping Matthew into bed when the long suffering Captain Crawley reveals to the valet that he's been feeling a tingling in his legs but that Dr. Clarkson is dismissing it as an illusion. Bates, who seems to have lost all patience for everyone at this point, tells him if it's real, he'll know soon enough. Matthew swears him to secrecy for fear of getting 'anyone's' (read: Mary) hopes up.

With word that Major Mustache's parents are going to be paying a visit to Downton, Mrs. Hughes goes to see Ethel and tells her she can come hide out in the house and if the opportunity presents itself, the housekeeper will arrange for her to speak to the major's mother and introduce her to her grandson, Charlie, who is now about a year old. Mrs. Hughes seems to have garnered the powers of ESP when she tells the young woman that her only hope of getting help to raise Charlie is by appealing to her lover's mother.

Carson tells Mary about Sir Richard's attempt to spy on her and given the circumstances, he won't leave Downton to work for the couple. Furious at being "abandoned," Mary chastises Carson reminding him that they both knew what kind of man she was marrying ("We were to educate him together -- that was the plan!") and then tells her favorite servant how disappointed she is in him. Her hard protective shell forms almost immediately when she dismisses his decision as unimportant when Richard interrupts them and she tells him of Carson's decision saying, "Butlers will be two-a-penny now that they're back from the war."

Lord Grantham and Jane meet just outside the dining room when his lordship, looking for Carson, stops to inspect the wine for the evening's dinner. Jane tells Lord G their earlier conversation "made me sad." Looking completely forlorn, this lordship tells her: "I'm a foolish man who's lost his way and doesn't know how to find it again." That's for sure. He lunges at her for a kiss. This is completely out of character for Lord Grantham and is distressing to me. He's Downton's rock! How can you do this to us, Julian Fellowes? As if he's heard my gasp through the television set, he pulls away from Jane and apologizes to her for his 'ungentlemanly' behavior. Jane skitters back to the kitchen when she finds Carson and, although completely flustered, manages to tell him his lordship is looking for him.

Carson tells Lord Grantham about Sir Richard's bribery of Anna and says because of it, he won't be leaving Downton after all. "I couldn't work for a man I don't respect," he says. Let's hope he never finds out about Jane since we know how tolerant Carson is when it comes to giving people a pass for giving into sexual impulses. If only he knew the people two he loved most were idols with feet of clay.

Matthew and Lavinia are in the drawing room when Lavina decides to bring a heavy tray left behind by the servants into the kitchen. What happens next is like a scene is straight out of the pages of an All My Children script, but I don't care, it worked. Lavina trips heading straight into the fireplace when Matthew rises just in the nick of time from his wheelchair to catch her. He can walk!

Lord Grantham gathers everyone downstairs to bear witness to the miracle including Dr. Clarkson, who is forced to admit his misdiagnosis. It turns out that the other doctor that examined Matthew when he first came back from the war diagnosed him as having spinal shock and predicted Matthew would eventually recover. (Nice save, Julian Fellowes) I'd say Clarkson got a pretty bad track record between this and his horrible mistake of misjudging that poor blinded solider who, after being told he had to leave Downton by the good doctor earlier than he was ready to do, committed suicide. Hope your malpractice insurance is paid up, doc! There seems to be no hard feelings, because Lord Grantham invites Clarkson to stay for dinner to celebrate even if he isn't wearing evening clothes.

While the rest of the house is celebrating upstairs, Bates drops another bomb on Anna in yet another hallway encounter telling her that it was he who bought the rat poison Vera must have taken several months back when she asked him to get it for some unknown reason. Anna begs him to tell the police immediately so as not to look like he's hiding anything. This can't be good.

At dinner Matthew announces he and Lavina will be married "As soon as I'm well enough to walk down the aisle" and then asks if the couple can have their nuptials at Downton so as to "bury the memory of what I hope was the darkest period of my life." Lord Grantham agrees, Cora seethes and Mary looks as if someone has just slapped her across the face.

Tired of watching other people get on with their lives while hers remains in limbo, Sybil goes to Branson and tells him: "My answer is I'm ready to travel and you're my ticket to get away from this house and this life." Not exactly 'I love you and want to be with you' but Branson is too excited to notice. You don't mind burning your bridges? he asks her. "Fetch me the matches! And yes, you can kiss me," she tells him. At last.

All is not well in the Grantham's room at bedtime. While his lordship is thrilled about Matthew's plans to marry at Downton, Cora is none too pleased about not being consulted on the decision to host the wedding and reminds her husband that by allowing Matthew and Lavina to get married at Downton, he has delayed Mary's wedding all because Matthew was "lame." Robert explodes at his wife calling her remarks "stupid and selfish."

Mrs. Patmore decides to take Thomas up on his offer and asks him to secure the hard to get ingredients she'll need for the wedding cake for Matthew and Lavina. When will he get paid? asks O'Brien. "When I'm satisfied," the crafty cooks tells them. Seems like the dastardly duo have met their match.

When Major Mustache's parents arrive it's easy to see where the cad got his charming manners. His father is an absolute tyrant ordering his chauffeur to stay in the car and telling Lord and Lady Grantham they have to "eat and run" despite all the effort that has been made to bring together all of those at Downton who knew the major so his family could ask questions of them. When Mrs. Hughes tries and fails to get a few minutes alone with the major's mother, she goes to Ethel and tells her the meeting she had hoped for isn't going to happen. Ethel is undeterred, and with Charlie in her arms, bursts into the dining room and confronts the major's parents.

"What proof have you?" blusters Major Mustache's father. When Ethel tries to tell the man his son knew about the child but would not acknowledge him, the man cuts her down calling her an opportunist preying on the grief of a rich couple who lost their own son (only he says it in a much nastier way). Ethel leaves the room in tears and Major Mustache's father announces lunch is over. "He's terrified of his own grief, that's why he acts this way," offers his beaten down wife as they exit. When the couple depart, Sir Richard offers his usual kind hearted take on the situation telling the others that Ethel has no legal grounds and the baby is "her bastard" (I don't know why this sounds so incredibly harsh given the expletives we hear today, but it does. I cringed every time the word is uttered in this episode). Ever the gentleman, Matthew asks his mother if one of the refugee organizations she is now working with could help the unwed mother and child. Isobel explains Ethel is not a refugee and the budgets of these organizations are already stretched to the limit. Mary, who has seemingly morphed back into the wicked witch since Matthew's miraculous recovery, says coldly: "She's made her choice and she's stuck with it. Aren't all of us stuck with the choices we make?" Some more than others, my dear.

That night Violet goes to Matthew and bluntly tells him Mary is still in love with him. Shocked (although I don't know why) Matthew sputters a response about not being able to leave Lavina since she is the one who vowed to take care him when there was no hope of a 'normal life.' It would be bad form to throw her over now. And anyway, he says, Mary is marrying Sir Richard. "Let's not muddy the pool by discussing Sir Richard" says Violet. Finally, she leaves Matthew with this: "Marriage is a long business. There's no getting out of it for our kind of people. You may have 40 or 50 years with one of these women -- make sure you have selected the right one."

Sir Richard "impatient" to set a date for his wedding to Mary, gets her to agree to marrying at the end of July. You don't sound very excited, he says. "To quote you," she replies. "That's not who we are." Mary tells him she knows of his attempt to spy on her. If you want to know something about me, just ask, she says. Okay, then. Sir Richard asks her if she's still in love with Matthew (what was your first clue?) and she tells him she'd never love someone who prefers someone else.

More from the doomed-from-the-start love department: Bates tells Anna that Vera wrote to a friend before her death telling her she feared for her life because of Bates' anger.

Somehow Anna finds the strength to brush her own troubled love life aside and help Mary and Edith find Sybil when they discover she's run off with Branson. They find the couple at The Swan Inn. When they burst in, everything is as chaste as can be. Sybil is sleeping fully clothed on the bed and Branson is dozing in a nearby chair. Sweet. Mary and Edith convince their sister to return to Downton so Sybil can talk to her parents about her plans and not 'sneak off like a thief in the night.' Branson knows Mary will try her best to talk Sybil out of marrying the chauffeur, but Sybil reassures him her mind is made up.

Unaware of all that's happened with his daughters, Lord Grantham and Cora have another snippy exchange at breakfast the next morning when Cora tells him she's too busy to spend time with him because she's helping Isobel with her work with the refugees and not to hold lunch for her if she's late. He doesn't understand the change in his wife. "The war changed everybody," Cora tells her sullen husband. "Not me," he says. "Don't be so sure," she admonishes. When he's left alone in the dining room, Jane appears out of nowhere (in a bit of a creepy way) to tell him she's resigning her post. The needy Lord Grantham talks her out of it. You won't lose your livelihood because of my ungentlemanly behavior, he tells her.

When Mrs. Patmore discovers Thomas' baking supplies consist mostly of plaster dust after she and Daisy try a bite of the sample cake, Thomas realizes he's been taken by a man he met in a pub. When he completely loses it in front of O'Brien in the shed where he's been keeping his stash I feel momentarily sorry for him. All things considered, he's something of a tragic figure. Desperate and broke, he goes hat in hand to ask Carson if he can stay on at Downton while he looks for work. "I cannot say I sympathize when you dabble in the black market," Carson tells him whose dislike for Thomas goes back to season one when he knew the former footman was stealing wine. He tells him he must go.

Fast forward three months. The house is being readied for Matthew and Lavinia's wedding. One night with the family gathered before dinner, Lord Grantham finally learns of Sybil and Branson's plans and explodes at the sight of the former chauffeur in the drawing room. "I will not allow my daughter to throw away her life!" Violet tries to calm things and asks her granddaughter about her plans. Sybil tells the family that Branson (his first name is Tom!) has gotten a job as a journalist (Now there's a bright future) and that she will move to Dublin to be with him and work as a nurse. Cora, whose eyes look as if they're going to fall out of her head any moment, is horrified at the prospect that her unmarried daughter will live with a man. No, says Sybil, they will be married. Lord Grantham refuses to give his blessing. Branson gets the same warm reception downstairs when he tries to tell the servants of his plans. "Have you no shame!?" bellows Carson. (He's the only character who could utter this line convincingly and he does with great flourish). Poor Carson, he is the biggest snob at Downton and continues to be flummoxed by all the changes around him.

Violet finds Edith sorting through Matthew and Lavina's wedding presents (I really hope this poor girl finds love in season three, she's more than earned it) while looking for Lord Grantham. Edith tells her he's upstairs talking with Sybil. "I'm afraid it will end in tears," says Violet. "They won't be Sybil's," says Edith having wisely assessed her sister's determination to live her own life. Edith tells Violet she worries that she'll wind up "the maiden aunt" to which Violet tells her to buck up. "Don't be defeatist. It's very middle class."

Sybil and Lord Grantham are indeed battling it out upstairs when Violet joins the fray telling her that all this drama is better suited for novels than for real life. The youngest Grantham daughter is resolute: "I will not give him up!" Lord Grantham issues a threat: "There will be no more money. Your life will be very different." Sybil is unmoved. "Bully for that!"

Cora and Lord Grantham argue over Sybil's behavior. Cora says that perhaps they have chosen not to see their daughter for who she really is. Here comes my favorite line of the night: "If you're turning American on me, I'll go downstairs." (By this time I've lost count of the exact number of all the great lines uttered in tonight's episode)

Anna seems to have grown a backbone finally when she tells Bates she doesn't care what it takes, but they are to be married as soon as possible so if there is trouble with the police, she is her love's next of kin and can be kept informed of what's happening. "You can't deny me that," she tells him. Oh, so I want this to end well, but we all know it can't, don't we?

That night, Carson, Mosley, Cora and Lavina suddenly become ill. Everyone but Mosley (who, it turns out is drunk from sampling too much of the wines he was serving for dinner) has fallen victim to the Spanish Flu. At first, Cora seems like she won't survive. Racked with guilt over causing Cora's miscarriage all those months ago, O'Brien refuses to leave her ladyship's bedside. At one point, she tries to confess all to Cora but stops when it's clear she's too ill to understand what's being said.

Later that night, Mary sees Matthew trying out the new gramophone and before you know it, the ill-fated exes are waltzing around the floor to "Look for the Silver Lining" from the flop "Zip Goes a Million." "We were a flop," says Mary. Matthew lets his guard down and sounds completely devastated when he replies, "Oh God, Mary, I'm so so sorry." Mary tells him it was her fault and he reveals that Violet came to him a while back to tell him Mary still loved him. Undaunted, Mary calls the move "classic Granny." Matthew then tells her, "I couldn't ... however much I want to." Then they kiss only to be interrupted by Lavinia who later tells Matthew she never wants to be "a nuisance" imploring him, "don't ever let me get in the way."

Acting out in a major way, Lord Grantham shares a somewhat steamier exchange with Jane who upon hearing he's feeling "wretched" follows him into his dressing room for some snogging before a knock at the door from Bates breaks the spell. The would be lovers have a heartfelt 'Oh I wish things were different' conversation before wretching themselves apart from each other. Shame on you Lord G!

The lord of the manor has a pretty short memory because the next morning he goes to the Grantham Arms in the village to pay a visit to Branson. Surely, his daughter can't have real feelings for a servant and he's just as sure Branson's exit can be secured for the right price."How much would it take for you to leave us in peace," he asks his daughter's would be husband. Branson, who I love more every episode, tells his lordship he won't be bought.

Major Mustache's parents return to Downton for a visit with Ethel and Charlie. With Mrs. Hughes at her side, Ethel finds out her son's grandparents (or rather his grandfather) has an offer: give us the child and he'll have everything; raise him yourself and your on your own. Ethel pleads with the man to allow her to work as the child's nursemaid with a promise she won't reveal she's his mother, a proposition grandma endorses, but the dreadful man won't hear of it and uses the word 'bastard' as many times as he possibly can in one sentence. In the end, Ethel goes to Mrs. Hughes and tells her she's keeping Charlie. Kleenex alert: "Life is short," she says. "They say they can do better, but what's better than a mother's love?" End of this story. I hope.

Isobel tells Matthew and Lavinia they must postpone their wedding until Lavinia is fully recovered. Matthew reluctantly agrees. When his mother leaves the couple alone Lavina says maybe it's for the best. The selfless woman (sorry I misjudged you!) reveals she saw what happened between Matthew and Mary the night she fell ill and she although she loves Matthew, she realizes that she is just "an ordinary" person not 'Queen of the Castle' like Mary and that the two of them belong together. Matthew protests.

Sir Richard arrives back at Downton to help with the sick although nobody wants his kind of 'help.' When he inquires about the health of the patients, it dawns on Mary why he's come. Should Lavinia take a turn for the worst, she accurately guesses, "you wanted to stop Matthew from falling into my arms." Bingo.

The ice queen Mary suddenly defrosts when she learns Anna has arranged to marry Bates in the village on Friday and agrees to cover for her while the two quietly go off to wed. She also pays Carson a visit who is sick, but getting on better than the others. They vow their undying 'mutual support' of each other before a smiling, newly efficient Thomas pops in to offer a tray to his former nemesis. "Watch out for Thomas," warns Mary when he offers them both a courtly goodbye. "He doesn't want to be a footman forever." Mary's suspicions are confirmed later that night when she sees Thomas in the dining room dressed and ready for service. "Don't you look smart," she says to him. "I still had the shirt and I found my livery in the cupboard so I thought, why not?" And just like that he's back in the fold.

Sybil bursts into the room (there was quite a bit of that this episode, come to think of it)looking for Matthew. Lavinia has taken a turn for the worst. Sir Richard tries to stop Mary from going to her bedside grabbing her arm and hissing, "Let him go to her. You owe her that." But she breaks free and joins the rest of the horrified family members in Lavinia's room as she labors through her last words to Matthew: "Isn't this better, really? You don't have to make a hard decision. Be happy," she tells him. "For my sake. Promise me and remember that's all I want for you."

Lavinia's death is a wake-up call for many of Downton's residents. Lord Grantham goes to Cora, who is now recovering having almost succumbed to the Spanish flu. "We're all right, aren't we?" she asks her husband. "Of course we are," he tells her. Cora apologizes for neglecting him. "Don't apologize to me," he says. You got that right.

Jane resigns and this time Lord Grantham doesn't try to stop her. He does, however, give her the address of his 'man of business' telling her he wants to give Freddie 'a start in life" and perhaps buy his mother's silence in the process? "Can I kiss you before I go?" They share a last lingering kiss. Before she finally goes, she asks him, "Will you be happy?" His reply: "I have no right to be unhappy. It's almost the same." Not quite.

Anna and Bates marry in the village and when they return, Mary surprises Anna with a night in a bridal suite that she and Jane ("her good-bye gift") have decorated for the couple. Bates and Anna finally share a night of passion. (Not the love scene we were hoping for by any measure -- clearly British actors don't feel the need to go to the gym before the big reveal. Yikes!) "Now that you've had your way with me," Bates tells Anna, "I just hope you don't live to regret it." Says Anna: "I couldn't no matter what comes." We'll see about that.

Lavinia's funeral is gothically beautiful with a ghostly looking Matthew (a little heavy on the white pancake, no?) surrounded by everyone from Downton. Afterwards, he tells Mary that he believes Lavinia died of a broken heart. We killed her, he says. "We're cursed you and I. Let's be strong and accept this is the end." It was all very Wuthering Heights, if you ask me. A horrified Mary agrees and allows Sir Richard to lead her back to Downton resigned to her fate to live out the rest of her life as a wife in a loveless marriage. I know what the naysayers say about Downton just being a dressed up soap opera, but isn't that what so many of the best films are? This could have easily been a clip in this year's Best Picture rotation at the Oscars if you think about it. The graveyard scene -- beautifully shot, brilliantly written and wonderfully acted reminded me why Downton is better than anything I've seen in a long, long time.

While the rest of the crowd disperses, Lord Grantham eyes Branson with Sybil and goes up to the couple braced for battle. Something has changed, though. When Sybil tells her father she had hoped they could all be friends he softens. Maybe it was his brief encounter with Jane, maybe it's watching Matthew, the son he'll never have, get his heart broken again, but his lordship tells his daughter, "If I can't stop you, if you're sure, then you may take my blessing with you." For some reason, despite everything else that has happened in this episode, I completely lose it here. Perhaps it's because it was so touching to have the honorable Lord G return. This stiff-upper lip but soft-hearted man is the rock of the series without him and that lovable white labrador, the whole thing wouldn't be nearly as good. He warns Branson that he'll be torn apart by wild dogs if he doesn't treat his beloved youngest daughter well. "I would expect nothing less," replies his son-in-law to be.

As Lord G and Granny make their way back to the house, Violet is already spinning a tale of Branson's Irish ancestors having a connection to some moneyed family in Cork. Look on the bright side, she tells her son, he's political and a journalist we can concoct some version of a story that will be more interesting than scandalous. Granny is nothing if she's not pragmatic.

There's no spinning what happens to Bates in the show's final minutes. Upon returning from the cemetary, a frightened Mrs. Patmore tells him there are two men waiting for him in the servants' hall. They arrest Bates for Vera's murder. Anna tries to stop them ("I love you! For better or for worse!") but the always stoic valet tells them to do whatever is required. He is escorted out in handcuffs while the staff -- even Thomas -- looks on in shock.

For next week's finale: Will Bates be found guilty? Will Mary marry the devil? What else could possibly happen to Matthew? Leave your comments here and let me know.

Photo ITV for Masterpiece

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Monday, February 6, 2012

DOWNTOWN ABBEY SEASON TWO EPISODE FIVE RECAP




As the season builds to what is sure to be a shattering climax (it's true there are only a few episodes left!), this week's episode answers the question: Guess who's coming to dinner? and raises many other more unsettling ones like: Is Sir Richard Carlisle a distant relative of the late Russell Armstrong of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills?

It's 1919 and the war is drawing to a close. Mary has assumed the role of primary caregiver to Matthew and is wheeling him around Downton's verdant grounds (the cinematography from this episode was positively gorgeous). When he tells her he "keeps thinking about William ... he was the brave one," Mary with all the emotional efficiency she can muster replies, "You were both brave" and offers this bit of wartime wisdom: what happens during a time of war "just happens and we should live with it."

Not that anyone at Downton Abbey has any other choice. Aristocratic houses sit abandoned ripe for the picking by the new moneyed arrivistes, soldiers and officers continue to fall (bye-bye Major Mustache), the new emerging social order adds to the overall uncertainty for the aristocracy and the servants. And to top it all off, a mysterious stranger has come to Downton threatening to upend what little comfort its residents have managed to hold on to.

What's striking about this episode is how far all the characters have come in a short time (speaking in relation to the number of episode of the season). I've said it before but it bears repeating: more happens in one episode of this show than in season of most network dramas. This installment was no exception. In fact, Downton gets better and better every week. I don't know how I'll cope once it's over, but I digress. I can't think about that now. Here's my recap on what happened last night.

While watching Matthew and Mary from afar through a window at the house, Carlisle asks Lord Grantham, "Am I to be jealous?" The answer would be yes. Grantham, who can barely contain his contempt for his son-in-law to be, doesn't bother to answer. He's horrified to learn that Carlisle is taking Mary to see Haxby Park, the 12,000 acre estate next door in hopes of convincing his fiancee that it should be their new home. Unlike creaky old Downton, (Carlisle's view, not mine!) Carlisle is going to equip their lovenest with all the modern conveniences like central heating, a bathroom for every bedroom and a modern kitchen. "Sounds like more like an hotel," sputters the Earl. What Carlisle doesn't tell Lord Grantham is that he is hoping to bring Carson with him.

Major Clarkson tells Lord Grantham that a Canadian major, Patrick Gordon, who suffered severe burns while at the front, has requested to come to Downton because he has ties to the house and a family connection. Of course, he's welcome here, says a puzzled Grantham unaware of what's to come.

Downstairs in the kitchen, Anna and Bates are talking about getting their own house on the property once they're married when O'Brien grumbles something about it being unfair that the long suffering couple would get separate quarters. "Why," asks Bates who returns O'Brien's contempt in full measure. "Because we've all been such pals?"

Meanwhile, Cora (Loved that hat!) and Violet pay a visit to Isobel to talk about the future of Downton now that the war is coming to an end. Isobel is shocked to learn that Cora and Robert are eager to have their home fully returned to them rather than continue to use it for the some higher calling. She implores them to consider have it become a recovery center which, naturally, she will run. Surely they don't want to return to a life of "changing clothes and killing things" (Nicely done, Julian Fellowes). The Dowager Countess asks Isobel if she's "vote to abolish private houses?" Desperate to get this harpie out of their house for good, on the ride home with Cora, Violet vows to pull some strings and find something to divert Isobel's attention and find her another post-war project.

Lady Edith is the first Grantham to meet the mysterious major who has come to Downton to heal from the emotional and physical wounds he's suffered as a result of an explosion. Before she's able to get a good look at him, Edith cheerily tells him she's in charge of "the non-medical welfare" of the men. The major warns her that his appearance is quite off-putting. Edith, who has perhaps changed more than any of the Grantham sisters, says confidently, "At this stage there isn't much that puts me off." Then he steps out of the shadows and she gets a good look at him.

The new housemaid Jane tries to get Daisy to come to an event for local war widowes about their pensions but she isn't buying it. "I'm not a widow," she declares in front of the staff reminding them that her marriage lasted all of seven hours (Insert your own Kim Kardashian joke here). Despite Mrs. Patmore's urging that William wanted her to have the pension so she could be "looked after" Daisy reveals her anger at Mrs. Patmore saying, "You made me a liar when he was alive. I won't be false to his memory."

Carlisle finally gets around to offering Carson the job of running the home he and Mary are about to buy. It's no surprise that he thinks the promise of an "increase in salary" would lure him to the job of running Haxby Park ("There's nothing that money can't fix") When that doesn't seem to have any impact, he plays the Lady Mary card telling Carson that his favorite Grantham daughter would no doubt find Carson's services and presence invaluable as she settles into her role as a new bride. Carson, who has become one of my favorite characters this season because of his steadfast devotion to the family and his unabashed snobbery, tells Carlisle he will wait to make his decision until he learns how Mary feels about his coming to work for them.

"I don't dislike him. I just don't like him. There's a difference." -- Violet's best line of the episode offering her take on Carlisle when talking to her son who is still put out about Carlisle's plans to gut the graciousness of Haxby Park with the modern conveniences. Cora makes it clear she disagrees with her husband. "I'm an American. I don't share your English hatred of comfort." For several episodes now it's clear there's trouble brewing between Lord and Lady G. Although it's an inevitable plot twist, I'm not happy with this development at all.

Mrs. Patmore is worried about one dire consequence of the armistice: food rationing which gives Thomas, who knows it's time to figure out his next move, an idea about a new business. "Are you talking about the black market," he asks Mrs. Patmore. "I'm shocked." To which she replies, "Oh, I doubt that." In the next room, Ethel comes to the back door of Downton receive her care package of food from Mrs. Hughes. Carson catches the housekeeper helping the former housemaid.

In the helpless husband department Lord Grantham complains to Cora when she tells him he'll have to eat alone at lunch because she's too busy with work. "If you really can't be on your own for one luncheon ..." she says sounding annoyed. This, folks, is what we call foreshadowing.

Carlisle takes Mary to see Haxby Park which makes Downton look like a co-op on the Upper West Side. Mary is clearly moved when she recalls the happy days spent by its owners at the house who have now left because they were too devastated by the death of their son in the war to stay."What will we do about furniture?" asks Mary, her voice echoing in the cavernous space. "We'll do what anyone does -- buy it," offers Sir Richard. "Your lot buys it and my lot inherits it," says Mary in response.

"Should we give the house another chapter?" asks Carlisle attempting to sound romantic and seal the deal. Mary's response is a classic: "I suppose one has to live somewhere." Somewhere, Cupid is weeping.

Carson takes Mrs. Hughes to task in front of Cora for giving Ethel food on the sly. Evidently, Carson's soft side doesn't extend to women of loose virtue. "Men will be men, but for any young woman to let her judgment so dessert her ..." (Just asking, but I'm wondering if he'd have the same response if -- more likely when -- he learns the truth about his beloved Mary and Mr. Pamuk. We're guessing that will come up next season) Cora, who is becoming quite the modern woman, informs the butler: "Don't worry Carson, the baby will ensure she pays the price." She offers to write to the major to invite him to Downton in hopes that Lord Grantham can convince him to do the honorable thing. Mrs. Hughes isn't certain the major has any honor at all. Undaunted by Cora's rebuke, Carson has the final word: "I cannot condone her inability to pronounce a two letter word: no."

Cut to another housemaid who, it's clear, has eyes for a different man in uniform. Jane serves Lord Grantham lunch and he strikes up a conversation with her asking if the job at the house is proving manageable given her 'family situation.' After Robert inquires about her son (he's 12), the young woman opens up telling him the boy has a "talent for mathematics" and is hoping for a scholarship to Rippan Grammar and before Carson bursts in on them, the charmed earl promises to put a good word if he can. "It's my fault. I asked the questions," says a chastened Lord Grantham to a disapproving Carson. What will Downton do when its moral compass departs to work for the devil and the new Mrs.?

Mrs. Hughes goes to Ethel to tell her they've been found out and restating the obvious tells her "You've broken the rules my girl" letting her know that Cora has written to the major in hopes of helping her. If there's a point to this story, I wish we'd get to it already.

Back at the house Bates get a call from his lawyer and learns that Vera is going to tell the judge he paid her to divorce him which would allow the decree to be overturned. "I'm not divorced after all," he tells Anna after learning the news. "I'm a stupid, stupid, stupid man." No, not really, but this is really getting on my nerves. Can't someone find a house to drop on Vera and be done with her? Undaunted, Anna tells Bates "We're going to be together no matter what" while O'Brien listens from behind the door.

The burn victim major tells Edith that he is Patrick Crawley, Downton's heir who was believed to have drown on the Titantic. He is visibly hurt when she does not recognize him and tells her of his childhood memories spent playing at Downton. Clearly thrown by the news, Edith asks why he didn't come forward sooner. He tells her he couldn't remember who he was and had no reason to come back to England. When he was mistakenly to Canada, he took his new name from a gin bottle and in 1914 signed up for the infantry. After the explosion that left him burned, his memory started to return and that's when he realized he was Patrick Crawley, Downton's heir. We're as confused as Edith but this is a bit too All My Children for PBS so I'm guessing he's an impostor.

Patrick asks poor Edith if he loved Mary (remember, the couple were to be engaged before he went off on the Titanic six years ago) and then surprises her by saying, "You were the one who really loved me." Now in tears Edith replies, "I never knew Patrick knew." He tells her: "He did. I do." Edith is convinced the man beneath the bandages is Patrick Crawley but says, "I must tell Papa."

On another stroll about the grounds of Downton, Mary tells Matthew about Haxby Park with the effusive "It's just big" and then reveals that Carlisle wants "to steal Carson" and have him come work for them when they marry. When Mary frets that the butler may decline the offer, Matthew tells her, "Surely he'd open a vein for you so I don't think there's much doubt he'll do it." But Mary has an even bigger dilemma on her mind. "I don't have to marry him, you know." The ever gallant Matthew tell her yes, you do. "I can only really relax because you have a real life coming. I have nothing to give and nothing to share. If you were not engaged to be married I would not let you anywhere near me." Dan Stevens is simply perfect in this scene. I think he's got a big screen career in the not to distant future. Reminds me of Hugh Grant before he started doing all those dopey rom coms.

Watching from the window (I thought this man had a newspaper empire to run?) Carlisle knows he must make this problem disappear so he helpfully suggests to Cora that if she wants grandchildren, it's time for Lavinia Swire to return to Matthew's life. Cora takes the bait.

Sybil and Branson are inching closer to acknowledging they're in a relationship. Be patient a little longer, she tells him. She can't even talk about their secret affair of the heart until the war is over. "I'd wait forever," he tells. Cupid has stopped crying.

That night, Lord Grantham tries on a tuxedo for the first time noting that it's just the thing for those nights alone with Cora. ("All the chaps in London are wearing them only for the most informal evenings," he notes.) Bates observes his lordship might not get much use out of it when the war is over.

Carson and Mary discuss Carlisle's offer. "I need to hear what you think," he tells her. "It's a terrific idea. If anyone can keep me out of trouble, it's you," she says. "What about his lordship?" asks Carson. "Of course, he'll kill me," says Mary satisfied she's gotten her way. Again, Carson, the keeper of Downton's social order -- or what's left of it -- has the last word. "It's a huge wrench to leave Downton. I'll give you my answer when I've spoken to Lord Grantham."

Lord Grantham, having learned of Edith's conversation with the major goes to see him. "I wish you'd spoken to me first." Robert tells him he's put his attorneys in London on the case to find out the truth. "Do you not recognize me at all?" asks the anguished major who makes a gestures that stops Robert cold. Clearly torn, he feels for the fellow but clearly wants to protect his family -- and, most importantly, Matthew, from more heartbreak and leaves without giving his answer.
Violet goes to Isobel intent on diverting her attention from her plans to make Downton a part of the post-war recovery effort. She cleverly talks about all the causes sure to emerge after the war in hopes of finding something that would appeal to her cousin. "What will become of the refugees?" she asks Isobel who tells her she's struck a chord. "Thank goodness," says Violet under her breath. The choice is clear, she tells Isobel, between organizing exercise classes and lectures on pottery and helping men and women rebuild their lives. Violet teases that some unnamed organizer feels Isobel is absolutely essential to the effort and Isobel's ego gets the best of her. She says she'll give Violet her answer tonight at dinner at Downton where Robert has asked the family to gather for some important announcement.

Mary tells her father, as he is dressed for dinner by Bates, about her plans for Carson. He is not amused telling her there is "nothing more ill-bred than to steal other people's servants." Lord Grantham asks Bates what he thinks. "I say Mr. Carson must have the last word on where he lives and works" says his valet, clearly preoccupied with his own troubles.

In the drawing room before dinner, Lord Grantham tells the family about the patient "Patrick Gordon who claims to be Patrick Crawley." Carlisle senses he's missed something. What does it all mean? "If he's alive, than I'm no longer the future earl of Grantham," says Matthew. Edith tries to tell the group that the man knows things about life at Downton that he couldn't know unless he was Patrick Crawley and Mary cuts her to the quick. "That's a stupid thing to say." Growing increasingly upset Mary cries, "This man is an impostor. It's a cruel trick to play. Matthew has been through so much" basically forgetting the man she's engaged to is in the same room.

Matthew, who is also sporting a new tux, bitterly responds while everyone in the room sits in stunned silence: "He seems like a nice enough chap. Not pretty but he can walk on his own and sire a string of sons. All in all,a great improvement on the current situation." Another great scene from Dan Stevens.

More from the storyline no one cares about: Cora tells Mrs. Hughes Major Mustache is dead and that the house's ties to Ethel are effectively severed as well. As is the case when any real dish is being served, O'Brien is within earshot. What's going on? she asks Cora who tells her "a friend of Mrs. Hughes knew the major." O'Brien puts the pieces together in under ten seconds.

Once again we go from a scene about one housemaid whose reach exceeded her grasp to another who is playing the game far better. Late that night, Jane finds Lord Grantham staring into the fire in the library. "Anything I could fetch you?" No, says his lordship, "Nothing that would help" and leaves Jane to gaze longingly at him as he goes off to bed.

The next morning, sitting in the ruin of a garden on the grounds, Edith tells Patrick she does recognize him now. He is touched by her tenderness and asks her "once its all settled, might we talk again?"

Another scene with Ethel: Mrs. Hughes tells her that her child's father is dead. "Now I'm ruined," says the young woman but Mrs. Hughes reminds her, "You were ruined already." Ethel, clearly seething that another maid with a child has been accepted at Downton is reminded by Mrs. Hughes there is a world of difference between the two women's lives. "Jane is a responsible married woman that one man chose to make his wife." When we last see Ethel in the episode she is sitting alone crying holding the child on her lap and looks to be hatching some kind of plot. Enough already.

Bates tells Lord Grantham that he must go to London. "Please say this is about property and not the former Mrs. Bates," says Robert. "It's about the former or better yet the late Mrs. Bates." (More foreshadowing) says Bates. "She's found a way to ruin everything." His lordship cautions his valet telling him, "Be sensible and do not lose your temper."

Downstairs, Carson and Branson are engaged in a debate over the future of Europe while the staff looks on when Lord Grantham comes in to announce the war is over. The ceasefire will begin, he tells them, on November 11 at 11 o'clock. Everyone is to gather in the great hall of the house at that time to mark the occasion.

Meanwhile, Isobel tells Cora and Violet she has decided to go off and work to help the plight of the refugees but she hopes they will keep Downton open as a recovery center without her. (This woman, as the Brits like to say, is as thick as a plank)"You must go where you can make a difference," Cora tells her barely managing to hide her delight at the realization she will finally be rid of her nemesis. On the ride home Cora tells Violet, "I know it was for Robert and the girls but I thank you from the bottom of my heart." Score a big victory for Granny.

While sitting in the library with Edith, Patrick Gordon? Crawley? loses it when he realizes the family will never accept him as their long lost heir. She tries to reassure him, "You're not a stranger to me."

Downstairs, O'Brien tells Thomas, "I wouldn't want to be Vera Bates" having seen the look of complete rage on Bates' face as he left for London earlier that morning. Thomas, who has long lost interest in Bates tells her, "If I were you, I'd keep out of it." "Wise words," says Anna has she catches a snippet of the conversation. Later, when Bates returns (with a nasty scratch on his face) he tells Anna it was "worse than anything you can possibly imagine."

Lord Grantham reveals to the family what the lawyers have uncovered about 'Patrick Gordon.' There was a Peter Gordon who fought in the infantry. Edith still believes he's the heir, Mary does not. Violet offers this assessment: "When his face was blown away he decided every cloud has a silver lining. He was perfectly placed to replace his dead friend."

Matthew, who is, by now boiling over with rage over what the fates have doled out, tells Lord Grantham, "Don't think about me" in considering what to make of the major's story. The Earl won't hear of it. "My dear chap, how can you say that? I don't think of anything else."

Edith tells Patrick/Peter about the latest news. Yes, he says, I knew Peter Gordon. We were good friends. "We'll find this Peter Gordon," vows Edith. "Yes," says Patrick/Peter sadly. "I expect you will." Game over.

Carson tells Mrs. Hughes he is accepting the position to run Carlisle's house when he marries Mary. "I will miss you very much," Mrs. Hughes tell him. It's a very Remains of the Day moment.

At dinner that evening, Carlisle arrives with Lavinia in tow which is a shock to everyone but Cora. Matthew is furious as is Lord Grantham for very different reasons. Lavinia tells Matthew she's changed and that she loves him and that she's going care for him. "That's all there is to it." Knowing he can't have Mary, Matthew seems momentarily relieved that Lavinia has come back. Cora is ready for Robert's wrath. "Before you scold me ..." she begins before he explodes that she's conspired to doom Lavinia to be Matthew's caretaker. "Don't you want Mary's marriage to succeed. Do you want grandchildren?" she asks. Disgustedly Robert replies, "Sometimes, Cora, you can be curiously unfeeling."

Mary and her fiance are arguing about Lavinia's return when Carlisle, having had just enough of watching Mary pine for Matthew, grabs her and pushes her against a wall when they are alone and offers this threat: "If you think you can jilt me or set me aside, you have given me the power to destroy you and don't think I won't use it. Don't ever cross me. I want to be a good husband but never." He kisses her. "Absolutely never." Absolutely terrifying.

Sybil tells Edith that Peter/Patrick is gone. He's left a note for her. "It was too difficult. I'm sorry." It's signed 'P. Gordon' Devastated, Edith tells her sister: "We drove him away. His own family."

The episode's final scenes were among the best of the entire series. Everyone is gathered in the hall awaiting the clock to chime eleven times ending the long war on November 11 at the 11th hour. It's all quintessentially British and I loved it. Lord Grantham intones, "When the clock strikes to mark the finish of this terrible war, let us remember the sacrifices that have been made and the men who will never come back" As the bells chime, the camera pans to each character who have each undergone dramatic changes as well as the faces of servicemen meant to represent the collective brotherhood of soliders. "Remember this is not just the end of the war," says a sober Lord Grantham. "It is the dawn of a new age. God bless you all."

Afterwards as Bates wheels Matthew feels something that startles him. Is the feeling in his legs returning? He decides not to say anything until he is sure.

Standing at Downton's doorway Lord Grantham and Carson survey the changing landscape. "I don't suppose you have any doubts," asks his lordship about his longtime servant's decision to leave the house. No, Carson, tells him. He's made up his mind but he'll stay until a suitable replacement is found. "Whoever we find won't replace you," says Lord Grantham. The final shot of the scene is perfect. Filmed from behind the actors, it gave us a view of these two men, both heads of their respective households, standing side by side looking out into the distance in the shadow of the great house. It was my favorite scene of the episode.

While Edith sits alone crying in the field where just days before she's been with Patrick/Peter, the staff has reassembled down below in the kitchen when Bates received a telegram. He reads it and bolts from the room. Anna retrieves the paper. "His wife is dead," she tells the servants. Cut to a shot of Vera, eyes open, laying dead on the floor of her house surrounded by broken pottery.

Who done it? My guess is Carlisle had a hand in it. What do you think?

Photo credit: ITV for Masterpiece

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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

WEDNESDAYS AT MICHAEL'S: ALWAYS A SCENE


I've been covering the Wednesday scene at Michael's in New York City for nearly six years. It's always a mix bag of social swans, moguls, Manhattan captains of industry and the random boldfaced name. Today, Harvey and Bob Weinstein together with Steve Tisch threw a pep rally for the Giants attended by the media elite. I got to chat with Katie Couric, Matt Lauer, Kathie Lee Gifford, Hoda Kotb and Regis Philbin (We miss you in the morning!)I was so glad to catch up with my favorite newsman, Brian Williams. He's one of the nicest guys in the business. To read this week's Lunch column on mediabistro.com, click on the link at the right.

Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris

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