Monday, February 3, 2014

DOWNTON ABBEY RECAP: AND THE BAND PLAYED ON

 Lord and Lady Grantham happily dancing away unaware there are more shocking developments unfolding upstairs and in the servants hall. Photo: PBS

Even with all that took place on Downton Abbey this week, I found this week's installment a bit wanting. Not quite sure why. Okay, I am. I don't give a hoot about Lady Rose and Jack Ross and I'm really tired of 'woe is me' Molesley. Don't even get me started on Edith's terrible (and way too predictable bad luck) Not too mention the whole place is about to be turned into a pig farm. Really.
Let's review what really rattled the tea cups in the drawing room and the servants hall: the Granthams find themselves in the same room as a black man, Carson acknowledges there is one thing about the past (slavery) that is best left there in between torturing Molesley before finally admitting him back into Downton as footman ("And don't forget the gloves!") and Mary met Bachelor Number Three.

Many of my fellow Downton obsessives have been complaining that this season the shows have been filled with too much jumpiness in terms of photography and storylines. I have disagreed until now. This week I found there were a few too many scenes that seems unnecessary. Most notably Thomas' paranoia about 'the changes' coming to Downton seemed particularly silly. What can he possibly do about them? I like Baxter and I hope she turns the tables on him. Cora doesn't deserve another treacherous ladies maid.
And just asking but why is Julian Fellowes so intent on torturing his female characters so this year?

Even so, Fellowes has given us some wonderful scenes this season with the women of Downton -- many which rank among the series best. My favorite from last night was one where Isobel (who long ago dethroned Tom as champion of all rebel causes), Tom and Mary are sitting in the nursery sharing their memories of their engagements. Penelope Wilton, Michelle Dockery and Allen Leech did some of their best acting here not only in their spoken words but in how they reacted to the other actors. It was a brilliantly rendered scene, one which reminded us how much we have come to love each of these characters for their spirit and for the unique places they inhabit among Downton's residents.  Since the episode didn't really belong to any one character, let's review what happened most of them

Anna and Bates "Your husband is a brooder," says Bates when Anna finds him standing in the hallway (where nothing good ever happens). When she asks: "A penny for your thoughts?" he ominously replies, "You'd pay twice as much not to know." Jeez. Honestly, we all know what's coming. Let's just get the whole murder of Green out of the way and get on with it, shall we? The Bates' decide to try to put what's happened out of their minds for one night and dine at the swanky Nethersby Hotel where a snooty maître d' looks them up and down and tells them that he doesn't seem to have their reservation and besides, they're extremely busy this evening catering to high society types like Lady Grantham (who just happens to be there at a patron's dinner for the local orphanage). Those benevolent Granthams were really at their do-gooding best this week, weren't they?  In a Pretty Woman-inspired moment, Cora turns the tables on the glorified waiter when she warmly welcomes her servants (and tells them to play along -- "Thank God he's a snob!"). Of course this suck up immediately changes his tune and  finds himself groveling at the Bates' feet. I don't know about you but I expected Bates to slug that smarmy gadfly with his cane. You know he wanted to.

After dinner, Bates tries to put a good face on things but Anna is near tears at the thought that Bates can only see her as a victim. He tries to reassure her that he does not, but rather faults himself for not being able to protect her. "Every time I remember what happened to you, I want to murder." Uh oh. At that point Cora (who overheard the whole exchange) comes over and offers them a ride home. Before bed that night Cora tells Mary, within earshot of Baxter (who she warns to not gossip about this bit of news) that "Anna has been hurt in some way and Bates feels he should have protected her." Finally, Baxter has heard something Thomas can sink his teeth into but tells him she's not comfortable "telling tales." Too late.

Edith After such an exciting and hopeful start this season, the unluckiest woman at Downton is dealt a doubly cruel blow. It's been weeks since she's heard from Michael Gregson who has seemingly "vanished into thin air" in Munich. Edith spends the entire episode looking positively stricken and both Cora and Robert are deeply concerned at their daughter's apparent distress. When Robert finds her crying in front of the fireplace one evening, he tries to comfort her calling her, "My most darling girl" telling her he loves all his children equally to which the perennially overlooked middle Crawley daughter replies: "Why do people say that when it's almost never true?" Robert offers to send his own man to Munich to help find Gregson but Edith tells him the newspaper editor's office is already working with the police there. Edith tells her father she wants to know the truth even if it means he's dead. When Robert tries to reassure her that he's sure her lover is not dead, she replies (clearly with Matthew in mind): "You can't be sure. No one can." I'm dying to know what's happened to him. God knows what Fellowes has cooked up but I'm guessing its a whopper of a denouement.

The worst part of all this of course is that Edith is pregnant. Throughout the series we have been reminded just how few options women had during this time and Edith is truly a prisoner of that system. Her only options are to bring shame to her family and be 'ruined' as an unwed mother or terminate the pregnancy. Hardly an enviable position in which to find oneself. When Edith receives the letter stating that "her symptoms are consistent with those in their first trimester of pregnancy I could feel her panic. It's not like we didn't see that coming, but still. I'm so disappointed by this. Firstly, it's so predictable and secondly, Edith is becoming something of an upstairs Molesley -- the recipient of an inordinate amount of bad luck seemingly just for narrative's sake. To her credit, Laura Carmichel has imbued Edith with a quiet resolve and spirit that makes me hope she will somehow come out of this better for it. I just hope we don't have to listen to lady Rosemund say 'I told you so.'

Mary When Evelyn Napier shows up with yet another attractive man in tow, (Did the episode with Pamuk teach you nothing, sir?), his boss the annoyingly smug Charles Blake she (and I) disliked him instantly. His disdain for the aristocracy clearly evident from the start, he seemed to relish putting her in her place when, after she all but gushes about their mission to help estate owners "through this crisis," he tells her that his real mission is to "analyze if society is shifting fundamentally after the war and if it will effect food production." When she tells him, "So you don't care about the owners?" The socialist government worker then tells her the government is more concerned about feeding the population than rescuing the aristocracy. At which point I'd have shown him the door. More sparring ensues  setting up, I'm guessing, something for the two of them to remember when they inevitably fall into each other's arms. Later, Blake tells Napier while Mary is being whirled around the dance floor in her father's arms that he 'doesn't share" his colleagues enthusiasm for the heiress. "She wants it all on a plate. She doesn't want to work for it. She doesn't want to fight for it. That type doesn't deserve to survive." If Mary and Blake are destined to become Downton's Maddie and David (remember Moonlighting?), it's going to take some convincing to get me behind that romance. Paging Lord Gillingham.

Tom Now here's a socialist I've come to love. During Robert's birthday dinner he tells Isobel that he knows he'll never fit in at Downton and can't make a life for himself here but also admits that he's come to love the family. "What Earl's daughter would have me?" he asks about his future prospects and then jokingly tells her he could bring "a nice Irish working girl" to live at Downton to make things "comfy." For the love of all things holy, please don't let Braithwaite return, Julian Fellowes. I beg you! While they're both dancing to Jack Ross' jazz band Isobel tells him to take heart that so many things that are happening at Downton now would have been considered impossible just a few short years ago. Don't go Tom, don't go!!

Rose Finally given a storyline, Rose books Jack Ross and his band for Robert's birthday dinner as a surprise and more than delivers. When Ross enters the servants' hall Carson looks as if he'll have a coronary but recovers nicely enough to engage in a conversation with the singer about slavery of all things. The real surprise is Edith who asks her grandmother if the presence of a black man is something they should condone. Even more shocking is Violet's reply who tells her granddaughter to stop being provincial and encourages her to "let your time in London rub off on you a bit more." Oh, but it has granny.

After the party, Mary, who goes looking for the band leader to tell him to send the bill for his services to Lord Grantham, discovers Rose and Ross snogging in the dark. She doesn't let on she knows, but she does not approve. And neither do we but not for the same reason. The Jack Ross character seems a bit forced and I just don't buy the storyline. Sorry.

Isobel and Violet The Golden Girls of Downton have a fabulous scene together when Isobel goes to confront her for having sacked young Pegg who she suspects stole two valuable trinkets from her drawing room. Isobel waits until Violet goes out one afternoon and feigns illness at her front door asking Spratt if she could just "sit quietly" in Violet's drawing room for a few minutes. Once left alone, she roots around the room until she finds the missing paper knife (Could he have been set up by Violet's hilariously snobby butler Spratt? Discuss). Armed with righteous indignation and fortified by what he thinks will be a supportive Dr. Clarkson (surprise!), Isobel comes back a second time and storms into Violet's house to read her the riot act for assuming Pegg was a thief. "Can't you see the damage you do?," cries Isobel. But Violet has the last word. She rings for Spratt (I want that bell) asking him to fetch Pegg who tells an incredulously Isobel that Lady Grantham has apologized for mistakenly believing he was a thief, asked for his forgiveness and has rehired him. "Game, set and match to Lady Grantham," observes Dr. Clarkson. Indeed.

Alfred/Daisy/Ivy/Jimmy Remember when Mrs. Patmore said, "The trouble with you four is that you're all in love with the wrong people." How right she was. Alfred receives word he is, in fact, accepted into the Ritz cooking program because one candidate above him found a job. "I was the fifth," says Alfred to swarmy Jimmy. Everyone congratulates him except Daisy who is in tears over her unrequited love's departure. Before he goes, sweet, honorable Alfred (how could he be related to O'Brien?) announces to the family -- in front of Carson -- that is he grateful for his time at the house and that Carson has been a "wonderful and kind" teacher prompting Lord Grantham to good naturedly respond,"Much more and we shall burst into tears." In a sweet scene between the characters, the departing Alfred works up the courage to tell Daisy, "I'm sorry if I hurt you ... You're going to make some man very happy but I'm afraid it was never going to be me." Hurt, but unable to send him off without some encouraging words, Daisy wishes him well.

On their night off, Jimmy and Ivy go to see Rudolph Valentino in "The Sheik" and after things get a little too heated under the full moon, Ivy tells the hands-y butler "Get off me!" Creepy Jimmy is furious telling her, "I've been good to you" telling her it's unfair of her to give "nothing in return" after a night out at the cinema. She storms off to tell Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore about her dating disaster telling them, "Alfred would have never done such a thing." That's all Daisy has to hear and she lets Ivy have it telling her if she'd seen that in the first place Alfred would still be at Downton and it was she, who broke his heart, who drove him out. When clueless Ivy asks, "What was that about?"  Mrs Hughes sums it up succinctly: "You had it coming."

Robert and Cora A letter from Cora's brother (to be played by Paul Giamatti who will appear in the finale) foreshadows more money trouble with some oil leases gone bad. The Granthams, who spent most of the episode trying to help the servants unravel their personal problems and lift the spirits of poor Edith, get ready for some snuggling after Robert's birthday when Cora beckons her husband with these not so coincidental words: "Come to bed and dream of ragtime." Very clever, Mr. Fellowes referencing Elizabeth McGovern's big movie role way back when. They'll need their rest to deal with the coming implosions. We can't wait.


For more Downton dish follow DianeClehane on Twitter @DianeClehane

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