Monday, February 17, 2014

DOWNTON ABBEY RECAP: LOVE BAZAAR

For a season that begun shrouded in a widow's and mother's deep mourning, Downton Abbey has really been all about tricky terrain of love and romance and what price we are willing to pay for it. Or as the Dowager Countess told Downton's most unlucky in love resident, Edith, "All of life is a series of problems which we must try and solve. The first one, then the next and then the next, until at last we die."


And yes, there was a death this week. Green's number came up and we can't say we're sorry. The official version according to that increasingly annoying stalker Lord Gillingham (really, tone it down Tony!) was that Green's death was an accident witnessed by scores of people on the crowded London street. The slithery servant stumbled into the road near Piccadilly and was run over by a vehicle of some sort. Convenient, no? It's not like I expected to see his face turn blue with Bates' hands wrapped around his neck, but still ... this feels a little unsatisfying.


As it turns out Bates was miles away in York enjoying his day off that Mr. Carson so generously granted him. Forget that he just happened to have found out that Green was heading to London (and lives near Piccadilly) once Green left Downton after stopping there the night before with his lovestruck boss. That's Bates' alibi story and he's sticking with it.


Only Anna and Mary (who, after discovering it was Green who attacked Anna had commanded lovesick Tony to sack his valet without revealing why -- telling him only he would find his actions "abhorrent" if he knew what he'd done) are left to wonder if Bates had a hand in the 'accident.' Earlier in the episode, just to make sure everyone watching had no doubt that Bates was capable of murder, Anna told Mary her husband "will kill" Green if he finds out it was definitely him that raped her (as if he couldn't tell after seeing his wife's reaction to his return to the servants' hall last week) and, "If he does, they will hang him."


With Baxter lurking about looking for details on what's behind Bates and Anna's angst-filled relationship to satisfy her pact with the devil Thomas and Mary asking Charles Blake what do to if she thinks someone might have had a hand in a crime but was justified in doing what they did. (His advice: "I suspect I would say nothing"), it's a safe bet this isn't the last time Green's death will figure into the lives of those at Downton. We'll give Bates the last word on the subject. When Anna asks her husband if he'd do anything foolish that might jeopardize the life they've fought so hard to have with each other he gives her this non-answer with a smile: "When I do a thing I like to have a very good reason for doing it." Yup.


This seems as good a place as any to talk about Mary's interesting evolution this season. She has truly turned into a much younger version of her grandmother -- outwardly determined to uphold Downton's traditions trading barbs with anyone that she deems deserves them, but secretly harboring an almost liberal belief system that allows for far more tolerance than those who profess to be more modern. Case in point: she decides to save Rose (who is in a dead heat with Ivy for the undisputed title of Downton's most annoying character ) from herself. "If you're going to complicate your life, do it for the right reasons."


When the petulant brat (who almost seemed likable when she tried to surprise Robert by bringing Jack Ross and his band to Downton even if she had an ulterior motive) told Mary she was going to marry the black singer and was looking forward to seeing her mother's "face crumble when she finds out," Mary sets out for London in hopes of getting Jack to call off the engagement. What transpired made me like Mary even more (which seems to be a trend with every episode this season). When Mary tells Jack that she think Rose loves him "a bit" but is marrying him mostly "to shock her mother, who she hates," Jack replies, "That's what my mother said" and then admits over tea that he was planning to write to Rose that afternoon and break things off because: "I don't want to spoil her life. I love her. I wouldn't give in if we lived in a slightly better world." Mary's surprising reply: "If we lived in a slightly better world I wouldn't want you to." One can only hope after Rose is formally presented to society in next week's episode she rejoins her parents in India or runs off with some wealthy earl's errant son. Just go away. Now.


Edith is going to be experiencing a very different kind of coming out soon if she doesn't hightail it out of Downton before starting to show from her pregnancy. By my calculations she about three and a half months along and even flapper dresses can only hide so much. Let's chalk it up to hormones, but her decision to somehow place her baby with farmer Drew after seeing him rustle up the family's pigs was a head scratcher. At first I thought she was planning on seducing him, telling him she was pregnant and getting him to marry her (he's not bad looking, really) --- and honestly that would have made more sense. Instead, she seems to have been considering getting the single farmer to raise the baby as his own all because he said he owes the family "a favor" after they've shown him so much kindness. Really?!?


Rosamund thinks she has the solution and tells Cora she wants to "go on sabbatical" to Switzerland to learn French (because "you know how the French are" and Switzerland has better hospitals -- huh?) and wants to take Edith along for the ride. The idea being Edith would have the baby while away and give it up for adoption. "You won't be happy," counsels Rosamund, "but at least you'll be free." (As an aside: Will we ever find out what happened to Michael Gregson? What about those papers Edith signed? I hope season five brings a satisfying resolution but Julian Fellowes is not above leaving loose ends dangling. Remember, we never did find out if Richard Carlisle exacted revenge on the Granthams for Mary dumping him) The always gullible Lady Grantham doesn't suspect a thing and because she's so overwhelmed with the church bazaar signs off on the idea immediately. But the Dowager finds the whole thing a bit fishy. "Rosamund has no interest in French. If she wishes to be understood by a foreigner she just shouts." Oh, Granny nothing gets by you!


When she finally drags the truth out of Edith, she tells her granddaughter it would be much better if she followed Rosamund's advice and went to Switzerland but that she, not her daughter, will pay for everything because, she warns, if she owes Rosamund for this, she will "start exacting annual tribute." Once again, Violet is the most pragmatic and modern of all the Crawleys and just gets to the heart of the matter without any attendant drama.


As always, though, Edith's trials and tribulations play second fiddle to Mary's life which, in the course of this season, have really taken a dramatic turn. She's gone from nearly comatose from grief to momentarily rebounding with a far too needy man to now seemingly in complete control over a squadron of suitors. (Or, as the ladies of Downton like to say, "a desire of suitors") Tony, at first somewhat attractive, has become someone whose mere presence elicits some well-deserved eye rolling. Well, at least he did the decent thing and broke off his engagement to the unseen Miss Lane-Fox (who luckily escaped the fate of previous unwanted fiancées)  Exhibit A: when Mary meets him in a swanky London restaurant to tell him to sack Green without giving him any reason to do so, the lovestruck earl coos: "I love you and I believe you" but doesn't stop there. Even though Mary has told him countless times she isn't ready for another relationship (and one senses now that Blake is in the picture, she sees Tony's  neediness as increasingly icky), he tells her: "I won't give up until you walk down the aisle with another man and maybe not even then." Mary's reply, before she gets up from the table satisfied that his obsession with her will assure he follows her instructions: "I find that irritating and beguiling in equal measure." We find it just plain stalkerish.


For his part, Blake is playing it much cooler with Mary relying mainly on some pithy remarks and smoldering glances. He still manages to steal one of Tony's lines when, after leaving Downton having completed the work he came to do, reappears at the church bazaar having concocted an excuse of a nearby conference. "I can't think of anything but you," he tells her. "I'm asking for a chance." When she rebuffs him (nicely). He says, "I'm afraid I can't let you off the hook" and leaves her wanting more. Team Blake!


The rest of the episode had some charming exchanges with the stalwart secondary characters (played to perfection by all concerned) with scenes of blooming love and in one case, saying farewell to love that never was. The Ivy vs. Daisy over Alfred storyline (now that Jimmy has become a surly and annoying presence) was finally given an overdue conclusion. Alfred, encouraged by Ivy's kind words on his last visit, proposes to her in a letter. Always on the lookout for something better, Ivy tells Mrs. Patmore, she's turned him down. When Daisy finds out, it reopens the barely healed wound and she heads to Mr. Mason's farm at Mrs. Patmore's suggestion when she hears Alfred is coming to Downton again after his father's funeral.


Having learned that his daughter in law is hiding out from seeing the man she loves, Mr. Mason encourages her to go back to the house in time say a proper farewell to Alfred so there's "nothing jagged" between them. When she does, she brings along a basket of goodies from the farm prepared for Alfred by Mr. Mason. The footman turned aspiring chef, clearly vulnerable from being turned down by Ivy and feeling the effects of losing his father, suddenly decides that perhaps he hasn't given Daisy a fair shake. Within earshot of Mrs. Patmore, Mrs. Hughes and Carson, who have done their best to protect Daisy from further heartbreak, she tells him that ship has sailed. "I loved you, Alfred .... it's time for you to go your way and for me to go mine." He departs (for good, this time, I think) with his head hanging a bit but bolstered by the thought he will always have a true friend in Daisy. For her part, the assistant cook, gets some motherly praise from Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol had me tearing up with this scene) who tells her she couldn't be more proud of her "if you were my own daughter."


In other romantic news we were left to ponder these questions:
Will Isobel will find love and companionship with Mary's courtly godfather? He does send beautifully floral arrangements, but I'm Team Clarkson on this one.
Will Tom begin to live again with the all too convenient political school teacher Sarah Bunting who pops up everywhere? I don't like her at all for him but it would appear she's not going anywhere. And by the way: Jessica Brown Findlay left this show for A Winter's Tale? I wonder if she's rethinking that decision right about now. I would if I were her. Maybe Sybil has a long lost cousin that just happens to look like her somewhere.
Are Molesley and Baxter the new Anna and Bates? Okay, of course not, but it was interesting to see the sad sack footman grow a pair (take that, Thomas) and display genuine affection and concern for Baxter who now appears to be more of a victim of Thomas' rather than a co-conspirator.


And finally in the last act, Lord Grantham returns victorious from America with Thomas in tow having helped keep Cora's brother Harold out of trouble. In a scene reminiscent of the first season finale in the midst of a party of the great lawn -- this time it's the church bazaar -- he takes command of the family once again, but this time it's to sing his wife's praises while the family toasts her with their champagne flutes in the air. I've said it before, but the chemistry and believability of Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern in their roles make these two television's most romantic married couple.


When Mary shows her dueling suitors Lord Gillingham and Charles Blake off after the toast, Robert gets off the best line of the episode: "What sort of ménage has that turned into while I've been away?"
Perhaps we'll find out in next week's season finale. But I doubt it.

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