Monday, February 10, 2014



Things are really getting juicy, aren't they? This episode of Downton Abbey was, dare I say, one of the series best giving credence to the claim made by executive producer Gareth Neame's late last year to me over lunch that the show was experiencing something of a rebirth with an influx of new characters and new directions in several storylines. And was it just me or did the show actually look a bit different from the other episodes this season?

This installment featured more tight shots of the actors in several scenes (Why did Hugh Bonneville look suddenly much older than he did in last week's episode? Perhaps shooting The Monuments Men was taking its toll) and the light was moodier than usual. The whole shebang was perfectly gorgeous.

Ok, I'll just say it: Lady Mary's will-they, won't they budding romance with Charles Blake is far more interesting than her relationship with Matthew ever was. (Sorry Dan Stevens) That some serious chemistry between Michelle Dockery (never more appealing than she was in this episode) and Julian Ovenden( a bit short for Dockery, but yummy nonetheless). As if the verbal sparring wasn't enough, the now iconic "Shall I fetch the pig man?" will inevitably wind up on those ubiquitous 'Most Romantic' lists that sprout up every year or so (trust me on this, I've written plenty of them for TV Guide).

When Mary and Charles Blake take a stroll after dinner down to inspect Downton's new pigs, who'd have thought it was a set up for the series' sexiest scene ever? When Blake discovers the pigs are dehydrated and therefore in danger of dying before they've even had a chance to help improve Downton's financial future, he whips off his dinner jacket, jumps in the pen, grabs a bucket of water and sets about saving the parched porkers.  Mary, not to be outdone ("I'm not going! They're my pigs!"), goes toe to toe with Blake in the mud over the course of several hours until the crisis is averted. By the end of the ordeal, Mary is covered in mud and never looked more luminous. Blake is completely taken with her. A 'night of discovery' indeed.

Kudos to Dockery for defrosting Mary in such a believable, engaging way from the moment she picked up a bucket in the pig pen to when she flashed the biggest smile (and laughed -- Mary actually laughed!) after smearing Blake's face with mud to the ultimate shocker: she cooks!  Mary shocked Blake (and everyone watching) by whipping up some scrambled eggs in the kitchen. "You've saved our bacon -- literally," teases Mary between bites.

Later in the episode when Lord Gillingham (who just happened to serve with Blake in the war) arrives (with his slithery valet Green in tow -- more on that in a moment), he seems like a lost puppy compared to Blake when, upon hearing Mary is spending time with Blake tells her, "Don't get to like him better than me." Too late for that, Tony.

The other thing I really loved about this episode was the plethora of memorable lines in just about every scene. Practically every character in the show uttered at least one killer line of dialogue that sums up where they are in the Downton continuum so I thought I'd use my favorites to recap what happened to who and where they might go next. Since I've already covered Mary and do love the pig man line, I'll say that her other bon mot was: "I've been married, I know everything" uttered when her father reprimands her with 'Don't be vulgar!" when she tells him Thomas will be more than willing to go to America in place of Bates if for no other reason than to ogle the handsome stewards aboard the ocean liner. Here we go:

"I do love him and would have loved his baby, but I can't see the top of this."
My heart breaks for Edith. At a complete loss over what to do about her still secret pregnancy and reeling from the news that Michael Gregson checked into his hotel in Munich, went out for the evening and never came back, she first seeks reassurance from Cora looking completely terrified while asking her mother, "You don't think I'm bad, do you?" Evidently, she's asking because she's decided to have an abortion to save herself and her family from the shame of bearing a child out of wedlock.

Once in London, Edith finds a surprisingly compassionate ally in Lady Rosamund when she breaks down and tells her of her plans. At first, her aunt's lecture about the dangers and legality of abortion  prompts Edith to liken her remarks to something out of The Second Mrs. Tanqueray (a popular play from the turn of the century where the title character kills herself after being 'ruined' by a lover). But as Edith pours out her heartbreak, "I'm killing the wanted child of the man I'm in love with and you ask me, 'Have you thought about it?'" Rosamund, devastated for her niece, tells her if she'd going to go through with it, she'll accompany her to the doctor's office.

The next morning, while in the doctor's dingy waiting room, Edith explains to her aunt (and herself) why she must go through with her abortion. "I don't want to be an outcast" noting that Sybil may have been able to carry off  being an unwed mother if the situation had ever come to that, but it just not an option for the perennially overlooked and underloved middle Crawley daughter.

And then it happens. Edith, the budding feminist, career woman, single woman with a married (but missing lover) makes the bold choice to keep her child. She hears a woman crying inside the exam room and suddenly the reality of giving up her baby, "the wanted child," hits her and she knows she can't -- and doesn't want to -- go through with it. It's too bad Sybil isn't here to support her sister's choice. God knows what Mary will say. (When you think of it the Crawley daughters were and are far from the models of propriety required by the times. That's one of the reasons we love them too.)And bravo to Laura Carmichael for her nuanced performance this season. Can you believe she was working as a receptionist in a doctor's office when she got this role??

"It's not my secret to tell"
Oh yes it is. Again. This time Mrs. Hughes spills the beans to Mary about Anna being attacked so she'll intervene and ask Lord Grantham to take Thomas instead of Bates to America. Robert  been summoned by Martha Levinson to help rescue Cora's brother's Harold who has been brought before congress in the Teapot Dome hearings. When Mary convinces her father to let Bates stay at Downton (but doesn't disclose why), Robert tells Bates: "Thomas has been selected as your deputy") and the stoic valet realizes yet another person has been let in on their secret. Later, Mary tries to get Anna to talk to her about what happened in hopes of helping her. Evoking memories of the late Mr. Pamuk she tells her, "You've helped me, God knows" but the ladies' maid cannot bear to speak of her attack or her attacker. Mary doesn't know it's Green. Yet.

"Look after all my women folk including Isis -- especially Isis"
Before Robert sets off for America he gets the requisite Downton send-off in front of the house where he asks Tom to take care of the ladies of Downton (loved those individual good-byes) with this parting shot. Before he 'reviews the troops' giving his mother, daughters and Isobel their own personal farewells, the exchange between Robert and Cora was also quite memorable. Cora tells Robert his transatlantic journey to help her brother is "act real act of love ... I cherish you for it." His response melted me: "That shall keep me warm as I cross the roaring sea." Is there a more romantic married couple on television? I love seeing these two back in fine form. Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern truly make the most of their screen time together and ground the series with a sense of permanency that feels so very real. Well done.

"What happened to your politics?"
Isobel asks Tom if he'd like to go to a political lecture in Ripon to hear MP John Ward but then needs to bow out because she's busy playing nursemaid to the Dowager. Tom goes solo and has an encounter with a rather plain woman over the seating arrangements in the hall. When they chat afterwards and she asks him why he's not gone back to Ireland. He replies, "It's a long story." One, I hope, she won't be around to hear. Next.

"You're quite a plotter when you want to be"
Carson, Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore scheme to keep homesick (and still lovesick) Alfred away from Daisy and Ivy when he writes that he'll be in the village on a visit. Carson utters this line to Mrs. Hughes, who with Mrs. Patmore, suggest they tell the fledgling chef that he shouldn't come to the house because of a flu outbreak. Her reply:"It's a skill all women must learn." Of course, Alfred is undeterred and when he stops by for a brief flirtation with Ivy (who is starting to really annoy me) who gives him reason to think she's willing to reconsider him as a romantic prospect infuriating Daisy in the process. Somehow, I think Alfred (and the charming Matt Milne) will be back in the servants' hall by season's end.

"I want another nurse. This one talks too much. She's like a drunken vicar."
We knew the Dowager wasn't going to die. Come on now! Still, it quite unsettling to see her down for the count with bronchitis that was frequently the precursor to pneumonia which killed so many people back in the day. It was Isobel to the rescue hell bent on helping anyone and everyone that she can in order to forget her grief. She stays at Violet's bedside throughout the worst of her illness and fever (which seems to suit Mary and Cora just fine) prompting her to utter these words, her best line of the episode, unaware that she's been looked after by her frenemy. Once Violet's come out of the worst of it, while Isobel is off getting the maid to fetch some tea and toast for her patient, Dr. Clarkson tells her to cut the sarcasm and be nice, "That mad woman has refused to leave your side. She was that nurse." A chastened Violet, under Clarkson's watchful eye, agrees to have Isobel back later that evening for a game of cards and winds up loving every minute of it. I could watch those two women act opposite each other all day.

"Why can't you fit in for once?"
Who can blame Edith's exasperation at Lady Rose when she tags along on Edith's trip to London so she can sneak off  to row, row, row her boat with Jack Ross?  Unaware of her cousin's predicament, Rose (who Robert has left 'in charge of fun') angles for more time with her secret crush and then storms off to pout like the teenager she is (maybe Susan had a right to be perpetually annoyed with her) when Edith tells her she can't go out the following night because they're heading back to Downton earlier than planned. This story is a non-starter for me.

"If you value your life, you'll stop playing the joker and stick to the shadows"
Frankly, I expected more outrage from Mrs. Hughes towards Green (remember what she said to Edna?) when she corners him in the boot room but he is, in a word, a bit terrifying one on one with the women of Downton. I wanted to hurl something at the television when he hissed the words that "we were both drunk" when recouting his version of what happened while continuing to shine Lord Gillingham's shoes. Green asks her if Bates knows and she tells him no (which seemed to set his wheels in motion plotting more cruelty). But later, he outs himself to Bates when he unwittingly contradicts the alibi she (and Anna) gave him. When rehashing the performance of Nellie Melba, Green tells everyone seated at breakfast in the servants' hall that he fled downstairs during the concert so he didn't have to listen to the "screeching." Now Bates knows this man, seated inches away from him, raped his wife. In the final shot of the episode, the 'brooding' butler shoots him a murderous look. Green is a dead man. The only question is who will be the one that kills him. At this point, it seems all too obvious that Bates will do it (so I don't think it will wind up being him) and with Mrs. "It's not my secret to tell" Hughes spilling the beans to a few people every episode, perhaps Green's death will be something like Murder on the Orient Express with Bates, Anna, Mary and whoever else winds up knowing what he did to saintly Anna thinking they rid the world of a monster unaware they're all part of a silent furious mob that all have a hand in killing the man who has forever cast a shadow over Downton. Just remember you heard it here first.

Photo: PBS

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