Monday, January 27, 2014

DOWNTON ABBEY RECAP: ANNA AND BATES REUNITE; EDITH WORRIES ABOUT THE FUTURE

What will happen when Bates learns the whole truth about Anna's attack? We're very,very nervous. 

Who cares that Madonna came to the Grammys looking like the love child of the Quaker Oats man and Mae West? This week's episode of Downton was the most intriguing installment of the season with two pivotal events: the arrival of new lady's maid who made Cora swoon by serving her good old American orange juice, and, not a moment too soon, the moment of (half) truth for Bates and Anna. There's lots to talk about, but this week, after this episode pretty much all fans are talking about is the big (almost) reveal and what will happen when Bates finds out (and he will, trust me,) who raped Anna.

More brittle than ever and looking even worse than she did last week, Anna has all but stopped speaking to Bates who even managed to elicit a sympathetic gaze from Thomas when she bolts from the servants' hall rather than talk to her husband.

Mrs. Hughes, who is bursting at the seams to tell Bates what happened to put him out of his misery (at least the not-knowing type of misery he's endured since the attack), follows Anna (who, thank goodness, is not pregnant) out into the hallway to once again plead with her to tell him the truth and "lift the veil of shadows" she's been under. Anna is adamant (and, I'm sure, prescient) when she tells the housekeeper she can't tell him because "I know him. I know what he'd do." Once again, Mrs. Hughes tells her, It's your secret not mine." We'll see about that.

After inadvertently helping to send Bates to the gallows when she was forced to testify at his trial about the heated exchange with his now dead ex-wife she overheard while standing in this very hallway, you'd think she's be more careful. But then we wouldn't have that soapy shot of Bates listening to the women's conversation from behind an alcove.

Bates tries one more time to coax the truth out of Anna with the heartbreaking words, "I love you and I want to find out why you don't love me anymore." Even though it's only been two episodes, I don't think any of us can take much more of this so it's a relief to know where this is going. While Anna is off in Ripon on an errand for Mary, Bates goes to Mrs. Hughes and threatens to resign his post if she does not reveal what Anna has been keeping from him. Horrified by the prospect of having to tell Anna that her husband has left Downton,("I think the pain of coming home to find you gone would finish her), she gives in and tells him about the attack -- but she leaves out the most important detail and doesn't name Green as Anna's rapist.

It turns out she and Anna have concocted a story about a stranger breaking in an lying in wait for her while the rest of the house was at the concert. Bates doesn't buy it for a minute ("I know who it really was") pressing an increasingly distressed Mrs. Hughes to swear on everything but Mrs. Patmore new mixer that it wasn't Green. She is resolute Anna's attacker was a stranger. Bates leaves and breaks down in the hallway overcome with the thought of what his beloved Anna has had to endure.

Later, he finds Anna in the boot room and there's a shot of footwear that I found quite literal -- waiting for the other shoe to drop? Clever, you are Mr. Fellowes. He puts his hand over hers as she's shining Mary's shoes and tells her he knows.

The scene between these two long suffering, emotionally battered people made me sob.
Anna tells her husband she is spoiled for him now and its his response that did me in. "You are made higher to me and holier because of the suffering you have been put through." Agnes Nixon would be proud.

Finally, Anna tells a relieved Mrs. Hughes she's moving back into the cottage to resume her life with Bates telling her, "We're going to try to put the whole thing behind us."

Not so fast. In a chilling last scene complete with ominous music, Bates disabuses Mrs. Hughes of the notion that everything is going to be fine now. "Be aware. Nothing is over and nothing is done with."

I don't know how he's going to manage it, but I'm all but certain that Bates will discover it was Green who defiled his precious wife. My prediction is when he does, Green will make the mistake of taunting him and that will be that. Bates will use "the things he learned in prison" and quietly kill the snake. He won't get caught though, but will instead have a deep dark secret to drag behind him for the rest of the series.

In other news ....

Who is Baxter? Cora's new lady' maid is the anti-O'Brien. Phyllis Baxter is helpful to all and known to no one except Thomas who helpfully told Lord Grantham he had a candidate for the job he wanted to "put forward who was a little older" than dreadful Braitwaite (who, we pray, we never see again). Between charming the kitchen staff (except "luddite" Mrs. Patmore) with her sewing machine and sending Cora into a reverie about growing up in America by serving her fresh squeezed orange juice, Baxter had some mysterious conversations with Thomas about her real role at Downton. When Thomas inquires how Baxter is getting on with Cora and she tells him things are going swimmingly, he answers: "She'll be eating out of your hand" thanks to her successful attempts to make a good impression which include saying glowing things about Sybil obviously at Thomas' suggestion. See, every time you think Thomas is starting to turn into a better person, he proves you wrong.

It turns out Thomas has installed Baxter upstairs so she can tell him everything that goes on because he knows massive change is afoot. If this guy is so smart why hasn't he tried his fortune elsewhere? Is his planning some kind of coup? This seems rather silly to me. He instructs her to share "any detail, no matter how small." So, given her marching orders to make everyone trust her and "No enemies downstairs either," we now know Baxter isn't who she seems, but we don't know much else about her. Yet. "I'm grateful for this job, Thomas and we both know why," Baxter tells him. But we don't. Who is she to him? A pal of mine offered that she thinks Baxter is his mother, I think she's his sister.

Mary gets her heartbroken. Sort of. Serial proposer Lord Gillingham is a man of his word. He must marry -- and so he is. Mary learns of his engagement to Mabel Lane Fox when Lord Grantham shows her the announcement in the newspaper. She puts on a good face in front of Tom and her father, but looks positively crestfallen when she turns and leaves the room. Later, when Cora and Edith find her back in the library writing a note of congratulations, she secretly wipes a tear from her eye having finished her note congratulating him. A perplexed Edith seems surprised telling her sister, "I thought he was very keen on you." Mary snipes back, "That's not the first time you've been at the wrong end of the stick." Meow.

In other Mary news, Bachelor #2 arrives on the scene. Evelyn Napier, who we first met in season one when he brought the ill-fated Mr. Pamuk to Downton, makes a return visit. (Come to think of it, we never did find out what, if anything, Sir Richard Carlisle did with the scandalous tale of the Turkish diplomat's dying in Mary's bed, in retaliation for being dumped for Matthew). Napier, like Lord Gillingham before him, isn't exactly Shakespeare when trying to chat up Mary. "You've been in my thoughts since the whole ghastly business," he tells her referring to Matthew's death. Right. Napier has come to Yorkshire to conduct some kind of government study to assess the condition of the estates in the post-war world with his boss, Charles Blake. Who, I assume we will meet next week and will promptly assume the third chair to complete this season's edition of The Dating Game: English Edition.

Lord Grantham is NOT Simon LeGree (But he did bear a passing resemblance to him in his top hot and morning suit) When a longtime tenant farmer dies, Tom and an increasingly business savvy Mary want to foreclose on the farm and take over the land. Not surprisingly, Lord Grantham is of a different mind especially after Tim Drewe, the tenant's son, evokes his lordship's love of tradition reminding him the Drewe family has farmed here since the Napoleonic wars and has been in partnership with the Crawleys "for more than a century." Music to Robert's ears. "Surely that's got to mean something." Indeed it means so much to Lord Grantham that he secretly loans Tim the money to repay the rent in arrears.

Over dinner, he defends his choice to help Drewe telling the family: "If we don't respect the past, we'll find it harder to build our future." This clever turn of a phrase prompts Violet to ask, "Where did you read that?" to which Robert replies, "I made it up. I thought it was rather good." (I loved Hugh Bonneville in this episode as Robert in fine form and back in charge of something). Violet volleys back: "It's too good -- one thing we don't want is a poet in the family."

Isobel to the rescue. Again. Speaking of too good, when Isobel asks Violet at Dr. Clarkson's urging to find work for Mrs. Pegg's young son John, as a gardiner the Dowager asks of her, "I wonder your halo doesn't grow heavy. It must be like wearing a tiara around the clock." Of her persistence in finding Pegg a job, Violet observes, "Wars have been waged with less fervor." When Isobel says that Violet cares as much about many of the same things Violet utters yet another bon mot: "Nobody cares about anything as much as you do." There's a big to do when a paper knife goes missing but I don't expect much of a scandal to develop here. I thought the words between Isobel and Dr. Clarkson sounded suspiciously like a lover's quarrel. I'd love to see these two wonderful characters get together and get more screen time. Wouldn't you?

Is Edith in trouble? With her lover now living in Munich, Edith is reduced to waiting for letters that don't come and sneaking off to see a doctor in London. Let's hope the new so far unseen nanny for Sybbie and George won't mind having another charge in her care. I know an unhappy ending was inevitable here, but I really don't want to see Edith fall victim to an unwed mother scandal  (Ethel's story broke our heart and we're still hoping to see more of her) and hope Fellowes has something less predictable and a lot less sudsy in mind for her.
Tom remembers he's a socialist. In discussing the fate of the son of the late tenant farmer, Tom tells Mary he's on the farmer's side because "I haven't abandoned my socialism." Robert relishes the irony saying: "This is the one and only instance I'm glad to hear it." What he isn't happy to hear is that his son in law is still smarting from that damn house party that reminded him that he doesn't belong at Downton and, in fact, is "a man without a home." Still shaky from his drunken dalliance with Edna, Tom acknowledges he can't go back to Ireland because the family has changed him too much, but is considering a move to America where he has relatives that are doing well. There, he tells the family, little Sybbie will get a fresh start with a father who would not be considered "an uppity chauffeur." The person most upset by the prospect of Tom's leaving is Robert who, I think, has grown closer to him than he ever was to Matthew. I happen to really love this storyline and think the chemistry between the characters -- and actors -- is fabulous. All I have to say is Allen Leech better not be going anywhere.
Downstairs drama Mrs. Patmore continues to wage her one-woman fight against the future by trying to talk Cora out of buying the house a refrigerator. "Is there any aspect of the present day that you can accept without resistance," asks Cora. The cook confides she wouldn't mind tossing her corset. After getting all kinds of help from the kitchen staff and words of encouragement from the family, Alfred goes to London in hopes of scoring a spot at the Ritz's cooking school. While he is away, Carson, certain hardworking Alfred will pass the test, asks Molesley if he'd like to replace him as footman. The down on his luck butler/valet bristles at the notion of the demotion much to Carson's annoyance. By the time he has decided that he could, in fact, "contain my skills and guide them into a more modest chanel without a loss of dignity," Alfred has gotten word he's fallen just short of a spot in the school and won't be leaving Downton after all.  Oh well, maybe Molesley can get a job as Manny to Lady Edith's love child next season.


Photo: CarnivalFilms/Masterpiece



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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

DOWNTON ABBEY RECAP: SECRETS AND LIES


"What's the matter with everyone this merry morn?"

After that very eventful house party, plenty.

While getting up at the crack of dawn to cater to every need of the Crawley family is hardly cause for celebration downstairs, Thomas correctly senses there's something going on the morning after at the breakfast table in the servants' hall. Anna is wordlessly sitting next to her rapist while he placidly sips his coffee. Bates is confused and hurt by his wife's sudden remoteness. When the terrified lady's maid bolts from the table to go to Lady Mary's room before the bells, Bates asks Mrs. Hughes (who is really the star of this episode but more on that later) if she knows why Anna is acting so strangely. The keeper of all of Downton's secrets lies to Bates telling him she has no idea what he's talking about while that serpent Green listens in from across the table.

Yes, Green is still slithering around.

Anna never told Mrs. Hughes the name of her attacker but you just know that she knows it's him after she overhears him tell Carson that he'll remember his visit to Downton "for a long time to come."

After watching Downton's mother superior attempt to help the hurt, confused and broken hearted in this episode I'm hoping Green is on the receiving end of her special brand of Scottish wrath when the time comes. And if he is, I suspect her attack on Braithwaite will feel like a love poem.

Upstairs, Branson is nursing a hangover tinged with a heaping helping of guilt after a drunken interlude with Braithwaite (off camera, thank God!). "If I made a mistake, I'm sorry," he tells her as he hurries off to pack for a trip to London with Mary. But Braithwaite, in a scene that evokes Glenn Close's 'I won't be ignored' scene in Fatal Attraction, follows him to his room and tells him, 'You can't treat a poor girl like this suppose I'm pregnant.' Poor Tom, positively green at the thought, stands there wordlessly while the future bunny boiler concocts the fantasy scenario of she and Tom living happily ever after until she spews, "Don't tell me I'm not good enough for you, if you were good enough for Lady Sybil Crawley, then I'm good enough for you!" Tom finally finds his voice and says: "Don't speak her name!" I think he and I both yelled that at the exact same time.

Thankfully, the rest of the episode wasn't all gloom and doom. Here are the highlights:

Lady Mary That Lord Gillingham moves fast doesn't he? I'm not sure if I love him with Mary; they almost seem like they could be siblings because of their similar coloring and to the manner born demeanors. But Julian Fellowes could hardly bring in another blue eyed blonde for the job of Mary's next suitor, could he? The one big difference between "Tony" and Mary is that while she tries to protect her heart at all costs, he unabashedly wears his on his sleeve. After saying goodbye the day before, he unexpectedly turns up at Rosemund's house in London to meet up with Mary, Tom and Rose (still annoying) who are staying there while in the city to meet the tax man. (Rose, of course, was just tagging along to get into some kind of trouble) While dancing with Mary at the Lotus Club (more on that later), Tony asks her if he can see her again and while the young widow admits she's enjoyed spending time with him at the house and outside of Downton ("You made me play truant and I liked it"), it's time to "go back to real life." Mary reminds him he's practically engaged (to the fabulously named Mabel Lane Fox) and, even if he weren't she explains, she's not ready for a relationship and won't be for some years.

Well, that won't do because there's only a handful of episodes left in Downton's all too short season, so, he follows Mary back home to Downton and pops the question.  Somehow, it's not all that absurd because as he explains it, they both know he has to marry because of "the system we're trapped in" and, as he so romantically puts it, "Matthew is dead and I'm alive." Somehow, both Michelle Dockery and Tom Cullen overcome that awkward exchange and exude genuine chemistry in a later scene when Mary explains she's still in love with Matthew, "It's no good .... I'm not free of him. I don't want to be without him ... not yet." Tony, ever the romantic proclaims: "I'll never love again as much as I love you in this moment" and asks her for a kiss as a parting gift. Mary complies and we're treated to one of the more beautiful shots of the episode (and there were several this week). Mary returns to the house to announce to her father and Tom that Lord Gillingham has just informed her he's getting engaged to Mabel Lane Fox. You know this is just the beginning for these two.  I wonder what unfortunate fate Ms. Fox will suffer in order to bring Tony back in the picture later in the season.

Lady Edith I have loved watching Edith come into her own over the course of this show. Ever since she became the unsung heroine of the wounded staying at Downton during the war, I've gained an increasing amount of respect and affection for Downton's own Jan Brady. Seeing Edith become something of a feminist with her writing career, great wardrobe and 'London life' has been a lot of fun. What's not fun at all is trying to figure out what tragedy Julian Fellowes has in store for her when romance with Michael Gregson blows up. Come on, you know it will. We know she slept with Gregson since she got caught doing the walk of shame by Rosemund's maid. That alone opens the door to scandal. Summoned to the drawing room by her aunt the next morning, Edith is promptly reminded that all a woman really had during that era was her reputation. Said Rosemund: "A lot of things might be changing but some things will stay the same." Namely, Edith's inevitable unhappy ending.

This makes me extremely nervous. With all this talk of Anna and or Edna becoming pregnant, my money is on Edith. And I can only assume the worst when the former card shark (or sharp, as they say in Downtonian terms) asked her to sign some documents giving her "some authority" over his affairs (or maybe responsibility for bad debts -- God, she is her father's daughter!) Poor little rich girl Edith doesn't even ask about what she's signing before she puts pen to paper. All this and a move to Munich in 1922 with some murky explanation of how he'll fix it so he can marry Edith. Will Gregson turn out to be a lying, cheating scoundrel? I hate to say it, but I think we all know the answer to that one.

Mrs. Hughes  She tries to encourage Anna to go to the police and tell Bates about what happened. ("The poor man's heart is breaking from not knowing") But Anna is resolute ("Will you come with me to prison when my husband is hanged for killing him?") telling her that she wants to move back into the house because she can't bear her husband's touch. "I feel dirty ... I am soiled!," cries Anna who is now blaming herself for the attack. Mrs. Hughes then comes to Tom's rescue (again!) when he unloads his tale of woe. She promptly summons Edna to her room who plays the pregnancy card. But she is no match for our favorite character of this episode. While a shell shocked Tom stands there looking shocked at what he's hearing, Mrs. Hughes gives it to her with both barrels. "If you persist in this lie, I will summon the doctor to examine you." When Edna stands up to her, she threatens to lock her in the room and "tear the clothes from your body." Still unbowed, the lady's maid threatens to tell Cora but Mrs. Hughes calls her bluff telling her if she wants a reference or to work again "during your natural life" she'll keep quiet. When we last see Edna, she's scurrying down the road suitcase in hand. Ding, dong, the witch is gone. For good, I hope -- but who knows? Finally, Mrs. Hughes gets the low down from Carson on the woman that chose Charlie Grieg over him. She buys the once lovestruck butler a frame for his photograph of his long lost love and tells him the gesture will help remind him he "once had a heart" and "reassure the staff you belong to the human race. Mrs. Hughes for prime minister!

Isobel and Violet  Isobel admits to Violet that it is difficult to see Mary "coming back to life" but she feels guilty about it and considers her feelings "immoral." But Violet counsels her, "If we only had morals what would the poor churchmen find to do?" The dowager then tells her friend, "I hope you find a way to make friends with the world again." Later, when Isobel extends her hand to Lord Gillingham after a family dinner and tells him she hopes he visits Downton again soon, both Violet and Robert are full of admiration for the strength and graciousness she's shown under the circumstances. Penelope Wilton continues to do absolutely extraordinary work this season and her character is so heartbreakingly real I wish I could reach into the television screen and hug her.  And if you ask me, she may wind up being more than a nurse to Dr.Clarkson yet.

Lady Rose  Left in the middle of the dance floor at The Lotus Club by her drunken date, she's rescued by singer Jack Ross who gallantly twirls her around until Tom is asked to "fetch her" back to the table. Rosemund was NOT amused by her brief dalliance on the dance floor with the black balladeer. We don't need a house to fall on us to see where this is going. And is it just me or did he have a very odd voice? Didn't love it.

Ivy/Daisy/Jimmy/Alfred Please let this story end already! Bored Jimmy, looking for some fun, has now taken to stealing kisses from Ivy and is seen by Daisy going into the boot room. How romantic! Seizing her chance to finally wake Alfred from his unrequited crush on her fellow kitchen maid, Daisy tells him where to find Ivy when he wants to share news about a new apprenticeship for cooks being held at the Ritz in London. When Alfred discovers Ivy with Jimmy in a lip lock he decides he's had enough and is going to London if he can get into the program. Heartbroken Daisy now realizes her plan backfired -- she's pushed the young man she loves out the door and there is little chance of stopping him. "I've been so stupid," she tells Thomas, who for once wasn't behind any of the nefarious goings on at the house. Although we did love his catty call out of Edna's behavior on the back stairs and expect to find him back in fine form next week when he gets his own handpicked candidate into the house as Braithwaite's replacement.


Photo: Carnival films

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

DOWNTON ABBEY RECAP: DARK SHADOWS


Most times I love being able to predict what will happen next on the television shows  I obsess over, but Sunday night was not one of those nights. If you read my recap last week, you might recall I wrote this in summarizing the Anna and Bates storyline:

Anna and Bates: The long suffering couple  is so happy and in love at the moment, you just know whatever comes next is going to be epically tragic. Be afraid, be very afraid.
I had that in the back of my mind when a viewer advisory appeared on the screen before the start of this episode. The downright reptilian Mr. Green’s laser focus on Anna (the wonderful Joanne Froggatt) from the very start told me something bad was going to happen with those two.  I felt it in my gut.
It was the scene in the servant’s hall where Green was sitting in the rocking chair talking to Anna over his shoulder that I thought, ‘Oh my God, he’s going to attack her.’ If you go back and watch it, you’ll see he’s got this predatory look in his eyes. Call it my Irish intuition or chalk it up to my absolute fanaticism for every detail about this show, but at that moment I knew.

Even with that foreshadowing (An irritated, emasculated Bates offered this assessment of the creepy visitor who’d taken a liking to his wife:  “There’s something about him that gets my goat”), I was still horrified watching the long suffering Anna, Downton’s steadfast plucky optimist, being punched in the face,  dragged off by her hair and raped by that horrible man played so convincingly by Nigel Harman. Mercifully, Anna’s rape occurred off-screen but the effect of hearing her screams over a shot of a locked door at the end of long, empty corridor below stairs was positively chilling.
The horror of it all was made worse with the realization that Anna was being assaulted at the same time everyone in the house (including Bates) was sitting upstairs enraptured by a performance by visiting opera diva Dame Nellie Melba (Dame Kiri Te Kanawa). The producers’ decision to cut back and forth between Nellie belting out Puccini (and dedicating her performance ‘to lovers’) to the unheard screaming of a terrified woman a few floors below was, to say the least, quite unsettling.

I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by the number of shows that have used rape as a plot device lately. I couldn’t even bring myself to watch the second part of the far too brutal storyline given to Mariska Hargitay’s character on Law & Order SVU. But this is Downton Abbey for Pete’s sake! The over top events here like the death of a Turkish diplomat in Lady Mary’s bed while surprising, were not at all violent or dark.
After the attack, when Mrs. Hughes finds Anna cowering in the corner beaten and bloodied, it didn’t feel like the Downton  I know and love. It was too gritty, too real. Law & Order: Yorkshire was more like it. Again, the producers mercifully kept the scene short  and when Anna met up with Bates after she’s tried to clean herself up and had changed into a borrowed dress, we’d returned to the show as we’ve known it. But it’s changed. As Anna has, and only time will tell what that will bring.

Rather than post an overnight assessment of the episode, I decided to sit with this development and mull over what I think it does to and for the remainder of the season.  Much of Downton’s appeal for me - and for many of the people I know who love it – comes from its ability to enthrall us as a beautiful, cinematic costume drama and transport us to a simpler place and time before most people gave up even trying to look presentable at restaurants and when most of the conversations we had involved talking instead of texting. Civility – even in a time of war (Remember honor bound William dressing Matthew as they prepared for battle?) –has always been the cornerstone of Downton’s very existence. It’s all about doing the right thing in this world of plummy accents created by Julian Fellowes.  I don’t tune in to PBS on Sunday nights for gritty realism. Sure, I want a well told story, but its escapism I’m looking for. This was not that. In this era of where nudity and sexual situations are all too common place, there is also tremendous appeal in the show’s chaste depiction of love and romance.
In having Anna, the one character at Downton who has never done anything to anyone remotely underhanded or wrong (even Mrs. Hughes fished a letter meant for Carson out of his wastepaper basket and went behind his back last week) be the one to suffer this horrific attack, Fellowes seems hell bent on waking viewers up from their Sunday night reveries. Is he throwing this very well looked after baby with the bath water? I pray not.

Yes, last season Sybil and Matthew died, just like people do in real life, but in making a rape the major storyline for one of the show’s most beloved characters, Fellowes is entering tricky territory, which I’m sure he knows. As any soap opera fan knows, rape has factored heavily into the plot. The most famous (infamous?) of all happened on General Hospital back in the eighties when the show’s pretty blonde heroine, Laura Webber (Genie Francis) was attacked by disco owner Luke Spencer (Anthony Geary) which somehow led to the characters improbably falling in love and getting married (30 million viewers, including yours truly) tuned in. In too many instances, I’ve found that these types of storylines feel exploitative and manipulative. I’m not saying Fellowes was wrong to go here. It will all come down to how the story unfolds.
For now, Anna’s story just clearly registers as shocking. But  Anna and Bates’ story could become equally sudsy as the couple inevitably pulls away from each other (Anna has sworn Mrs. Hughes, the only one who knows about the attack, to secrecy). She (rightly) fears that if Bates found out, he’d kill Green and with his prison record, he’d be sent to the gallows for sure. Of course, we know that in 1922 no woman in service could dare tell the authorities about a rape without risking everything she values in her life – her reputation, her relationships and her job.

The question remains: how will this play out during the rest of the season? The soapiest of all twists would be, of course, if Anna got pregnant and couldn’t know who fathered her child. Please, let this not be the case. The other question is with Lord Gillingham figuring prominently in Lady Mary’s attempt to restart her life, will Anna be forced to exchange pleasantries with her attacker on future visits. I’m thinking yes. Will Anna be able to keep this secret from Mary, the same woman that pleaded with her to help her move the body of her dead lover from her bed in the middle of the night and wore her to secrecy?

At the end of this episode, after the attack, the monster called out his good-byes to Mr. and Mrs. Bates as he left thanking them for looking after him setting the stage for his return. We felt Anna’s pain and humiliation and if there’s one other gritty moment Downton viewers have to endure, let it be a suitably bad end for Green.
I suspect we haven’t seen the last of him and that seems dangerously close to the possibility of an over wrought storyline. I leave it in the more than capable hands of Julian Fellowes who has said many times happy characters don’t make for the most exciting storylines.  We get it, you love to keep us on our toes. But please, until the inevitable reveal to Anna’s nearest and dearest, go easy on us for a few episodes.

In other developments:
Against the backdrop of a Gosford Park-like house party, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) continues her tenuous attempt to find her way back to life and finds a very willing (and handsome) guide in Lord Tony Gillingham (Tom Cullen) or, as Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) inexplicably described him, “the handsome pirate.”  Despite being involved with “the heiress of the season, the aforementioned employer of Anna’s rapist is clearly smitten with the widow Crawley. (Mary smiles for the first time after Matthew’s death while flirting with him over dinner eliciting a whole host of reactions from the family). After trying unsuccessfully to get other couples to join them, they go out riding alone while talking of death, taxes and fortuitous matchmaking.  “Sometimes I don’t know who I miss more: Matthew or the person I used to be,” says Mary. Tender-hearted Tony tells her she’s lucky having experienced a “great love” in Matthew but our heroine (using her best cut glass accent in this scene) isn’t so sure. She tells him that she might be happier had she never had her cold exterior melted by her late husband. “He changed me,” she said.  But, “We can’t go back,” says Tony. “Apparently not,” she says in reply.

Later that night, when the annoying Lady Rose (Lily James) makes Alfred (Matt Milne)retrieve Matthew’s gramophone from the attic and invite the partygoers to join her in the great hall for a dance the couple join a few revelers in the great hall for a dance.  Mary tentatively takes Lord Gillingham’s arm and all seems fine until she spots the relic from her past  obviously remembering that night when she and Matthew swirled around in each other’s arms in that very spot to “Pops Goes A Million” and kissed until Lavina broke up the fun. She flees to her bedroom leaving Tony without a partner.
Tom (Allen Leech), who had seemingly found his place within the family and had even finally made a friend of Robert, took ten giant steps backward in this episode having fallen into the clutches (the hyperbole is intentional --- I hate this predictable and sudsy storyline) of the dreadful Edna Braithwaite (Myanna Buring). After promising Carson and Mrs. Hughes, that he’ll keep his distance from the house maid-turned stalker-turned-ladies-maid, he inexplicably confides in her telling her that he’s “never felt lonelier” among the Grantham’s guests trying to remember which title to use while dancing with ancient dowagers. When his claim, “I don’t belong here” falls on deaf ears with Robert he finds solace in a huge tumbler of whiskey conveniently supplied by Edna who tells him to drink up and sleep it off. Who didn’t see it coming when the wily witch knocked on his bedroom door asking, “Are you awake?” and slipped inside.

I’ve also got a funny feeling Lady Edith (the increasingly interesting Laura Carmichael) isn’t getting her happy ending this time, either. Her would be lover (More potential for sex at Downton -- make it stop!) Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards) joins the group for the house party and after several missteps to ingratiate himself to Lord Grantham, hits the jackpot when he beats the card sharp Sampson that fleeced Robert the night before at his own game. Michael then blackmails the cheater into signing over the promissory notes he secured off the perennially clueless master of the house and his guests with threats of exposing his fellow cheat. Robert, relieved to not have to tell Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) that he’s lost yet another chunk of her fortune, decrees Gregson “a decent chap” having “saved his bacon.” When Edith asks how her soon to be German citizen boyfriend (“I’m getting fluent!”) pulled off this miracle of miracles he tells her he simply “resurrected some forgotten skills from his misspent youth.” Uh oh.
The episode’s most moving scenes came courtesy of  Penelope Wilton, whose restrained, heart breaking portrayal of a widow mourning the death of her only son, has been nothing short of perfection. When Violet’s (Maggie Smith, who is at her best opposite Wilton here) sees her walking in the village, she asks her driver to pull over so she can ask Isobel to join the family at dinner to hear Dame Nellie sing. Isobel explains that it doesn’t feel right to “hum a tune” or even read a book because in those minutes, “It feels like I’ve forgotten (Matthew) and it’s that which I can’t bear.” Replies Violet: “It won’t bring him back sitting home alone night after night,” says Violet imploring her to join the party. When she does come to dinner and finds herself witness to Mary’s flirtation, Tom tries to reassure her that not everyone is “making merry” and takes her hand. Violet recognizes his kindness with a knowing nod.

Things are pretty lively in the kitchen this week as Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) nearly gives herself a heart attack while whipping up soufflés for sixteen guests and turns her apron over to aspiring chef Alfred for the night, Jimmy (Ed Speleers) injures his wrists while showing off for Daisy (Sophie McShera) and Ivy (Cara Theobold) leaving Carson (Jim Carter) without a second footman for the party. The task was too beneath Thomas ( Rob James-Collier) so sad sack Moseley (Bernard Gallagher) takes time out from his new job as Bakewell’s delivery boy and put on the white gloves to help out. “It’s no secret I have come down in the world,” he tells Carson as the former valet begrudgingly accepts this final humiliation. By the time this season is over, something tells me he’ll have plenty of company.

 

 

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

IT'S A NEW YEAR OF CELEBRITY INTERVIEWS FOR "LUNCH AT MICHAEL'S"

I was thrilled to have Dr.Oz join me for lunch for my first column of 2014. He's smart, funny and completely fascinating


I'm back on the beat for another dishy year of celebrity lunches at Michael's. I was thrilled to be able to kick-off this year with an exclusive sitdown with Mr. Mehmet Oz who told me all about his latest venture -- his own magazine with Hearst. I'm happy to report Dr. Oz is as warm, compassionate and funny in person as he is on his successful television show. Here is the link to the entire interview. I'll be posting more from our lunch in future posts.


http://www.mediabistro.com/fishbowlny/exclusive-the-first-interview-with-dr-oz-on-his-new-hearst-title_b101299

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Monday, January 6, 2014

DOWNTON ABBEY: COULD SEASON FOUR BE THE BEST YET?


Dishing about Downton: Last month, I lunched separately with executive producer Gareth Neame and Lesley Nicol who plays Mrs. Patamore on the PBS hit for my "Lunch" column

Matthew who? Downton Abbey's executive producer Gareth Neame was telling the truth last month when he told me over lunch that season four was one of the show's best. While fans of the show held their breath awaiting the show's long overdue return wondering how could we go on without the show's stalwart Mr. Crawley, Neame told me, "It was the best thing that could have happened." And while we're on the subject is Dan Stevens, who I've always liked very much,  destined to be the new David Caruso? Discuss among yourselves.

I have to admit I was a bit skeptical, but after watching last night's fast-paced two hour premiere, I'm inclined to agree. While other hit shows have been prone to shark jumping (Helloo Scandal) or toying with faithful fans' affections and patience (Mad Men), Downton seems better than ever. Julian Fellowes, who tirelessly endured far too many questions about why he killed off Matthew (we're talking to you, Bill Carter) during the cast's recent press tour of New York, served up the perfect blend of unforeseen plot twists and comfortable familiarity for the faithful in the supersized (we like!) first episode. Absolutely flawless acting, great plot twists -- and those clothes!! And I'm still reeling from those horrid words uttered by Nanny West. My Irish blood was boiling ..Good riddance you old cow.

It was a brilliant start. It grabbed me from the get-go. That most clever Fellowes had us on edge from the episode's first minute when it didn't open with the show's signature sweeping theme music over the usual close up of Isis's wagging hind quarters. The shot of one light burning as the rest of Downton slept was a sure sign of foreboding (and reminded me *sob* of Sybil's shocking death -- that's the one I'll never get over!) 

Here's what happened:

Lady Mary: After spending six months of living in a near catatonic state, the palest young widow in all of Yorkshire found her way back to life thanks to Violet (in one of the series' most brilliant scenes) and Tom's (my absolute favorite character who makes Matthew look like a wimp, if you ask me) careful and caring prodding and Tom's enlisting the aid of Carson, who endured a heartbreaking rebuff from Mary when he "overstepped" himself. Any Downton fan worth their salt knew where Mary was headed when she finally figured out it was time to snap out of it. Her apology to her surrogate father, the subsequent pouring out of his fatherly love and her torrent of tears had us reaching for the Kleenex. Well done, Michelle Dockery and Jim Carter. With Robert's transparently selfish intentions to shield his eldest daughter from the dreary reality of running the estate foiled by everyone from Tom to Violet ("When you talk like that I'm tempted to call for Nanny and send you to bed without your supper"), how fabulous was it to see Mary (who finally traded her widow's black for lavender) join the farmers' lunch where the gallant Tom gave her his seat (literally and figuratively) at the table? As his last act of chivalry, it turns out Matthew penned a secret letter naming his wife as sole heir in the unlikely event of his death setting up what is sure to be plenty of fireworks between a father determined to hold on to the past and a daughter looking to create a new future. We can't wait.

Lady Edith: Well, well, well. Edith has finally gotten a life and she's more than making up for lost time. She's in a sizzling affair with her editor Michael Gregson (who looks a lot more handsome than he did last year), spending a lot more time in London and wearing some serious sexy clothes. (I had to laugh at Mary's take on Edith's new love: "He's not bad looking and he's alive -- which points him two points ahead of most men of our generation." Good one) How glam was that strapless gown seemingly held up by a thin string of beads she wore to meet her man at a swanky London restaurant? Downton's own Carrie Bradshaw is a modern woman on the move. We'll luxuriate in all this fabulousness until the inevitable happens: what can possibly go wrong with her man's plan to become a German citizen so he can marry her? They may not know it, but they're sure to find out there's worse things in life than his Jane Eyre-esque marriage to his mad woman wife.

Tom Branson: Let's me just say I am completely in love with this character and having met Allen Leech recently, I have a serious crush on this terrific actor. His character, more than any other, has endured the most change and grown the most.  Leech's understated portrayal of the political activist chauffeur turned reluctant semi-aristocrat grounds the show and gives it plenty of heart. Leech manages to imbue every scene that he's in with compassion and common sense. Even the ones where all he does is shoot another actor a look. We hate Edna Braithwaite already as she is sure to cause big problems for our man.

Lord and Lady Grantham: It's amazing Downton is still standing with these two clueless dopes at the helm. Robert seems to have forgotten than he almost drove the whole thing off a cliff last year and is poised to fight Mary and Tom tooth and nail over every change they want to make in the running of the estate. It's a good thing Violet (the peerless Maggie Smith) is there to utter devastating one-liners and remind her son to man up and do the right thing for his daughter -- and the future of Downton. Cora, heartbroken that evil O'Brien stole off in the middle of the night to work for that dreadful Lady Flincher (thanks for the heads up, Rose), hires a woman who was once fired by Mrs. Hughes and takes her side over Anna, the nicest woman in all of Downton. Paging Shirley MacClaine! We did love her scene where she nearly ripped Nanny West to shreds, though. But that was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time -- thank God!

Isobel Crawley: I literally sobbed when Penelope Wilton uttered this cut-you-to-the-quick line: "When your only child dies, you're not a mother anymore, you're not anything." A clearly moved Edith reminds her: "You're a grandmother." In a somewhat odd plot twist (but not really, if you think of it), Isobel comes back to life when Mrs. Hughes asks her to take in Carson's old friend Charlie Grigg who is wasting away in a nearby workhouse. This oddly sweet storyline managed to reveal the backstory of Carson's broken heart (when his ladylove married Charlie instead of him) and once again allowed Carson to reveal himself as an old softie under that starched collar. Who didn't know he'd emerge from the waiting room at the train station to mend his decades long riff with Charlie before the newly rehabilitated carny went off to his new job in Belfast?

Thomas Barrow: If you thought nearly losing his job and facing jail when his homosexuality was discovered by the annoying Jimmy and Alfred (really, I could do with a lot less of these two) would make him a nicer person, think again. Bates will surely rue the day he saved Thomas from banishment now that he has a new co-conspirator in Braithwaite.

Anna & Bates: The long suffering couple are so happy and in love at the moment, you just know whatever comes next is going to be epically tragic. Be afraid, be very afraid.

I'll be recapping every episode here so check back next week and please let me know what you think.