Tuesday, February 25, 2014

DOWNTON ABBEY SEASON FOUR FINALE RECAP: LIFE'S A BEACH!


Everyone at Downton had a ball (except nasty Thomas) in the season finale
Who would have thought that Downton Abbey would have ended this season on – dare we say it – a happy note? Everything was positively funereal when we returned to the Abbey in episode one to find Mary mired in grief, Isobel grappling with how to deal with watching her daughter’s in-law return to the land of the living and the rest of the family move on from the death of her only son. Evil lurked in dark corners in the form of hateful nannies (“You wicked half-breed!”) and slithery valets (Green, of course, and also, inexplicably, Thomas who seems to have suffered from amnesia remembering nothing of the kindness shown to him by virtually everyone at the close of last season) And while the toffs did their best to carry on upstairs, the unthinkable happened to the house’s most virtuous resident downstairs. Anna’s rape shook her – and her already emotionally damaged husband to the core.

And it’s precisely because of what has come before, that the developments (and there were many) in this seasons’ finale were supremely satisfying. An amazing amount of things happened: Mary discovers her true destiny, Edith decides she must follow her heart which led her right to the pig farm(er), Tom gets Violet’s seal of approval (“These are your people!”) and while Bates may not be a murderer (the jury will forever be out on that one), he’s a forgerer and pick pocket – but that’s okay because he saved the monarchy! 

Wrapped around what was unquestionably the series’ most lavish and visually stunning episode, Julian Fellowes devised a caper worthy of an Agatha Christie novel that involved a love letter written by Prince of Wales to a married woman, Mrs. Dudley Ward, that falls into the hands of(or rather is taken by) that scoundrel card sharp Mr. Sampson because of Rose’s (who else?) carelessness. When a search for the missive that could take down the monarchy orchestrated by an apoplectic monarchist Robert (“This family is responsible for the whole ghastly debacle!) and carried out by Mary, Rose and Charles (I am SO Team Blake!), comes up short, Bates relies on a handy skill he learned in prison and lifts the letter out of the inside breast pocket of Sampson’s overcoat  at the end of Rose’s ball. The number one lesson of the episode: For the love of God, don’t put anything important in your coat pockets (More on that later)

Besides being inordinately well written, it was so clever of Fellowes to put the Prince of Wales at the center of a thwarted fictional royal scandal since this is the same heir to the throne who went on to become King Edward VIII and famously abdicated a few years later because of his affair with that American temptress Wallis Simpson. The reason Fellowes was so cheeky about his story is because the real Prince of Wales was involved with the real unhappily Mrs. Freda Dudley Ward. (Martha Levinson, if she were real, would have absolutely read about her in American tabloids of that era). In reality, the prince did write Dudley Ward many love letters but their correspondence abruptly ceased when he met Mrs. Simpson in 1934. It turns out Mary was right about him after all. Sorry, Robert.

 Finale bonus points: Nobody died!

In fact, I would say that many of Downton’s long suffering characters have finally begun to live – or live again. If the sight of Mrs. Hughes and Carson holding hands as they dipped their toe into the vast ocean waters while on a seaside outing with the staff (In case you were sleeping: heavy metaphor alert!) didn’t put a smile on your face, check your pulse. And while we’re at it, we have to say old Charlie did have some spritely looking ankles, didn’t he?

Her: “You can always hold my hand if you need to feel steady.”

Him: “I don’t know how, but you managed to make that sound a little risqué.”

Her: “And if I did? We’re getting on, Mr. Carson, you and I. We can afford to live a little.”

Finally!

The show isn’t gone a day yet and I’m already missing it.

It’s a testament to the wonderful performances of Phyllis Logan and Jim Carter that with all that happened in the finale, I’m willing to bet most die-hard fans were particularly delighted about seeing these two characters take their first real steps towards a romantic relationship.

In the surface, the episode had the earmarks of past ‘Christmas specials’ (which is what this show originally aired as in Britain) – with most of the characters transported to a different locale with ample opportunity to swan around on even swankier sets and have multiple costume changes.

The show’s costume Caroline McCall certainly worked overtime this season giving the ladies of Downton exquisite wardrobes upstairs and subtle but noticeable changes downstairs that reflected the change times but for this episode, set in the summer of 1923 she most certainly earned herself an Emmy Award.

The main story line revolved around the presentation of Lady Rose at court (who was, for the first time this season, not annoying but rather charming) in London. (Loved that fabulous crowd scene outside Buckingham Palace. Well done!)  Most of the family along with Mrs. Hughes, Carson, Mrs. Patmore, Daisy, Ivy and assorted others made the trip to London where they were joined by Cora’s mother (Shirley MacLaine – I still can’t decide whether she is a distraction or an enhancement) and the excellent Paul Giamatti, well cast as her self-aware playboy brother Harold.

In a subplot that started out annoying but wound up quite charming, Martha and Harold were the subject of an all-out charm offensive by the fortune hunting father daughter duo Lord Aysgarth and his daughter, Madeleine, a friend of Rose's. Of course, Martha was on to the old coot immediately but enjoyed the game and after refusing his marriage proposal, even offered to introduce him to some ‘rich widows’ the next time he’s in Newport. Harold, who at first did his best to scare Madeleine away, wound up falling for her (but not enough to allow him to be taken in). She developed feelings for him that had nothing to do with money while deciding this was the last time she’s go along with her father’s scheme.

I was less enamored of those scenes where Violet and Martha squared off. MacLaine delivered her zingers with all the grace of a sledgehammer and Maggie Smith did her dowager thing as brilliantly as ever. Alas, the verbal sparring felt a bit forced; the only really resonant moment came when Violet, sagging a bit against her bedroom door, registered the slightest hint of defeat upon receipt of Martha’s absolutely poisonous parting shot: “I don’t mind looking in the mirror because what I see is a woman who’s not afraid of the future. My world is coming nearer and nearer and your world is slipping further and further away.” I hated seeing Violet being treated so roughly -- her crestfallen face said it all.

I much prefer the repartee between Violet and Isobel perhaps because beneath the jabs there is an underlying respect between the characters. In this episode, Isobel was too busy fending off the affections of Lord Merton. My prediction: by the series end Isobel will be Lady Merton. Sorry, Dr. Clarkson, we were rooting for you but it seems you’ve been outclassed, old chap.

As if all this wasn’t enough ….
Edith, this season’s unsung heroine, tries to elicit the same kind of reassurance she sought from Cora by telling her father she’s never do anything to hurt him without telling him anything about what’s happened. After walking around miserable since she returned from Geneva where she, accompanied by Rosamund, gave birth to a daughter, nursed her (sob!) and then gave up her daughter for adoption to a Swiss couple although (conveniently) there was “no formal arrangement,” she decides to go ahead with her original plan to ask the handsome and compassionate pig farmer, Tim Drew to raise the child as his own. While Edith tried to keep the truth from Drew telling him that the baby was the child of a friend, he immediately sees through her story, tells her he’ll concoct a tale for his wife by writing a letter to himself (another squidgy letter !) asking them to take in the baby was the daughter of his friend. It will be our secret, he told her.

I predict Edith, after her London adventure of this season, becomes Downton's own Dorothy and discovers all she ever needed was in her own backyard when she has an affair with Drew which winds up as a marriage. We all know how dispensable unnecessary love interests are in Julian Fellowes world. I predict Drew's yet to be seen wife dies next season of swine flu! Remember that funny looking farmer with the tractor that Edith flirted with (and kissed!) eons ago? This guy  a)is much better looking  b)has ties to the estate and then some c)now that Michael Gregson has likely been killed by thugs in brown shirts espousing hateful rhetoric (shiver), she’ll need some ‘cherishing.’

I cheered when it was clear Edith had made the bold and brave choice to keep her daughter (sort of, but still) when Tom encouraged her to not be done in by the family: “We may love them .. but we need to stand up to them you and I.” Undoubtedly more changes are store for Mama and Papa when they inevitably find out about the baby as evidenced by what she said to Mary and Tony at Rose's dinner: "I sometimes feel we should make more scenes about things that really matter to us." Uh oh.

And speaking of Tom, I love the guy,but he really is helpless with women. That annoying Sarah Bunting (Go away!) who seems to have picked up shaming Tom about his family ties where Edna left off, managed to wrangle an invitation to the house while everyone was away. Unfortunately, Thomas (that’s Mr. Barrow to you) doing his best imitation of Bela Lugosi throughout this episode seems to find waiting on Tom particularly galling all of a sudden. First, he complains  about having to take orders from a former chauffeur to Ivy and then surprises Tom while lurking in the wings when Sarah high tailed it upstairs steps away from the bedroom gallery. Tom felt guilty even though nothing happened. He only made manners worse when he tried to explain himself to Thomas who enjoyed watching him squirm (“I am your servant but I was not aware I was under orders as to what to think …”). Then, of course, ever the dutiful servant, Thomas made sure to tell Robert that Tom was entertaining a lady upstairs late at night. Lord Grantham was not amused.

Even with yet another ill-advised ‘friendship’ with a woman who seems hell bent on embarrassing him, Tom seems to have shaken off his feelings of inadequacy around the family first standing up to Thomas when he tries to shame Tom into sitting beside him on their trip up to London and later going so far as to ask Violet to dance at the ball. For her part, she finally gave him her unqualified seal of approval telling him, “This is your family … these are your people now.” Hopefully, all that talk of heading to America will be put on the backburner – until a Downton spin off comes to pass!

I am, however, more than happy to see Ivy pack her bags and head across the ocean as Harold Levinson’s new cook. Buh bye. Jimmy’s emotional female counterpart, having overheard Daisy’s polite refusal to join Harold’s lovesick valet Ethan Slade as a member of his staff back in New York, boldly threw her hat into the ring as a willing substitute. Ethan, having been rejected by Daisy, decides why not? Earlier in the episode’s Ethan’s attempts at ferreting out intel on Daisy provided plenty of levity as illustrated by some great comedic scenes with Carson (this episode's MVP) who replied, eyes bulging, when asked if there had been anything going on between the assistant cook and “the fellow working at the Ritz” - -Alfred got the job, by the way – “Going on? Nothing goes on in any house where I’m in authority!”

Something definitely, maybe, might go on in the future with Molesley and Baxter. The ladies maid seems to have found the strength to break free of Thomas’ hold over her with the unlikely help of her hero, Molesley. Does he butler-turned-valet-turned footman really know who he’s tangling with here? We hope he doesn’t become Thomas’ new whipping boy because that wouldn’t be a fair fight. Or would it? Thomas, by the way, seems to be the only person at Downton who has not evolved but rather regressed into a borderline caricature. I would have thought between Sybil’s death and the compassion shown to him by the family and Bates (of all people!) when they learned about his homosexuality he’d not have reverted to such a one dimensional figure. Get this guy a boyfriend!

Okay, on to Bates. When do-gooder Anna gives his old overcoat to Mrs. Hughes (without checking with her husband first) for the Russian refugees, the housekeeper discovers a train ticket stub for a trip to London on the day Green died, Bates’ alibi is blown. When Mrs. Hughes finds the ticket she takes it to Mary, but noting while things don’t look good, it’s not proof Bates pushed him in front of a moving bus into Piccadilly traffic. But if he did, she tells Mary, she wouldn’t “condemn him for defending his wife’s honor.” Mary, however, feels wrong about being a part of a potential cover up (but interestingly enough in another scene tells her father she’s completely comfortable lying) and holds on to the ticket. She changes her mind once Bates saves the Prince of Wales and by extension the Crawleys from the taint of yet another dodged scandal and tosses the stub into the fire. So that’s that. I doubt we'll ever discover what really happened.

And so we end the season where we began: with Mary. She is no longer in mourning and is clear about her future. “My destiny is to save Downton for George.” And that looks as if it’s going to mean marrying someone she loves but who undoubtedly will have deep with deep pockets and will help keep the lights on. Mary tells Tony as much when she says “A year ago I thought I’d be alone forever and mourn Matthew for the rest of my days. Now I know that isn't true.  There will be a new life for me someday.” But with who?  The big surprise: Charles is heir to an even bigger fortune than Tony. And both men are poised to do battle over her no matter what it takes. (I’m curious to find out what Charles’ relationship is to the Prince of Wales married ladylove which will undoubtedly prove to be an interesting complication)

And so, says Downton’s worldly wise but newly hopeful heiress, “Let the royal battle commence.”

Only eleven months until season five!

Thanks so much for reading my recaps and following along with me throughout the season. I’ll be recapping Mad Men next when it returns in April. Don Draper isn’t Tom Branson, but perhaps they’re distant cousins ….

Photos: Masterpiece/Carnival Films

 

 

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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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Monday, February 10, 2014

DOWNTON ABBEY RECAP: A NIGHT OF DISCOVERY

     


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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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.


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