Downton Abbey, Series II Episode 2

C: This week’s installment of the delicious Downton Abbey being only one measly hour, there is less to say than about the premiere. But that is not to say that the pace of action has slowed! This week saw the conversion of Downton to a convalescent home for officers, the ascension of the scheming Thomas to head of said organization, and the frustrated and increasingly dangerous efforts of Branson the chauffeur to take a stand against the war.

E: Yes – we’ve returned to Thomas being completely and utterly evil.  And to O’Brien being mostly evil.  Lord Grantham doesn’t know about the latter, and can’t do anything about the former because he and Carson hushed up Thomas’s thievery before.

C: I don’t buy for an instant that Lord Grantham would let Thomas run his household. Even without prosecuting him for theft, he could very easily have shed doubt on his fitness for the position! A real believability stretch, that plot twist.

E: Yes.  It’s problematic.  Maybe it’s supposed to be indicative of the sort of man Grantham is – well-intentioned, but not so potent?  Ready to let propriety get in the way of doing the right thing?

C: Maybe, but up till now I hadn’t seen him as so ineffectual. Meh.

E: And Branson, his plans of soiling the visiting General’s clothes with slop masquerading as soup foiled because Anna caught his little apology note to Sybil?  It was kind of funny, in a way, watching the whole house go nuts trying to stop what they think will be a poisoning.  Cool plotline. Except, did we know that Branson hated the English because of the Troubles back home in Ireland?

C: “The Troubles” refers to the more recent strife in Northern Ireland; Branson is from what is now the Republic of Ireland, and yes, it was news to me that he was involved in the independence movement. Why is he working for aristocrats in England, then, exactly?

E:  Well, fine, you know what I mean by calling them The Troubles.

C: Oh sure, it’s like referring to Operation Desert Storm as “Operation Iraqi Freedom”… basically they’re the same thing, except happening at different times for different reasons and with different parties involved.

E: Hating you. But yeah, it makes very little sense that Branson’d be over at Downton in the first place. 

C: Probably my favorite aspect of this episode, though it certainly complicates matters, was learning the truth about Matthew’s sweet-seeming fiancée Miss Swire. The truth is… she actually is nice, and not just nice but brave. What dirt did slick newspaper man Sir Richard Carlisle have on her? Turns out she sold him information that caused a scandal, bringing down many politicians including her uncle. Mary’s aunt and grandmother would be wickedly pleased to believe Lavinia did this because she and Carlisle were lovers, but Mary learns the truth: she did it to save her father from ruin – and furthermore, the uncle and his cronies really were dirty crooks. Mousy little Lavinia’s a hero! How’s Mary supposed to overcome that?

E: That was pretty awesome, wasn’t it?  We’re expecting something sordid, and really it’s loving and brave.  And of course Mary can’t top that (except by some self-sacrifice of her own). Really, her only hope is that Matthew just loves her more.  Well, that and a well placed disaster to take Lavinia out of the way. 

C: I wasn’t so enchanted with Bates and Anna in this episode. I like that Mary helped Anna track him down – look at Mary, being nice all over! Did she receive a blow to the head between seasons?

E: Hee.  Apparently so.  I think the idea is that suffering for love has made her more human, more aware that others beside herself suffer.

C: I dig her character development. But Anna? When it comes to proposing that she become Bates’s mistress, once was already more than enough. You’re both better than that, and that’s why we like you guys! Happily, at least Bates recognizes this. I’m not really sure, though, why he thinks he can buy his wife’s silence now, if he couldn’t initially…

E: He seems to generally be an unwarranted optimist.  Or at least, now that he knows he has Anna’s love.  But yes, I liked him refusing the offer more than I liked her making it (even if I generally respected her bravery for it).

C: I guess I think it’s even braver to wait, knowing they’ll both be unhappy, in the hope that they can make things work for real. Less glamorous, but endurance is courage too.

E:  Oh yes.  Very much so. I just meant that you could see it took a lot for her to make the offer.

C: That’s why I felt it worked the first time, but not the second.

E: I can see that.

C: On a different note… While Edith’s adulterous farmer-kissing really soured what sympathy I had for her before, it was still sort of nice to see her finding a way to be useful in the convalescent ward. That girl is just starving for approval, and it’s better for all concerned that she finds some! And it was nice to see the older ladies, all so pleased with themselves, taken down a peg by the visiting commander’s praise for Edith.

E: That was probably my favorite part of the episode.  I thought that she’d end up doing something completely inappropriate with one of the sick soldiers – but no.  She’s being kind of devoted and awesome instead.

C: But it’s obvious the charming mustachioed patients are going to be the downfall of the new maid, who’s frankly a bit one-dimensional anyway. Officers always mean bad news for girls like you, Ethel. Don’t you read?

E: No, she doesn’t.  And she’s more for the dreams than the actual thinking. That’s how supposedly charming men turn out to be the downfall of such girls.  I couldn’t help groaning when she told Anna “he wants to get to know me better!”  I’ll say he does.

C: Hee. Speaking of news, William and Daisy’s engagement should be a positive item – only the silly girl can’t appreciate him. I know you can’t force these things, and her preference ought to be validated… but I’m having trouble not siding with Mrs. Patmore on this one.

E: Now, that’s funny, because I felt really bad for Daisy.  I mean, yes, I think getting engaged was probably the right thing to do – certainly a defensible thing – but what a position!  Who wants to lie about something like that?

C: True enough. No one.

E: But poor Mrs. Patmore, after she trusted Lang with her nephew’s tragic story and then he blurted it out because he didn’t know it was a secret?  Lang was clearly the tragedy of this episode.

C: That was awful all around. Is Lang gone for good? Hard to know, but I can predict one thing with confidence: we’re going to see more of the psychological devastation of the war on the characters we care about.

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3 comments on “Downton Abbey, Series II Episode 2

  1. yvonne says:

    Hi folks – I don’t really want to say anything about Downton Abbey as I have already seen the whole series and Christmas special so I would be afraid of saying something spoiler-ish! But I should point out that the “troubles” in Ireland refer to the 1916 Easter rising and its aftermath and the war of independence which led to Ireland’s independence . At the time of Downton Abbey , Ireland was still part of Britain. Which is why Irish people would have been working in service in a plan British house – they went where the work was.

    • C says:

      Hi, thanks for withholding the spoilers! You’re right that Ireland was still part of Britain until 1922, and it was certainly common for Irish people to go to England looking for work. It’s just surprising to find an Irish socialist who hates the British aristocracy… working for the British aristocracy.

      While the lengthy struggles for independence in what is now the Republic of Ireland may well have been called “troubles,” I’m fairly confident that the capitalized term “The Troubles” refers to the strife in Northern Ireland between Catholics and Protestants, dating from the 1960s.

  2. Yvonne says:

    Yes, you’re right now that I read it again. The “Troubles” would generally mean the more recent events. But as regards why he would have been working with Aristos in England if he was a rabid republican – a lot of people changed their minds after the 1916 rising – up until that point, while Irish Independence was always wanted “emotionally” it was only after the leaders of the rising were executed that the general population took up arms and got involved.

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