Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Series 1: Episode 2

The tides have changed at Downton Abbey with the arrival of Matthew Crawley (played by Dan Stevens) and his unconventional mother, Isobel Crawley (played by Penelope Wilton). Last episode, Lord and Lady Grantham invited the Crawley’s to stay at Downton Abbey with the hope that Matthew Crawley would become the new heir to the Grantham title by marrying their eldest daughter, Lady Mary (played by Michelle Dockery). Though Lady Mary isn’t thrilled with the arrival of her distant cousin, Matthew, and her parents manipulative ways, it will be interesting to watch how the unlikely relationship progresses. 

Another interesting development in this episode is the introduction of yet another technological innovation. In the beginning of the episode, creator Julian Fellowes introduces the automobile as an available mode of transportation. In the previous episode, the telegram was also introduced as a mode of communication that successfully delivered the news of the ‘Titanic’. Perhaps these references to technological developments will prove to be instrumental as the series continues. In many ways, these subtle references to technological developments allowed me to properly situate the program in both space and time.

But the introduction of the automobile is not the sole reason for excitement at Downton Abbey. Matthew Crawley and his mother Isobel, both have trouble fitting in at the Downton estate due to their lack of propriety. This obvious lack of decorum becomes central to the theme of the episode as it clearly divides the inhabitants of Downton from their new guests. Though Matthew’s mother Isobel is determined to fit in with the Downton family, Matthew struggles with the new change in circumstances. Even though Matthew Crawley is trained as a lawyer, the Downton household quickly makes it clear that Mr. Crawley is by no means a “gentleman” by society’s definition.

Status, then, becomes a central theme to the history of Downton Abbey.  For example, while at dinner, the cold and arrogant Lady Mary, compares the middle-class Matthew Crawley to an ugly sea monster by way of Greek legend.  She further articulates that because he does not hunt, or use his knife properly, that he is completely unsuitable for marriage. Lord Grantham, on the other hand, tries to make Matthew more comfortable at Downton by taking him on a walk around the grounds. It is on this walk that Lord Grantham expresses one of my favorite metaphors for Downton:

Lord Grantham: “ You do not love the place yet. You see a million bricks that may crumble, a thousand gutters and pipes that may block and leak, and stone that will crack in the frost”

Matthew Crawley: “And, you don’t?”

Lord Grantham: “No, I see my life’s work”

This exchange of dialogue further embeds the importance of status to the Crawley family.This idea of aristocratic status also plays into the relationship between Isobel Crawley and Countess Violet (played by Maggie Smith). Though Countess Violent has the luxury of status, it is Isobel who sees the importance of women in the workplace. The very idea of a proper woman holding  an occupation, is clearly foreign to the Downton household. However, Isobel proves her worth as a nurse when she saves the life of a Downton farmer by suggesting a modern treatment. This act of decency not only makes Isobel a hero of Downton, but it persuades Lord Grantham to name her Chairman of the Board. This development upsets Countess Violet, as Isobel’s promotion places her on an equal playing field with Countess Violet.

The upper-crust drama continues as the servants of Downton also struggle to define their household responsibilities. Thomas (played by Rob James-Collier) and Mrs. O’Brien (played by Siobhan Finneran ) continue to complain about their position in the hierarchy of servants, while Daisy (played by Sophie McShera) begins to form a crush on Thomas. Furthermore, Mr. Carson’s past as an entertainer is revealed when an old friend exposes his participation in “The Cheerful Charlie’s” to the Crawley family. Though Carson is humiliated, and offers to resign from his position at Downton, Lord Grantham decides to keep Carson as his Butler at the Downton estate. 

If this exciting chain of events didn’t make you dizzy during the second episode, what about the renewed friendship between Mr. Carson and Mr. Bates at the end ? I never thought that those two would ever see eye to eye, but maybe there are more relationships to be rekindled in the Downton household. 

So far, Downton Abbey has really captured my attention as a first-time viewer. Not only do I enjoy the beautiful costumes, but  I am very excited to watch the character development of Lady Mary and Mr. Bates. Maybe in the next few episodes Bates will finally reveal an attraction towards Anna, the head housemaid. I’m not sure if there is an attraction yet between the two characters, but I am eager to watch the development of their relationship!