Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Season 2: Episode 3

Isobel Crawley’s deep longing for authority creates quite a problem for the Downton family in this episode. The estate has been turned into a convalescent home for wounded soldiers, and Isobel has not wasted any time barking orders at everyone. This creates a bitter ideological divide between Cora and Isobel as Isobel continues to see herself as the new head of the Downton household.

But to be honest, I think Isobel should just be sent away. It is not her fortune or occupation that is maintaining Downton’s existence in the first place. She is lucky to even have the opportunity to live at Downton. If it weren’t for Matthew’s position at Downton, her life would be entirely different. The fact that she sees herself as part of a class that she does not belong to proves to be a central problem in this episode.

Although Isobel Crawley may see herself as the new lady of the house, Lady Sybil and Lady Edith are also doing their fair share to help out with the recovering soldiers. In the beginning of the episode, Lady Edith tells Lady Sybil that she feels useless without the responsibility of helping out on the Drake’s farm. In a memorable scene, Lady Sybil admits to Lady Edith that “it’s doing nothing that is the enemy”. This scene not only displays the maturation of Lady Sybil’s character, but it also encourages Lady Edith to make better use of her time at Downton.

Speaking of the Downton ladies, the Dowager Countess still believes that Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley are still very much in love despite the obstacle of Lavinia Swire. With the help of Lady Rosamund (played by Samantha Bond), the Dowager Countess plots to break up the happy couple by questioning Lavinia’s relationship with Sir Richard Carlisle. Though Lady Rosamund and the Dowager Countess are sure that Lavinia and Carlisle used to be lovers, Lady Mary finds out that Sir Richard Carlisle actually saved Lavinia’s reputation by making a deal to forgive her father’s debt. Lavinia’s confession to Lady Mary is probably the most thrilling part of the episode. For it not only diminishes Lavinia’s innocent persona, but it also creates a mutual friendship between her and Lady Mary.

Downstairs, Ethel and Daisy are also experiencing the harsh realities of war. Ethel, the troublesome housemaid has made it her new mission to inappropriately flirt with the wounded officers. Although she is warned by Mrs. Hughes and Anna to stop her shameful behavior, she continues to flirt with Major Bryant. I still haven’t decided what I think about Ethel’s character, but I think something terrible might happen to her in the future if she continues to act in such a reckless manner. In the kitchen however, Daisy is terrified by the fact that William might propose to her when he comes to visit Downton. The beloved Mrs. Patmore warns Daisy that she cannot send William off to war with a broken heart, so she must accept his proposal even if she does not plan on actually marrying him. This creates an internal conflict for Daisy as she is torn between her own feelings and the responsibility of lifting Matthew’s spirits.

Though the Downton household has clearly transformed since the beginning of the war, many of the characters are still fighting their own battles at home. For example, although Lady Mary and Lavinia may now see eye to eye, I still think there is a hidden possibility for Matthew and Lady Mary to rekindle their relationship. Daisy’s forced engagement to William at the end of the episode has also changed Daisy’s character as she will never have the freedom to fully leave the Downton kitchen. Furthermore, Mr. Lang’s shell shock also proves to be a problem as he can no longer perform his duties as Lord Grantham’s valet. Due to all of these conflicts within the Downton household, it seems as if the war will only bring more change to the English estate.  

Overall, the acting in this episode was excellent especially from Maggie Smith who always seems to have an opinion about everything. Also, I really liked the elegant hats in this episode, specifically Lady Rosamund’s and Countess Violet’s. I can’t wait to watch for more of these sophisticated costumes in the future!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Season 2: Episode 2

There never seems to be a dull moment at Downton Abbey. The horrors of World War I have finally hit the Downton household, and both the servants and the Crawley’s are doing their best to keep the estate running. 

Thomas has conveniently returned from war, but he does not waste any time establishing his new role in the Downton Village. William, on the other hand, has announced that he will be leaving his responsibilities at Downton to fight in the war. All of these unexpected changes greatly affect Lord Grantham, as he begins to see his role in the war as nothing more than “cutting ribbons and making speeches”. Though Lord Grantham’s role in the Great War is clearly symbolic, the women in the house are doing more than their fair share to aid in the war effort.

Lady Sybil has completed her training as a nurse, but she can no longer go back to her life before the war. Now that she finally feels useful, she no longer has the same appreciation for the aristocratic rules and beliefs that govern everyday life at Downton. Lady Edith has also found her calling, as she has decided to help out on the Drake’s farm. Though she is not exactly helping with heavy labor, she is using her new-found driving ability to help out with the tractor on the local farm. Unfortunately, Lady Edith’s time on the farm is cut short when she has a brief affair with Mr. Drake. In my opinion, Edith’s termination is rather confusing because I do not understand whether Mr. Drake was married to Mrs. Drake, or if he was actually her brother. Either way, the termination of Lady Edith’s job further illustrates the bitter division between the upper and lower classes during the war.

But Lady Mary is still the only daughter without an occupation. To be honest, I’m not sure if she is lazy, or if she is just remaining true to aristocratic tradition. Although she has finally realized her feelings for Matthew, she has decided to pursue Sir Richard Carlisle. Mr. Carlisle owns a few newspapers in London, and although he is extremely rich, he has no personality. The lack of chemistry between Lady Mary and Mr. Carlisle is painfully evident when Matthew Crawley enters the equation. Though Matthew is engaged to Miss Swire, it seems as if Lady Mary still thinks she has a chance. But Sir Carlisle’s arrival also provides a startling twist when Carson collapses on the floor during dinner. Even though Carson did not have a heart attack, he is not healthy enough to continue his duties in the dining room. However, Carson’s collapse provides an ideal situation for Mary to speak with him in private. Carson is one of Mary’s most beloved servants, and she uses this opportunity to receive some advice on one of her most private desires-Matthew. After speaking with Carson, Lady Mary realizes that she must tell Matthew how she feels. If he marries Levinia, or dies while he is away at war, she will always regret it.

Yet Lady Mary is not the only character who is experiencing regret. Although Thomas is back in Downton, he begins to regret his ridiculous act of cowardess when he befriends Junior Officer Courtney who is suffering from gas blindness. He visits the hospital to tell young Courtney to have faith, and teaches him to walk, but Courtney commits suicide with a razor blade when he finds out he will be transferred from the hospital. This horrific act not only changes Thomas’ outlook on life, but it also spurs the idea that the Downton estate should  become a hospital for recovering soldiers. Though the Dowager Countess is not thrilled with this charitable suggestion, Lady Sybil is certain she can sway her parents opinion.

While the Crawley family is deciding whether to transform part of the estate into a hospital for recovering soldiers, Lady Mary decides she must talk to Matthew about her feelings. However, when she wanders into the garden to speak to Matthew, she is interrupted by a crying Levinia Swire. Matthew’s fiancĂ© confesses to Lady Mary that she would be lost without him and that she fears he will never come back after the war. But Matthew interrupts their conversation, and Lady Mary attempts to express her romantic feelings...but fails. 

Towards the end of the episode, Mary’s frigid politeness results in a proposal from Sir Richard Carlisle. He clearly does not have any room in his life for romance, but he does believe in the power of a strategic marriage. For once, Mary must decide whether she marries for love, or for the sake of lifelong wealth.

Overall, this episode opened up a great deal of questions surrounding the future of the Grantham estate. Since Matthew is engaged to Levinia Swire, perhaps Lady Mary will accept Sir Richard Carlisle’s proposal and leave Downton to start her own family. But it seems as if Mary might find the courage to tell Matthew her true feelings...or at least by the end of the season! While I’m still keeping my fingers crossed, there is also some sort of secret between Miss Swire and Sir Richard Carlisle that is left to be revealed. Whatever the outcome, the acting in this episode left me hanging on the edge of my seat! Once again, the effortless delivery of Maggie Smith’s quick-witted comments was brilliant! I can’t wait for the next episode!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Season 2: Episode 1

War plays a critical role in the developments of Downton Abbey in the first episode of Season 2. The show picks up in the Fall of 1916 during World War I, with Matthew Crawley and Thomas fighting in The Battle of the Somme. Though the opening scene demonstrates that their lives have drastically changed since the end of Season 1, they are not the only beloved characters of Downton whose lives have been altered by the Great War.

Life back at Downton Abbey is clearly another world in comparison to the horrors in France. The servants downstairs have received a new housemaid, Ethel, who seems to be extremely outspoken about her responsibilities as a maid. Though she is optimistic about her life after the war, her positive outlook seems to rub everyone downstairs the wrong way. In addition to this new source of conflict, William and Mosley are both frustrated by the fact that they cannot join in the war effort. This disappointment changes the relationship between Daisy and William significantly when he expresses his love for her in the Downton kitchen. Though I think Daisy is flattered by William’s confession, it doesn’t seem as if she is ready to return a similar degree of affection. 

However, the lifestyle of the privileged never really seems to change much in times of war. Though Lord Grantham is aiding in the war effort, he is not expected to experience any type of combat. Instead, his role as Colonel of the North Riding Volunteers is merely symbolic. What is more, the women of Downton are carrying about their normal routines, without seeming to worry much about what is going on over in France. This false sense of security changes, however, when Lady Sybil finds out that one of her friends has passed away as a result of the war. Even though Lady Sybil tries to hide her bad news from her parents, the tragedies of war have finally hit the Downton household. This reality is confirmed when Lady Sybil claims that “sometimes it feels as if all the other men I’ve danced with are dead.” This scene functions to change the entire spirit of Season 2 as many of the characters of Downton Abbey are finally forced to acknowledge the realities of war.

But the tragedies of war also prove to be instrumental in changing the role of women. Though Lady Mary and Lady Edith still remain true to tradition, Lady Sybil expresses her desire to help with the war effort. This is by far one of my favorite parts of the episode, because even though Lady Sybil does not have any true talent, she wants to help those who are affected by the war. Although Lady Sybil cannot cook, clean, or make her own bed, she decides to be trained to become a nurse. Perhaps in future episodes to come Lady Sybil’s compassion for others will rub off on the other women of Downton.

For now, however, the other women of Downton are still preoccupied with the aristocratic duties of marriage and charity. To aid in the war effort, the ladies and servants of Downton have planned a concert to raise funds for the village hospital. Since the war started, the hospital has been receiving many more casualties than usual, and it no longer has the space to properly accommodate all of the injured men.

But the charity concert also functions to reunite two of Downton’s most beloved characters. Last season, Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley parted after Matthew decided that he needed to leave Downton Abbey. Yet, the reality of war changed everything when Matthew was forced to enlist. Though Matthew is currently away fighting in the trenches, he has announced that he will be attending the charity concert with his new fiancĂ© Lavinia Swire (played by Zoe Boyle). Lavinia is a sweet, naive, London native, who claims to be deeply in love with Matthew, but she seems to be nothing more than that. When she finally meets the strong-willed women of Downton at the charity concert, this flaw in her character is painfully evident. 

Although Lady Mary warmly greets Lavinia Swire, the romantic connection between her and Matthew is still quite obvious. When Matthew finally speaks to Lady Mary, it seems as if both characters are relieved by the fact that they are reunited. But Matthew is spoken for, and he is leaving for France in the morning.  Though Lady Mary and Matthew are finally on good terms, Matthew may never come back to Downton Abbey after the war. In what seems to be a final plea for affection, Lady Mary says goodbye to Matthew at the train station and gives him a good luck charm. It is this scene that makes Lavinia Swire’s existence almost completely insignificant.
After Matthew’s departure, things seem to calm down until Mr. Bates is forced to leave Downton. His former wife Vera comes to collect him after she threatens to expose Lady Mary’s scandal regarding Mr. Pamuk to the London press. This is a horrible tragedy for Anna, as Mr. Bates finally proposed to her earlier in the episode. But Mr. Bates is not the only beloved character who will be leaving the Downton home. Lady Sybil also leaves Downton at the end of the episode to be trained as a nurse. Though Cora seems to have a great deal of trouble saying goodbye to her youngest daughter, Tom Branson also makes Sybil’s departure difficult. He has finally declared his love for Lady Sybil, but Lady Sybil cannot yet reciprocate his feelings. 

While Anna and Tom are left without their loved ones, the footman Thomas is over in France desperately seeking an escape from the trenches. Throughout the episode, Thomas is recognized as a coward as he constantly thinks about his comfortable life as a footman back at Downton. In the traumatic final scene of the episode, Thomas purposely draws attention to his hand, so that he is shot by enemy fire. In the final moments of the episode, Thomas is caught clutching his bleeding hand and thanking God for deliverance.

Overall, this episode was a superb start to the second season of Downton Abbey. Not only have the elegant costumes drastically improved, but Julian Fellows seems to have brilliantly changed many of the shows’ most esteemed characters. After watching the interaction between Lady Mary and Matthew, I can’t wait to see if there is still one more chance for the two to end up together. I’m not sure what other viewers thought, but it also seems as if the themes of this season will be less like Pride and Prejudice and more like Ernest Hemingway’s In Love and War. Whatever the outcome, I cannot wait to watch the rest of Season 2! No wonder the show has received such rave reviews!

If your still interested in further analysis about this episode, check out the PBS synopsis by clicking here.