Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Season 2: Episode 7

Another brilliant finish to the end of the Downton season. Episode 7 really wrapped up all of the remaining cliffhangers from Season 2. Matthew and Lavinia are blissfully preparing for their wedding, and the Downton estate is littered with bouquets and elegant gifts that have been sent from close family friends. Though Matthew and Lavinia are eagerly anticipating their wedding ceremony, the Spanish flu has also decided to pay a visit to the estate. Little do Matthew and Lavinia know that the sudden flu outbreak will change the future of the Downton family forever.
In the first few minutes of the episode, Mrs. Hughes also learns that Mr. Bryant has changed his mind about Ethel’s baby, Charlie. Mr. and Mrs. Bryant have written a letter to Mrs. Hughes about visiting Charlie and possibly adopting him. Though this seems like good news, Ethel is not prepared to let go of her only son. This becomes quite problematic when Mr. Bryant expresses to Ethel that he wants to raise baby Charlie “as a gentleman, and not as a housemaid’s bastard.” For the first time in several episodes, I actually agree with Mr. Bryant. All season long, Ethel has been nothing but a burden to Mrs. Hughes and the the rest of the Downton family. Major Bryant has been dead for some time now, and it is time for Ethel to move on. I’m actually surprised that Ethel still feels she has the right to raise Charlie, when she has no financial stability to take care of him on her own. Nevertheless, Ethel must decide what type of life she would like her son to lead. He can either lead a life of grief, poverty, and  humiliation as a housemaid’s bastard, or he can become well educated, privileged, and marry whomever he chooses.

However, Ethel’s problems seem insignificant compared to the chaos that is going on upstairs. Lady Sybil has invited Branson to tell Lord Grantham that they plan on running away to together. Lord Grantham is furious when he hears about the news, and threatens to cut Lady Sybil off from all financial support. Clearly, Lady Sybil is forced once again to choose between two walks of life. Once she leaves Downton Abbey to become the wife of a middle-class chauffeur, she will never again enjoy the pleasures and luxuries of aristocratic life. Though the Dowager Countess has always admired Lady Sybil’s independence, she too feels that Sybil is making a horrible mistake.

But even Lady Sybil’s astonishing announcement is put on hold when Cora, Carson, and Lavinia each fall sick with the Spanish flu. While everyone is resting upstairs, Matthew and Lady Mary share an elegant dance that is almost impossible to forget. In my favorite scene from the entire season, Matthew finally admits his feelings for Lady Mary. Though Lady Mary jokes that they were a “show that flopped”, the two fall into a passionate kiss that marks a new beginning to their relationship. However, their intimate moment is cut short when Lavinia walks downstairs and catches them in the act. It is not until Lavinia is on her death bed that she calls off the wedding as a result of their indiscretion. Even though this seems like a rather dramatic ending for Matthew and his fiancé, nothing is worse than when Lavinia dies right in front of Lady Mary and Matthew. 

Unfortunately, the arrival of the Spanish flu continues to play a central role in this episode as it has now threatened to wipe out some of the most beloved characters on the show. Though Lavinia has passed on, Cora has also fallen violently ill. Mrs. O’Brien has done her best to take care of her, but she feels guilty that she never admitted to causing Cora’s miscarriage in Season 1. Now that Cora’s life is in jeopardy, Lord Grantham also feels bad that he ruined a perfectly good marriage. Though he ends his relationship with Jane, it really bothered me that he paid for her son Freddie to attend Rupert Grammar School. In a way, it’s almost as if he wants to remain a part of Jane’s life. Luckily for Lord Grantham, Cora quickly recovers from the flu and their marriage is saved without Cora having any idea about his affair. 

Sadly, even though the rest of the house has recovered from the flu outbreak, Matthew must learn to cope with the death of his beautiful fiancé. This psychological battle becomes painfully evident when Matthew blames himself and Lady Mary for Lavinia’s death. Though Matthew and Lady Mary may have shared a brief moment of bliss, no message is more powerful than when Lady Mary walks away from Lavinia’s funeral with Sir Richard Carlisle. Will Lady Mary ever succumb to her obvious attraction to Matthew? Or will Matthew always believe that their relationship is cursed? These are the questions left unanswered at the end of Season 2.

Since this is my final blog post, I have to admit that I’ve enjoyed reviewing and criticizing Season 1 and Season 2 of Downton Abbey immensely. Though there were times when the show began to feel more like a soap opera than a cerebral drama, I really enjoyed watching the British television series. Now that I’ve carefully watched the development of each character, I can also confidently argue that The Dowager Countess, Carson, and Lady Mary are my favorite characters on the show. Although I think Julian Fellows has many more surprises in store for future seasons of Downton Abbey, I am impressed with his ability to make a tale of English aristocracy entertaining to an American audience. Though this is the final episode of Season 2, make sure you watch the Downton Abbey Christmas Special! 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Season 2: Episode 7

The Downton estate has returned to normal now that the war is finally over. Though the house is no longer functioning as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers, there are still some obvious wounds that still need to be healed. Lord Grantham seems to have lost his way during the war, and now his damaged ego is also starting to destroy his marriage. In the beginning of the episode, this becomes painfully evident, when Lord Grantham’s relationship with Jane suddenly explodes with a lustful kiss. Even though Jane seems to be completely humiliated over this indiscretion, the sexual tension between the two characters will clearly have some disastrous consequences in the future. 

Speaking of harmful relationships, Sir Richard Carlisle is also starting to rush Lady Mary into marriage before she is ready. In the beginning of the episode, he corners Anna and asks her to spy on Lady Mary. Essentially, he wants to “know more about her interests, where she goes, and whom she sees”- anything she does when she is alone. In my opinion, the fact that he is so worried about Lady Mary’s whereabouts only highlights his jealousy over her close relationship with Matthew. Lady Mary and Sir Richard Carlisle have nothing in common, except for the fact that they are both tortured souls- however, spying on her doesn’t seem to be the correct approach  to win her affection.

Thus, Lady Mary’s development as a character throughout the course of the show is yet another major theme of this episode.  The loyal Mr. Carson still plans on leaving Downton to take care of Lady Mary when she marries Sir Richard Carlisle, but he admits to Mrs. Hughes that he is completely against their marriage. Mrs. Hughes doesn’t seem to care for Lady Mary’s uppity and cold personality, but Mr. Carson protests that Lady Mary wasn’t always so unwelcoming. In his opinion, Lady Mary’s indifferent manner has evolved from a variety of experiences that she has witnessed since she was a child. Deep down however, Mr. Carson believes that Lady Mary has a kind and compassionate soul. This unknown side of Lady Mary’s personality however can only come to fruition if she decides to spend the rest of her adult life with the right person.

While Lady Mary continues to struggle in her relationship with Sir Richard Carlisle, Matthew begins to complain that he feels a tingling sensation in his legs. Though Dr. Clarkson has declared that he will never walk again, Matthew is convinced that something odd is happening with his legs. In an exciting scene in the middle of the episode, Matthew suddenly stands up from his wheelchair to help Lavinia when she nearly trips and falls on the floor. This marks a new beginning for the happily engaged couple, as he will clearly be able to lead a completely normal life.

Although the rest of the Crawley family is thrilled with Matthew’s sudden recovery, Lady Mary almost seems disappointed that Matthew has healed. During a beautiful dinner with the entire Downton family, Matthew announces that he will marry Lavinia at Downton in the Spring. Not only does this quick announcement seem to depress Lady Mary, but for a short moment it seems as if the entire Downton household has forgotten her existence. Countess Violet notices the negative effect Matthew’s announcement has on Mary, and secretly tries to convince him that he can love Lady Mary again. She explains that Lavinia’s loving attitude is admirable, but she does not believe that she is the right lifetime partner. The Dowager Countess insists that marriage is a long business, and “when you think of spending several years with these women, you need to make sure you pick the right one.” Unfortunately, Matthew is convinced that Lavinia will be a good wife, and he fully intends on marrying her.
Another major development that occurs in this episode is that Major Bryant’s parents come to visit Downton Abbey. In earlier episodes, Major Bryant had a relationship with Ethel, the housemaid, and wound up getting her pregnant. During the war, Major Bryant was killed, leaving Ethel alone to raise her bastard child. Since Ethel no longer works at Downton Abbey, she no longer has any way to support her baby, Charlie. Mrs. Hughes, in a kind effort to help, invites Major Bryant’s parents to the estate to see the baby. However, Major Bryant’s father wants nothing to do with the child, and insists that his son would have taken care of his own mistake. In my opinion, there really wasn’t any purpose for Ethel’s character to come back on the show. I wholeheartedly agree with Lady Mary’s opinion that Ethel got what she deserved. For the past few episodes, Ethel has done nothing but complain about her current state of affairs, she still has not accepted any responsibility for her child, and she hasn’t even tried to find a decent job. Frankly, Ethel’s character irritates me because it seems as if she is looking for a source of pity-though she had no problem sleeping around, she seems to have a problem raising her own child. Lady Mary captures this tension with Ethel brilliantly when she says “ Aren’t all of us stuck with the choices we make?”
In regards to the idea of making the wrong choices, Sybil has also told Tom Branson that she is ready to run away with him. I haven’t been a fan of this relationship since the very beginning, but Sybil seems to see running away with Tom as the perfect solution to all of her problems. Now that the war is over, Sybil wants to continue working-she does not want to go back to the proper and meaningless life she once led at Downton Abbey. As a result, she runs away from the estate one night leaving nothing but a note on her nightstand. Lady Mary finds the note and rushes off with Lady Edith in the night to prevent Lady Sybil from eloping with Branson. Thankfully, Lady Mary gets to Sybil on time and convinces her to come back to Downton Abbey. Though I don’t think Lady Sybil will stay at the estate for long, I’m relieved that Lady Mary prevented Sybil from making a huge mistake. Even though I don’t support Sybil’s decision to marry Tom, I have to admit I’m kind of excited to see what will happen with this daring pair in the future!

Overall,  this episode was excellent, and I really can’t wait to see what will happen to Sir Richard Carlisle and Lady Mary in the future! There seems to be a great deal of tension between the two, and if Julian Fellows continues to follow his normal trend of throwing in a surprise when all things seem to be going wrong at Downton, then he certainly will in the near future!

For a complete synopsis of this episode click here.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Season 2: Episode 6

The Great War is finally over, and Downton Abbey is learning to cope with all of the changes the end of war can bring. 

Though the entire Downton family is still haunted with the tragic death of William, this episode also seems to move the viewer past the horrors of war, and into the future of the estate. Lady Mary is still taking good care of Matthew, and it seems as if the two have reignited their mutual fondness for one another. This paired with Lady Mary’s constant dedication to Matthew’s recovery forces one to question whether fate will play a role in the growth of their relationship. In one of the best scenes from the episode, Mary and Matthew seem to compare their relationship to some of the greatest love stories of all time. 

But the relationship between Mary and Matthew is constantly challenged in this episode as Sir Richard Carlisle fully intends on making Lady Mary his wife. Though I still have not warmed up to his character, Sir Richard Carlisle proves to be a huge threat to the Downton family since he seems to be against all the values and beliefs the Crawley family holds dear. Even Lord Grantham is troubled by the fact that he may have to give away his favorite daughter to “a man of publicity”. Nevertheless, Sir Richard Carlisle fully plans to separate Lady Mary from Matthew, as he announces his desire to purchase the 12,000-acre Haxby Park estate. If this isn’t enough proven motive to ruin the entire Downton family, Sir Richard Carlisle also asks the beloved Carson to leave Downton forever to serve Lady Mary in her new house.
However, not everyone is thrilled about the changes war has brought to Downton Abbey. Daisy, the kitchen maid, is still tortured by her decision to marry William. To make matters worse, the new housemaid, Jane (played by Clare Calbraith ), has told Daisy that she can now identify herself as a war widow. Daisy rejects this label since she firmly believes that her marriage to Matthew was forced. She not only blames Mrs. Patmore and Mrs. Hughes for her rash decision, but she also blames herself for lying to William about her true feelings. I am hoping that in future episodes Daisy finds some closure to her decision to marry William. 

Amidst all of this drama, a badly burned Canadian soldier by the name of Major Patrick Gordon also comes to recuperate at Downton Abbey. Though the Crawley family quickly welcomes his request, he soon declares to be the long lost Patrick Crawley that was killed during the sinking of the Titanic. If you remember from the first episode of Downton Abbey, Patrick Crawley was a distant cousin of the Crawley’s, and he was assumed to be the heir of the Downton estate. Unfortunately, this unlikely surprise throws the entire future of the Downton estate into question once again as Matthew may no longer be the true heir to the Downton fortune. Though Lady Edith believes Major Gordon’s story, the rest of the family seems to question the validity of the soldier’s claims. Though Lord Grantham does his best to verify Major Gordon’s identity, the soldier mysteriously leaves one morning saying that proving his identification was simply too difficult. Though Major Patrick Gordon’s arrival at Downton was short-lived, this episode left me wondering whether the Grantham’s will still be haunted by the soldier’s claims in the future.

These critical elements of mystery bring the viewer to question what will everyone at Downton do once the war is over. Carson has decided to leave Downton to take care of Lady Mary, Lavinia has returned to take care of Matthew, Lady Sybil will continue as a nurse, and Sir Richard Carlisle will make Lady Mary his wife. All of these changes will clearly change the dynamic of the Downton estate in future episodes to come. What was once a warm, energetic, and productive home may very well turn into an empty wasteland.  To follow these changes and see what happens to the estate in the future, be sure to watch the next episode of Downton! I know I’m really curious to find out what Jane’s true role in the show will be!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Season 2, Episode 5

This excellent episode of Downton Abbey opens up with a panoramic view of the warfront in Amiens, France. Two of my favorite characters, Captain Crawley and William, are found on the front discussing their future right before a major battle begins. When they leave the trenches to fight, they are both seriously injured when a shell explodes nearby. 

What I found to be most interesting about this opening scene was that the show’s writer, Julian Fellowes, heightened the episodes suspense by pairing the explosions on the front with scenes back at Downton Abbey. For example, when Captain Crawley is hit during battle, Lady Mary immediately feels his shock on the front when she spills her tea back at the estate. Whether this comparison was intentional or not, I thought  it created a great deal of suspense for the remainder of the episode.

When Lord Grantham finally hears the news about William and Captain Crawley, he is completely beside himself. With the heir to the Crawley fortune seriously injured, the future of the Downton estate is thrown into question once again. Though William is sent to Leeds, and Matthew to Downton Village, William’s father cannot afford to leave his farm and move to the city while William recovers. As a result of this misfortune, the Dowager Countess goes to visit William’s doctor to ask if the boy can be transferred to Downton hospital. Unfortunately, the doctor tells the Dowager Countess that William has no hope for recovery.  He has sustained too much damage, and the force of the blast has fatally injured his lungs. Though the doctor is cautious about moving William, he tells the Dowager that he thinks William should die in a familiar place surrounded by familiar people. Even though the Dowager intentionally hides this horrific news from William’s father, she has an even tougher time convincing Dr. Clarkson to move William back to the estate. 

The dialogue between Dr. Clarkson and the Dowager Countess in this episode further illustrates the fact that the Dowager is not the only cold-hearted personality in the Downton village. When the Dowager goes to ask Dr. Clarkson if he can spare a bed for William, Dr. Clarkson says that the Downton hospital is only for recovering officers. Since William does not have the rank of an officer, he cannot be transferred to the Downton hospital. In one of my favorite scenes from this episode, The Dowager Countess sharply responds to Dr. Clarkson's answer by saying. “It always happens when you give these little people power, it goes to their heads like a strong drink.” Though Dr. Clarkson will not change his policy, the Dowager has made it clear that she will make sure William is transferred to Downton. Another fantastic part of this episode is when the Dowager tries to call the Prime Minister to change Dr. Clarkson’s mind. While she is speaking with the Prime Minister on the telephone, she becomes frustrated that she cannot properly use the new piece of technology. As a result, she screams, “Is this an instrument of communication or torture?” 

But the Dowager’s clever remarks do not makeup for the pain that is being felt throughout the Downton household. Matthew’s fiancé, Lavinia Swire, has been notified of Matthew’s condition, but Lady Mary has taken it upon herself to take care of Matthew while Lavinia is away. Though Lady Mary has turned Matthew away in several of the show’s previous episodes, it seems as if his injuries have only made her fall even more in love with him. Thus, there is a significant change in Mary’s attitude during this episode, as she finally chooses to play the role of caretaker. 

Furthermore, when Lavinia finally arrives at Downton, it seems as if she may not have the courage to stay with Matthew if he cannot recover from his injuries. Though she protests that she will stay by Matthew’s side no matter what, Matthew sends Lavinia to London because he is told he will never be able to have children. If this isn't enough drama for one episode, William also asks Daisy to marry him before he dies. Unfortunately for Daisy, Mrs. Patmore and Mrs. Hughes practically force her to accept William’s proposal. In a five-minute wedding ceremony, Daisy and William are married in one of the Downton bedrooms. William ends up dying shortly after, and I have to admit it was a terribly emotional scene. I sincerely hope that this rushed marriage will not prove to have negative consequences for Daisy in the future.

Towards the end of the episode, Lord Grantham also learns that Sir Richard Carlisle has announced his proposal to Lady Mary in a local newspaper. Though Lady Mary has not officially agreed to Sir Richard Carlisle’s proposal, she promised to give him a chance if he cleared her name from the rumors surrounding her relationship with Mr. Pamuk.  Although this announcement only added to the drama in this episode,  I still think it was one of my favorites. Once again, the acting by Maggie Smith was superb, and the constant tension between Lavinia and Lady Mary is nothing short of entertaining! Even though this particular episode was slightly depressing, I cannot help but wonder what lies ahead for the Crawley family in future episodes!

Here are some of my favorite moments from episode 5!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Season 2: Episode 4

The year is 1918, and the Downton estate has become a fully functioning convalescent home for wounded officers. The entire household, including Lord Grantham, are doing their best to keep the men’s spirits up while they recover. As a kind gesture to the Downton family, the men have planned to put on a concert in the living room. Though the concert will not take place until the end of the episode, the excitement surrounding the event is central to the episode’s theme of moving forward.

Aside from the excitement of the concert, the transformation of the Downton estate into a convalescent home has  also changed the dynamics of the estate forever. Although Lady Mary and Lady Edith never seemed to be cut out for hard labor, both of them have found purpose in helping the wounded soldiers. For example, in the beginning of the episode, Lady Edith is found helping the recovering soldiers write letters to their loved ones at home. Not only does this specific scene highlight Lady Edith’s transformation into a young woman, but it also brings attention to her passion for writing.

However, the Crawley sisters are not the only ones helping out on the estate. Cora and Isobel Crawley are both equally in charge of running Downton. Unfortunately, the two women continue to argue over who has greater power over running the estate. In a heated argument, Isobel expresses that she no longer feels valued and useful at Downton. She accuses Cora of never having a real profession, and threatens to leave the estate to help out the Red Cross in France. Cora welcomes the idea, and sends Isobel away. I can’t express how much I think this drastic change will help the Downton family in the future. With Matthew away at war, perhaps the absence of Isobel will allow the Crawley’s to move forward with their lives.

But the war is breaking down many other barriers. Branson, the chauffeur, has expressed his love for Lady Sybil, and he tells her that he’ll stay at Downton until she decides to run away with him. This scene is somewhat alarming as Branson fully intends to take everything away from Lady Sybil. He obviously loves her, but one must consider whether he can be trusted. In past episodes, Branson’s character has been a bit mischievous. For Sybil’s sake, I hope she comes to an intelligent decision before she decides to give up her affluent lifestyle forever. In a memorable scene from this episode, the Dowager Countess also warns Lady Sybil about her relations with Branson. The Dowager cleverly says, “Sometimes in war one can make friendships that are not appropriate, and they can be very awkward later on.” Whatever Sybil decides, this brief exchange of dialogue makes the relationship between Branson and Lady Sybil something to watch in future episodes.

Although Lady Sybil may feel like her entire family disapproves of her relations with Branson, Lady Mary is beginning to feel as if no one disapproves of her relationship with Matthew. Last episode, Sir Richard Carlisle proposed to Lady Mary. Though she plans to accept the offer, Lord Grantham seems to think that there is still a chance for her and Matthew. What is worse, when Lady Mary speaks about Richard Carlisle to her family, everyone seems to ask about Matthew instead. This conflict only grows when William and Matthew are reported missing. For what seems to be the entire second half of the episode, Lady Mary and the rest of the Downton household nervously wait for their safe arrival. 

To add even more fuel to the fire, the servants downstairs also seem to be fighting their own war. Ethel, the rebellious new housemaid, claims to be in need of a new adventure. Though she constantly talks about what she will do once she leaves her responsibilities at Downton, no one is prepared for the adventure she finds upstairs. One night, while Mrs. Hughes is walking around the house, she hears a noise and opens the door to one of the bedrooms. To her surprise, she finds Ethel and Major Bryant having sex in the bedroom. Ethel is fired immediately, but she doesn’t waste too much time making herself useful as she returns almost instantly to tell Mrs. Hughes that she is pregnant.  But Ethel is not the only housemaid that is having some trouble. Although Anna knows that Mr. Bates is working in Yorkshire, the rest of the Downton family has no idea that the beloved Mr. Bates is working in a pub. When Lord Grantham finds out about this, he immediately goes to visit Mr. Bates and asks him to come back to Downton. With Mr. Bates back at Downton, you would think that everything would go back to normal, but there is still a great deal of drama in the downstairs kitchen. 

When the night of the concert finally arrives, the central theme of moving forward is finally brought to a an elegant close. Although no one has heard about Matthew and William, all of Downton’s worries seem to evaporate as Lady Edith and Lady Mary sing for the wounded soldiers. While Lady Mary and Lady Edith are singing, Matthew and William enter the living room. To everyone’s surprise, the two men are completely unharmed, and Mary can’t help but stare at Matthew. When Matthew notices that Lady Mary has stopped singing, he joins her in finishing the rest of the song. This was a wonderful conclusion to such an eventful episode. In the final moments of this episode, we are given hope that Matthew and Lady Mary may one day end up together. As for the rest of the characters, only time will tell how they will adjust to the rest of the changes that war will bring to Downton. 

To read the PBS synopsis of this week’s episode, click here.