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Downton Abbey Season 2, finale recap

Season 2 of Downton Abbey drew to a close as the household ushered in a new decade with hunting, dancing and a Ouija board.  Wait, what?  Yes, the parlor game panchettes (or in the US, “Ouija board”) was popular by the 1920’s, but made for an odd plot device in this otherwise excellent finale.

Warning: spoilers ahead

Where to begin?  Episode 6 left us in the spring of 1919, so approximately eight months or so have passed in “Downton time.”  Lady Sybil is married to Branson and living in Ireland, and gasp! is already pregnant, and it sounds like Robert is going to cave to Cora’s demand that she not be kept from her grandchild, so we’ll likely see Sybil again next season (I really missed her during the Christmas episode).  Lady Mary is becoming increasingly agitated by Sir Richard and his constant “when can we set a date, already?” question.  Mr. Bates is on trial for his life, casting a gloomy shadow over Anna’s world.  Thomas and O’Brien are up to their scheming once again.  And Aunt Rosamund comes to visit, bringing her lady’s maid with her and another Ethel-like sub-plot that seemed almost entirely unnecessary (other than to highlight how many of the British aristocracy had serious financial troubles after the war–but wasn’t that point already hammered home when Richard and Mary were searching for an estate?).

Bates listening to Mrs. Hughes's testimony

Let’s start with the dominating plots of the show.  First, Mr. Bates’s trial.  For a man who uses his words sparingly, Bates certainly managed to utter some choice phrases that did not come off well in the courtroom when O’Brien, Mrs. Hughes, and Lord Grantham were forced to repeat them.  Anna’s strangled scream after the guilty verdict is pronounced was heartbreaking, as was Bates’s haggard face as he’s dragged off to meet his maker.   But news later comes that is in Mr. Bates’s favor–some of the details call into question the case for a premeditated murder, reducing his sentence to life imprisonment rather than hanging.  Now there is a chance of proving his innocence–which means this plot will be spilling over into the third season.  Makes me wonder if perhaps Sir Richard may have to testify, as he heard Mrs. Bates make a very clear threat against her husband after she learned she had been paid off for the Pamuk story.

Anna and Mr. Bates discuss the future.

The other main plot had a (thankfully) much happier ending.  The Matthew & Mary “will they/won’t they?” dance seems to have come to an end.  At least, I hope so.  I won’t feel at ease until I see those two at the altar, exchanging vows and pronounced husband and wife.  Matthew and Mary are miserable for most of the episode, Matthew due to his insistence on honoring Lavinia’s memory (even though that’s not how she wanted it honored), and Mary dealing with her abrasive, controlling fiancee.  The only time the two do seem happy (shockingly enough), is when they are together.

A rare smile from Lady Mary

Finally, finally, they begin to listen to outside advice.  After learning of the Pamuk scandal, Lord Robert tells his daughter to break with Carlisle, as a month’s worth of scandal is not worth a lifetime of unhappiness.  Mary then receives similar advice from Matthew (I bet that was an awkward confession–too bad they cut away and only came back to show Matthew’s reaction).  Now that Mary’s decided to give Sir Richard the boot (good riddance–though I’m sure we’ll see him again next season), the only thing standing in the way is Matthew, who is still unconvinced that the Spanish flu killed Lavinia rather than the kiss he shared with Mary.  Cousin Isobel at last makes herself truly useful by telling her son that no one his age should be unhappy, and if he believes there is a way to change that, and doesn’t do it, well, the war has simply taught him nothing.

Matthew receiving some motherly advice

Lord Robert seems to give Matthew the final push by telling him he did nothing dishonorable and was a man of his word as he had every intention of marrying Lavinia.  Robert adds that Matthew should not blame himself for feelings he cannot control (I suppose he speaks from experience after the “Jane affair”).  Lavinia makes a final appearance from beyond the grave, sending her blessing through the Ouija board, to Anna and Daisy’s surprise (does this mean Lavinia’s spirit now haunts the halls of Downton?)

"May they be happy. With my love."

So, after waiting for two agonizing seasons, we finally get the fairytale scene we’ve been waiting for: Matthew down on one knee, asking Mary to be his wife, who very happily accepts.  A perfect ending to the second season (now please, Julian Fellowes, please let them get married and have lots of babies and live happily ever after…please?)

There were several other great sub-plots featured in this episode.  Lady Edith goes after her love interest from the first series, Sir Anthony Strallen.  It was awfully nice of Lady Violet to set up a reunion between the two (which she then quickly discouraged after realizing his arm was lame–really Granny?  Almost all of the eligible bachelors are dead from the war or maimed in some way or another.  Let Edith have her happiness where she can find it).

Edith pays a call on Sir Anthony

Thanks to the Ouija board’s urging, Daisy pays a long overdue call to her father-in-law on the farm.  In a poignant scene Daisy finally wraps her mind around the fact that William thought she was special, and that he wanted his father to have someone to call family after he passed away.  And now Daisy has a rational guiding voice to listen to, which prompts her to ask for a promotion in the kitchen.

"I've never been special to anyone."

It was nice to see some of the old-school plotting and scheming by Thomas this episode.  But stealing a man’s dog?  That’s just wrong.  And then to be rewarded for it with a trial run as his valet?  What sort of lesson is that to teach?  At least we see Thomas showing some concern for the dog’s absence when he finds her missing from the shed he locked her in.  Still, you know a scheme is particularly underhanded when it garners O’Brien’s disapproval (even though it hatched from her own advice).

Searching for Isis

So that’s a wrap for season 2!  I really found this to be one of the best episodes of the season, with more focus on the principal characters.  I also liked the “lighter” parts thrown in, such as “the game” (aka charades) and the servants dancing with the family members (Mrs. Patmore’s face was priceless while dancing with Matthew).  What did you think?  Did the finale live up to all the Downton hype?  Any predictions for next season?

A gratuitous photo of the happy couple, just because you know you want to see them again.

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Downton Abbey Season 2, ep. 6 recap

This episode opens in 1919, as Edith watches the last medical vehicle leave the property of Downton, signalling that the home can finally return to normal.  Downton Abbey’s definition of “normal,” that is: this two-hour episode was packed with drama, culminating in a wedding and a funeral.

Warning: Spoilers ahead

Now that the war is over, the inhabitants of Downton are ready to move on, or rather, move back to the way things used to be (much to Lady Sybil’s dismay).  As Cora goes about looking for new work to put her energy into, her husband continues to mope about, feeling his life no longer has purpose.  He apparently finds that purpose in one of THE oddest hookups in Downton Abbey history with the housemaid Jane.  Honestly, I know the man’s lost, but this seems so far out of character for Robert that I just couldn’t buy into it.  And his wife is in the other room battling for her life no less!  Who is this man and what has he done with the Earl of Grantham, caring husband/father/lord of the estate?  Fortunately, Jane decides it best for both of them if she turns in her notice, but not without giving Robert a goodbye kiss to remember her by first (in the library, really?).

Of course, that’s not the only social-barrier-crossing romance that reaches its conclusion in this episode.  After much deliberation (and a great deal of patience on Branson’s part), Lady Sybil finally decides that she cannot go back to her life before the war.  We see her sitting in the grand drawing room, staring off into space while others chat around her.  The wheels in her mind are turning, and she goes to Branson, telling him she’s made her decision, and he’s her ticket out of her old life.  Her statement left me feeling that Sybil is using Branson just as much as Branson seemed to be using Sybil in previous episodes.  But I had to respect the resolve of the couple, which never wavered despite a botched elopement and retrieval by Edith and Mary, and a large amount of blustering by Papa (who apparently is okay with double standards).  So maybe there’s love there, after all.

But of course the big news of the episode (besides the fact that Dr. Clarkson made a mistake in his diagnosis of Matthew’s spinal injury) is the development in the driving “will they/won’t they” plot between Matthew and Mary.  The dance scene between the two of them (the one that Lavinia unfortunately witnesses) is one fans have no doubt been waiting for all season.  Thanks to Granny’s advice, Matthew has been left to mull over the unsettling thought that he is marrying the wrong woman, but out of obligation and duty he feels he must marry Lavinia, who sacrificed everything to be with him.  Even though he doesn’t really want to.

And what of poor Lavinia?  It is somewhat disheartening to see your fiancee embracing his former fiancee just days before your own wedding.  She takes to bed with a case of the Spanish flu (of which Cora and Carson are also afflicted), and has a heart-to-heart with Matthew, and even she has to admit that Matthew and Mary are a better match than the two of them. She takes a sudden turn for the worse, and lives up to her predictions from previous episodes that she will not be able to live without Matthew.  On her deathbed she informs him that it is better this way, and she wants him to be happy.  I’m sure her intentions were good, but her words left Matthew wandering around the estate, wracked with guilt.

Matthew and Lord Robert discuss funeral arrangements

After the funeral Matthew informs Mary he feels certain that Lavinia died of a broken heart (while I yelled at the TV “NO!  It was the Spanish flu!”).  Because of her parting words he knows he and Mary can never be happy together.  A devastated Mary leaves the graveside on the arm of skeeze ball Sir Richard (you know, the one who tried to bribe Anna to spy on Mary for him).

"We are cursed, you and I."

Amidst all this, Bates and Anna’s relationship is taken to the next level when evidence surfaces of Bates’s possible involvement in his wife’s death.  Anna refuses to let him go through it alone, and basically orders him to go ahead and marry her, which he does.

The two get one night of happiness together before he’s carted off to prison on the charge of willful murder.  I’m still of the opinion that Mrs. Bates’s demise was self-inflicted, and she set up the letter and other evidence in order to frame her husband, but I suppose the upcoming trial will shed some light on what really happened.  Poor Bates and Anna, will these two kids ever catch a break?

Bates being handcuffed, with a helpless Anna watching on

Hard to believe it, but next week wraps up season 2 with Christmas at Downton.

Interested in learning more about the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918-19 featured prominently in this episode?  You can read my post about it here.

Miss any of the other episodes?  Read my recaps here:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

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Downton Abbey Season 2, ep. 5 recap

All was doom and gloom in the fifth episode of Downton Abbey as the war draws to a close.  After last week’s focus on the horrible repercussions of fighting on the front, this week the drama generated within the household as a mysterious stranger arrived claiming to have some pretty serious ties to the family.

Warning: Spoilers galore ahead

While Lady Edith has stayed mostly in the background the last several episodes, she finally had a large part in a plot this week.  Officer Patrick Gordon, whose face is disfigured from terrible burns, arrives at Downton and poses as long-lost cousin and heir Patrick Crawley (the one who was supposed to have gone down with the Titanic and thus created the central plot of the first series, when new heir Matthew Crawley comes into the lives of the inhabitants of Downton).  Only Edith buys into Patrick-if-that’s-even-your-real-name Gordon’s story.  Maybe because it’s her unexpected chance at becoming the future mistress of Downton (at last winning a victory over Mary), or perhaps because she genuinely wants to believe the man she once loved has returned from the dead.  But Patrick makes a hasty retreat when information is learned about a “Peter Gordon” who was good friends with Patrick Crawley.  And with him goes Edith’s little glimmer of hope.

Edith reflecting on the house that will never be hers

Regardless of whether or not he believes Patrick’s story, Matthew wishes the family would entertain it as a valid possibility, as in his mind he is no longer a suitable heir for Downton.   I’ve read many reviews that feel the character goes a bit overboard on the self-pitying, but really, can you blame Matthew?  Yes, he’s still alive, but his entire life has changed, and he does not want to subject anyone to a life of looking after him.  He does perk up a bit when Mary is around, and we are treated to a few scenes with the two of them alone together.  Richard Carlisle has a right to be concerned.

Cora grows concerned that Mary’s time with Matthew will dash her chances at a good marriage to Richard.  In a rather un-Cora-like move she contacts Lavinia and convinces her to grow a spine and come back to Downton to care for Matthew.  This raises the ire of Robert, and their marital strife deepens.  Robert continues to feel neglected, and is slipping ever closer to a scandal with new maid Jane.

We also find Cora in cahoots with her mother-in-law this episode, as the two manipulate Isobel Crawley into staying out of Downton Abbey’s future.  I liked this scene (as I like all the scenes when Lady Violet is at the helm), but I never believed cousin Isobel to be so gullible.

Thanks to Cora’s meddling, Mary is ousted from her position as caretaker of Matthew, something she makes the mistake of mentioning to Sir Richard.  He demonstrates just what he’s capable of during a withering exchange in which he tells Mary she has given him the power to destroy her and she best not jilt him.  Oh Mary, you’ve met your match–h0w are you going to get out of this one?

Things are no better downstairs.  As I predicted, Daisy feels nothing but guilt over marrying William, and refuses to go to meetings to learn about getting her pension as a war widow.  Carson must make the difficult decision between staying at Downton or leaving to take charge of Mary and Richard’s new estate (and since Carson would “open his veins” for Mary, we all know which he will choose).

Then there’s Bates.  His patience for his wife’s refusal to sign on the dotted line and make their divorce official is long lost.  After a trip to London where he tries to “reason with her” there’s a tell-tale mark on his face that leads one to believe that more than a calm discussion was had.  And then Mrs. Bates is found dead.  This is not looking good for Bates (or Anna, for that matter), as there’s some incriminating statements floating about that O’Brien overheard, and that were said directly to Lord Grantham (perhaps you should not tell your employer that you wish your estranged wife was “the late Mrs. Bates”).

As usual, there are the other odds and ends throughout the episode.  Lady Sybil and Branson have another short exchange and it seems that Branson’s endless lectures of sacrifice (or perhaps his partially unbuttoned shirt and rolled up sleeves) have finally convinced Sybil that he’s the man for her.  Judging from next week’s preview it looks like the news is going to break, and it’s not going to be pretty.

Thomas is scheming to sell rationed food on the black market to make some extra cash, and O’Brien is busy gathering information to bring down Bates (I know she doesn’t like the man, but why is she so dead-set on “making him pay?”).  Ethel’s last hope of being saved from a life of poverty is extinguished when the father of her child is killed in battle (I still can’t get into this particular story thread).

If there was any sort of silver lining at all in this episode (and boy was it hard to find), it was when Bates wheeled Matthew out of the great hall after the armistice was observed.  It seemed Matthew was able to feel something in his legs, which he begins to ask Bates about, but then retracts his question, saying that it didn’t matter, at least not until he felt it again.  Could it be that Matthew won’t be bound to a wheelchair for the rest of his life after all?

Next week it looks like the Dowager Countess finally takes the Mary/Matthew matter into her own hands, and Cora becomes very ill, prompting O’Brien to perhaps confess her part in Cora’s miscarriage five years prior.  With only two episodes left, I still have no idea how these plots are going to tie themselves up, and can’t help but wonder what else will be thrown at us in the meantime.

What were your thoughts on episode 5?

Miss any other episodes?  Read my recaps here:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

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Downton Abbey Season 2, ep. 4 recap

Warning: Spoilers ahead

Last night Downton Abbey did not end with a cheery song and the return of an unscathed missing man.  Instead viewers were hit with one piece of depressing news after another.  This was the darkest episode yet (except for a few light spots with the Dowager Countess, such as when she calls the telephone an instrument of torture.  Oh Granny).

Two of my Downton Predictions proved accurate in this episode.  During the battle of Amiens (which was the beginning of the end of the war and was a major success for the Allied forces), Matthew and William are wounded by a nearby shell explosion.  William sustains a serious lung injury that will slowly kill him, while Matthew’s injury leads the doctor to suggest that he will never walk again, and will never have a “proper marriage.”  Now the future of the entail is called into question again, as well as Matthew’s engagement to Lavinia.  He tells her to leave, refusing to tie her down to a cripple who won’t be able to give her any children.

Lavinia pours her heart out to Lady Mary, then promptly departs for London, leaving Mary to care for Matthew.  Given Lavinia’s meek and mild nature, someone with Mary’s strong resolve is probably what Matthew needs (and of course I’m rooting for them to reunite).  Mary devotes herself to Matthew’s care, and seems to finally have found her place among all the change occurring around her from the war.

But Mary has other problems to tend to.  Vera Bates returns (thanks to O’Brien) and has every intention of revealing Mary’s secret, and plans to bring Anna down along with the Crawley name.  Anna tells Mary, who goes to see Sir Richard about the matter.  You know you’ve made a mistake in your choice of fiancee when he says he’s happy to help, but it also pleases him to know that he’ll have something on you and you’ll be in his debt.  As we can see from next week’s preview, it looks like Sir Richard plans to play the “Pamuk card” to get what he wants.

Mrs. Bates is paid off by Sir Richard, who then promptly announces his engagement to Mary (again, not a good sign, given that Mary had no knowledge that he would do so).  This news infuriates Vera, and she swears that she will get Bates back another way.  This woman is on an entirely different level than O’Brien and Thomas in her one-dimensional vendetta against Bates and Anna.  O’Brien and Thomas can be nasty, but who knows to what lengths Vera will go to get back at Bates.

Meanwhile William is dying at Downton (after a few strings are pulled by Lady Violet to get him there) in the largest bedroom he’s ever slept in.  Daisy is basically peer-pressured into marrying William in order to receive a widow’s pension.  You can’t help but feel badly for her, and I know the guilt is going to eat away at her as that pension starts coming in.  The marriage, quickly followed by the death of William, left us reaching for the tissues (if Lady Violet is allowed to shed a tear, so are we!).

There were a few odds and ends tucked in throughout the episode.  Lady Edith quietly nurses William, keeping him comfortable during the final days of his life.  A  few short scenes between Lady Sybil and Branson show that he seems to be chipping away at the barrier she’s put between them (really, this relationship grows creepier each week, like Sybil is some sort of trophy that Branson’s trying to win).

Lord Grantham is being ignored by Lady Grantham, who is busy running the convalescent home, and like some sort of spoiled child he pouts with his newspaper, and then takes an all-too keen interest in the new maid (did anyone else notice that lingering look he gave after she left the room?).  Mrs. Hughes has been looking out for Ethel and her illegitimate child, who the father wants nothing to do with (is it just me or does this thread fall somewhat flat–I didn’t have enough time with Ethel to become emotionally invested in her).  And Isobel Crawley returns at last, and the look Matthew gives her before breaking down when he sees her was enough to make me bring out the tissues again.

So what next?  Nothing was resolved in this episode, and it looks like several story arcs are getting ready to hit their critical peaks.

What did you think of this week’s episode?

Miss any of the other episodes?  See my episode 1, episode 2, and episode 3 recaps.

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Downton Abbey Season 2, ep. 3 recap

Bates is back, and all is right with the world.

Or at least, downstairs at Downton Abbey.  There’s something about Bates’s presence that makes the other staff feel that they’ve got someone looking out for them (which perturbs O’Brien and Thomas to no end, and refreshes their need to scheme).  Even the Earl of Grantham needs Bates, prompting a surprise visit to the pub where Bates works to ask for forgiveness and for him to come back to help the Earl “through the veil of shadow.”

Bates turns to find a surprise visitor

That shadow, of course, is the news that Matthew (as well as William) has gone missing.  As the news slowly spreads upstairs, it somehow makes the war a little more real, a little “closer to home.”  Sure, there are convalescents all over the place and Sybil is in her nurse’s garb, and yes, Matthew’s been to the front (always returning home without a scratch), but so far the house has seemed one step removed from it all.  The war’s been used as an abstract backdrop for the series, but now the Crawleys (and the viewers) are face to face with its sober realities.

This to me was the best episode of season 2 so far, for that very reason.  The family is putting on a performance for the convalescents, trying to keep things bright and cheery, while internally they are all concerned about Matthew.  Downstairs, everyone keeps on with their work, but William is never far from their minds.  The two missing men reappear during Mary and Edith’s performance, when the family and staff (along with the viewers) are temporarily distracted.   Real joy replaces the fake smiles the inhabitants of Downton Abbey have been wearing, knowing that their men are safe, for now.

Matthew and William return

There are several other mini-plots going on throughout the episode.  Scandal erupts when Mrs. Hughes finds one of the convalescents in bed with Ethel, who is immediately dismissed and later shows up pregnant.  Another potential scandal is brewing between Lady Sybil and Branson the chauffeur.  Sybil’s always been one to shirk tradition, but her rebellious nature revs up in this episode, no doubt stoked by Branson’s prodding.  It’s just a matter of time before she is willing to acknowledge what she already knows.  I can only imagine what the ramifications would be of such a match (and what Lady Violet will have to say about it!).

Sybil contemplating the choice she has to make

Mary decides to accept Richard Carlisle’s proposal (a decision she’ll regret, no doubt), and writes Matthew to let him know (he then promptly goes out on patrol, but takes Mary’s good luck charm, so he’s okay!).

Isobel Crawley, feeling she is no longer wanted at Downton (and rightfully so) leaves for France to work for the wounded and missing inquiry department detachment set up by the Red Cross (can’t say I was sorry to see her go, she’s been a real pain this season).  Her maid and Mr. Mosley decide to set up a soup kitchen of sorts for the wounded veterans of the village, and Mrs. Patmore steps in to help.  O’Brien catches wind of it and promptly informs “her ladyship,” who goes to investigate.  Fortunately Cora does not disapprove and actually pitches in to help.

This episode took place in 1918, so the war will be drawing to a close soon.  Looks like next week Matthew and William will be put in more danger, and Mary’s past comes back to haunt her.

Miss either of the other two episodes?  Read my episode 1 and episode 2 recaps.

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