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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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Downton Abbey Season 2, episode 2 recap

Tensions ran high on Downton Abbey this week (but then, when do they not?).  The house is turned upside down as it is prepared as an officers’ convalescence home, leading to all sorts of trouble.

Mrs. Crawley overstepping her bounds.

Mrs. Crawley and Lady Cora butt heads over the running of the household and which rooms should be sectioned off for the convalescents.  We already knew Mrs. Crawley could be assertive, but she seems to forget her place here and the family has to remind her with some force.  O’Brien, who has become Cora’s protector after the bath tub debacle of last season, conspires with Thomas to make sure that Cora is put in charge of the household alongside Mrs. Crawley, much to the latter’s chagrin.  O’Brien also uses her pull over Cora to get Thomas assigned as the household manager, which Carson is none too happy about.

Sybil busies herself with setting up beds in the various grand rooms of the house, with Edith watching on, feeling she has no purpose and is only in the way.  Sybil gives her some kind advice which Edith takes to heart, telling her everyone has a purpose, she just needs to find hers.  Edith does so by making the newly arrived officers feel at home, getting to know them, and helping them write letters to loved ones.  She shows compassion (something I wasn’t sure Edith possessed), and many of the soldiers note this to General Stratt when comes to visit the house, garnering her recognition at the dinner given for the general that evening.  Mary’s face was priceless in this scene, though I’m not sure if it was envy that I saw, or once again that sensation of feeling somewhat out of place, not knowing what her role is exactly now that the war is here.

Sybil bears the brunt of Branson’s anger when the army rejects him due to a heart murmur and he cannot make the public protest he hoped for when he is called up.  Sybil does not understand the source of his anger and tells him as much.  Branson informs her his cousin was gunned down by an English soldier during the Easter Rising in Ireland (which took place in 1916).  Branson later comes up with a new way to make his voice heard, concocting a special “soup” for the general.  Carson, Mrs. Hughes and Anna stop him before he has a chance to spill the disgusting concoction over the top of the general’s head.  With such anger and conviction, this won’t likely be the last of Branson’s attempts to make his views known.

Anna has a glimmer of hope when she believes she sees Bates in the village.  Mary offers to help her find out about him using the services of Sir Richard.  As she explains to Anna, “he works in newspapers, a world of spies, tip offs, and private investigators.  I promise you he can find out whatever he likes.”  I’d say this offers some fairly significant foreshadowing as to what’s going to happen to Mary.  No doubt Sir Richard is going to find out about the Mr. Pamuk scandal and use it against her so that he does not lose her.  We see his power over Lavinia Swire; no doubt he could do the same to Mary.

Sir Richard does indeed find Mr. Bates’s whereabouts, and Anna goes to visit him.  Bates left his wife so the divorce proceedings can take place soon, and is confident he will be able to pay his wife more than any newspaper would for the story she has on Mary.  Why do I get the feeling it isn’t going to be as easy as it sounds?

Granny and Lady Mary have a chat about Matthew.

In the meantime Mary learns another interesting tidbit, this time about Lavinia Swire.  Her aunt learns that Lavinia gave information to Sir Richard which led to the Marconi scandal of 1912, and that the two were lovers.  Lavinia soon confesses the former to Mary, but insists that the two were never romantically attached and she only did it to save her father from financial ruin.  Mary tells her she believes her, and Lavinia informs her that Sir Richard “threatened to tell you all about it, but now I’ve done it anyway.”  I have two theories on this one: either Lavinia hasn’t told Mary the whole story and wanted to beat Richard to the punch so Mary would believe her over him, or this is an example of how Sir Richard uses the vast amount of gossip he can dredge up to control people.  But regardless, Mary does not say anything to Matthew about Lavinia’s secret, though she certainly could have used the story that her aunt had procured.  Again, we see that Mary’s former pettiness has been replaced with actual compassion, even towards a woman she could consider her rival.

Lavinia reveals her secret to Lady Mary.

Downstairs, Daisy’s in over her head, no thanks to Mrs. Patmore, who insists that she must accept William’s proposal before he goes overseas.  She tells Daisy she can go back on it when he returns home, and Daisy accepts against her better judgment.  Mrs. Patmore isn’t the only one who is trying to look out for William.  Lord Grantham asks Matthew if he will take William on as his servant, to which he agrees, but says he cannot guarantee his safety.

This episode also saw Lang’s mental state deteriorate further due to shell-shock.  He wakens the entire servants’ quarters with his screams during a vivid nightmare, and begins to break down when the general and the other officers leave Downton, afraid that they might send him back to the front.  Carson and Mrs. Hughes agree that he is not ready to come back to work, and Lang agrees.

The episode closes with Lord and Lady Grantham, who are still adjusting to the new role their house is playing.  Lord Grantham states one of my favorite lines so far: “The world was in a dream before the war.  But now it’s woken up and said goodbye to it, and so must we.”  He realizes that change is inevitable, and to continue fighting against it will do them nothing but harm.

It looks like the action heats up next week with a scandal involving Ethel, Branson asking Sybil to run away with him, and the news that Matthew is reported as missing after he returns to the front.

Missed the first episode?  Read my recap here.

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Downton Abbey 2, Episode 1 recap

Mary, left behind to wait

I, along with millions of others, tuned into PBS last night with great anticipation, ready for the new season of Downton Abbey.  And I’m happy to report it did not disappoint!  The first episode flew by at a fast clip, almost too fast at times.  I was still digesting what I’d learned in one scene when it darted to the next.  But the episode did an excellent job of setting up numerous plots I look forward to following in the coming weeks’ episodes.

Warning: Spoilers below

Matthew during the Somme Offensive

The first episode begins at the Somme in 1916.  The Somme Offensive was launched by Britain and France on July 1, and did not end until mid-November of that year.  A total of 6 miles of ground were gained from the Germans, at a cost of approximately 420,000 British casualties, 200,000 French, and 500,000 German.  This is where we find Matthew Crawley, covered in mud, surrounded by death and destruction.  Inside a trench bunker that is constantly shaken by exploding shells, Matthew states that when he thinks of his time at Downton, it seems like another world.

This set the tone for the episode.  The world we came to know in season 1 is slowly crumbling under the weight of the war.  Some members of the household staff are coping with the change better than others.  Carson is determined to keep up the superior standards he sets for running the house, even though he is losing footmen right and left and Mr. Bates is replaced by a valet suffering from shell shock.  Mrs. Hughes attempts to make him see reason, that things must change because there’s a war on, but Carson fights it so fiercely he is forced to take bed rest after he collapses in the dining room.

A new face arrives at Downton

The atmosphere among the other staff members has certainly changed since the first season.  Anna and Mr. Bates are briefly happy until his wife returns, bringing with her the secret of the infamous scandal involving Lady Mary and the late Mr. Pamuk, using it as leverage to take Bates away from Downton.  Ethel, the new housemaid, has an air of headstrong confidence and big dreams for a life beyond service.  O’Brien, without her partner in crime Thomas, works on her own to put Ethel in her place.

Edith puts her new driving skills to use

The same sort of conflict over change takes place upstairs among the Crawleys.  Ladies Edith and Sybil jump at the chance to do real work for the first time in their lives.  Edith volunteers to drive a tractor on a nearby farm, and Sybil becomes a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse.  Meanwhile Mary carries on much as she did before, enjoying the society of London and inviting one of the men she met while visiting there to Downton.  When Edith discusses her work and Sybil is packing to attend her nursing courses,  we see Mary off to one side, feeling out of place in this transforming world.  Her sisters are moving forward, and she is getting left behind.

Sybil doing her part in the war effort

Amidst all this change, we still have quite a bit of character drama.  It’s been two years since Mary and Matthew last saw one another when they reunite at the beginning of the episode.  Despite the concern of their family, the two (surprisingly quickly) put the past behind them, and Mary is nothing but gracious towards Matthew’s fiancee, Lavinia Swire.  The war seems to have subdued her to some degree, and the pettiness that we saw in the first season isn’t there anymore.

Mary gives Matthew her good luck charm before he returns to the front.

Mary is currently preoccupied by the pursuit of Sir Richard Carlisle, a “self made man” in the newspaper business, who I can only assume will bring trouble to the family.  Something tells me he’s going to find out about Mary’s dirty little secret.  And what does he know about Lavinia Swire?

Mary's old and new love interests meet

Meanwhile  Branson declares his love for Sybil, which isn’t exactly reciprocated, and Edith kisses the married farmer she’s been helping.  Downstairs, Anna nurses a broken heart after Mr. Bates’s departure, while Daisy unintentionally loans hers to William before he goes off to France.

I greatly enjoyed the first episode and was intrigued by the changes many of the characters have undergone since we last saw them (Thomas for instance–I actually feel a bit of pity for him, something I never thought I’d have).  The war penetrates every corner of their lives, so one can only expect that it will leave its mark on their outlooks.  The new season looks like it will not disappoint in the area of plot twists either (again, I want to know what Carlisle has on Lavinia!  And Ethel’s bound to get herself in trouble with her headstrong attitude, right?).  This is a very different Downton than the one we visited before, and it has captured my fascination once again.

Next week the casualties of war come to Downton Abbey, which has been volunteered as a convalescent home (despite the Dowager Countess’s protests).

What did you think of the first episode of the new season?

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