Tag Archives: PBS

Downton Abbey Season 4, ep. 1 recap

Matthew's grave

Warning: Spoilers ahead for season 4, episode 1

After last season’s devastating finale, we’ve spent a year waiting to see how the characters of Downton Abbey would move forward without its leading man and heir, Matthew Crawley.  The season 4 premiere picks up 6 months after Matthew’s untimely demise, and at a crossroads for Mary.  As the wise Dowager Countess tells her, she must choose between either death or life.  And while she spends the first half of the episode in a grief-stricken fog, in the second half we see Mary rejoining the land of the living.  Welcome back, Mary, and welcome back, Downton Abbey!

I found the majority of last night’s premiere to be a delight.  The actors were in top form, the storylines (for the most part) engaging.  There was so much going on in last night’s episode, I’m going to mainly focus on the highlights.

Mary

Upstairs the house is divided over how Mary should handle her grief.  Wait, let me correct that: everyone but Robert thinks it’s time Mary move on and perhaps take an interest in something other than staring out the window and…well, just staring in general.  But Robert thinks she should go on wallowing in her grief, and in the meantime he’ll just reclaim the reins and run the estate.  After two really wonderful scenes between Mary and the Dowager and Mary and Carson (really, those two scenes stole the show for me), Mary finally comes around to the idea that it’s time to rebuild her life.  Good thing Mary thinks of Carson as a second father, because she certainly doesn’t receive much support from her dear Papa when she expresses an interest in running Downton.  We got emotional whiplash, watching Robert go from telling everyone to handle Mary with kid gloves to giving her a very public verbal smack down about how she doesn’t know anything about managing a farm.

Mary and Tom

But not to worry, because Branson, er, Tom, is ready to teach Mary Estate Running 101 (that’s, right: a former chauffeur/revolutionary teaching a lord’s daughter about farming).  Mary is somewhat doubtful (and rightfully so because of the aforementioned reasons) about whether or not she can do this.  But Matthew reaches from beyond the grave to instill some confidence in her with yet another convenient dead-character-letter, a plot device I think Fellowes should patent at this point (first there was Reggie Swire, then Lavinia, and I swear if Sybil hadn’t been suffering from eclampsyia she would have penned one too, though she had more time to talk to everyone about her wishes before she died, so I guess it wasn’t necessary).  While I was preparing for a good eye roll, the letter was actually kind of nice, contrived as it was.  Recall how, in season 1, Matthew really wasn’t pleased about inheriting Downton Abbey and Cora’s fortune along with it.  He thought its rightful heir was Mary.  So, in a nice “full circle” wrap-up, Matthew proclaims that Mary should be the sole heiress of his fortune, and that she must take charge.  Now, why he wrote the note and then stuck it in a random book in his office, I don’t know.  But look, he kept the good luck charm Mary gave him during the war!  Seeing that was the closest I came to tearing up during the episode.

Mary with stuffed dog

I’m excited to see how Mary rebuilds her life, and it sounds like the old Mary we knew from season 1 is returning, and she’s going to need that backbone if she wants to successfully take on her stubborn Papa.

Edith and Michael Gregson

Meanwhile, Edith frequently escapes to London to see her married editor, Michael Gregson.  Her transformation is obvious by the clothing choices she makes.  She’s become stylish and seems so full of life when she’s around Gregson (but then, compared to Mary, it doesn’t take much to accomplish this).  Gregson tells Edith he’s come up with a way for them to be together–he can get a divorce if he becomes a German citizen!  Great idea, Gregson!  I’m sure nothing can go wrong there.  Right?

Rose

And then we have Rose.  I knew she was going to get on my nerves, I just knew it.  I’m trying to like her, I really am.  But she’s that annoying added-in character whose only purpose seems to be to show us the youthful side of the “Roaring 20s.”  Her bedroom is a stark contrast to Mary’s, with the gramophone playing, the magazines spread out on the bed.  She’s a young, hip teenager!  She wants to party.  And so she does, roping Anna into going to a dance hall with her, where she proceeds to have two men get into a fist fight over her.  And in the one “headdesk” moment of the night for me, when the guy she danced with visits Downton to see her, she comes out in a maid’s outfit (since that was her alibi at the dance hall), to tell him that she is engaged to someone else…but she of course must kiss him before he goes.  Oh, Rose, you little rebel.

Rose

Speaking of Rose, apparently her mother decided that it was a fair trade to give Cora her annoying daughter in exchange for Cora’s lady’s maid we love to hate, O’Brien.  I’ll admit it, I wasn’t that sad to see her go (yeah, I said it).  Her plot line last year was so boring as she slowly set the trap for Thomas.  Longest. Revenge scheme. Ever.  But I didn’t really care for the treatment of her departure.  She just runs away, “like a thief in the night.”  What about the loyalty, O’Brien?  You weren’t willing to let anybody hurt her ladyship after the Great Soap Incident.  Seemed slightly out of character, though O’Brien was always looking out for herself.  And in her place, who should we have step into the role of Conniving Lady’s Maid 2.0 but Edna Braithwaite, the former housemaid who forced Branson, er, Tom, to tears during the season 3 finale by making him feel ashamed of who he had become.  Thomas already has his hooks in her, and actually schemes with her to frame Anna, ANNA!, of all people, for a blouse Edna ruined.  Seriously, Thomas?  You want to go after the nicest person downstairs, the one who is married to a man who was accused of murder and spent a year in jail?  You want to go there?  Okay, well…I guess we’ll find out how that works for you.

Edna

No Edna, you don’t look at all villainous grinning by the fire like that.

When Thomas isn’t manipulating Edna, he’s working his magic on Lady Cora regarding Nanny West.  Not liking the way the nanny treats him like a servant, Thomas gives a tip to her ladyship that Nanny West isn’t taking proper care of the children.  Turns out Thomas’s malign meddling is for the best, as we learn Nanny West is neglecting baby Sybbie because she is the daughter of the former chauffeur, going so far as to call her a “crossbreed”.  Cora catches her in the act and immediately dismisses her.  She’s grateful to Thomas for the information, gratitude I’m sure Thomas will find a way to work in his favor.

Cora catches Nanny West

Cora listening in on Nanny West

Elsewhere downstairs, we still have the most awkward love square ever happening.  Ivy loves Jimmy, Alfred loves Ivy, and Daisy loves Alfred.  And they all know it!  So Ivy, when Jimmy asks you to go to the pub and gets you squiffy, it’s because he’s bored and this is his idea of fun.  Not because he likes you.  Come on!  I’m still rooting for Daisy, though.  She got compliments from the Dowager for her electric mixer mousse!  She could really go places with that kind of endorsement!

Daisy

Also downstairs, Mr. Carson receives a letter from the second half of his Cheerful Charlies act, Charlie Grigg.  A man he has no desire to hear from, because, as we find out, he stole his love, Alice, away from him.  But Mrs. Hughes, being the benign meddler that she is, goes and visits him in the poor house.  Carson is furious and blusters about, but Mrs. Hughes, undeterred, goes to Isobel Crawley for assistance.  In the process, she helps pull Isobel from her grief by giving her a taste of the work she used to do and love.  Isobel takes in Mr. Grigg and helps him find a job and get back on his feet.  Before he leaves, Carson speaks with Charlie, who tells him Alice admitted later that she made a mistake, that she should have chosen Carson.  If she had, Carson’s entire life would have had a very different trajectory.  Downton without Carson?  I don’t want to think about that.

The Cheerful Charlies make amends

The Cheerful Charlies make amends

That leaves us with our happily married, contented, Mr. and Mrs. Bates.  Things are rosy in the garden for them for now (which worries me, because we know how Fellowes feels about happy couples…).  The two decide they want to help Mr. Molesley, who has not found another job since the death of his former employer.  Because Molesley refuses straight-up charity, Bates decides to put into practice some of his learned-in-jail skills, and forges Molesley’s name on a letter stating he had lent money to Bates.  Molesley gratefully accepts the “repayment,” and we are left to wonder what he’s going to do when it runs out.

Bates & Molesley

A befuddled Molesley accepts money from Bates

There was a lot to digest in episode 1, being a two-hour block.  And as usual, it served mainly to set up the character arcs for the season, which I am very excited to see play out.  Next week it looks like the Crawleys are hosting a party, Downton style.

What did you all think of episode 1?  Did it live up to your expectations, and was it worth the wait?

10 Comments

Filed under Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey Season 3, ep. 5 recap

This week’s episode of Downton Abbey focused on its inhabitants in the wake of last week’s devastating tragedy.  Everyone is trying to come to terms with the death of Lady Sybil and the reminder that nothing can be taken for granted.  I thought the series turned out another quality episode to follow up last week’s in both its writing and acting.  The family (as well as the audience) needed time to grieve Sybil’s death, and much of the episode was devoted to just that.

Warning: Spoilers for episode 5 ahead!

Leaving Downton

Mourners leaving Downton Abbey

The funeral is over, the guests have gone, and now it is time for the Crawley family to resume life without their dear Sybil.  Tom (who turned in another wonderful performance this week) is grief-stricken, telling a concerned Matthew that his wife is gone and he is past help.  Cora’s role continued to have more substance as a grieving mother who cannot forgive her husband for not listening to Dr. Clarkson’s advice.  She barely speaks or looks at him, and when she does it is to tell him that his fixation on tradition, with his insistence on hiring a fashionable knighted doctor, killed their daughter.  The two parents are therefore left to mourn on their own.  In order to help her son, Lady Violet steps in and contacts Dr. Clarkson, asking him to review the evidence and find out what Sybil’s chances were of surviving eclampsia so that the rift between Cora and Robert might be mended and they can deal with their grief together.

Robert at breakfast

Robert upon hearing Tom’s plans to raise his daughter as a Catholic

In the meantime it becomes painfully apparent that Robert is lost.  Even more so than during the war when his house was turned into a convalescence home.  All of the traditions, all of things he’s found comfort in as certainties, are crumbling around him.  His response to the loss of control is anger and frustration, and he releases it wherever he can.  He almost explodes at the breakfast table when grief-stricken Tom announces his daughter (who he’s decided to name Sybil to remember her mother by) will be Catholic.  When Robert goes to his favorite daughter to rail against Tom’s “ghoulish” idea of naming the baby Sybil and for his insistence on breaking with the Crawley Anglican tradition, he finds no sympathy.  Mary disagrees with him, reminding her dear Papa that the baby is a Branson, not a Crawley.

Mary talking to Robert

Robert’s traditionalist boat is further rocked when Matthew brings up the mismanagement of the estate once more, which Robert wants to hear nothing about.  Matthew urges him that the time to act is now, that the money to keep Downton afloat is already “leaking through the cracks.”  Again, Robert looks like he might explode.  But Carson enters before he has a chance to and gives Robert a place to funnel his full wrath when he informs him that his mother, wife, and daughters are all at luncheon with Mrs. Crawley, eating food prepared by a former prostitute.

Robert at luncheon

Robert puffs up his chest and bursts into the luncheon, insisting that every one of them leave at once, blustering on about Ethel’s wayward ways and how Mrs. Crawley has exposed his entire family to scandal as a result.  He is put in his place quickly by his wife, who, after learning that Mrs. Patmore helped Ethel, looks straight at him and says she is glad her cook has a good heart and does not judge.  When he makes one last attempt to get them to leave, his mother states that it would be a pity to miss such a good pudding.  Once again finding himself in events outside his control, Robert exits with a firm slam of the door.

Mary and Robert

Just when I was ready to smack Robert to make him wake up and get with the program, he has a heart to heart with Mary that brought tears to my eyes.  After Mary tells him he won’t win on the christening, and spells out what we’ve observed all episode (“The world isn’t going your way.  Not anymore.”), he finally opens up about Sybil.  About how he forgets she is gone, and when he sees a newspaper article that will make her laugh or a rose she loves that is in bloom, he goes to tell her, and then he remembers.  Mary begs him to tell Cora this, but he knows she won’t listen.

Cora and Robert
Finally, Lady Violet orchestrates an intervention for her son and daughter-in-law, asking them to pay a call at her house.  There they find Dr. Clarkson, who explains that after a great deal of study, Lady Sybil had an infinitesimal chance of survival.  Even if they had performed a caesarian, it likely would have put her through a great deal of pain and suffering and she still would have died.  At the realization that death was inevitable for their daughter, Cora and Robert both break down, seeking each other for solace.  And Lady Violet saves the day once more.

Matthew and Mary

Robert and Cora took up the largest chunk of the upstairs story this week, but there were a few other plot points worth mentioning.  Sybil’s death seems to have reminded Mary and Matthew of the uncertainty of life, and that they shouldn’t take their marriage for granted, nor their home.  Nice to finally see a scene in which the two aren’t fighting about money, but I couldn’t help but wonder if their memories were completely erased of the previous years of angst they both suffered when they weren’t together–wouldn’t that be reminder enough not to take each other for granted?

Matthew and Tom

Matthew takes Tom on a tour of the estate and shares some of his ideas, and is surprised to learn that Tom has some experience of his own when it comes to farm management.  Is it just me, or would Tom and Matthew make an excellent management team for Downton?  But I won’t get my hopes up, because Tom seems determined to leave the place as soon as possible.

Edith

Edith’s ongoing indecisiveness about the newspaper job continued this week with a quick mention at the luncheon.  She is still unsure of what to do with herself, and proposes learning to cook (to her sister’s horrified “Why?”).  Please Edith, get thyself to London post haste, and get thee a fantastic job and a life of thine own.

Ethel

Downstairs also had some difficulty adjusting to change.  Carson and Lord Robert are apparently cut from the same cloth, and Carson cannot let go of the fact that Mrs. Crawley has hired Ethel of ill repute to run Crawley House.  And Molesley is right there with him.  But others, like Mrs. Patmore and Mrs. Hughes, are more understanding (except for when it comes to rouge–Mrs. Patmore is having none of that!).  And I will admit it–I’m totally invested in Ethel’s story now.  Her character bored me last season, and her arc was slow to start this season, but ever since she gave up her darling boy Charlie and has started to turn her life around, I can’t help rooting for her, and look forward to seeing where her story goes.

Daisy and Alfred

Daisy teaches Alfred the foxtrot

The love polygon between Daisy, Alfred, Ivy, and Jimmy (and Thomas off to the side) continues.  Even when Mrs. Patmore plainly points out that they’re all in love with the wrong people, it’s as if it goes straight over their heads.  Maybe if she took one of those copper pots Ivy is always cleaning and banged them over the heads they’d see reason, but I doubt it.

Thomas and Jimmy

Thomas still recovering from the loss of Lady Sybil

I’ve been feeling sympathetic for Thomas the past few episodes.  He hasn’t done one evil or nasty thing.  Which means I’m really dreading what must be in store for him courtesy of O’Brien.  Because if Julian Fellowes is trying to get us to care about one of the nastiest pieces of work at Downton, it means he’s setting that character up for a major fall.

Daisy

Daisy of the constant scowl finally had something to smile about this episode.  Mr. Mason informs her he wants to give her his farm and all of his worldly possessions.  Could Daisy have found a nicer father-in-law?  She explains that she plans to stay in service, but Mr. Mason, wise man that he is, asks Daisy if she really thinks that the world will keep turning as it has been for houses like Downton Abbey.  She’s got a lifetime of work ahead of her, and she may need to think of some other way to make a living.

Bates

The “Free Bates” campaign continues.  As I predicted, that no good jail warden got to Mrs Bartlett before Mr. Murray could.  Again, why do they hate Bates so much?  I understand their current anger (since Bates framed his cellmate)–but why was there an issue to begin with?  I really wish that could be explained further.  Bates tells Mr. Murray he knows why Mrs. Bartlett did not give the same story that she did to Anna, and that he is going to do something about it.  Anna tells him to promise not to do anything stupid, but Bates only says he’ll take care of it.

Bates threatening Craig

Bates then proceeds to threaten his former cell mate with a sharp object (where did he even get that?) and tells him he better put things right and get Mrs. Bartlett to tell the truth or else he’ll tell the governor that he and the jail warden were trying to involve him in a drug scheme, which would put the jail warden out of a job and give the cell mate five more years in the clink.

Anna

Apparently the threat works, as Anna receives a letter from Mr. Murray saying that he got the statement from Mrs. Bartlett and Bates will be freed.  But the process will take a few weeks, which means Bates isn’t out of danger yet.  After the threat he made, he should probably watch out for some sort of retaliation.  While it would have been nice to have him freed by the end of the episode, it looks like this storyline will be dragged out at least a little longer.  Sidenote: wasn’t that a sweet moment between Mary and Anna, when Anna says how touched she is to hear Mary say “we” when discussing Bates’s case and how much Mary cares about seeing him set free?

Anna and Mary

So much to think about for next week’s episode.  Will Robert finally set his pride aside and listen to Matthew’s ideas so Downton Abbey isn’t run into the ground?  Has Cora finally forgiven her husband?  If (though it looks like “when” from the preview) Bates makes it out of jail alive, and resumes his post as Lord Robert’s valet, what will happen to Thomas?  O’Brien’s set her trap, and I’m just waiting to see how it will snap.  Will Daisy accept her father-in-law’s offer to leave service and move to the farm?  What about Mary and Matthew?  I saw the way they looked at little baby Sybil, it’s obvious they both want a family.  And what will happen to Tom?  Will he make a fresh start in Liverpool, or will he perhaps be convinced by Matthew to stay at Downton?  And it looks like from the preview that Edith will finally work up the nerve to become a career woman!  But who exactly is this Rose they are introducing next time?  Looks like a “Bright Young Thing” to me.  Perhaps she’ll teach Edith the Charleston.

What were your thoughts about this week’s episode?

Missed an episode?  Read my recaps of episode 1, episode 2, episode 3, and episode 4.

 

10 Comments

Filed under Downton Abbey, Period Pieces

Downton Abbey returns

It’s been almost a year now since we were first introduced to the Crawley family and their servants who inhabit the sprawling British estate known as Downton Abbey.  It is one of the finest works of historical fiction created directly for the screen that I have seen in a very, very long time (no wonder it was just nominated for 4 Golden Globes, including best miniseries).

While the characters may be fictional (from the imagination of Julian Fellowes, screenwriter of Gosford Park), the Edwardian world in which they live is very accurately recreated.  From the organized chaos in the kitchen to the lavish dining room where the family and their guests adhere to rigid societal rules (and those who do not are subject to severe scrutiny), it is easy to lose yourself in their world.  But Fellowes has also managed to convey in his characters the kinds of human emotions that are timeless, and thus we can all relate to one character or another, even if they lived nearly a hundred years ago.

Now Downton Abbey is returning for a second season on PBS, and this time we will see the world as they know it fall apart with the onset of World War I.  This time period is one that I’ve always been drawn to, but more on that later.  If you have not seen the first season, PBS is giving you a chance to catch up starting this Sunday.  The new season begins on January 8.   I will be posting my thoughts on the episodes as they play out, and I’d love to hear your opinions too.  Until then, I will be anxiously counting down to Downton’s return.

Visit PBS’s Downton Abbey website.

2 Comments

Filed under Downton Abbey, Period Pieces