Once again, few shows pack as much into once topsy-turvy hour as Downton Abbey, and this season’s second episode was no exception. Also, it handled its many, many characters very well, involving almost everyone in the episode’s plots. A party at the Abbey was a nice way to bring everyone together, and set the stage for plenty of drama. Hit the jump for why, “if I was searching for logic, I wouldn’t forage for it among the English upper classes.”
Most of the episode was devoted to moving forward, though leave it to Molesley to get stuck in retrograde. The party at Downton led to the first time Mary laughed in over six months, and it was time. As Cora put it, Mary may never get over Matthew’s death, but she will eventually get past it. That timeline may have to move a little faster than normal though, because Mary as the spectre in the halls doesn’t make for good TV, plus as she’s usually the best written character, it would be a shame not to use her as the centerpiece she was designed to be.
Mary certainly hasn’t forgotten Matthew though, and Downton did a superb job of allowing her to cooly express her feelings to old family friend Lord Gillingham as well as Anna, insofar as wondering if loving Matthew was worth her becoming “soft,” and unable to cope as easily without him. The iciness we might recognize from Season One Mary came back last week in spades, but it’s true that while some of her frosty nature has returned, Matthew did change her in a fundamental way.
But Mary must move on, so Isobel is left carrying the veil of sadness — something she did exceptionally well in this hour. Though she accepted Violet’s invitation to go to Downton to hear Dame Nellie Melba, she didn’t feel she could “participate in the merrymaking.” Branson softly assures her she is not alone. Branson, like Isobel, has been left to carry the torch of love for the deceased so that other characters can move on. No one else mentions Sybil anymore (except for Thomas, occasionally), but Branson is still as haunted by her death as Mary is by Matthew’s.
Though Mary is sharp enough to see Gillingham’s designs on her (and even acknowledges them openly for being flattering), Edna uses Branson’s sorrow and his misfit feelings to take advantage of his low mood, to her advancement. She’s a schemer, and her slipping into Branson’s room after she liquored him up is clearly part of her plan to get herself made a lady of the manor — the ultimate advancement for a woman of her standing.
Elsewhere, Gregson found his way into Robert’s heart, kitchen shenanigans led to the brief re-hiring and further humiliation of poor Molesley, and most disturbingly, Downton grew very dark again very quickly by having Anna beaten and raped by Gillingham’s valet, Mr. Green. Heartbreakingly, she at least tells Mrs. Hughes (though swears her to silence), in order to protect Bates. But there are bound to be many, many repercussions from this act that resonate throughout the season. It was a horrible thing to do to Anna, but the show has always had a sharp eye for dramatic complications, and this one is most certainly a game-changer (if the show handles it with the delicacy it deserves).
Episode Rating: A-
Musings and Miscellanea:
— Ms. Patmore is so great: so capable and compassionate! I love how she gave Alfred some hope about his dream of being a chef. However, her panic attack was too much like Carson’s heart attack from last season (or the season before?)
— I loved the lingering shot of Jimmy measuring out the chairs for the dinner. At its break-neck pace, Downton rarely slows and focuses on details like that.
— So many beautiful dresses tonight — Mary’s black dinner dress, Cora’s silver number, and even Edith’s sparkly orange one from the final dinner were all stunning, not to mention those beautiful diamond headbands.
— It’s good that the show addresses the “plight of the rich” at the time, so far as explaining how their estates are dying away because of changing times and high taxes.
— Everyone was against Robert in this episode, per usual, though this time he only deserved about half of it.
— The lack of respect for Melba’s performance was kind of funny, especially from the Upstairs dwellers.
— Loved that door in Robert’s study with the fake books to hide it.
— Gregson’s misspent youth is something we need to hear more about! I sense a spin-off …
— Glad to see they’ve kept up the storyline about Isobel and Clarkson being friends, I wondered why he appeared at the train station in that last episode. Apparently they are still enjoying one another’s company (platonically).
— “No pride left!” – a beleaguered Molesley.