In its second episode this season, Downton Abbey‘s stories revolved around acceptance. It’s an ongoing theme for Downton, as it parades (and sometimes quantum leaps) through time. Robert, Earl of Grantham (a.k.a. “Donk”) and Carson are two examples of those in the house who feel it is their duty to ward off change. But progress is not a bad thing, and if the King is doing it, well, surely we can’t be corrupted after one day? Hit the jump for more of that, as well as a Liverpool affair.
Change was very much in the air in “Episode 2,” beginning with Jimmy’s departure. Downton’s staff is ever-shrinking, as is consistent with the times (Mary brings this up later to Anna when talking about why she needs to “try out” her future husband; no longer can they escape to separate wings of the house). But those who are left on staff downstairs are not sheltered from the march of progress. Daisy is still learning maths, Ms. Patmore finds her jazz groove, and Anna is made to buy birth control from a very haughty pharmacist.
The advent of the wireless into the Abbey was the latest metaphor for change. Rose, of course, is the one to introduce the idea, and over the course of the hour Robert’s chill towards it thaws. But Downton being Downton, the Crawleys have their own spin on how it should be used. There is no dancing to jazz, but instead, a respectful gathering as the King gives his address — one where Violet, inspired by the sound of his voice, feels it necessary to stand in respect (and is joined by her family in doing so). Small steps.
But change is not necessarily a forward motion. Though Robert blames the “tin-pot Rosa Luxemburg” Sara Bunting for being a bad influence on Branson, Mary takes another view: “maybe he’s just changing back to who he was [before he married Sybil].” With Mary, something similar feels true. Her relationship with Matthew was transformative, but now, years after his death, she’s feeling very much like the Mary we first met, who was willing to invite Mr. Pamuk into her bed, make Anna an accomplice, and who loved toying with the heartstrings of as many men as could grace Downton’s door (which were and are numerous).
The thing that always is in the most in flux on Downton Abbey, though, are the love lives of its inhabitants. The return of Mr. Blake throws Mary off of her game briefly when he suggests that Gillingham is not smart enough for her, and that she’s just looking for a booty call (in more eloquent terms). Elsewhere, the advent of Mr Bricker (the marvelous Richard E. Grant) has also opened the door for Cora to be the object of brash affection. Molesley struggles with his feelings for Baxter versus the (blunt) truth of her thieving past, and in almost completely opposite circumstances, Violet continues her machinations with Isobel, Clarkson, and Lord Merton.
Where Downton Abbey really makes its mark, though, are in the personal touches of its character moments. The big political backdrops and soapy romance storylines are fine and well, but what makes Downton so much fun (and what makes an hour like this one so delightful), are some of its smallest interactions. Thomas admitting to Anna that he wishes he was better liked and fit in was heartbreaking, while Carson telling Mrs. Hughes that the two of them being “out of sync with one another” made him very uncomfortable was incredibly sweet. Patmore’s patronage of Daisy is a beautiful mark of their evolving friendship and mother/daughter relationship, while Violet standing to the sound of the King was moving (as it showed a devout respect that she almost never otherwise gets a chance to showcase).
Downton‘s lightning-fast, swirling storylines (which weren’t too absurd this week, thankfully) don’t really give viewers much time to pause. But the lingering feeling of “Episode 2” was one of hope. Most of the characters seemed satisfied in some way by the end of the hour, and hopeful that things would continue to march forward and improve. But of course, this is only Episode Two. Put the kettle on.
Episode Rating: B+
Musings and Miscellanea:
— As I mentioned briefly last week, the real star of this season, though, (improbably) has been Robert. He’s had some of the best lines, has been set up with a great narrative arc, and has been (again, improbably) the driving force of comedy.
— “I can’t see the Dowager with a wireless” – Bates, who has been totally underused this season and I hate it.
— Who is the mystery witness who may throw Bates under the bus??
— I loved how everyone was commenting on how tan Richard E. Grant was. (I don’t care who his character is, I prefer to believe Richard E. MF. Grant just strolled on set and was just dapper as hell doing it).
— “Thank you Mr. Barrow, you may go now; your scare mongering was not successful” – Carson.
— Giving Miss Bunting something to do besides constantly berate Branson for not being enough of a revolutionary is fine, but I still don’t like her. I mean, seriously, can she not see even one of his positive traits? I’m still rooting for him with Rose …
— As much as I enjoy Isobel and Violet together, the love square (hexagon?) is really boring.
— God help us, Edith and this Marigold story. Why doesn’t Mr. Drew see fit to include Mrs. Drew in on the truth? (All those years ago, even?) She’s clearly pissed about the whole thing, and why wouldn’t she be? It’s totally weird, and her husband is definitely the least subtle man on the planet. I loved Robert’s aside to Cora, though, about them getting tired of Edith.
— “I can’t rewrite that chapter of my life, Mr. Molesley, not even for you” – Baxter. So is there more to the story, or not?
— Mary and Gillingham are really frank about sex, aren’t they? And what did Anna procure for Mary, a sponge or cap or something?
— “I will not have Sybil’s only child stolen from everyone she loves and raised by a harpy in an American sewer!” – Robert.
— “Every relationship has its ups and downs” – Mrs. Hughes.