SPOILER ALERT: This blog is for people watching Downton Abbey series three. Don’t read on if you haven’t seen episode two.
“Now we are to be turned out of Downton. Have we overlooked some source of revenue previously untapped? If only we had some coal. Or gravel. Or tin.” Cousin Violet’s financial antennae were twitching like Isis’ nose in search of a covertly concealed veal pie. What we need is a dinner! Show these bloody Americans what Downton’s really about! White tie and tails all round!
Tonight’s episode was all about introducing the face-off between the old and the new: survival of the fittest; protecting “the proper way.” And Cousin Violet did not come off very well, nodding off during the exciting American indoor picnic featuring a slightly disturbing singalong with inappropriate sapphic climax.
The mood was chaotic and slapstick with Gothic undertones. Mrs Hughes may or may not have cancer. Edith may or may not finally be overcoming the curse of being plain and be getting married. Matthew may or may not accept the money from Ginger Lavinia’s dead father. But this was an entertaining limbo stuffed full of broken ovens, cold meats and misplaced laundry. (“You two look dressed for a barbecue!”)
Inspired by Matthew and Mary’s continental honeymoon the second episode also came over all French in parts. In his prison bunk, Bates had been dreaming about Anna dancing the can-can and eating frogs’ legs. Matthew was “en déshabillé” in front of Anna. Martha warned Cousin Isobel against talking about her Charitable Home for Harlots over dinner: “Pas devant les domestiques.”
At least the outcome of “the Strallan nonsense” AKA Edith’s infatuation, was pleasing. No one can remember whether Anthony is a Lord or a Sir, but he is posh – which is more than you can say for Matthew or the chauffeur. We don’t want to see Edith left all alone. Or do we? I predict that Lord Sir Anthony will die in some horrific motor traffic accident before the wedding vows are uttered. Or maybe he’ll just end up bandaged and melty-faced like Cousin Patrick. Edith likes a bit of that.
As the #FreeBates campaign gathers momentum on Twitter (some people have a lot of time on their hands – unlike the readers of this blog, obviously), we were reminded that we do not actually, factually know that Bates is innocent. He’s ex-SAS, you know, and can kill a man with one twitch of his dodgy leg. (He’s not really ex-SAS but at some point he did heroic but possibly awful things which saved Lord Grantham’s life. So we know he is capable.) Be careful, Anna. I am looking forward to meeting the ominously named Mrs Audrey Bartlett, best friend of Evil Vera.
It was Mary who summed up the issues: “I shall be Countess of Grantham one day. And in my book the Countess of Grantham lives at Downton Abbey.” But line of the night has to go to the hilarious Aristocratic Old Lady Extra who exclaimed, while grabbing a chicken drumstick for her carpet picnic: “I feel like one of those bright young things that they write about in the newspapers!” Wasn’t she also in the Spice Girls’ Wannabe video?
Random subplot alert
The Case of the Unused Soda Crystals. Which swiftly morphed into The Case of the Burnt Dinner Jacket. And then into the Case of the Pilfered Dress Shirts. Hercule Poirot wept. It was a very enjoyable but not wholly credible little narrative – after all, why does it benefit Thomas to have Molesley as Matthew’s valet rather than Tall Alfred? Because he doesn’t want the competition and knows that Molesley is a bit rubbish? And why do Thomas and O’Brien suddenly hate each other with such venom? We know that O’Brien began to regret her evil ways during series two, especially the Soap Incident. But does she really hold Thomas responsible for that?
Downton geek bonus fun fact: O’Brien is Julian Fellowes’ favourite character, and is modelled on a real-life housemaid who was obsessively loyal to her employers for decades.
The golden eyebrow award of the week
“Curious. He hates to leave America. And I should hate to go there.” I did say that Dame Maggie would run away with this award, no contest. And this episode the six-times-Oscar-nominated eyebrows were in a golden class of their own, as Cousin Violet attempted to conceal her intolerance for Martha Levinson while sweet-talking her into handing over a wodge of cash. Mary: “Granny means to make her. Or die in the attempt.” In the end Granny almost did. I actually thought Cousin Violet might choke to death when Martha was serenading her with Let Me Be Your Sweetheart. Superb brow work.
Surprise character development
First: Dear me, Martha Levinson’s American maid is a bit “fast”, isn’t she – and obviously partial to very tall men. But surely the real point here is that some kind of epiphany is brewing for Daisy. Why should she care if Miss Reed dry-humps Tall Alfred next to the cold meat cabinet? Is Daisy coming over all religious? Or is she just jealous?
Second: Suddenly Mrs Hughes is Important. She has never been Important before. (Apart from when I decided that she and Carson might be secretly bigamously married – which was also around the time I decided that O’Brien was secretly Thomas’ mother. I’ve got over all that now.) Anything that gives Mrs Patmore an excuse to be both dappy and hysterical at the same time – in the doctor’s office – is worth it. I will also admit to shedding a tear here. I don’t want Mrs Hughes to die. Suffer elegantly and stoically, yes. But not die.
Sorry, could you just repeat that rather awkward line of dialogue?
Tall Alfred on Martha: “What a gob! I thought Mr Carson was going to put a bag over her head.” Well said.
Matthew to Mary: “I do love you so terribly much.” But how very terribly, Matthew? Enough to get over your boring conscience-wobble about the memory of Ginger Lavinia? Are you a man or a Ginger Lavinia-mourning mouse?
Martha Levinson: “Funny clothes and no food. Should be quite an evening.” I’m not looking forward to Shirley MacLaine leaving (as I recall she was only contracted to appear in three episodes and now we’ve had two). But at least Dame Maggie will get some decent lines back.
What’s this? Downton … PLACE? It cannot be. Meanwhile: “Edith is beginning her life as an old man’s drudge.” Thanks for your support, Granny. And I am guessing that we will be seeing more of Ethel (Amy Nuttall). She’s the one-time maid turned knocked-up-by-visiting-injured-captain ex-employee turned vengeful-single-mother turned prostitute. I’m looking forward to how they’ll plot-summarise that.
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