downton abbey, S6, Ep. 3 & 4

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I’m a bit behind in my musings on Downton Abbey.  The major events in episode 3 were Carson & Mrs. Hughes’ wedding. After a kerfluffle over what the ever-practical Mrs. Hughes would wear (she didn’t want to make a big deal about a dress and thus had no pretty, let alone elegant dresses), Elsie Hughes looked lovely in a coat that Cora wound up giving her. The trouble before the wedding reached its pinnacle when Cora, who had a headache from arguing with the dowager, discovered Anna, Mrs. Patmore and Mrs. Hughes all in her bedroom trying on one of her coats that Mary said she could wear. Cora through an out-of-character fit, but then Mary hadn’t explained or asked and it did look like a trespass over social boundaries. Soon Cora, true to form, apologised and wound up graciously giving Mrs. Hughes a gorgeous, embroidered coat that perfectly matched the plain dress Mrs. Patmore had ordered from a catalog. How lucky!

Edith took the reigns at the magazine. She sacked the complaining editor and worked all night to get the edition out. She lucked into meeting an attractive male acquaintance who asked her for drinks and then wound up staying up all night to help her with the magazine. How much cleaner than saving the pigs! Does that make it more or less romantic? What happened to Mary’s pig-beau?

Anna continued to have pains and fears of a miscarriage. The family elders continued to bicker over plans for the hospital and once again Thomas had a semi-comical, semi-sad Chekoves-que job interview at a big estate in decline. In the final scene I’m sure I wasn’t alone in rejoicing that Tom and Sybie have returned to Downton for good! (We could have guessed since Tom has been shown in promotional interviews and photos.)

Episode 4

Mr & Mrs. Carson were on their honeymoon for most of the episode. Several characters mentioned how hard it would be to call Mrs. Hughes Mrs. Carson. That little problem was solved at the end when everyone agreed that at the house she’d be Mrs. Hughes.

The squabbling over the hospital continued. Violet called in an aristocratic friend to assist her in her cause. Unfortunately, Lady Shackleton flip-flopped at the dinner party. Her main use proved to be that she brought her nephew, Henry, who is one of Mary’s suitors from last season.

Anna felt she was about to miscarry, so late at night Mary whisked her off to London via York, where the super Royal York Hospital with all it’s nifty skill and technology is. Hmm. Well, it worked out because Mary got to have cocktails with Henry and flirt a bit. Anna was okay and had a procedure that saved the baby. Still I wouldn’t want to take a train trip lasting I’d guess a few hours when I was miscarrying. Seems the last thing a woman would want to do would be to be on a train.

Daisy, who’s very eager to see that Mr. Mason get the house and farm that the Drewes have vacated since Mrs. Drewes kidnapped Edith’s daughter Marigold (what was she thinking?), almost sabotaged her job. She’s gotten to be quite a firebrand. She took Cora’s interest in Mr. Mason and a vague comment that Cora would see what she could do as a promise. When she hears a rumour that Mr. Mason won’t get the the land, Daisy works herself into a frenzy that culminates in her determination to tell off Cora. Every single servant urges her to calm down, to watch it, to wait and hope for the best, but Daisy obstinately ignores. At the pinnacle of her rage, Daisy storms upstairs. She’s willing to put her job on the line. Fortunately, before she can irrationally lash out against Cora, the Crawley’s tell her that they’ve decided that (although it’s not a great financial decision) they’re giving Mr. Mason the farmland. I doubt there was a luckier character on the show than Daisy at this time.

My favourite part of the show was when Gwen, who in the first season was a maid who with Sybil’s help became a secretary, showed up at Downton. She came with her husband, an aristocrat. When she arrived Thomas and Anna recognised her. The family members didn’t. Thomas, full of envy, blustered about how Gwen prospered, but he’s working in the same house in 1925 that he was in 1912 (or earlier). When serving, Thomas spilled the beans and got Gwen to reveal that she had been a kitchenmaid at Downton. While Thomas tried to embarrass her, Gwen regaled the family with stories of how dear Sybil helped her get the education and job that propelled her into the workforce and how that ties into her current association with a new woman’s college, Hillcroft. All the Crawley women now fully support this novel idea to educate women who need to work.

Baxter, Cora’s lady’s maid, is called upon to agree to testify against the man who urged her to steal from her previous employer. At first she was reluctant, but Mr. Mosley convinced her that if she didn’t other women would probably be tricked by him and would end up in jail or as prostitutes (that’s what has happened to some of women he’d conned).

Odds and Ends

  • Tom wants to do something more than just be the agent for the estate. He’s got an inkling that it may have to do with racing cars.
  • Mary and Henry met in London and romance may bud there, again.
  • Quite a few people–Anna, Robert, and Violet–experienced some kind of health worries or aliments. Will this mean that down the line the Crawley’s may actually need that new hospital with all it’s modern equipment and knowledge.
  • Violet made a good speech on how when government gets into an area, people lose power and autonomy. Typically, I don’t buy that line of thought, but Violet was quite convincing.
  • As usual the dresses were amazing.

 

 

Downton Abbey, Season 6, Episode 2

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I don’t know why I hope for a faster pace with Downton Abbey, but I often do. I should know by now that Julian Fellows likes to draw things out; it’s his style.

I had hoped we’d see Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes’ wedding this week, but we didn’t. Instead we saw them discuss and plan, not always harmoniously, the wedding. Thankfully, only Lord Grantham thought decorating the servants’ hall would work as a reception venue.

Afraid that he’ll lose his job, Thomas has started job hunting. He’s finding it’s slim pickings and that he’s got it pretty good at the Abbey. His interview did not go well as he learned that at this estate he’d be “chief cook and bottle washer.” They expected him to do the work of 3 or 4. Thanks, but no thanks.

Edith’s editor is giving her more trouble. Then speak on the phone a lot and he won’t listen to her. I expect once she’s got the gumption, she’ll fire him. She certainly should. One dramatic moment came later in the show and dealt with Marigold. Mrs. Drewe, the farmer’s wife who took Marigold in, doesn’t realise Edith is Marigold’s mother. Thus she wants Marigold back. It’s odd, but she seems to care about Marigold more than she does her own children. We’re led to see Mrs. Drewe as unstable. At a village agricultural fair, Mrs. Drew kidnapped the girl. Everyone scrambled around trying to find her and in the end they did. This storyline was oddly placed and there wasn’t a minute when I didn’t think they’d soon find Marigold.

Anna confided in Mary about her fertility problems and Mary escorted Anna to a doctor, who examined her and told her that she just needs a simple operation when she gets pregnant again, and she should be able to have children. Anna’s on cloud nine. I bet she’ll have a child by the end of the series.

Mary proved herself to one of the local agricultural bureaucrats (i.e. the man who arranged the fair).

The issue with the hospital remains and Violet and Isobel exchanged barbs. I do wish it were over an issue that I cared about more. Then the quips would have more potency.

Daisy talked about taking some exams and Mr. Mosley encouraged her. The world’s changing as we’re constantly reminded (I could do with more “show, don’t tell” with this theme) so it’s wise to be prepared.

As usual . . .

The dresses were splendid. Cora didn’t get to do much, but neither did Robert. And yet the acting is strong enough to carry an okay story.

Downton Abbey, Season 6 Begins

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In the U.S. after months (maybe 10 months it seems) of promotions, Downton Abbey’s sixth season began on Sunday. My tradition has been to watch Downton with my aunt, who’s now living in an assisted living facility. I brought dinner for us and arrived early. Our problem was we couldn’t get PBS on Direct TV in her room. No one was able to help us. Ugh!

We had dinner and then I left to watch the show, feeling awful that my aunt wouldn’t be able to watch a show she loves.

I enjoyed this first episode, but feel that this review will echo what I said last season. I enjoyed seeing favourite characters and elegant costumes, but not all that much happened.

A chambermaid tried to blackmail Mary about her rendezvous with a Lord Whoever last season. We knew the chambermaid wouldn’t succeed and she doesn’t she’s just an annoyance. I’d expect a chambermaid in a nice hotel would have lots of opportunities for blackmail and that she’d be better at it than she was. It was odd how she had so much time and money to travel to the Abbey so frequently. By the end of the episode, Robert came to Mary’s rescue, showing his fatherly love, which made Mary realise how good a father he is. Still, I’d hoped that wily Mary would have outsmarted the chambermaid.

Violet has learned that a larger hospital would like to take over the village hospital. She shares her scuttlebutt at a board meeting and Isobel and Lord Merton, who seems to be trying to score points with her, oppose Violet and the local doctor, who doesn’t believe bigger is necessarily better. Cora’s caught in the middle and seems to be swayed more by Isobel’s views. I hope Cora gets a better storyline this season, but I doubt it.

Edith, as is often the case, didn’t get a lot to do. Her daughter is fully now part of the family. Edith handled an irate call with the editor of the paper she’s inherited. There was a nice scene with her aunt in which Edith considers moving to London to get out of Mary’s shadow, which would be best for her. Mary dominates Downton and there Edith will always play second fiddle.

I’ve wondered how the series will end and whether the Crawley’s will be able to keep their estate. In last night’s episode a nearby house went up for sale and the Crawley’s neighbours auctioned off most of their belongings. This sale obviously makes us all wonder what will happen to the Crawley’s who’re unable to replace staff and are now considering lowering wages.  The elegiac mood of the end of a beloved era hung more heavily last night and probably will throughout the series.

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At the auction, Daisy had an outburst. She’s very upset that her father-in-law will probably be kicked off his farm. When she saw the new owners, surrounded by her employers and all the people milling about shopping for antiques and what-not, Daisy let loose her feelings of the injustice of Mr. Mason. Though she had a point, she didn’t help Mason at all and just got herself in hot water. As Mr. Carson points out this was a “dismissible offence.” Yet the Crawley’s were merciful and Robert just scolded her.

Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes are engaged, but Mrs. Hughes was worried about the “terms of the marriage.” There was a bit of comedy as she had Mrs. Patmore run back and forth to find out how intimate Mr. Carson expected her to be. In the end, Mr. Carson convinced Mrs. Hughes that he wanted a real marriage and that his love for her was strong and real. I wonder whether Mrs. Patmore will have to continue to play the messenger/marriage counsellor between these two people who’ve known each other for decades?

With a flourish of deux ex machina, Julian Fellows tied up the storyline of  Anna being suspected of murdering her rapist. Another woman confessed to the crime. She must have been a female Jean Valjean since Anna was the prime suspect and there was no clear reason why the woman confessed, but it’s lucky for Anna that she did.

Favorite Violet lines

  • Does it get cold on the moral high ground?
  • If you were talking in Urdu, I couldn’t understand you less.

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Downton Abbey Season 5.6-7

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The last two Downton Abbey episodes have really moved along. I’m delighted that the pace picked up. In episode 6 Cora discovered that Edith is Marigold’s mother and she made Violet and Rosamund take her to the hotel where they had fled to. As usual, Cora was quite composed, though disappointed that she’d been kept in the dark about Edith’s pregnancy as any good mother would. She cooked up the scheme to bring Marigold into Downton’s nursery under the pretext that the farmers couldn’t afford to keep her and Edith would adopt her. By the end of episode 7, Robert guessed that Marigold isn’t really adopted.

I was surprised that Rose’s engagement was so short. Suddenly, at episode 7’s start everyone’s preparing for her wedding. The only problem is that Atticus’ is Jewish and both his father and her mother don’t approve of mixed marriages. Rose’s mom, the ultimate sourpuss Susan goes as far as setting up Atticus by having a floozie take suggestive photos with him. Fortunately, the ruse doesn’t work. Nor does Susan’s announcement that she and Rose’s father Shrimpy are divorcing stop the wedding, although Atticus’ dad disapproves of divorce. We don’t know that much about Atticus, but he’s good looking and seems nice. I just hope he doesn’t die. Mary, Edith, Tom and Rose’s generation does not have a good track record for marriages. I suppose someone’s spouse bound to live. (I’ll count Edith in this list though she didn’t get a chance to marry her beloved.)

The Lord Gillingham/Mary relationship has been over and it seems he’s moved on. He’s realized that his former fiancée suits him best. Nothing’s moved forward with Mary and Blake and since Mary’s so critical and aloof, I think he can do better. The energy they shared when they saved the pigs has cooled.

The police investigation has slowly moved along.  In episode 6 the police seemed to have Mr. Bates in their crosshairs, but by episode 7, they brought Anna in for a line up and then arrested her. Anna! She can’t have done it, though she had a reason. It seems way out of character.

Tom is seriously considering going with his daughter to Boston to start a new life. I really hope he doesn’t. He adds a down-to-earth perspective to the family and I doubt life in Boston would be preferable. It’s good for Tom to bond with Sybil’s family and he can find love in the village, he just needs to seek out someone with similar values and decent manners. He has valuable work at Downton and couldn’t be replaced.

The episode ended very much like season one of The Village did, with the ceremony for the unveiling of the WWI memorial.

Downton Abbey, 5.3

Three weeks into Downton Abbey and the story is moving slowly along. We still get Edith pining for her daughter, some more conflict over the WWI memorial and just a bit of Thomas making a suspicious phone call. (He’s probably looking for a new job.)

The biggest event for me was that Violet’s butler saw Mary and Lord Gillingham coming out of the Grand Hotel in Liverpool. She called Mary in for a chastising tete-a-tete. As always, Violet was hard to out-reason. Cora wouldn’t have been as frank or strong. In fact, as a mother Cora just goes along with her daughters. They are adults now, but no one turns to her though she’s far from domineering. You’d think she’d be perceived as the approachable mother.

As for Cora, she went up to London to look at paintings with Simon Bricker, the art historian with the not so hidden agenda. They strolled through the galleries and Cora poured out her heart as Simon complimented and almost swooned over her. Cora seemed to enjoy the freshness of an admirer. When she got back to Rosamond’s apartment, Robert was waiting for her all dressed up in his tuxedo. He’d planned a surprise for her and was (rightly) suspicious of Bricker’s time with Cora. Cora was annoyed. They had a little spat since no one in Britain has ugly “Who’s Afraid of Virgina Wolf?”-type fights. Thank God.

Cora’s feeling restless wishing she had more purpose in her life. She’s just bored. Find a hobby and make some friends, Cora. You do need a life, but you don’t need an affair.

Mary seems tired of Lord Gillingham already. I wonder if he’ll gossip about her if she ends the relationship. She certainly isn’t excited about marrying him.

The police came by to question Bates, who made up a story about his day in York. If the screenwriter, Julian Fellows is gutsy, he’ll make Bates guilty, but I think we’ll go through a trial and then find out Bates is innocent. Sometimes I feel like a pawn in Fellows’ hands. He comes up with about half as many ideas as needed for a series and spreads them thin.

Will next week be more eventful? No spoilers, but a yes or no would be welcome.

Downton Abbey, Season 4 Begins

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Mary with a rare smile in episode 1

I’ve seen the first two episodes of Downton Abbey and thought I’d weigh in with my thoughts and opinions. First it’s just so nice to see these characters again after a ten month break. I was eager to see what Julian Fellows would do with them, what everyone would be wearing, how Mary would cope with Matthew gone and what year we’d be in for season 4.

I was surprised and oddly disappointed that O’Brien’s gone. Of course, another villain can always pop up, but O’Brien hit the right note of despicability. Her relationship with Thomas also made her more of a danger. So now we have Edna, which annoyed me. I so wanted Cora to listen to Mrs. Hughes. Actually, I couldn’t believe she didn’t put more trust in Mrs. Hughes’ wisdom of giving Edna a good reference to work elsewhere. No wonder Cora wound up with O’Brien to begin with. She probably disregarded a servant in the past. Cora, I’m sure you’ll regret this.

The first episode seemed rather poorly structured. It didn’t make sense to bring in a troublesome nanny just to get rid of her so quickly. Why is it that getting a new nanny for two children isn’t a major concern at Downton when getting a new lady’s maid was? I can accept that Cora needs a maid as we’ve been shown that in that era it was crucial, but it seems the nanny would really be needed too. Today childcare is the one area where we still need extra paid help.

I thought Mary’s grief made sense. She would be deeply saddened by Matthew’s death and in time people would want to push her out of it. I think a culture signifying mourning through clothes’ color and defined mourning periods is wise. It cues people to be more respectful or patient with someone and while imperfect since grief will vary from person to person it does provide a norm, which helps loved one’s more or less know when it’s time to try to encourage someone to move on. Both Carson and the Dowager’s prompting were well done, though I’ve heard experts say a butler would never have addressed Mary as Carson did.

The question of inheritance was a big matter. No one knew of a will or any document that gave Mary any power over Downton. It looked like Lord Grantham would manage his portion and his grandson George’s, which doesn’t bode well since he has such a poor track record with money. The idea that as a lawyer whose life has been radically changed due to inheritance didn’t have a will was implausible (though Fellows does eventually address this). Luckily, due to some deux ex machina magic, a letter from Matthew expressing his desire that Mary inherit does arise. Perfect! Now Papa will have to listen to Mary, whose ideas differ. There’s sure to be some conflict and tension from this arrangement.

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The house party

The second episode shown in America revolved around a guest party at Downton where a famous Australian opera singer was invited to perform. Even the kitchen servants got to listen. The times they are a’ changing!

Throughout the three day party Tom Branson was very ill at ease with his clothes and making small talk. Violet gave him the occasional tip, but I wish others had done more. Edith, rather than focusing on how your father is ignoring your sweetheart, why not include Tom in a conversation. Both men are of lower social status and they’d probably have plenty to discuss. I’m sure Tom feels out of place, but everyone has his problems and this one isn’t that bad.  Edna’s the only one giving Tom much attention, which makes me nervous. I see her as an opportunist and big trouble.

Edith’s beau did save the day by winning back poker money all the upper crust lost. Lord Grantham lost an unspecified amount, but it seemed hefty. The poor man has no luck or skill with money it seems.

A childhood neighbor came to the party and seems like a candidate for Mary’s heart. He is engaged, but that just adds some conflict to the drama. I’d be surprised if she found someone immediately after mourning Matthew, that seems way too convenient and life’s rarely like that. Also, while he’s handsome, he lacks that je ne sais quoi required of a suitor for Mary.

The biggest event of the party revolved around Anna. One of the guests’ servants was very jovial with her and Bates tut-tutted about the impropriety. Bates just took a disliking to this man. Rightly so, it seems because during the concert, when Anna stepped out for a drink, this miscreant followed her and raped her. It was a shocking scene well presented in that viewers could see how it played out and how no one was downstairs to possibly help. Yet the scenes weren’t graphic. Viewers know what happened to poor Anna, without explicit scenes, which is good since young girls do watch Downton.

I wish Anna didn’t feel she had to hide this crime fearing that Bates would kill the man and wind up in jail again. Anna, there is the option of having him arrested. I would have liked to see how such a crime would have been handled.

Downton Abbey: Season 3 Episode 6

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Can’t believe Robert and Tom are side by side outside an RC church

Can we already be at week 6 with only one more week of Downton?

Believe it or not, yes.

The black of mourning for Sybil has been replaced by violet by the second hour. My very well read aunt said that after they wore black, mourners could change to gray or violet. Yet, I’m not sure why Edith was wearing whatever color she wanted, creme or red while Cora, Mary and I think Violet stayed in black.

Sybil is baptized Catholic against Lord Grantham’s wishes. He does attend the baptism and manages a forced smile when photographed with the baby, his mother and the priest. Tom’s brother, a real Irish rebel, who’s a bull in a china shop, comes to Downton and plunks himself down to hold court in the servants’ hall until Tom drags him upstairs.

The big story was with Thomas who falls into O’Brien’s trap and creeps into James’ room and makes a move on sleeping James, who wanted no such action. All hell breaks loose. No matter what your orientation sneaking into someone with whom you have no intimacy with and kissing them is not welcome, cool, or smart. Thomas learns that the hard way.

Alfred catches Thomas with James and soon Carson’s told. Dismissal with a good reference is the plan till O’Brien convinces James he better insist that Thomas get no reference, which means no chance of future employment (unless he goes to North America or Australia). I was surprised by how accepting all the characters were of this validation of Thomas’ sexual orientation. Only Carson was steeped in conservative thinking. But at the end all’s well and Thomas will stay. Considering how disloyal and plotting Thomas was, I felt they lost an opportunity as a staff. If Carson and Lord Grantham were wise, they’d let him go with a good reference. I really couldn’t believe that Bates went the extra mile to save Thomas, a man who’s plotted against him time and again. Given time, Thomas is sure to pay him back with deceit.

Edith’s editor flirts with her so just a few months after Sir Anthony has jilted her, Edith already has a good occupation and the possibility of love. Well, poor Edith’s cursed and she learns that the editor is married. He explains that his wife is in an asylum. Since she’s read The Scarlet Letter, we can assume Edith’s read Jane Eyre. How I hope she has the good sense to send him packing. Be strong, Edith! Be the first young woman who’s sisters outshine her who actually has the gumption to distance herself from a flirtatious married man who’s spun a good tale.

Robert eventually agrees to implement Matthew’s ideas for improving the management of Downton. It wasn’t easy, but everyone except Jarvis, the manager who wants to run everything as he did when Victoria reigned, join Matthew’s camp.

Rose, a cousin from London, is sent to stay with Violet. Violet’s happy to have a new project, I mean guest under her roof. However, Rose soon tags along with Edith and Matthew to London. She slips out and meets up with her married lover at a dance club. She’s a handful to put it mildly. She’ll no doubt replace Sybil as the lively young beauty, but while Sybil was into social justice, Rose just wants to be social. Here comes trouble. Soon after arriving, Violet’s figured out how to get Rose to leave early.

I was glad that Tom has decided to stay on rather than to go up to Liverpool.

Extras

Mourning customs in Edwardian England

For those nerds out there:

Bedikian, S. A. (2008). The Death of Mourning: From Victorian Crepe to the Little Black Dress. Omega: Journal Of Death & Dying57(1), 35-52. doi:10.2190/OM.57.1.c
N.B. Victorian era predates Edwardian when Downton Abbey is set.

 

Downton Abbey, 3 Episode 4

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If Thomas (a.k.a. Mr. Burton) cries during an episode of Downton Abbey, you know there’s tragedy. I happened upon news of Sybil’s death last fall when I did a search for some other Downton matter and a British site popped up.

Still as Bresson asserts in good drama knowing the outcome won’t diminish the engagement with a story. I know how Casablanca ends and yet I get caught up in the story time after time.

So I was actually all the more rapt as Sybil lost her life in childbirth. Any viewer could tell the city-fied, modern Sir Whatshisname, was wrong and that Lord Grantham should listen to Dr. Clarkson. It was odd, but believable, that this tradition-bound lord didn’t. I kept thinking, “Listen to the women. Listen to Cora on this, Robert!”

The tone of the emotion was just right. Characters were devastated, but there was some reserve. This is not a telenova. And that’s why we viewers feel all the more emotion. When I see say a Malaysian soap opera everyone’s screaming, crying and flailing about in hysteria. I feel nothing because that “works” been done by the actors. When you witness tragedy and there’s been restraint because the situations so sad that words and actions won’t suffice, that’s when the audience feels the most.

One of the most beautiful scenes in this season so far was when we saw Branson at the window holding his daughter. No words and it just lasted a minute, but we knew (or projected) everything his grieving husband must feel. He’s got to be strong and committed to his daughter in spite of his own grief.

We’re in store for a lot of drama. Branson’s role in the family is even more tenuous. He’s still connected by a female the Grantham’s love, but she’s a baby and can’t act as a mediator. Where will they live? What work will Branson, who can’t return to Ireland, take on that won’t humiliate the Grantham’s?

Bravo to Isobel for hiring Ethel. I can see why Mrs. Bird left, but it’s a shame she didn’t try to stay and work through her prejudices. I think Isobel’s great sacrifice isn’t going to be her reputation, but rather her palate. It’ll take Ethel a while to learn to cook.

Congratulations to Edith for the newspaper column. I hope she surprises everyone with her insights and writing. Edith, yes your father and granny disapprove, but don’t flee the breakfast table each time he does. Women need their rights, but they also need to learn to stand their ground.

Daisy, listen to Mrs. Patmore. You’re becoming too much of a grouch.

Robert, it’s true you didn’t cause Sybil’s death, but to get back into Cora’s good graces, you ought to blame yourself as much as possible.(The trailers suggest you won’t.) If you descend into depression than Cora would probably consider rescuing you her mission. If you aren’t huber-contrite and grief-stricken you’ll be sleeping solo ad infinitum.