Saturday, January 19, 2013

Downton Abbey S3, E2: Edith Must Wear the Cone of Spinsterhood

Will Edith never catch a break?  Did Julian Fellowes model her after someone who once ran over his cat?  Because seriously, what the hell?

Plot Synopsis

The first red flag in this episode is that Edith is happy.  It is now a May 1920, and Downton is busy preparing for her wedding.  "Something in this house is finally about me!" she gushes.  Of course that won't go unpunished.

Edith is really excited about the wedding, but her fiance, Sir Anthony Strallan, is still having doubts about their age difference.  Edith tells him repeatedly that she doesn't care that he's older and disabled, that she intends to make him her life's work.  Still, as the wedding day approaches, Sir Anthony's face keeps getting sicker and sicker, which is the second red flag.  Finally he stops the wedding just as it's begun, and tells Edith not to throw her life away tending to him.  Edith is devastated, but Violet tells her not to fight it.  All at once, carpets are being unrolled, glasses are being put away, and fancy wedding food is being smuggled to the servants.  Edith decides that she is going to be a spinster forever, so she might as well learn to be useful.    

In another plot line -- that is, believe it or not, more preposterous than the one above -- Matthew receives a post-mortem letter from Lavinia's father.  Despite the fact that the letter could save the Crawley family from having to spend the rest of their days in a slightly less overwhelmingly luxurious chateau than Downton, Matthew refuses to read it.  He thinks that the letter will be stuffed with Reggie Swire's unreserved praise, making him feel even guiltier about inheriting his money.  Mary finally gets tired of his nonsense and opens the letter behind his back.  It turns out that Reggie Swire says exactly what Matthew needs to hear to let go of his guilt.  Yet instead of expressing relief, Matthew accuses Mary of forgery!  Trust issues?

Matthew is so unwilling to climb off of his cross that Mary has to hunt down the servant who sent a letter from Lavinia to her father.  Lavinia supposedly wrote it post-breakup with Matthew, but before she was felled by Spanish flu.  If Mary can find the servant who sent it, she can prove that Reggie Swire left Matthew the money despite knowing that he was no longer Lavinia's true love.  Mary is out of luck until Daisy suddenly appears and is like, yeah, I did it.  Surprisingly, Matthew believes Mary when she tells him, and does not make her produce Daisy, who is then subjected to a two-hour grilling.  He vows to use his inheritance to save Downton.  Lord Grantham refuses to accept the money as a gift, and says that Matthew can invest the money in Downton as a part owner.  Given Lord Grantham's talent for managing money, that is probably the smartest decision he has ever made.  

Oh, and in a plot line I forgot to mention last week, Isobel has decided to start a reform institution for "fallen" women.  The goal is to train them in a useful trade, so they can start their lives over.  One of the "fallen" women who keeps showing up is Ethel, the servant from Series Two who had a baby with an officer from a higher class.  She left Downton to raise him herself, rather than give him over to the soldier's parents, who would probably tell him that she died in childbirth.  However, there were likely not many options for a single mother who was a former maid.  So Ethel is now a prostitute, and even though she makes the long trip to see Isobel, each time, she ends up running away, while Isobel calls after her in futility.  This happens three times -- really, Fellowes, we get the idea.

Finally, downstairs, there is a classic "misunderstanding" where Molesley (tricked by Thomas) makes Cora believe that O'Brien is planning to leave Downton.  Thomas did it to get even with O'Brien for allegedly stealing Lord Grantham's dress shirts last episode.  O'Brien sets things straight with the upstairs, but now she's out for revenge.

Meanwhile, Bates is getting darker and surlier in prison.  He gets tipped off that his bunk mate has planted drugs in his bed, and manages to smuggle them away before the "random" bunk check.  Anna goes on her eightieth trip to London, where she meets with the friend of Bates's first wife, who mentions that Vera was afraid of him, and also drops the seemingly trivial detail that she was scrubbing her hands after baking something for Bates.  Hmmm.

And Mrs. Hughes doesn't have cancer!  Yay!  Or does she?

Other Observations

Please Stop, Laura Linney.  For those who didn't know, in the United States, Downton Abbey is shown on PBS through Masterpiece Theatre.  On Masterpiece Theatre, every new installment -- usually yet another Jane Austen adaptation -- gets introduced by the host, Laura Linney.  That makes sense when each week, you are watching a different story, but not so much when it is the same story and cast of characters.  Nor does it help that Linney speaks about each new episode in hushed, reverent tones, as if to say: "We are about to share a very special present with you!"  No thanks.  I don't need you to introduce Downton Abbey every week, or to explain the significance of the series as if I'm incapable of understanding otherwise.  Shouldn't you be filming a movie?  Do you still do that?    

Wasn't It Kind of a "Thing"?  It was somewhat refreshing to see Lord Grantham and Violet so concerned about Edith marrying a man much older than she, but I don't know how realistic it was.  In the novels I've read -- granted, from the nineteenth century -- it is usually the girl who is frustrated with the situation, while the parents keep reminding her of the advantages.  See, for example, The Way We Live Now.  It was not unusual in those days for a girl to marry someone a good 10 years older, so 20 years would have been less of a problem than today.  Yet if there were a problem, it seems more likely that Edith would be the one to express it, not her father.  Maybe the fact that Lord Grantham was now concerned, whereas 30 years before he would have been pushing the match, is... progress?

Good Boy, Branson.  How things change.  In the first episode, I thought that Branson was too dictatorial in his beliefs.  Now he has gone completely the other way.  Enough so that Lord Grantham had the nerve to call him "our tame revolutionary" and Branson didn't even blink.  Then again, maybe that is keeping with the idea of him being like a college student.  A college student might have the revolutionary fervor, but how many really take risks for their beliefs?  At least Branson was the only one with the perspective to note that "Downton Place," the mini palace that almost became the Crawleys' new home, was hardly a dump to 99% of the population.   

Not All Happy Fun.  I criticized Downton Abbey for its idealized portrayal of the servants' lives. I still think they're overly idealized, but this week delivered some nice reminders that not everything is "We Are Family" with the upstairs and downstairs.  When Anna asked for more time off to clear her husband's good name, Mary snapped "Again?" before relenting.  I know it's not as worthy an endeavor as spending all day driving to another country estate for a picnic, but...  Then when Mary came downstairs while the servants were at breakfast, the way they all shot up in unison, you'd have thought joy buzzers were on their seats.  Finally, Mrs. Hughes said to Carson something like "I don't worship them as you do."  I love Mrs. Hughes.  

Which Reminds Me... Who's Cleaning Downton?!  Of course, maybe Mary had a right to be irritated with Anna, since with her gone, there was virtually no one around to clean Downton Abbey.  Even before, at "full" staff, it never seemed realistic that just Anna, with the help of one other maid, could keep that fortress clean, do the laundry, and serve as a lady's maid to Mary and her sisters.  Now there is literally no one to pick up the slack.  Mary might have to do her own hair, or dust a lamp.  No, we must not contemplate the unspeakable.

Some Actual Nice Cora Moments.  I'm usually pretty meh toward Cora.  She seems to exist to be nice and congenial and to draw in an American audience.  However, she did have some good moments this week.  (And last week, too, when she reminded Mary that the Crawleys weren't "going down the mines" if they had to leave Downton.  If only she could be a little angrier that her idiot husband squandered her entire fortune.  Ah, those sweet, sweet opiates.)  One moment took place after she learned about Mrs. Hughes's possible cancer.  She told Mrs. Hughes not to worry about where she would stay and who would care for her -- "Here, and we will."  Aww.  The other moment took place after the nightmare end of Edith's wedding.  While Edith sobbed as if the world were ending, Cora embraced her tightly and said that moments like these would only make Edith stronger.  Let's hope she's right.              

Next Time: Episode Three.  It looks as though Sybil has run away.  Lord Grantham yells at Branson.  This could be interesting.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for keeping it real re: Edith's not-really-so-scandalous choice of husband. Again, you're providing a level of analysis of this show that no one else is reaching...