Sunday, January 27, 2013

Downton Abbey S3, E3: The Episode Where Lord Grantham Became Completely Hateful

I briefly thought of entitling this "Men Are Stupid," but that didn't seem quite fair, since at least Matthew was intelligent in this episode.

What to say about Lord Grantham.  I haven't begun to dip into all of the supplemental reading for Downton Abbey, so I don't know whether Julian Fellowes meant for Lord Grantham to come across as a useless tool.  But surely some of it must be intentional.  He can't have made him that way without thinking, could he?  Could he?

Plot Synopsis

Despite having a staff far too small to support Downton Abbey even during the best of times, it turns out that Lord Grantham is a wastrel.  Matthew takes a hard look at the books and discovers that the estate is being woefully mismanaged.  Yet when he tries to bring it up to Lord Grantham, the latter manages to dodge the issue.  You almost get the feeling this has happened before.  Maybe that's why Downton apparently has no estate manager -- because he left in a huff, no longer willing to deal with his master's shit.

It turns out that Lord Grantham also hates Catholics.  He tells the Archbishop of York that there's always a bit of "Johnny Foreigner" about them, even the ones born in England, presumably.  That, of course, is the cue for Branson to rush to the house in the pouring rain.  Branson must have taken the "tame revolutionary" comment as a sort of challenge, because now he belongs to an Irish revolutionary group that commits violence against Anglo-Irish and their property.  Well, he doesn't really belong, so much as attend meetings.  Where he voices his disagreement, although not very strenuously.  And he only believes in the destruction of property -- or at least he did, until he saw that it made the owners sad.  Anyway, it wasn't like he destroyed the property himself.  He just kept the explosives warm in his hands until someone else tossed them through a window.

So Branson managed to escape Ireland before the authorities could reach him, but left Sybil behind to fend for herself.  They both determined that if Sybil were the one detained, she would have an easier time than Branson would.  Sybil arrives at Downton the next day, so all of the drama about what could happen to her is for naught.  Still, that leaves plenty of time for Lord Grantham to huff and puff about Branson daring to destroy private property.  Doesn't he realize that private property is everything, and generations must commit to defending it?  It's all fine and good if the Irish want to rise up against their oppressors, but leave their estates out of it!  Lord Grantham visits the Home Secretary, but all he can promise is that Branson won't get into trouble so long as he remains at Downton.

Besides hating Catholics, Lord Grantham also apparently hates women.  Or at least he doesn't want them to vote.  After being spurred by Violet, of all people, to do something positive with her singlehood, Edith decides to write a letter to the editor demanding voting rights for all women.  Matthew and Branson support her endeavor, but Lord Grantham froths at the mere idea of Edith writing such a letter and embarrassing the family.  Too bad -- the letter gets written and published.  Women 1, Lord Grantham 0.

In the upstairs/downstairs plot line of the week, Isobel has finally managed to corral Ethel.  Ethel believes that it was a mistake to cut off ties to her son's grandparents, who could give him every chance to succeed in life.  Isobel keeps trying to convince Ethel to just take a lump sum from them and give them visiting rights, but in the end, Ethel gives them full custody of her son.  And there is much crying and drama, although the little boy doesn't seem too troubled.  Isobel decides to hire Ethel to be her new housekeeper.

Meanwhile, both Anna and Bates wonder why the other isn't writing.  Bates thinks that Anna is trying to forget him, and Anna thinks that Bates is trying to make her forget him.  Finally we learn that Bates hasn't been getting Anna's letters because half of the prison hates him, so it seems.  Honestly, I couldn't quite follow.  I doubt even real prison conspiracies are this complicated.  The only thing I wonder is how half the prison can't at least overhear Bates and a fellow prisoner as they discuss the situation.  Worst whisperers ever.

Downstairs, Matthew's money has allowed Carson to not only hire new staff, but also to perform an upgrade.  The new footman is a handsome rake to whom Thomas is instantly attracted.  In a classic case of Be Careful What You Wish For, Daisy finally gets the kitchen maid she's been wanting, so she no longer has to do so much menial work.  But the new maid is quite the looker, and she comes in just as Daisy is about to tell Alfred how much she likes him.  Alfred seems instantly intrigued by the newcomer, and rather than finish her confession right then and there, Daisy just folds.

Other Observations

Everyone Hates Ethel.  From the message boards, I've gathered that Ethel's plight has not garnered much sympathy.  Many people found her to be extremely unlikeable in Series Two, between bragging about her aspirations and then hooking up with an officer without considering the consequences.  However, I'm a little more sympathetic, I guess because I see it as part of Ethel's larger character arc.  She went from being proud and wanting to cut corners to understanding what real sacrifice is about.  I hope as part of her arc, she regains some of her ambitions.  Only instead of going about it in a reckless manner, she is more sober minded and realistic.  I hope that the end of Ethel's arc isn't her discovery that she can never be anything more than a housekeeper.  But with Julian Fellowes, you never know.

Branson, the Limp Revolutionary.  Another criticism I've seen is that Downton Abbey is really wrecking the chance to portray the struggles in Ireland with any complexity.  Part of that is no doubt because of Fellowes's sympathy for the upper classes, and part of it is because the action almost always centers around Downton Abbey.  It has the effect of making Branson seem like a giant hypocrite, always criticizing Downton, but never leaving it, always talking of Ireland's struggles, but rarely lifting a finger to fight for the cause.  At least this episode showed Branson doing something, but it would have been nice to see what he was struggling against.      

Sybil, the Disappearing Freedom Fighter.  It struck me that in past series, Edith's plot line might have gone to Sybil.  That is, before Sybil lost all sense of personality and free will by becoming Mrs. Branson.  I'm just as glad for Edith -- hopefully she will make the most of her opportunity, and in 10 years' time, look back and wonder why she made such a fuss about Sir What's His Name.

Trouble in the Bedroom?  Despite the fact that Sybil and Branson as a couple irritate me to no end, I do believe them as a couple in love.  The spinning camera as they embraced, the hand holding, the looks.  Not so with Mary and Matthew.  I can't recall a more Arctic relationship.  The latest example was when Mary wanted to convert a nursery room, and Matthew suggested that it remain a nursery room.  He then tried to subtly ask whether Mary learned that she was pregnant during her recent doctor's visit, and Mary rudely denied it.  It's possible that Mary was having trouble conceiving and didn't want to tell Matthew, but still, their interactions were so cold.  They're going to get tired of each other really quickly if this keeps up.  If they're not already.

Will Anyone Ever Call Lord Grantham On His Shit?  If there is one person who has Mary's open, uncritical, unearned adoration, it's her father.  Everything "papa" has done, whether lose the family fortune or run the estate into the ground, has Mary's seal of approval.  Nor has anyone else ever stood up to Lord Grantham and pointed out his specific flaws.  When he told Cora about losing her inheritance, all she did was smile and say: "I'm an American.  Have gun, will travel."  Oh those sweet, sweet opiates.  Edith has probably come the closest to calling out Lord Grantham, specifically over his meddling with Sir Anthony Strallen, and Matthew seems to be inching closer.  But that happy day has yet to arrive.

Next Time: Edith is asked to write a newspaper column, and all hell breaks loose.

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