DOWNTON ABBEY: “Episode 401 / 402”

We open in the dead of night, the castle in shadows to signify those we’ve lost and what lies ahead this season for the residents of the Abbey.

Just because you are an old widow, I see no necessity to eat off a tray!

–Dowager Countess

As I stated in my last review (as I poor my 40 out in remembrance – it’s gone, yo), it is a difficult task to move on after the exit of a major cast member, but we must hold our English chins up high and press on, and so, through the marshes we go.

Upstairs

Lady Mary is a shell of her former self, a mere zombie walking the halls and answering automatically to questions posed to her. Lord Grantham chooses to seize this opportunity to run the estate the way he sees fit, reversing any progress made by Matthew before his untimely death. In another red finger pointed at history’s misogynistic treatment of women, Julian Fellowes uses the story of Lady Mary’s inheritance to highlight the ways of old, and how a woman could rise above such things.

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Anna attempts to add color back into Lady Mary’s wardrobe; Tom tries to entice Mary into her household obligations, and Violet tries love. It takes Mr. Carson’s firm hand to bring her out of her daze, a firm hand that is initially rebuffed. Lady Mary points out Carson’s crossing “the mark,” overstepping his place, but the stoic manager of the household stays his ground. He is the father that Lord Grantham refuses to be.

In what will be one of the finest scenes of the season — trust me on this —  Lady Mary later comes to apologize and collapses in Carson’s arms. It is beautifully handled by Jim Carter and Michelle Dockery. In this one scene, emotions are enough. At this point, I’d had enough of the words, oh the words, and the sadness bringing us down.  This is what grief looks like, and it is what is needed to bring the young widow Crawley back to life. She later attends a meeting of the tenants, much to Tom’s delight and Lord Grantham’s chagrin.

When a letter from Matthew surfaces that, if authenticated, would give Mary the full run of the estate in her majority share, Violet seizes the chance to encourage Tom to teach Mary the ropes, to learn to stand on her own. A friendship brews and Tom gives Mary a gift, a piece of Lady Sybil — defiance to her father, and in a way, earning a voice.

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Edith is learning the delights of dating someone almost suitable, except for that nasty business of her beloved Michael Gregson’s marriage. All is not lost, however; it seems all Mr. Gregson must do is become a German citizen to be free! Hurrah!

Sounds exciting, no? NO. He introduces her to his literary friends. They make out in a restaurant. Some mouth-breathing happens. ZZZZZZZZZZ.

 

Upstairs/Downstairs

Isobel – always the one for the purpose-driven life – finds no such drive once her son is gone. She lives day to day, simply breathing between meals served on solo trays. So it is quite surprising when such an opportunity, a project, comes by way of Mrs. Hughes. It seems a long-ago, theatre friend of Mr. Carson has been banished to a work house and needs a little caring and honest labor. Mrs. Hughes invites Isobel to take on his charge, and ignites the old nurse long dormant within. In turn for this kindness, Isobel is able to mend a rift between the old friends, healing an old wound, repairing a piece of the past in Carson, and giving herself a future.

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This will be the prevailing story throughout series four for most of the Crawley family: times are a’changing, it’s the roaring twenties, the old days are gone, coat tails are replaced by flappers. On that note:

O’Brien has left in the dead of the night for India with Lady Flintshire, leaving Downton in a tizzy and putting a run in Cora’s proverbial panty-hose. A new lady’s maid is sought for, and cousin Rose, the new regular cast member, feeling rather responsible for her mother’s pilfering, puts an ad in the town’s shop window. When Branson Tom-loving Edna sees the ad, she uses some of her dastardly ways to secure the job annoying Mrs. Hughes and delighting Barrow.

Fellowes looks to add a bit of youth into the mix with Lady Rose, who convinces Anna to take her dancing and poses as a lady’s maid in-training in order to see how the other half lives. When a boy she meets at the dance – who nearly gets arrested when he defends her honor – seeks the “maid Rose” at the Abbey, Anna covers for her. Rose offers a kiss and a wave and it’s back upstairs. It’s one of a series of antics that the character perpetrates this season that never quite develop. Chalk it up to misadventures of youth or shallowness, Rose is just an enigma. A spoiled-little rich girl that I am not sure we are truly supposed to care about. Lily James does a fine job portraying her, but Rose is neither so unlikable as to pray for the character’s death nor is she worth rooting for…she is simply just there.

 

Downstairs

It’s a story echoed with Daisy, Alfred, Ivy, and that other dude that works in the kitchen. Jeremy? George? Jimmy? At any rate, Ivy loves Pretty Boy, Pretty Boy could care less, Alfred loves Ivy, Daisy loves Alfred. It’s sad really, and it resets poor Daisy, who should be 27, by now, at her youngest and over such things. I am little annoyed that Daisy has not learned to stand at least partially on her own. There is some ridiculous with Valentine’s cards that takes a sweet turn when Mrs. Patmore buys a card for Daisy in order for her not to feel left out. But seriously…can we move on?

And then there’s Thomas. Ah, Barrow. He’s back with a vengeance, getting rid of nannies and causing trouble for the Bateses. Honestly, I thought his friendship with Jimmy last season, and his maturity with that unrequited love, showed real progress and promise for the character. Not so, it would seem. Fellowes seems determined to give everyone the reboot treatment. Unfortunately.

And the sweet couple Bates? Sweet and sound…for now. They make googley-eyes at one another during St. Valentine’s, and Anna encourages Bates to help the wretched Mr. Mosley, who is not only out of a job due to Matthew’s NASCAR ways, but completely in debt, until Bate’s forges his signature and convinces Mr. Mosley that he’s owed thirty pounds. This forgery business is a seed that will grow to piss Rachel off later in the season, but for now, I’ll let it slide. It’s a lovely gesture, but it is the last time I will get to love Bates all season. So you should cherish it.

 

 

Final Thoughts: Downton Abbey is still one of the best shows on television, both in writing and performances. It is precisely because of such praise that I hold it at such a high standard. Though these episodes show promise for a season that could have amounted to much more, I am here to tell you, I remain disappointed. The show can survive, but some characters must go. I vote Edith, Tom, the kitchen staff (save Mrs. Patmore and her fear of all things electric), and Lord Grantham. And, though I love Maggie Smith, how old is Violet?!

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