22 January 2011

Downton Abbey Episode II (The Secrets Edition)

Edith, Mary, Sybil - The Grantham Girls
Summary: As Matthew and Isobel, the newly-arrived Crawleys settle into life in the village, Isobel offers her experience with modern medical techniques at the hospital, to the considerable consternation of Violet. Both Matthew and Mary bristle at the prospect of being matched to one another; still, Matthew indulges Mary's clever barbs even as a suitor in the form of Evelyn Napier is invited for a foxhunt, accompanied by the handsome attach√© at the Turkish Embassy, Kemal Pamuk.
Downstairs, secrets reflect the ambitions, shames and desperate hopes of the servants, as housemaid Gwen tries to hide the contents of a heavy box set atop the wardrobe in her room; Carson abandons his customary dignity as he skittishly raids the pantry; and Bates refuses to share the source of his debilitating pain to his co-workers. Their concern and camaraderie markedly contrast the festering discontent of Thomas and O'Brien.
A sinister stranger barges into the house, demanding to speak to Lord Grantham, and an attractive stranger captivates Mary before setting into motion a chain of events that put the fate of Downton Abbey on even less stable ground. PBS: Masterpiece Classics

Comments (including plenty of spoilers):
I have to watch the episodes two times at least, once to enjoy and a second time to make notes and think through the underlying currents in the episode. Considering that this is removed from me in both time and location, it's difficult not to force 21st century sensibilities on the story -- I have the same trouble with Miss Austen's writings - there are things I just want to scream at the characters -- like, Why don't you really talk to each other?
Violet, Dowager Countess Grantham & Mrs. Isobel Crawley
Themes that are becoming notable for me: (1) Mrs. Crawley and Violet are in a state of constant competition that places Violet in the past. Mrs. Crawley isn't the next generation, but her being from a middle class existence seems to have propelled her more into the future of society than say Cora, or even Mary. I expect Mrs. Crawley would relate well to Lady Sybil, the youngest daughter of the Granthams. (2) The servants and the family are more intertwined than I ever imagined, but it's so awkward at times. (3) Servants are like their own family of sorts -- in all the good and bad ways. They have times of fun and struggle. (4) Being on the marriage market must have been terrible. Either you have a history/title and no money or money and no history/title. What is the chance of marrying for love and friendship? Even the Granthams didn't marry for love, but came, luckily, to love each other. I would hate that situation. 

When is being a secretary considered a glamourous thing? Apparently in 1913. Mrs. Crawley takes her place in the series by becoming involved in the hospital and "assisting" Dr. Clarkson. She asks him to "Please, let me be useful." Her treatments are not appreciated, esp by Violet who is President of the hospital. In a sort of ironic twist, Mrs. Crawley helps to save a man dying from dropsy (edema) earning her the respect of Dr. Clarkson and a place as chairwoman of the hospital board. Lord Grantham quips, "She (Violet) may be president, but I am the patron." I do like him so.
O'Brien makes the mistake of making snide remarks about Mr. Crawley within earshot of Lady Grantham - I'm glad to see Lady Grantham (Cora) has a backbone and doesn't put up with O'Brien, but she also seems fair and friendly to the staff. 
Gwen - future secretary
Gwen's revelation that she wants to be a secretary leaves the other staff, excepting Mr. Bates (lovely) and Anna, offended. Again my 21st century brain takes a while for me to make sense of this, but it is reasonable - she's insulting them and their way of life in a way - though she does not mean it. She's our-up-and-coming 20th century girl. Not afraid to study, work hard, and try to make something better of herself -- and doing it FOR herself -- that motivation is important to the character. 
Mary spars with Matthew Crawley and just when she starts to ignore him for others, he seems interested, much to Edith's dismay. Edith is just conniving, while Mary is a stuck up prig. Matthew begins to show more interest in Downton Abbey. Lord Grantham notes, "You don't love it - you see a million bricks that may crumble... I see my life's work." Just as Matthew doesn't yet understand Downton Abbey, he also doesn't understand the importance of the servants and thinks he should let his valet (Mr. Molesley) go because he can dress himself. Lord Grantham questions him - when he inherits Downton how many servants is he going to put out of work for no reason. "We all have parts to play Matthew, and we all must be allowed to play them." Matthew, I think, is beginning to see the light about what his future may be. 
Cheerful Charlies
Carson's position is precarious as his past comes back to haunt him. He was in the theatre - really, that's it? -- I thought he had killed someone the way he reacted. Once again, Lord Grantham is such a real character as illustrated by his comments here:
To Mr. Grieg the blackmailer who is making Mr. Carson miserable, "My dear Mr. Grieg, I will give you 20 pounds and you will leave Downton immediately." Mr. Grieg replies, "Just because you are a lord you think you can do what you like with me." "I think it because it is true." So. There.
To Mr. Carson, "We all have chapters we'd rather keep unpublished. To be honest, Carson, I'm rather impressed, did you really sing and dance and everything in front of an audience?"
"I did," replied Carson. "Do you ever miss it?" "Not in the least my lord." 
Evelyn Napier
The Granthams (Robert, Cora and Violet) are all interested in Mary's marriage plans since one by one they seem to fall through. Up next on the dance card is Lord Braxton's charming son, Evelyn Napier, and his friend Mr. Pamuk. They meet by arrangment at a foxhunt hosted by the Granthams and it's obvious Mary is interested in Mr. Pamuk, the son of a Sultan's minister who is in England for a conference about the future of Albania. 
Edith continues to try and get her little claws into Matthew, but he's not taken in and seems to understand what position he's in - not a good one even if he is inheriting Downton Abbey. 
Mr. Pamuk
Mary makes a HUGE misstep with Mr. Pamuk and her reputation, once he's found dead in her room, should be at an end. Mary plays the family card with her mother - she so knows how to use that little ploy.  So has Mary learned her lesson? That remains to be seen. And what and which servants know what? O'Brien and Thomas will make the most of anything they can get -- hateful creatures. 
Lady Sybil
Lady Sybil begins to get a character in this episode and she is certainly a 20th century woman. She assists Gwen with a job and offers to provide a reference. She's young, but seems level headed and not as selfish as Mary or coniving as Edith. 
Violet is the queen of one liners -- the only one who comes close to her is the character of Mrs. Patmore's quips to Daisy. Regarding Mr. Pamuk's untimely death, Violet says, "No Englishman would dream of dying in someone else's house." She's hysterical.
Mrs. Hughes
It's nice to see Mrs. Hughes' relationship with Mr. Bates. She's such a kind sensible woman. You hear stories about nightmare housekeepers, but Mrs. Hughes is just wonderful - I could work for her. 
Mr. Branson
A new character is introduced - Mr. Branson the new chauffer. He's Irish and seems friendly and educated. We'll see what he brings to the mix. 
The episode ends with Cora and Violet in yet another discussion about the entail and how to break it. Cora says, "I'd hate to go behind Robert's back," but she doesn't look like she means it. I, personally, don't think Mary deserves even that much consideration - spoiled thing. 

1 comment:

  1. I have just finished watching this episode and I was wondering why there seem to be too much spoiler about the next episode?


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