SONIA BRAND-FISHER: An intense two hour episode of “Downton Abbey” rarely leaves much to the imagination when all questions are asked and answered without much lull in between. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t love every minute of this episode, but oy veh, is this emotional roller coaster exhausting!
The thrill of Anna and Bates’s marriage and wedding night could not have filled me with more joy. To finally see them married and (briefly) blissful was such a warm, happy feeling amidst the Spanish flu tragedies. Bates’s coy line, “Well, Mrs. Bates, you’ve had your way with me” was a beautiful look into their intimacy, one of the only times on this series that we see the two utterly relaxed and content.
My favorite part of the episode, however, was the Branson and Sybil juiciness. I don’t care what anyone says, I LOVE Sybil and Branson together: their characters, their scandal, their romance, everything. Maybe I’m rooting for Sybil because we are both 20-year-old women who know their own minds but don’t have all of the answers. Maybe I have a thing for Irish guys. Who knows? But when they kissed in the garage, I couldn’t take my eyes off Branson’s happy eyes. Sybil’s torn expression when Mary and Edith (showing more sisterly solidarity than we have ever seen from them before) confront the couple in the hotel room had a pensive intensity that I found to be a piece of beautiful acting on Jessica Brown Findlay’s part. Her strategizing with Branson throughout the episode was clumsy, yet strong, and hence all the more powerful when Lord Grantham (a la Tevye) gives his blessing to the couple.
With Lavinia dead, a door is propped open for Matthew and Mary, but with a line of obstacles ready to kick the door free, with Richard Carlisle at the forefront. Since Matthew is walking again, anything is possible, in “Downton Abbey” language. But Anna’s face seeing Bates led away in handcuffs at the end of the episode ripped me to shreds.
ZOË RICE: The pacing of this week’s two-hour whirlwind left little room to breathe. So much action keeps a viewer utterly engaged. But from another point of view, it also robs us of the kind of slower progression that allows for heightened suspense and a savoring that only comes when a drama series makes you earn its tastiest moments.
The Mr. Bates and Anna storyline may be Downton’s most successful in terms of storytelling. Their romance’s pacing, emotional connection, and characterization have all felt well-modulated. As for Sybil and Branson, I’m not as taken as Sonia has been, perhaps because of how much pressure Branson put on Sybil at the beginning. Rather than let her fall in love with him, he seemed to demand it, and I’ve never felt the same warmth toward him that I feel for the other male romantic suitors. But the most gripping romance at Downton will always be Matthew and Mary, and I feel like I missed a crucial step there. Just because Cousin Violet tells Matthew that Mary still loves him he immediately realizes that he still loves her too? Last week Matthew’s gazing adoringly at Lavinia – genuinely so – and this week he’s kissing Mary in the gallery? I rewound Matthew’s confession of desire for Mary and the kiss about three times – I’d been waiting for it; hadn’t we all? But I don’t feel like I earned it. There was a beat missing – the beat where Matthew’s affections turned from Lavinia back to Mary – and it’s a crucial beat that was unfortunately rushed for the sake of plot. Because after all, there had to be something to feel guilty for when Lavinia died. Poor Lavinia. She really did seem to want to melt into a corner somewhere, and the women of Downton need a bit more moxie to survive its walls. Literally.
Does anyone care about Ethel? If she had started out a more sympathetic character then I’d be more invested in her storyline, but all she ever did was complain and alienate the downstairs staff. And Mrs. Hughes has given her wonderful advice – why doesn’t Ethel just move elsewhere and claim she’s a war widow? So on top of everything, she’s stupid and stubborn too.
Lord Grantham has sunk several notches in my mind, proving himself selfish and needy. That he stopped himself before going too far with Jane is somewhat redeeming, but it felt more like a sacrifice for his honor’s sake than for Lady Grantham’s. Perhaps that’s how the era and his station in life would make any man, but I’d rather not think of Lord Grantham as any man – and now I do. And quite frankly, Lady Grantham was entirely right about putting Mary first. Hers should have been the wedding Lord Grantham was concentrating on, not his heir’s. If Lady Grantham’s not going to fight for her daughter, who would? That Robert called her selfish for it felt unfair.
Vera Bates makes guilt-ridden Mrs. O’Brien look like Joan of Arc.
And never have the words “You are my stick” sounded so romantic.
I’m hoping Matthew and Mary get a more leisurely pace next week. With some uproar from Sir Richard, of course.
MICHAEL CUMMINGS: Much better. Much, much better. Love stories were advanced, an in-the-way character died, affairs were narrowly avoided, the annoying long-lost presumptive heir nobody cared about stayed away (hopefully for good), and everybody’s favorite nice-guy walked bravely to his arrest. All in all, it was an outstanding week, but one minor detail keeps nagging me: How old is everyone?
Seven years, give or take, have now passed in the Downtown Abbey chronology. And yet, Lord Grantham, Cousin Matthew, Lady Mary, Cousin Violet, Carson, Bates, Anna, Thomas, Daisy, Branson, the doctor dude, and Lady Edith (actually, is she still around?) have all aged exactly zero days. What’s more, this week we discovered, thanks to a passing reference from Lady Mary, that Sybil is now 21 years old.
Whoa. What? She was 14 in the first episode? Major ickyness.
But them’s small potatoes. How old is Lady Mary now anyway? And Cousin Violet? Look, I love Maggie Smith as much as the next Harry Potter geek, but shouldn’t we have seen the Dowager Countess suffer a heart episode or two by now? Why must Carson be the only one?
Maybe I’m being silly. Maybe the Dowager Countess will live forever, and maybe so too will Downton Abbey, like a middle-brow Anglophile version of the indefatigable Days of Our Lives.
Hey, if the episodes are all half as good as this week’s, I say bring on eternity.
HOWARD MEGDAL: The conclusion of Season 2- from what I understand, this coming finale is really a separate, Christmas at Downton aired later over in Great Britain- had the pacing problems Zoë mentioned for me as well. That said, there was so much to like, and I am greatly saddened at the idea that Downton is coming to a close for now.
I am shocked that no one else addressed the comeuppance of Thomas, something we’ve only been hoping for since-what, 1914? Even when he was caught stealing, he gets a job that keeps him from facing the twin bearers of shame, Mr. Carson and Lord Grantham. He manages to scheme his way out of war, while his once fellow footman, William, gets a painful death while looking into the eyes of, let’s face it, no looker (who didn’t want him, to boot). Thomas returns, and for some ridiculous reason, Lord Grantham signs off on it so as to not upset Lady Grantham.
So seeing Thomas go all Charles Foster Kane on his dry goods was the kind of cathartic moment for me that I assume others had at seeing Anna and Mr. Bates finally consummate their love. Oh, that was lovely, too, but the payoff of schadenfreude is a key part of the emotional makeup of anyone who hates the Yankees. Sadly, Thomas’ English muffing lasts just briefly, and the horrific prospect of Thomas supplanting Mr. Carson, my favorite character by far, makes next week’s episode almost too horrible to contemplate.
Briefly, on Mr. Carson: thank goodness he doesn’t have to go work for Sir Richard. I was happy to see Lady Mary, if belatedly, make her peace with him. I suppose class was to blame for her response when Carson came to her with his objections, but really: she has many of the same issues with Sir Richard, so it seemed out of line.
I did feel like the near-affair from Lord Grantham wasn’t properly set up, either. We got a few “Cora is going out, and Lord Grantham’s all alone” scenes, but was simple inattentiveness to blame for wrecking a perfectly affectionate, modern marriage? I should probably stop writing and go spend time with my wife, just to be on the safe side.