Downton Abbey S1E7: A Freight Train Bearing Down

Posted on January 04, 2012

With this final installment of the first series of Downton Abbey, it seems to us that the writers did everything they could to wrap up every storyline of the series while leaving just enough dangling plot threads to entice the viewer to come back for more. Of course, ending just as World War I breaks out is intriguing enough on its own, but we suppose they felt they had to leave some things unanswered and un-resolved. We didn’t really need that much of a wrapup, although we suppose it was justified in case the show didn’t come back for a second series. It’s just that some of the wrapups were just a bit too rushed to have an impact.

Thomas and William’s growing animosity toward each other? All wrapped up. William gets a couple good punches in, Daisy swoons, and we’re done. Thomas’ stealing and attempts to frame Bates for it? All wrapped up because Molesly caught him red-handed. Bates’ irritating reticence and spotty past? Wrapped up in a tidy bow by Anna, which gets him to keep his job. All that stuff that was so horrible he dare not speak of it? Actually not that horrible at all and kind of disappointing, really. Mrs. Patmore’s blindness? Cured! Gwen’s quest for betterment? Completed!

Really now. It was a bit dizzying.

It was also a bit telling, because all of these wrapups were about the staff. All of the family subplots continue on with nary a bump in the road. Mary is indecisive (and frankly, quite stupid on this point) over Matthew, forcing him to leave Downton, even though they both love each other. Edith is still struggling for relevance in the family and trying to find a way out of it on her own. Sibyl is still politically active. The entail drama and the marriage drama all ends pretty much in the exact same state they were introduced to us in episode one.

Granted, things aren’t completely resolved downstairs, what with Bates and Anna’s relationship, as well as O’Brien’s tremendous fall from grace, but if Downton Abbey had never come back for a second series, we’d have felt satisfied with most of the downstairs stuff but completely annoyed with the lack of closure upstairs. That’s not really a criticism so much as an observation: the staff’s lives tend to be more dynamic than the family’s. The latter are stuck in a world of tradition and expectations (and it’s choking at least one of them) while the staff’s world comes with employee turnover and the hint of upward mobility. The staff can actually do things in their lives that the family simply can’t.

As for the developments this episode, nothing was sillier than the sudden pregnancy. We don’t say “silly” in the sense that it’s unbelievable; Elizabeth McGovern is playing a character several years younger than herself, after all. We mean “silly” in the soap opera plot development sense. There’s been all this gender-based inheritance drama driving the entire story up till now and right at the end of the series, this combination of roadblock and solution presents itself, throwing everything up into the air. It’s just a bit too easy to see the writers coming up with this one. “I know! We’ll make Cora PREGNANT!”

And it seems that the writers have a primary goal of making Mary look as awful as possible while still expecting us to root for her and sympathize with her. We have always felt that Mary was the most interesting character on the show because she’s damaged by the social and gender expectations of the time and desperate for some sort of control over her own life. We like that she’s something of a bitch to the world because she’s so conflicted and under so much pressure. We even find her sniping with Edith to be enjoyable fun, even if it’s sometimes a shock the lengths to which both girls will go to ruin the other’s life. But we have not ever been able to sign on to her whole treatment of Matthew. In this episode, she all but confirms to his face that she can’t give him an answer on his proposal until she finds out how much he’s worth. It’s a little hard to take her gently weeping in Carson’s avuncular embrace after that. We’d have rather seen Mrs. Hughes tell her to get her head out of her ass and stop being such a shallow bitch.

Actually, we’d have rather seen her mother and grandmother take her to the woodshed. We’re sorry, but we have the hardest time believing – in a story that makes it clear over and over again how limited one’s choices are in this kind of life – that the older women of the family (including Isobel) would just sigh and shake their heads over Mary’s willfulness. You can’t build a character’s story entirely around the idea of social pressure and how it’s choking her while at the same time allowing the character to make all kinds of decisions on her own, with very little overt pressure to do otherwise being depicted.

Mary: Everyone tells me what to do and the pressure is killing me! Now I’m going to make a series of extremely ill-advised choices!

Everyone Else (indulgently): Oh, Mary.

Meanwhile, Edith got slapped back pretty hard by Mary and while we feel for the poor forgotten middle child, what she did to Mary was so wrong that we can’t really help thinking she got what she deserved. Of course once again, someone else is caught in the middle of their games and it was quite sad to see Sir Anthony’s face when Mary told him Edith had been making fun of him. Those girls are bitches.

Sibyl is not a bitch, but she’s as dumb as the other two when it comes to her romantic life. Granted, she hasn’t actually done anything with Branson, but it’s pretty obvious where this is heading. So obvious that Mrs. Hughes actually called him out on it. This was another instance of the characters claiming all these terrible social restrictions while at the same time demonstrating a keen willingness to ignore them. Mrs. Hughes gave him some kindly, maternal advice when what she should have done with the knowledge that the chauffeur is getting too close to the family’s youngest daughter is bring the full weight of both her wrath and Mr. Carson’s down on him. Never mind the completely unbelievable sight of the youngest daughter running through a garden party with the chauffeur and then indulging in a group hug with him and a housemaid, all in full view of the guests, it was Mrs. Hughes’ extremely gentle rebuke to him that had us howling in disbelief.

O’Brien does the most soap-opera villainous evil thing she’s ever done. The only thing that raises this part of the story up from being merely a soap opera is the time spent on her while she pondered what she’d done. Rarely do you see a soap opera villain almost overcome with regret and guilt like that. It added a nice dimension to her character. Thomas, on the other hand, twirled his moustache and went into full-on evil mode. Frankly, we found his actions here more than a little silly and ridiculous. It’s one thing to have the character needle William about his dead mother, although even that strained belief because the kitchen staff did nothing about it. But to have them all stand around impotently while he suddenly starts sneering over the Lady Grantham’s miscarriage is silly in the extreme. And then to have him and William engage in a plate-smashing throwdown in the kitchen and have almost nothing come of it is almost insulting to the viewer. Especially since this was the wrapup for a season-long storyline of Thomas trying to get Bates fired. All that plotting and scheming and wondering what was going to happen and then at the last minute Thomas starts sneering over dead babies and stealing from the butler.

We can think of no better illustration of the sloppy, rushed plotting in this episode than this: The Dowager Countess, after her daughter-in-law miscarried and her granddaughter turned down an important marriage proposal, is seen at the garden party pretty much unconcerned over these two events (both of which involve the only two things that have motivated the character up to now: saving Downton for the family and getting Mary married off) and cheerfully asking O’Brien for help with hiring her new maid. Pardon us, but what the fuck, writers?

We’ve heard the complaints about the upcoming second season and we’ve been spoiled a bit on some of the story developments. While it seems pretty certain that the show gets very soap opera in the second season, we don’t actually mind that so much. Outrageous plot developments can be fun, but unearned ones or ones that make no sense for the setting or ones that are rushed and don’t offer the viewer any sense of closure – THAT’S the kind of stuff that disappoints. DA was great in the plotting of the first several hours of the series, but as time went on, you could “see the seams” in the writing a bit too much.

    • http://twitter.com/marriedkuntz Maried

      Great write-ups, love reading them. Very excited to hear you guys’ views on season 2. It’s…kind of a train wreck sometimes, compared to most of S1, but nevertheless addicting. 

      • http://twitter.com/bredalot Bridget Smith

        Yeah, it’s not the soapiness I dislike, but the unwillingness to commit. Ridiculous things happen, but the end of every episode leaves us in the exact same place as the last. Michelle Dockery’s acting, however, is off the charts: her face will break your heart.

    • Anonymous

      Do we even know why Thomas is such an asshole? I know we need a bad guy down in the kitchen and all, but he’s going to such lengths to thwart William and toy with Daisy, etc, it seems like he’d need greater motivation than “I’m a jerk, this is what I do”. 

      • Anonymous

        Same with O’Brien.  What is going on with her??

      • Anonymous

        I’ve seen the first episode of season 2 and in it, and I won’t give anything away, but will just say they do start to flesh Thomas & O’Brien out a bit more. They are still evil and manipulative, and I don’t feel sorry for them, but they do start to be more three dimensional.

        –GothamTomato

    • Anonymous

      Even though many of the staff story lines were wrapped up, enough was left there for the second season. We’ll see a new character in Thomas’s replacement. Anna and Bates will have to figure out how to move forward, and he hinted that Anna only knew his mother’s “truth.” O’Brien realized how low she had fallen and was going to retrieve that piece of soap just as Cora slipped. This lets us know she was doing a little soul searching prior to instigating Cora’s accident.

      i thought part of the reason Mary didn’t accept Matthew right away was that she wanted to tell him about Pamuk, but couldn’t find the words. I know she was paralyzed because of her mother’s pregnancy and wondering whether she could be a solicitor’s wife, but I do think the Pamuk situation was at play there. She wants it all: the life she’s used to, a love match, and honesty with her partner. Which isn’t unreasonable, but she’s likely to 1 or 2 out of the 3.

      • Anonymous

        To me it seemed realistic for Mary’s character to accept the doubts that Rosamund planted in her mind: if Matthew didn’t inherit the estate and the title, could Mary really be happy as a solicitor’s wife in Manchester?

        • Anonymous

          She never could. But she wouldn’t be happy as the Lady of Downton Abbey either.

        • http://asskickingadviser.com/ Ass Kicking Adviser

          I agree. She’s a child – her auntie is filling her head with doubts- of course she is going to listen. Her parents never should have left her in London with Ros – even the father clearly knew that his own sister had a poison tongue.

        • Anonymous

          I totally agree.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3JSTXMWWVZN2QNP2UEKJMTWD7U Isabel

        Re-Staffing during WWI. There will have to be multitasking and elimination of some duties. I wonder how Mr. C and Mrs. H will react to the changes!

        • Anonymous

          I hadn’t thought of that. Kind of forgot about the war…which sounds really stupid on my part. You’re right that the war will provide plenty of plot fodder for everyone in the house.

        • Anonymous

          They will hire more WOMEN! LOL!

          • Anonymous

            But… but… a MAID serving a DUKE! 

    • Anonymous

      I think the writers have done a better job at making Mary look awful than of adding enough in her to give us something to sympathize with. I, at least, cannot stand her–or Edith.

      When Cora’s pregnancy was announced, it definitely went way into daytime soap territory. I expected the next announcement to be that one of the heirs had actually survived the Titanic, but had amnesia and no one knows his True Identity and by the way Mary has a brain tumor that can only be cured by the love of a Good Man…

      Still, this is beautiful soap with moments of something more elevated. And the gorgeous costumes, settings, and Maggie Smith’s wonderful lines make for addictive viewing, whatever happens next.

      • Anonymous

        Perhaps in Season 2 we’ll find out that Mary has an Evil Twin. 

        • Anonymous

          No, it’s not an evil twin.  Rather, she has dissociative identity disorder.

          • Anonymous

            That hoary soap opera trope! Last seen done well by Joanne Woodward and Sally Field. Ruined by OLTL.

        • Anonymous

          I suspect that she is her own evil twin.

      • lilibetp

        I can at least understand WHY Edith is such a bitch.  Mary I just don’t get.  She’s pretty and all the men want her.

        • Anonymous

          Oh, I dunno — she wants something else for herself, and she can’t have it.  Although the whole entail thing seems to be about her, it’s also not about at all.  Her father doesn’t seem willing to fight the entail, and though he may have good reason, she’s too young to really understand it (I keep expecting him to say to her “There, there, Katie Scarlett O’Hara — you’re young still.  It’ll come to you, this love of the land.”).  Everyone wants her married off in the way that solves their problems, but they’re not concerned with her desires.

      • http://twitter.com/bredalot Bridget Smith

        HAHAHAHA!

        Sorry. Not going to tell you why I just laughed. But it’s one of the worst episodes of series 2, except for Edith, who has some wonderful developments coming up. (I also think Mary does, but I loved her before, so I’m perhaps a terrible judge.)

    • Anonymous

        I know that we are supposed to like Mary for all her rebelliousness. But she doesn’t seem all that rebellious to me. She wants the richest man. She doesn’t want to have either of her sisters marry before her. She doesn’t care a whit for helping her father with their estate. She doesn’t seem interested in anything modern exempt her appearance. She also didn’t seem to be too worried about the effect the “rumor” would have on the family, only her own reputation. Just like when the original fiancé died she was only upset that she would have to go into morning.
       I see Mary as ending up like her grandmother. Old before her time, by the 1930’s she’ll be sucking her teeth over the lost generation and how proper and right  things were before the Great War.

      I agree with Mrs. Hughes on the assessment of Sibyl.

      • Anonymous

        I agree with you completely on Mary.  I’m not sure we’re supposed to like her, and I certainly don’t.  

      • Anonymous

        What was Mrs. Hughes’ assessment of Sybil?

      • Anonymous

        It would have helped me like Mary better if we’d had one scene where she waxed rhapsodic about Downton & expressed anguish about possibly leaving the old place.  We did get her wishing for a life like Lady Rosamund’s–a nice place in London, plenty of money & no annoying husband….

      • Anonymous

        Yes, THIS! I don’t get the Mary love around these parts. ;-)

    • Anonymous

      I’m sure I’m being a bit ridiculous, but it seems like they’re setting up a possible premise where Carson is Mary’s father.  There was reference early on to the fact that Cora and the Earl didn’t marry for love and didn’t fall in love until after they’d been together a year or more.  Carson is incredibly affectionate toward Mary, and at one point Mrs. Hughes (I think) states that Mary doesn’t deserve him.  Mrs. Hughes then warns the chaffeur off of falling for Sybil.  

      I’m probably putting too much soap in this, but it’s a vibe I got.  

      • Anonymous

        I’d be surprised if that’s where the plot is heading, but I do think the relationship shows how close the staff and the family can be, particularly the children who would have known some of the senior staff their whole lives.  It also further illustrates how Carson, who is single and has no children of his own, thinks of the Crawleys as his family.

    • http://twitter.com/rgmx Mercy

      A thought on the Mary plot line: she still seems to feel that because she loves Matthew, she has to tell him about Pamuk.  Given the fact that, were a male heir born she would likely be pressured unrelentingly to break off any engagement with Matthew, she may feel that she has no choice but to put off the decision until the heir situation is resolved.  So that her foibles are not exposed any more than they have to be… at any rate that’s the only semi-logical explanation I can think of.  However, I agree with some sentiments from the last post – Cora and Violet would never allow her freedom of choice at such a critical juncture.  But this show is full of absurdities, and I still enjoy it.

      • Anonymous

        Good analysis–I agree.

    • Anonymous

      But don’t you simply LOVE the costumes??? 

    • http://twitter.com/sjcaustenite sjcaustenite

      Just a factual correction–like most “prestige” dramas in the UK, Downton Abbey was created and every episode has been written by one man: Julian Fellowes, who won an Oscar for writing ‘Gosford Park.’ There are no writers–just a writer.

      • Anonymous

        Not quite. While Fellowes is the creator and certainly principal writer, he shares writing credit with Shelagh Stephenson and  Tina Pepler on a couple of episodes.

    • Anonymous

      O’Brien’s behavior in this episode struck me as the most soap-opera-esque of all.  And not just because her actions literally involve a bar of soap.  One of the hallmarks of a soap opera is that the characters have no lives and do nothing when they are not on screen.  Surely O’Brien would have been working her network as hard as she could to get confirmation of Thomas’s belief that she’s about to be sacked.  Granted, she can’t exactly ask Anna to spy for her and Thomas, as a footman, isn’t going to have as many opportunities for intimate conversation with the family, especially the women.  But we know from Molesley and Bates’s interactions that servants from one household can and do chat with servants from another, and the dower house is presumably even closer than the house the Crawley’s are staying in.  In other words, in real life, O’Brien would surely have tried to find out something about the real state of her situation with Cora — perhaps even asking her, which would involve some forwardness on her part, but we’ve already seen her go there when she called Cora out about Matthew in the servants’ hall.

      I don’t mind it, exactly, because it is a soap opera, but it’s interesting that the show — which I’m loving — has the air of being high-brown because of its pedigree and its actors and their accents, when the scripting is pure soap.  And as we all know, one ought to be careful about dropping the soap.

      • Anonymous

        I don’t think that O’Brien would try that hard to get confirmation. For one, she is Cora’s closest confidant among the staff. If anyone would know what Cora was up to, it would be her, and Cora said nothing to her.  Also O’Brien respects no one’s opinion except Thomas’s and he wasn’t going to do anything to dissuade her.

        I thought the pregnancy was a silly idea but I was more annoyed by how soon they ended it.  It felt more like Mr. Fellowes was just trying to fill up the hour rather than develop the story and characters.

    • Anonymous

      I agree with most of you, except for your views on Mary. Of course she IS being rather stupid, but her reluctance to accept Matthew is not really due to the doubtfulness of his inheritance, but rather her affair with Mr. Pamuk. She’s being encouraged to get engaged  before Matthew finds out about the affair- to “trap” him, in a sense, because once he does find out, he wouldn’t be able to throw her over. And Mary, I think, loves Matthew too sincerely to do that, and I think that’s where her reluctance comes from. Of course, Matthew, not knowing about the Pamuk affair, would see her hemming and hawing as pure bitchy snobbery- which is fair, because for the bulk of their relationship, that’s all she was giving off.

      • Anonymous

        I agree with this to an extent.  I do think Mary was extremely conflicted with having to tell Matthew about Mr. Pamuk and face his reaction.  But I do think whether or not he would ultimately be the heir played a part in her indecisiveness, even if it was encouraged by her aunt Rosemund.  Mary has lived a priviledged life, and I think some needling from Rosemund combined with her fear of any Pamuk-related backlash drove her actions.  Unfortunately, by the time she figures out she truly wants Matthew, who I think tends to bring out her best qualities, it’s too late. 

        All in all, I like Mary, despite her flaws.  I think she sincerely loves Matthew but in addition to the Pamuk incident has a lifetime of status and expectations driving her.  It doesn’t absolve Mary of her terrible behavior and decision making, but it does make her a more fully flesh out character whose actions I can understand.  I want to root for her.

        Maybe it’s my well-established affinity for soap operas, but I can’t help but root for those two crazy kids work it out!

        • Anonymous

          I still think he’s too good for her. ;-)

          • Anonymous

            Heh.  Yeah, that’s probably true, but I just can’t help myself.  Especially after last night’s episode.  I’m unspoiled, but I think Mary will have her fair share of penance this season.

            • Anonymous

              Had I never watched last season, I would think that Mary was angelic and be rooting for her and Matthew. The writing (as it relates to character) really is all over the place sometimes, isn’t it?

    • Anonymous

      Just want to thank you for these recaps.  I missed a couple of episodes in Season 1 and haven’t had time to watch them, and with the new season beginning–well, you’re the only reason I will be prepared and up to date.  

    • Anonymous

      In this episode, she all but confirms to his face that she can’t give him an answer on his proposal until she finds out how much he’s worth.

      I found that com

      • Anonymous

        Matthew is an attorney and his father was a doctor; You know in the USA on the Upper West Side this would be akin to Royalty!  LOL! LOL!

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_MNMVM2GPVUEIOJXBOSLCXKAW4U judy brown

      Great analysis, TLo, you’ve laid out most of my frustrations — and enjoyment — in the latest of what I started calling my addiction to Masterpiece Theater series 40 years ago: my “British intellectual soap operas.”

    • http://profiles.google.com/singingraisin ali meowmeow

      Man, I’m so confused as to why you guys are watching/blogging this show. Before you started, any mention of DA was fairly positive, but I’m not really able to find a single good point in the above review. If I hadn’t already loved the show, I’d be staying clear of it based on your reviews.
      I understand that praise isn’t nearly as fun to read or write, but absolutely all you seem to do is complain about the writing and the characters, to the point where I’m honestly confused why you’re wasting your time. I was holding out for the final review of the season, just to see if you might turn it around with some conclusions about the series as a whole, but heck with it. I’ll definitely be steering clear of these posts if you get to the second season (though I don’t think you should bother). I loved it, and I see no reason to read a weekly checklist of everything you find wrong with the show.
      Being two guys basically chained to the trainwreck Project Runway’s becoming, I would have thought you’d spend more of your remaining time watching and writing about stuff you actually like.

      • Jessica Goldstein

        I am hesitant to put words in TLo’s mouth, but I think you misread them. I think they DO like this show. They like the genre, like the actors, like the premise and find the whole thing gorgeous to look at. They don’t even mind that it’s a soap. Having said that, I think they watched the last couple of episodes feeling that things were getting too soapy and that the writing was getting lazy. And I agree! I was enthralled with the beginning but audibly groaned several times in later episodes. I’ll be watching the second season, but it’ll be more of a guilty pleasure than anything I’d call highbrow.

        • http://profiles.google.com/singingraisin ali meowmeow

          If this were a currently airing season, something they jumped on and started blogging in the beginning, I might agree with you. But nearly all of their references to the show have occurred after the first season finished, presumably after they were caught up. They started blogging this knowing how it all unfolds, presumably to catch up new fans who were previously unfamiliar in anticipation of the second season. But this is hardly the sort of review that would do anything to encourage new viewers, so I have to wonder what the point was.

          I’ve generally liked TLo’s TV coverage, but I just don’t see the point or the fun of these recaps.

          • http://www.tomandorenzo.com Tom and Lorenzo

            The point to these reviews is to promote discussion of the show. Since every post has had an accompanying lively comments section, we’d say we’ve mostly succeeded on that front. If these posts are not for you, then they’re not for you, we’re sorry to say.

            And Jessica Goldstein has summed up our take on the show with perfect accuracy.

            • Anonymous

              It’s perfectly possible to be critical of something and still like it. There’s still a lot to love, enough to see past the flaws.

              I’m certainly reading and enjoying the posts although I’m trying to not get involved in discussing it too much as it very difficult to avoid things that would be construed/misconstrued as a spoiler. Not that I’ve yet seen any actual series 2 spoilers on here.

              Plus it’s nice to come here and find commenters not completely obsessed with particular characters, which is happening on other sites.

            • Shannon Kelly

              There is lively discussion because this is an enormously popular show (in addition to your blog being popular). I never comment on blogs, but I agree with most of what ali meowmeow said. You don’t come off as fans at all. Why not more discussion of the costumes, etc, instead of so much criticism of the “soap opera” aspect? I would have thought you would be able to do that well, as you did with Mad Men.

              It’s true that it’s possible to be critical of something and still like it (otherwise NO ONE would watch PR ever), but the criticism can be damaging also. I like this blog, but I really haven’t enjoyed these posts, because they take the reader so far out of the story. I read the posts hoping to enjoy the story (and characters, costumes, settings, etc) more, but instead I was constantly reminded of the Downton Abbey writers’ shortcomings. I find the posts distracting rather than enhancing — which you did so well with Mad Men.

            • Anonymous

              I certainly would agree that more costume comment would be great, as I did expect that to be honest.

            • http://www.tomandorenzo.com Tom and Lorenzo

              “You don’t come off as fans at all.”

              Good. This was a series of reviews, not a fan love letter. If you don’t like to be reminded of the show’s shortcomings, you’d probably be happier reading about the show on a fan blog.

      • TritoneTelephone

        This is why we love TLo! They’re often the only bloggers offering a critical perspective on the shows I love. I get annoyed with love letter recaps. It’s like, yes we all love the show or else you wouldn’t be writing about it and I wouldn’t be reading, so let’s move on: what could they have done to improve? Where did they depart from historical accuracy? What symbolism/metaphors/other literary devices did I miss? That doesn’t mean I have to agree with everything they say, but TLo always enhance my experience of TV shows, especially if I’m forced to defend the show in my head against their critiques. Besides, it’s in the tagline: Fabulous & Opinionated. Not for everyone, I guess.

        Also, I’m new to the show (running a few years behind) and I’m not the least bit deterred. Like I said, I already watched and loved the episode, or else I wouldn’t be reading. And if I get to an episode I hated, I can trust that they’ll help me understand why. Keep doin what you’re doin, TLo! We appreciate it.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3JSTXMWWVZN2QNP2UEKJMTWD7U Isabel

      I enjoyed watching Lord G grimaces’ as the doctor tried to explained gynecological issues. This will be great in the parodies.

    • Anonymous

      I liked the last episode (which for me was in the PBS 4-episode format) a lot more than you, T Lo, at least based on your post.  I don’t mind a plot device that causes the characters to reexamine what they’re doing and the pregnancy is one of those. The bar of soap gave us that wonderful O’Brien scene where she realizes she’s gone past her own line of wickedness and then the remorse of finding out her vengeance was completely misplaced.  So worth all that came before it.

      Thomas is shown to be a very canny opportunist, someone who knows when to move on.  I suspect that his move into the medical corps doesn’t turn out the way he expected.  He isn’t the shades of gray the other characters are, but I loved seeing him working the garden party with a bruised face.  Very funny.

      Mary and Edith have ruined each other’s chances, and they probably both deserve it.  I consider them equal evildoers although I still believe it was started and ratcheted up by Mary until Edith finally found a way to strike back.  Edith was mad enough that she didn’t think through all the implications, acting impulsively the way each of the sisters has done at least once.  I cut her more slack than Mary for some reason, probably because I think there’s a better person underneath. 

      I pretty much love anything Sybil does (I’m not sure what the correct spelling is supposed to be, but the Masterpiece cast of characters on the PBS site lists her as Sybil, not Sibyl).  I found her scenes with Gwen endearing and the prejudice against household staff in the outside employment world was well done.  I loved that “I’ve got nothing against housemaids.  My mother was a housemaid” summarizes the changing order in two sentences.  The relationship with Branson is a bit convenient, but it doesn’t bother me.  I was delighted with the close of the first series and thought ending with the start of the war was just right.   

    • MilaXX

      Reading your comments about Mary I’m pretty sure this is why I started disliking her. In fact by this episode I stopped “shipping her and Mathew and could care less if they ever get married. I’ve seen season 2 and yes it is even soapier, including a character that you know is a red shirt the minute they introduce them. I can’t wait to re-watch with your guys and read your reviews.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3JSTXMWWVZN2QNP2UEKJMTWD7U Isabel

      Plumbing – is it all there? I did see a wash basin in the bathtub scene. I assume that it has running water. Same for the tub? I didn’t see O’Brien bringing warm water in buckets from the kitchen.  Did anyone see a flush toilet?

      • Anonymous

        What I want to know is how the keep the bloody place warm enough for all the women to be running around in chiffon gowns!

        • Anonymous

          Thermal bloomers :)

      • Anonymous

        I stayed in a bed and breakfast on Skye that had a toilet dating back to that era (they did have modern ones too btw). It was the type that looked like a big wooden box with a porcelain bowl under the wooden lid. Then a pull chain above. 
        Cool place, it was all period Edwardian. Proper beds you have to climb into and the breakfast was served round one big table in the dining room rather than the usual separate restaurant style tables.

        So yes, I’d think that’s what they would have. I’ve visited stately homes that had early fitted bathrooms from the turn of the century, complete with showers. Violet would probably think them the devil’s work though :D

      • Anonymous

        Can’t find the link now, but I’ve read about all the renovations done to Knole–the great house lost to Vita Sackville West by similar inheritance rules.  Her mother avoided her father after Vita’s birth–which didn’t help the No Male Heir situation–but got lots of money from a platonic admirer.  She spent it on bringing the pile into the 20th century–plumbing & lights were part of the package.  So I’ll bet Cora’s contribution paid for a few bathrooms….

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1084733830 Kate Andrews

      In case you didn’t see this, WETA has a quiz so you can see which character you are: http://www.weta.org/tv/picks/downtonabbey/quiz

      • Anonymous

        I just tried the quiz and it said I was John Bates. I’ll have to start practicing my limp.

        –GothamTomato

        • Anonymous

          I don’t know why these folks are so worried about the entail, because it’s clearly not fee tail male.  How do I know?  Because I am the Earl of Grantham.  (Well, it would be Countess, but still . . . )

          • Anonymous

            I am Anna and I demand a recount!! I hate to work!!!! I wanna be a Countess!!!

        • http://twitter.com/rgmx Mercy

          I’m sure GT would be much much cleverer about shifting blame to appropriate parties than Bates though.  I find his stubbornness about not speaking the simple truth in the face of all reason more infuriating than Mary’s bizarre behavior.

      • Anonymous

        I’m Anna.  If only…

        • Anonymous

          Hmmm – I wonder if this means I have a thing for GT.

      • http://twitter.com/ms_smartiepants Beth M.

        YES! I am Anna, who is “basically the best employee ever” (according to the quiz). If I put this on my resume it will totally convince potential employers to hire me, right?

        thanks for posting the link :)

      • Anonymous

        Thanks, Kate Andrews! I’m Cousin Matthew… wait, what??? How can I be Cousin Matthew if I don’t know what a job or a weekend (did I spell that correctly?) are? Or at least wish that were the case?

      • Anonymous

        I’m Matthew Crawley.  Probably because we’re both lawyers.  And Mary would never have a chance with me.  I’d only have eyes for Sybil.

      • Anonymous

        Fun! I expected Anna, but I am Matthew. Which is fine (I am a bit of a bolshie) as long as it doesn’t mean that I get stuck with a bitch like Mary. ;-)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1084733830 Kate Andrews

      I’m the dowager, which is pretty badass (not that she would ever utter such a word).

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1540233153 Malve Lyborg

        I share your fate. I am going to stare from now on. 

      • Anonymous

        Me too :D

        ‘Why does every day involve a fight with an American’

        tee hee ;)

      • Anonymous

        Me too! I can hardly believe it. Makes me look forward to my old age!

      • Anonymous

        Me too. Gives me hope for my older years, hehe. But I no problem admitting I’m fully acquainted with the week-end.

    • Anonymous

      This show has just gotten so silly; I don’t understand the love. Bad writing all the way around.

    • bloodshothalfblind

      i actually kind of love season 2.  and i love that DA is really just a supremely gorgeous soap opera, starring maggie smith.  i will say, however, that the christmas special gave me a few groans.  but it doesn’t make me any less anxious for season 3.  i am so sold on how ridiculously pretty the show is, that i’ll keep watching till aliens abduct the dowager countess and monkey’s fly out of cora’s butt.

    • Anonymous

      Maybe it’s just me, but I had a hard time grasping the idea of a miscarriage from slipping on soap. That must have been some fall.
      I think women are built a bit sturdier than that…I played laser tag and much more strenuous activities while pregnant with no consequences.

      • Anonymous

        And O’Brien’s clever placement of the soap in exactly the right spot to cause maximum damage was a feat of engineering unequaled in modern times.

      • Anonymous

        Yes. This was the worst aspect of the writing for me. In case people don’t know, miscarriages due to falls are rare in the real world, though they are a popular soap opera trope.

    • Shannon Kelly

      You’re so negative about this show that it seems like you are trying to spoil it. I’m going to stop reading your site for the next 2 months so I can enjoy the second season.

    • Anonymous

      I liked the Cora story line about the pregnacy.  It made Mary’s emtions more twisted and introduced Lord G’s sister, Rosemond for the fortune grabber she is.  Rosemond was born into a high station of life with wealth but as a female she will not inherit.  All she got was a dowry so she married a rich London business man.  Since she did not make a grand marriage, I suppose she does not want Mary to do so either.  I am sure she enjoyed the Turkisk gossip about Parmouk.  (That Theo James is one good looking man.)

      Personally I hope in Season there is a story line where after WWI and the introduction of Progressive Income tax, Lord G cannot pay the taxes on Tara. Leaving him no choice but to go to Edith for a loan. Edith is now rolling in the dough because she was shipped off to the USA to stay with her American Grandmother and married the eldest son of a new money robber barron.

    • Sarah Hough

      all I know is that I want more of Lady Rosamund, the snazzy aunt.
       
      I’d watch an entire series devoted to her and those awesome “I ive in London” at the edge of fashion outfits. Mary cuts a sleek, elegant figure, but she’s young and beautiful – Edith looks like a little girl wearing her mom’s clothes and Sybill, as noted, is perfectly ridiculous. Cora and Viola look like wealthy matrons with good taste.
       
      But Aunt Rosamund! To die!

    • Sarah Hough

      all I know is that I want more of Lady Rosamund, the snazzy aunt.
       
      I’d watch an entire series devoted to her and those awesome “I ive in London” at the edge of fashion outfits. Mary cuts a sleek, elegant figure, but she’s young and beautiful – Edith looks like a little girl wearing her mom’s clothes and Sybill, as noted, is perfectly ridiculous. Cora and Viola look like wealthy matrons with good taste.
       
      But Aunt Rosamund! To die!

    • Anonymous

      “Rarely do you see a soap opera villain almost overcome with regret and
      guilt like that. It added a nice dimension to her character.” Agreed and I liked seeing this part of O’Brien.

      • Anonymous

        I agree – in season 2 there are  few moments like this too. O’Brien starts to be much more 3-D. That being said there still isn’t much explanation for her overall motivations.

    • Susan Walker

      I suppose showing the true relationships between family and staff would be too limiting but I agree that many of the story lines and behaviours are a stretch and they do take away from the authenticity of the period piece.

      And considering how outspoken Cora and Violet have been, I don’t get why they have not had a real converation with Mary.  It doesn’t fit wither.
      al

    • Anonymous

      Just piping in to thank T Lo for the recaps. I haven’t been adding anything to the discussions because I don’t think I have much to add, not that it usually stops me from adding my two cents anyway. I’ve enjoyed watching the episodes a second time and have loved the recaps. 

      I will say the last two episodes are my least favorite. They felt the most clumsily written and had me doing quite a few eye rolls, but you can bet I’ll be watching the 2nd season. If it’s going to be made available online, that is. Keeping fingers crossed.

    • Anonymous

      Do we continuously judge others on their beauty? Are we prejudiced to that beauty or do we judge on character ???. It seems that there are those  judging beauty alone and those who judge character alone…  most of us have a compilation of both. While some of us may be more beautiful and some of us may have more character.. we are all most likely not Wicked. 

      The beauty of this show ( given the diverse commentary ) is that a person cannot really be stereotyped . 

    • Anonymous

      I am very confused as to how O’Brien handing Lady G a bar of soap caused her to miscarry…It didn’t seem like she slipped and fell but something about the soap itself (it looked like there were 2 bars under the bathtub and O’Brien chose one to return to the tub, then had second thoughts and started to run back to keep Lady G from picking it up but it was too late). Any thoughts? For some reason this is really bothering me…

      Agree that the writing and weird plot twists in this episode are disappointing but it is gorgeous to look at!

      • Anonymous

        Lady G fell on the bar of soup left on the floor when she got out of the tub.

      • dlmerril

        The bar of soap was dropped on the floor and broke in half.  O’Brien picked up one half and handed it to Lady G but said the other half was too far under the tub to reach.  I knew as soon as that happened that the old saw about a pregnant woman falling and losing the baby was about to happen.  O’Brien deliberetly placed the soap half that was still on the floor where she thought Lady G might slip and fall on it.  As someone else mentioned, this was an amazing feat of engineering, seeing that a half piece of soap was exactly where the person exiting the tub would put down her foot and cause her to slip in such a way that an unborn child would be unseated.  Not that it never happens, but every fall by a pregnant woman does not result in a miiscarriage, despite what romance novels, movies, and soaps show us.

    • Anonymous

      I actually can understand Mary’s reactions.. I think it’s not so much the family that sets her under pressure – it’s her own expectations of what she wants to get. She’s in love with him, sure, but she simply doesn’t WANT to be in love with him. He’s not what has always been important for her, in her eyes he is still kind of “below” her and it needs some time to change a so far existing world view in favor of one person.
      It happens that you fall in love but are unsure if you really want the person because he’s so much not what you were asking for.

    • http://stitchingincircles.etsy.com Tina

      looking forward to more comments on the costuming!

    • Anonymous

      http://blog.cymbal-rush.net/2011/09/03/downton-abbey-s1/ 

      Here is a season 1 review of Downton Abbey which has a very interesting analysis of MAry and Matthew and the proposal

    • http://twitter.com/RzYoung RzYoung

      If the bbc had made it rather than itv it would’ve been 5 x better, but mustn’t grumble, it still beat a lot of shows out there. The Christmas special was also v silly though. Does it air in the US with a RIDICULOUS  number of advert breaks like it does in the UK? 

      • Anonymous

        ITV got in trouble from ofcom for that. They exceeded the allowed ad minutes per hour I believe, so the next series should be slightly less ad heavy.

        I don’t know though, the BBC is slipping too. I felt the Great Expectations adaptation over Christmas was a bit ITV-like (despite Gillian Anderson being superb).

      • Anonymous

        Downton Abbey appears on our Public Broadcasting System (PBS).  Which is not really like BBC; it gets a tiny bit of tax money but is mostly supported by donors & a few commercial sponsors who get one announcement at the start of each program.   So there are no ad breaks!  

        PBS has always gotten lots of their programming from BBC & other British sources–often being co-producers, rather than just buying the shows after they are created.

      • Anonymous

        NO!  It part of PBS Masterpiece Theatre and there are NO commercials.

        SUPPORT PBS!  Send monet today!

    • Anonymous

      Ah!  You guys have explained ways in which the plotting and writing left a lot to be desired in terms of anachronistic responses…but I was mesmerized by this episode.  In some ways – as awful as it is to Matthew – the delay of Matthew and Mary’s seemingly inevitable marriage seems like a throwback to Romantic literature.  I think the actress playing Mary is pretty great, so I gloss over things that make no sense or have ugly tones on the strength of the performance.

      For me the least interesting story line is Sybil’s political consciousness.  I hope to some degree that that disappears in s.2, but given the start of war, that’s probably not happening.

    • dlmerril

      Someone mentioned the possibility of Carson being Mary’s father, something that hadn’t occurred to me but did raise another question in my mind.  Did Carson ever have a sex life?  Did any of the servents?  There’s already been much speculation on the evil gay Thomas’ sex life and of the aristocrats upstairs, but what about the rest of the staff?  We’re to assume they’re normal, healthy human beings yet the possibility that one of the femal staff members might possibly be having sex would result in her immediate dismissal.  Maybe they would marry another “in service” person (Daisy and William?), but what about the older members of the staff?  Are we to assume Mrs. Hughes, O’Brien, and Carson became celibate once they went into service? 

      • Anonymous

        In the days before really reliable birth control–& back when a woman could be “ruined” by a child–people were less likely to have sex outside marriage.  So they probably remained celibate once they went into service–or suffered the consequences. The men may have had recourse to professionals–before entering service or on their rare evenings off.  

        I’m guessing that Thomas saved himself for visiting young lords (hoping to better himself) & kept any other possible activities extremely discreet & away from Downton.  Those who guessed his proclivities might have objected if he’d tried to seduce a young man of the household–but could simply cock an eyebrow about his search for a sugar daddy…

    • Anonymous

      Perhaps readers gave you a little too much grief about the soap opera side of things. DA is well written, lots of fun and beautiful costumes. And as for reality, one of the famous Robert Boyle’s (chemist) nieces, Elizabeth Jones, caused quite a scandal when she married a footman in 1677. Soap opera is just dressed up life!

    • http://twitter.com/SparklyCasanova UglyCasanova

      Like my comment before, you guys (TLo) seems hell bent on paradigms that would be too conventional, I believe.  Do you guys read a lot of Russian literature?  I see a lot of parallels here, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Dostoevsky’s Crime & Punishment, a bit of Dickens as well (though not Russian).  

    • Anonymous

      I just think of Mary as being very much Violet’s grandaughter. She pays mild lip-service to rebellion but status and rank are just as important to her, she has her sharp tongue and ready cattiness and it’s hinted a few times that Violet was not exactly shrinking in her youth. However both are basically good-hearted. Granny and Mary are cut from the same cloth, granny just has the benefit of a bit of age and wisdom. In that context I don’t think Mary’s procrastinating over Mathew the solicitor is at all surprising, and perhaps why Violet is not as insistent as she might be. 

      The below-stairs wrap ups that you mention are only temporary stays. We’re left with Thomas disgraced but having slithered into what he probably thinks is a cushy escape  – but now war’s broken out and a war that will last longer than was thought at the time –  O’Brien guilt-ridden and Bates with a dodgy troublemaker of a wife, whereabouts unknown which is a block to Anna’s happiness. 

      Your point about Mrs Hughes and Branson. Remember Branson isn’t house staff, so Mrs Hughes and even Carson wouldn’t have jurisdiction over him. He doesn’t even live in the house. I’m not denying the public friendliness is a little unlikely. But Sybil is young and the habit of young girls spending time with staff and the children of staff isn’t unprecedented in literature or history.

    • Anonymous

      FYI: In 1912 Mary (born 1892) was 20, Edith (born 1894) was 18, Sybil (born 1897) was 15, Cora (born 1868) was 44 and Violet (born mid 1840’s) was 69-74. 

      For some perspective, Edward, Duke of Windsor was born in 1893, right between Mary and Edith and Wallis Warfield Simpson was born or claimed to be born in 1895. 

      Queen Mary was born in 1868, same age as Cora.

    • Anonymous

      Oh, I don’t know.  I think they might be grateful that anyone at all would be willing to marry her.  Their plan B is to ship her off to Europe to find some Italian who’s a bit less fussy.  I haven’t seen this episode in a while, but I don’t recall Cora or Violet advising her to hold off on her decision about Matthew until after Cora’s baby is born. 

      Anyway, I agree with someone upthread that I’m not so sure we’re supposed to like Mary.  I kinds don’t want Matthew to end up with her.

    • Anonymous

      Oops, this was supposed to have been in response to someone earlier saying that Mary was likely delaying Matthew until after Cora’s baby was born on the premise that if it was a male, they would pressure her to end her engagement to Matthew.

    • Anonymous

      What about the folks whose families have been in service for generations?  Wasn’t Mosely’s father a valet or butler?  Wouldn’t he have been able to marry somehow?  Where would his wife and children fit into the arrangement of the house?  I’ve been wondering about this.

    • Anonymous

      And it seems that the writers have a primary goal of making Mary look as awful as possible while still expecting us to root for her and sympathize with her. I still think she’s a raving bitch.I’m a raving feminist (and an oldest sister), yet the whole excuse that she’s a bitch “because she’s damaged by the social and gender expectations of the time and desperate for some sort of control over her own life” doesn’t hold water with me. Cry me a river, Mary. There are better ways for a supposedly intelligent woman to react. Not that Edith’s is the right way, either (more about that below), but Edith has been treated far worse by her parents, IMO, than has Mary. Edith got slapped back pretty hard by Mary and while we feel for the poor forgotten middle child, what she did to Mary was so wrong that we can’t really help thinking she got what she deserved.  Really? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t excuse for one minute what she did to Mary. However: A. Edith was provoked first because of Mary’s constant and long-standing sniping and bullying and their parents’ obvious favoritism; B. Mary actually did do what Edith accused her of, while Edith did not do what Mary accused her of; and C. Mary’s actions hurt not only Edith but the innocent Sir Anthony, whereas it could be argued that Edith’s actions hurt only Mary (who was then protected by her mother and grandmother). 

      Team Sibyl, FTW!