Downton Abbey S2E2: Home Front

Posted on January 16, 2012

War has driven right up to the front door of Downton Abbey, drastically upsetting the status quo and working its way into every corner of the house, much like the smell of Lady Mary’s burning hair caused by her new-fangled curling iron.  From where to store the sheets to centuries-old class boundaries, it’s all up in the air and the people happiest about it are the people benefiting the most from it. Isobel is giddy at the change in the air, as well as the opportunities for power and the sight of aristocrats forced into egalitarian positions which leave them unsteady and frustrated. This is, we think, a rather unfortunate turn for this character, whose middle-class anxieties in the face of overwhelming aristocratic grandeur were so easy to identify with and character-defining in series one. Here, she’s boorish and practically alight with glee over her ability to order people around in Downton Abbey. There was nothing of this to be seen in last season’s Isobel and this 180 degree turnaround into very inappropriate behavior from someone who used to be concerned with how she appeared to her cousins is dizzying and a bit unfortunate. To us, she’s turned from a character who had some interesting complexities and insecurities into a foil to make the aristocrats look a little better, which is something Julian Fellowes does a little too often for our tastes.

The early portions of the episode depicted a family deeply uncomfortable with and confused by the new arrangements in their home; all but Sybil, of course. There were degrees, in fact. You can draw a line from acceptance to begrudged acceptance to near-outrage from Sybil to Edith to Mary, with Cora, Robert and Violet having increasingly more difficulty with it according to their age. There’s a generational thing at play here as well as a class one. Violet was more distressed by officers mixing with enlisted men  and “putting everyone on edge” than she was with the change in living conditions.

At first we were a bit impressed with the writers for being willing to depict the family reacting to the change in their lives in a less-than-saintly manner; Cora and Robert in particular (As an aside, there’s a truly jaw-dropping long take in this episode that starts with Cora in the main entry way looking at her ravaged household sadly, then joined by her husband, then it follows them out the front door as they greet the arriving military staff and the camera circles around the driveway and back into the house, following Thomas. It’s a stunning, cinematic bit of camera work in the middle of the episode that doesn’t deserve to go unremarked-upon just because we can’t find a good place to work it into this review). But then, sadly, the script took a rather easy way out by having Isobel become a foil for the whole family rather than just for Violet, turning her quite inexplicably into someone so devoid of common sense and manners that she’d actually push to have the family dog restricted after Lord Grantham already blew up at her. This bothers us – and not just because we always liked Isobel. It bothers us because it’s so cheap and easy to drive your plot forward if you’re just going to have your characters act in extreme and contradictory ways.

The overriding conversation about series 2 of Downton Abbey is going to revolve around the show’s perceived descent into soap-y plotting and unlikely developments. For us, that conversation got kicked into high gear with Mrs. Crawley’s odd behavior here, but it turned into a full-on shouting match when Thomas’ name came up as a candidate for running the hospital. This is absurd on so many levels that it’s a bit of an insult to the audience. If you give the audience indication that you believe they’ll accept practically anything you hand them, you’re likely to lose your audience’s interest rather rapidly. Thomas was fired from Downton for stealing after having tried to frame one servant, gotten into a fistfight with another in the kitchen, and gleefully cracked jokes about the lady of the house’s miscarriage to the horror of the staff. It’s wholly unbelievable that he’d even be allowed on the grounds after that, let alone be allowed to walk through the front door and handed any form of authority. We think there are ways to show that Isobel is sometimes pushy and we might even be convinced there is a plausible way to get Thomas back into the house, but neither of these developments seem very thought out and they’re mostly pushed very hard at the viewer along with a dizzying array of other plot developments, rapidly whizzing by.

O’Brien continues to hold sway over Cora in a manner that also tends to contradict the latter character in certain ways. Cora’s presented as shrewd and sharp in so many other matters, but we’re supposed to accept that she instantly turns naive and gullible whenever she has a conversation with her ladies maid. In addition, for no possible good reason, it is revealed that Carson and Lord Grantham did not tell Cora why Thomas was  fired and for some reason don’t feel they can tell her now. Why? No idea. Because the writers wanted Thomas to be in charge and that was that.  Granted, the problems with Isobel helped along Thomas’ promotion, since Cora, Violet, Robert and Dr. Clarkson have all turned on her, but the end result was no less ludicrous.

Meanwhile, Violet and Rosamund are pressing Mary to make the most of the news that Lavinia was involved in the Marconi shares scandal because they’re convinced she was Sir Richard’s lover. It’s not true and it’s to Mary’s credit that she didn’t follow through on her aunt’s insistence that she ruin Matthew’s engagement. The two women are becoming a little close, it seems. Lavinia is still intimidated by her but you can’t say Mary’s not making the effort or being unkind. “The truth is, we’re very much alike,” she tells Matthew. That’s perhaps overstating it, but we think Mary does genuinely like Lavinia. Of course, it has to be noted that she spent a good deal of time passively entertaining the idea of ruining Matthew’s engagement, but clearly, she’s not so devious to try it. Besides, we think there’s a huge part of Mary that doesn’t want to seem like she wants Matthew or is in any way threatened by Lavinia. She’s so focused on making sure everyone believes it that she’s wound up convincing herself of it.

In other Crawley daughter romance news, Sybil and Branson continue to blithely ignore boundaries and consequences. Sybil continues the apparent Crawley female tradition of falling for a man completely and utterly wrong and dangerous for her. If his politics, class, and Irishness weren’t reason enough for her to avoid him, his willingness to dump cowshit and oil on houseguests should give her pause. We liked the scene of Anna finding the note and running through the house trying to avert disaster. The show doesn’t make enough use of the house’s size like that; providing tension simply because it takes so long to get from one end of it to the other.

And while the lack of consequences for Branson’s behavior is pretty ludicrous, in a way we can’t help wondering if there wasn’t a sly point being made about the aristocracy when you juxtapose it with the fate of poor, shell-shocked Mr. Lang. You can do a lot as a servant at Downton Abbey and get away with it – carry a dead body the length of the house, have a criminal past, steal from the butler, attempt to dump cow shit on a guest, steal from the larder to pay off a blackmailing petty criminal – but showing emotions? That’ll have you packing your bags that night. These things just aren’t done.

Bates and Anna reunite once again. Sort of. We have to say, these characters are presented as tragic lovers and for the most part, we buy it hook, line, and sinker; cheering at their triumphs and sniffling over their sadness; but if Anna was a friend of ours, we’d practically stage an intervention to get her to face up to the enormous number of red flags her beau is sending up. Come on now. At some point, when the problems keep piling up and there’s no payoff, the sweet dolor of love unconsummated  becomes just plain annoying and patience wears thin. We’ve said before that we’re fine with their unrequited love because its opposite can be pretty boring in a serial drama. But at some point the sheer mountain of problems facing them and keeping them apart starts to become a little ludicrous. We’re not quite there yet, but when Bates was outlining yet another plan to deal with his wife, our Best Gay Friend instincts kicked in and all we wanted to do was grab her by the shoulders and say “Get out. NOW.”

Mrs. Patmore is racked with pain and regret over her nephew’s death, which is causing her to push Daisy into an extremely uncomfortable position. We have to give the writers a bit of credit here, because Daisy and William are pretty much two of the most adorable and likeable of all the characters and a potential romance has been pushed since Day One. To have it come to fruition only to find out one of them just doesn’t feel that way about the other is unexpected and a little brave. As bad as Mrs. Patmore’s being about the whole thing, it’s hard not to get just a little frustrated with Daisy, even though that’s terribly unfair to her. And of course, it’s heartbreaking watching William once again being pretty clueless about what’s going on around him, knowing that if he ever found out he’d be shattered by it. Nice bit of downstairs melodrama there.

A potential bit of downstairs melodrama is being forecast pretty heavily with Ethel’s infatuation with one of the officers. It’s not at all hard to figure out where this one’s going. It only remains to be seen if the writers can do something surprising.

And finally, Lady Edith has her very best day ever and it surprised us how pleased we were for her. There’s been a nice little turnaround for this character, even though that business with the farmer last week was embarrassing. She’s gone from pathetic, to nasty, to even more pathetic, and now she’s just an insecure young woman looking to figure her life out and desperate for a little bit of recognition. Yes, she’s careened around the plot as much as any of the other characters, contradicting herself and forgetting her own motivations whenever they’ve been inconvenient to the writers, but this arc felt earned and the outcome enjoyable. We can take all kinds of unlikely character turns, coincidences and events because to us, this show has always been a fairly well-acted soap opera with really pretty clothes. When these things don’t feel earned or are paced in a way that has the viewer’s head spinning or they openly contradict either the character or just plain common sense (Thomas? Really, Cora?), that’s when the show gets a little irritating and disappointing.

UPDATE: For a slightly different, more class-oriented version of our thoughts on this episode, check out our post on the Huffington Post here.

As with all of these Downton Abbey posts, we ask that you refrain from any spoilers in the comments section if you’ve seen this season. That includes vague comments like “If you think things are bad for X and Y now, wait till you see what happens!” Just talk about this episode or any episodes that preceded it, thank you.

 

[Photo Credit: Carnival Film & Television Limited 2011 for MASTERPIECE]

    • Anonymous

      I like the way they costume Lavinina. It’s easy to think that all of the clothing from the period is gorgeous, but when you see poor Lavinina’s outfits, it’s a reminder that the style doesn’t look good all the time. They costume her like someone who is trying very hard but not quite succeeding, which seems like a very difficult thing to do. (That green dress is HIDEOUS, but apparently expensive nonetheless.) 

      • Anonymous

        I can’t help of thinking about a young Annette Benning every time I see Lavinia…..

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

        Lavinia’s dresses are more in keeping with the fashions of the upcoming 20s, with drop waists and draped cuts and the awkward matching headbands. They’re clearly new and the height of fashion, which shows how she’s trying to impress and keep up with her fiance’s aristocratic family. But that doesn’t mean they’re pretty. The Crawley girls are all wearing dresses from before the war, which is historically accurate and means they’re wearing more flattering styles. In the Christmas special (this is not a spoiler, I swear), Mary has acquired a drop-waisted gown which she looks TERRIBLE in, which is shocking after two seasons of her looking amazing in every dress she puts on.

        • Anonymous

          I’ve seen photos of really terrible clothes from the war era.  Drop waisted AND bulky.  I think it’s the ambulance drivers who were afflicted with the worst uniforms.  Really unflattering – but the hats are always good!

        • Anonymous

          They’re clearly new and the height of fashion, which shows how she’s
          trying to impress and keep up with her fiance’s aristocratic family.

          “Impress”, maybe.  “Keep up with”, I’m not so sure.   Don’t forget that Lavinia lives in London, where she has more exposure to the latest styles, while the Crawley girls, though they may visit the city occasionally, live in the country.  Note that Aunt Rosamund, another Londoner, also dresses more fashionably than her nieces and sister-in-law.

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

            That thought passed through my head while I was writing. But I’m not sure Lavinia would’ve known that in advance, and her clothes were of course ordered and made before she met them. She also definitely feels inferior to them – her bewilderment at the house is SO uncomfortable to watch, but also totally understandable – so this is at least one thing she can manage. Even if they’re hideously unflattering dresses.

            And yes, Rosamund always looks smart, doesn’t she? I sort of detest her, but I love how much she clearly loves her lifestyle. Being a wealthy widow got you so much freedom in those days.

        • Anonymous

          I am eternally grateful to grow up during the late 20th century.  The ’20s drop-waists were the worst look ever.

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

            Agreed. I could totally do the Edwardian look, though!

        • Anonymous

          It’s rather like the costuming of Jane Austen films–where our heroines are at the poor end of the gentry. Specifically Sense & Sensibility and Pride & Prejudice.  Our girls are shown in modest, flowing gowns–in white or pastel–perhaps with scarlet cloaks.  But the Evil Rich Ladies From London are seen in rather garish, elaborate gowns & headdresses.  More in the mode & more expensive–but also less flattering.   

    • Anonymous

      This is such an excellent review–it really amplified my viewing of last night’s episode.  And thank you for focusing on the two plot lines that bothered me most–the extreme change in Isobel’s personality and the completely unbelievable–to me, and apparently to you too–return of Thomas. When Mr. Carson confronted Lord Crawley about his decision to allow Thomas to return–and worse, to be in charge!–and Lord Crawley muttered something about how it had made Lady Crawley so happy that he had to go along, I actually said out loud, “Get OUT!”  Didn’t believe it for a second.  In an ideal scriptwriting world, the only way Thomas could return would be if Lord Crawley had died and Mr. Carson was in a coma.  

      As for Isobel, I was actually angry at the writers for this insupportable shift in her personality.  Having her son and everyone else making asides throughout the episode along the lines of “She loves to be in control!” did make legitimize it.  

      Hoping for better as the season goes on.

      • King Dex

        When I look at the character development of Isobel in the first season, I think it’s clear she relished her position as an American, middle-class champion over British aristocratic mores. The Season One squabbling between her and Violet made for good television, but it also made their positions with each other’s backgrounds very clear (with each jab at upper class snobbery, Isobel was sitting on our sofas with us and giggling). Isobel was also shown to take the idea of patient care very seriously – she had a disagreement with Violet over this as well. So amidst a terrible war, with the literal walking-wounded all about her, Isobel’s by proxy, hypocratic oath kicks in, full throttle. She’s the widow of a physician. Her son is now fighting in the same, terrible war. She can’t be there for him, so she cares for the others. And fights for them. If she appears to be bullish or acting out of character, I think there are plausible reasons for her to do so. Also, there’s the business of her son being heir presumptive and of her being his only relation. Until Matthew weds, she’s remains his first lady. With him fighting in the war and more time and nervous energy on her hands, why wouldn’t she gain voice in an estate that will one day be in his hands?

        As for the reinstatement of Thomas the scoundrel, I do think Lord Grantham and Mr. Carson have more power than they realize, but Cora has been meddling in this affair for quite some time and has been shown to exert her opinion over her husband’s more than once. Well, hell, he’s a pushover. Everyone manipulates him, and it’s been that way for the entire series. She’s only seeing Thomas as an ex-staffer and wounded soldier, familiar with her household and a favorite to her personal maid. In her mind, she’s been patriotic and protective in her dealings with him, first positioning him in the medical facility and now as head of convalescence in her home. Lord G and Mr. C are weighed down by their positions, putting etiquette above reproach in the first place and now paying the price. It would be messy to come clean now. Doctor Clarkson is involved. Thomas was wounded in war (and they don’t know it was staged); even Sybil has shared the death of a sensitive patient with Thomas. Upstairs doesn’t share everything with downstairs and vice versa. What Cora knows of the repulsive Thomas is filtered through the equally scheming words of O’Brien. She isn’t privy to his outlandish and vulgar ways with the staff as well as the rest of his shortcomings.  

        So for me, it’s fascinating to watch how power is wielded in this story. It’s just a drama, written fairly well and very enjoyable to watch, occasionally predictable maybe, but not falling into the realm of complete disbelief. I’m really appreciating it.    
               

    • Anonymous

      I agree with your dismay at the rapid change of character in Isobel.

      While I agree, in principle, that it’s difficult to imagine Thomas being readmitted into Downton, he was never actually fired for thievery; in fact, neither Carson nor Lord Grantham even addressed the subject with him or gave him any indication that Moseley had presented evidence against him.  When Carson and Lord Grantham decided to fire Thomas, they also decided to wait until after the garden party to do so.  Thomas decided to go off to train as a medical aide (?) first and resigned his position at Downton during the course of that party, so Carson and Lord Grantham decided not to pursue the charge, believing that they had been released from an uncomfortable obligation.  Given that, it makes some sense that they might not have mentioned the accusation of thievery to Cora.

      • Anonymous

        Very true.  But it doesn’t make sense that, knowing what they know, they would allow him back.

        • Anonymous

          Exactly. Not one bit of it made any sense and I’m not buying it.

      • http://www.lindamerrill.com Linda Merrill

        Agreed. Also, Cora had just lost the baby, which would be a reason not to bother her with details of thieving servants. Doesn’t explain why they didn’t tell her after the fact, but then clearly Cora and Robert don’t communicate as well as their warm relationship would have one imagine.

      • Anonymous

        Well Thomas mush be a good media or Dr. Clarkson would not want him for the position.  Clarkson seems to be only character operating with “Real World Motel” common sense.  I love the scene wher the “ladies” are arguing Junir League style and Clarkson just rolls his eyes with the “get me the hell out here” look on his face. Priceless.

    • Anonymous

      When the episode was over last nite, my dh made a comment about the soap opera tone to this episode. He also questioned whether the phrase “walking wounded” was appropriate to that era.

      The shift in character direction, with Isobel in the lead, is maddening but I’ll keep coming back for the complexity of storyline and the fact that I love how this series captures the changes that were in the air at this time. Oh, yes, and the costumes!

      srq

      • Anonymous

         He also questioned whether the phrase “walking wounded” was appropriate to that era.

        Sure, why not?  

        From the Transactions of the American Neurological Association, published 1875:  “During the tragic months of the battles for the Ridges, one of these hospital clusters behind the 5th Army was given over entirely to the reception of the army head cases, together with the walking wounded and the gassed cases from the nearest corps.”

        From “The Conflict with Spain”, published 1898:  “So I passed a good many of the walking wounded . . .”

        • Anonymous

          But at least they use the term “shell shock” which is right for the era. Where did I see a routine (or read an essay) about how we have moved from descriptive terms like shell shock to medical ones like PTSD which distance us from the reality.

          Found it. George Carlin (long):

          In the first world war, that condition was called shell shock. Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables, shell shock. Almost sounds like the guns themselves. That was seventy years ago. Then a whole generation went by and the second world war came along and very same combat condition was called battle fatigue. Four syllables now. Takes a little longer to say. Doesn’t seem to hurt as much. Fatigue is a nicer word than shock. Shell shock! Battle fatigue. Then we had the war in Korea, 1950. Madison avenue was riding high by that time, and the very same combat condition was called operational exhaustion. Hey, were up to eight syllables now! And the humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase. It’s totally sterile now. Operational exhaustion. Sounds like something that might happen to your car. Then of course, came the war in Viet Nam, which has only been over for about sixteen or seventeen years, and thanks to the lies and deceits surrounding that war, I guess it’s no surprise that the very same condition was called post-traumatic stress disorder. Still eight syllables, but we’ve added a hyphen! And the pain is completely buried under jargon. Post-traumatic stress disorder. I’ll bet you if we’d of still been calling it shell shock, some of those Viet Nam veterans might have gotten the attention they needed at the time. I’ll betcha. I’ll betcha.

          • Anonymous

            Lilithcat & Vanessa,

            Thanks for the further information on this topic! I remember my father speaking of shell shock from hearing of his father’s experiences in WWI but didn’t know that the term “walking wounded” actually predates this conflict. I love the informed kittens in our midst :D

            srq

            • Anonymous

              Google is your friend!  (Particularly Google Books, where you can restrict your search by date.)

              Dorothy L. Sayers has a good depiction of the effects of shell shock on a soldier back in civilian life in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club.  Her series detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, suffered from it as well, and his war experiences are shown in several of her books to continue to affect him.

          • Anonymous

            George Carlin is wrong.

            The change to PTSD is a good change.  It recognizes that the condition is not limited to soldiers who served in combat (indeed, not limited to soldiers, period), but can appear in anyone who has been in a traumatic situation.  9/11 survivors, victims of domestic violence and child abuse, survivors of natural disasters – these and others may all suffer from PTSD.   The use of a restrictive terms such as “shell shock” and “battle fatigue” was one of the reasons it took so long to recognize the existence of the syndrome outside of the military context.

            • Anonymous

              It was a joke, hon.  I wasn’t intending to make light of the traumas experienced by the victims of terrorist attacks, natural disasters, sexual abuse, domestic violence, etc.

              However, I don’t know if I agree that it is a good thing to pool all of those experiences together in one psychological diagnosis, no matter how many subcodes the International Classification system has.  I’m no expert but we tend to use broad labels like that as diagnoses of exclusion–conditions where we can’t determine the mechanism of causality in any precise way so we use a label such as PTSD as a marker to denote a constellation of similar symptoms, or, in this case, the similar experience of some traumatic shock.  The ways that the survivors of domestic violence  and of war, terrorism or sexual abuse, etc. suffer and cope with the experience are vastly different, as all of these experiences are, and I honestly don’t know what we gain by labelling them all as one broad condition.

            • Anonymous

              I largely agree with your second paragraph.

              The term of shell shock was still in use in WWII. I know this because this is how my father’s youngest brother was always described. Both men served in the war but the brother was something like 17 or 18 when he enlisted as a regular soldier. My dad was a Naval officer and an engineer on a troop ship that participated in D-Day, and did not directly fight. After the war my uncle spent the rest of his life in and out (mostly in) a veteran’s hospital. He got married once but it did not work out. We barely saw him as I was growing up, but I know that my dad was very agonized over what had happened to his little brother, and the fact that he never got any better. The family talked very little about him. It was a tragedy.

            • Anonymous

              That makes me weep.

            • Anonymous

              I am very touched by your empathy. I believe that my dad, a very private and dignified man, wept also, alone.

            • Anonymous

              So many brave men suffered in silence for the rest of their lives.  It seems that some who lived into their 80’s and 90’s have now become comfortable talking to their families about their experiences and even writing their war memoirs, but so many more took their burdens with them to the grave.  I hope that they are finally at peace.

            • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1017585103 Kanani Fong

              Yes, shell shock was in use during WWII, and also after the Boer Wars. It continued through WWII and the Korean War. PTSD as a diagnosis did not get into the DSM-IV until recent years –and it is a more exact medical terminology. 
               Lilith, you’re correct. Of the PTSD population, 10% are veterans and the other 90% are civilians –women, children and adolescents make up the majority (according to Bessel Van der Kolk, M.D. a nationally recognized trauma expert and one of the persons who got PTSD into the DSM-IV).The latest change is that PTSD will be changed to PTSI (The head of the American Psychiatry Asso. announced he was open to the change. The person who brought this to the forefront was Army General Chiarelli. This too is more accurate than both shell shock and PTSD –as Post Traumatic Stress is an Injury. I’ve written about it over here on my blog, WarRetreat, a military, veteran, and war community centric yoga blog. http://warretreat.org/2012/01/12/more-than-just-a-name-change-ptsd-to-ptsi/

    • http://twitter.com/windsornot windsornot

      I believe that Cora didn’t find out about Thomas’ stealing because he essentially quit before he could be sacked. I seem to recall that Robert and Carson decided not to say anything only because he was already going to be leaving, and Thomas announced his joining the army before they could take action, because he knew they would be on to him, so he beat them to the punch, saving his “dignity” (not that he really has any). That’s why Cora and the others were clueless, and Robert and Carson were wary without tipping their hand.

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

        But that doesn’t explain why they wouldn’t tell her now, once she got the idea to bring him back into the house.

        • Anonymous

          I was thinking that since Thomas served his country in the war and was injured ,   perhaps the Lord Grantham would be inclined to forgive the pre-war stealing, and he doesn’t know about the  (very unlikely and biologically knowledgeable ) remarks Thomas made about the miscarriage.

        • Anonymous

          Exactly!  In season one Lord Grantham wanted rid of both O’Brien and Thomas.

        • Anonymous

          The only way i can make sense of Grantam not telling Cora and undoing Thomas’ assent, is patriarchal pride and a bit of that English ‘keep calm and carry on’. If Grantam were to somehow get rid of Thomas, he wouldn’t have to admit allowing a thief in the house just to Cora, but to everyone that was involved in placing Thomas in the post. That would be some what scandalous correct? And embarrassing. Particularly to a man who feels guilty for being without a real military post in time of war. ‘No wonder he’s not serving, he can’t even keep his house in order,’ might have run through his mind.

          I know if Cora and Lord Grantham’s positions were reversed, she would probably be able to devise a plot to avoid bad appearances, but i don’t think Grantham quite thinks that way. Thus, he keeps his mouth shut and soldiers thru the current circumstances on the home front. (Well he does put his foot down about the dog at least.)

          Still on the ludicrous end of things, but makes a bit of sense to me. (At least enough sense to placate my total annoyance at the situation.)

    • MilaXX

      I completely agree about Thomas. Ive thought this was a soap from day 1 but his story arc this entire season is a little too over the top.
      My favorite couple is Daisy and William. Even though she’s being pushed into it my Ms Patmore, I want her to love William. He’s such a big old puppy dog in his love for her.

    • Lynn Landry

      Thank you for your observations! I was so annoyed at the crazy plot twists in this one, especially with Thomas. I am still enjoying the show, but felt like this episode was borderline insulting. I will say, I don’t hate Mary as much as others. I like her. She seems real. There was one scene with Matthew, Lavinia, and Mary that echoed Scarlet, Rhett and Melly. If only Richard were a Rhett Butler!

    • Anonymous

      In my book O’Brien , Thomas ,and Lady Edith are by far the most interesting characters. I’m a bit disappointed that Thomas character has reverted back to his old scheming ways, when he had made so much progress (emotionally and socially) last episode.
      Edith’s motivations seemed to be pure enough when it came to the well fare of the  wounded soldiers. Sybil is a little too pure for my taste and the relationship with Branson is way off, he seems like a fool (or an Irish nationalist though the eyes of the benevolent British Aristocracy. ) Mary is still stuck in the past she’s been in engagement limbo for years now. Move on.

      • Anonymous

        However, if they want to have more scenes in which Branson gets a physical, I am all for it!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Erika-Shor/100000024452553 Erika Shor

      I agree with you on the Thomas development but disagree re: Isobel. I think her behavior is very realistic. She has been intimidated by the aristocracy and insecure about her middle-class status but at the same time dedicated to doing good in the hospital. Now that circumstances (ie the war) has put everything on its head and Downton Abbey is now accessible to her in a way it has never been, plus it is serving as an extension of her beloved hospital, – well, all of this has gone to her head. She is probably so psyched about everything, she has forgotten her insecurities – or rather, is compensating for them and paying these aristocrats back by trying to boss them around.

      • Anonymous

        I think your analysis would make perfect sense if we were talking about a much more modern era.  But I think that, at this time in history, the appropriate behaviors and attitudes for each class were not only well defined–they were practically innate. People of all classes were schooled in them from birth, and it took people with profoundly rebellious personalities to step outside the expected. And I don’t believe Isobel is one of those.

        Still, you’re right about her passion for her hospital and her excitement about setting up this convalescent home, and that isn’t to be overlooked.  I just think the writers went too far.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Erika-Shor/100000024452553 Erika Shor

          Well, whether or not it is historically accurate and consistent with Isobel’s personality and whether the writers went too far can be debated, but I *think* that’s what they were going for.

        • Anonymous

          Except that Isobel *was* established as someone with an independent streak last season  She trained as a nurse and she challenged Lady Violet more than once over established norms–i.e. the flower show–last season.  The Edwardian era was also a suffragette era and Isobel was educated enough to be responsive to it.

          So, I think Isobel is a bit over-the-top in her self-righteousness, but I don’t think it’s completely out of character.  I agree with TLo that Julian Fellowes is a bit too nice to his aristocrats

    • Anonymous

      “Tlo said: We liked the scene of Anna finding the note and running through the house trying to avert disaster.”

      Yes. And in honor of Anna’s Great Run, the IOC will be adding a new event at London 2012 this summer: Running up and down flights of stairs in a corset.

      –GothamTomato

      • Anonymous

        Even when they all believe  that man’s life is at stake they  still follow the ridged chain of command. Anna to  Mrs. Hughes, Mrs. Hughes to  Mr. Carson and Mr. Carson to the dining room. 

        • Anonymous

          I thought that was a nicely realized detail — it wouldn’t occur to Anna to bust into the dining room shouting “Stop that man!”  But it sure woulda been dramatic!

        • Anonymous

          I had wondered why she didn’t run straight to the dining room. I thought it was just the writers trying to add drama, but now it makes more sense. Thanks!

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

            Too American, that’s why!

    • Anonymous

      I give the composer so much credit…whenever I start rolling my eyes at something soapy or unlikely in the plot or characters, the score gets going and I immediately forget that I ever had an issue. 

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

        We tweeted last night how much we absolutely love the “driving up to the house” music. We want that to be programmed into our doorbell.

        • Anonymous

          Yes, and I have been inspired to have my own theme music downloaded into my iPod and programmed to go off whenever I enter a room. I’m debating between ‘Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen’ and ‘Brick House’.

          –GothamTomato

          • Anonymous

            Oh, go with “Brick House!”  Seriously!

          • Sara__B

            I laughed out loud (My first of the day. Thanks!) with surprised delight at your choice of music. I’ll be practicing entering rooms with “Brick House” playing in my head for the rest of the day, unless I think of a better tune.

        • Anonymous

          Dudes, I have been trying to get a copy of that music since last year.  If anyone knows where and how to get it, pleae let me know!  There is not a Downton Abbey soundtract CD to my knowledge.

      • Anonymous

        How right you are. It’s wonderful.

    • Anonymous

      This episode had its share of soap opera conventions — characters don’t seem to do anything unless they’re on screen, critical conversations go unfinished when a normal person would ask a follow-up question or two, people act in completely inconsistent ways or completely forget their own histories — but what I really loved, and thought was well done, was the way in which the world and lifestyle that Lord Grantham and his family (and those like them) had been living is literally unraveling before their very eyes.  The systems that held their way of living are either dissolving or being pushed aside; I imagine (no spoilers here, I haven’t seen the whole second series yet) that some of the Crawleys will adapt will and benefit from these changes, and others will suffer and be unable to accommodate themselves to the new order. 

    • Anonymous

      It seems that Lord and Lady Grantham keeps some of the most significant events secret from one another: He not telling her about Thomas and she not telling him about Pamuk. Both secrets have the potential to end in destruction; it’s only a matter of which will get there first.

      –GothamTomato

      • Anonymous

        Point.

    • Anonymous

      I agree that Isobel’s character has become heavy handed but I would think that some people could get overbearing if all of a sudden they have power – especially if they’ve never had much.  Angela Thirkell wrote very funny novels set in England during the ’30s and the War; her war novels are peopled with women exactly like Isobel who relished taking charge of things during wartime.
      The Daisy and William story is probably as old as war itself but I don’t think we’ve ever seen it before on screen. (Or have we?)  Anyway, I think it’s great.

      • Anonymous

        And over time, Isobel may be getting more and more used to the idea of her having real power over Downton Abbey, as it seems Cora and Violet have given up on the idea of smashing the entail and Matthew seems to be likely to marry (and, presumably, produce an heir of his own).  This might be making her feel more empowered.

        • dossett6

          I think you have touched on where the writers are going with Isobel’s character. It was hinted at when someone commented that Lavinia will one day be queen of the place. Isobel is no fool – she will one day be the dowager herself (if she lives long enough to see Matthew inherit.

          • Anonymous

            [Isobel] will one day be the dowager herself

            No, she won’t.  Violet is the dowager countess by virtue of the fact that her late husband was the earl.  When Lord Grantham dies, Cora (if she is still living) will be the dowager countess. Isobel will never be in that position.

            • Anonymous

              Cora will only become a dowager if she has a son to inherit the earldom from Robert.  Not looking likely.

            • Anonymous

              No, dowager simply means ” the widow of (1) a baron; (2) a baronet; (3) a duke; (4) an earl; (5) a marquess or (6) a viscount.”. (Per Burke’s Peerage, which is, to me, the best authority.  See:  http://www.burkespeerage.com/articles/peerage/page66-dowager.aspx)

            • Anonymous

              I don’t remember where I first learned that to be “dowager” the widow also has to have a maternal connection (including grandmother or stepmother) to the heir of her late husband, but that rule has been borne out for me a number of times (at least in fiction, since I don’t know any actual peers), and I feel certain of it.  I don’t know if you saw GOSFORD PARK, but you might recall that Maggie Smith’s character, the widow of an earl, was never called the Dowager Countess of Trentham.  This was because she didn’t have a son to inherit her husband’s title, so it went to a nephew or somebody (which is also the reason that she had no money and relied upon Sir William McCordle’s financial support).

      • Susan Crawford

        I am thrilled to know someone else sees a few neat parallels between the wonderful novels of Angela Thirkell and “Downton Abbey.” Thirkell’s works take place in the county of Barsetshire – a fictional venue invented by Anthony Trollope in the 19th Century. Many of the same family names crop up in Thirkell, and most of them are experiencing the rollercoaster ride of the 20th Century. The old aristocracy is giving way to the rising upper-middle and middle classes; the self-made moguls are here to stay; women are making their own choices . . . and what a goldmine of social mores Thirkell was! 

    • http://twitter.com/delysia_lafosse Delysia LaFosse

      Of all the various reviews and rants I’ve read (or heard) about the second season of the show, this is far and away the best. I’m pretty sure that I posted before that my biggest problem with Season II wasn’t the increasingly absurd plot twists, but the inconstancy of the characters. As you guys pointed out in your reviews of the first season, the show has always required a pretty solid suspension of disbelief when it comes to plot, but I thought one thing the writers really did well in Season I was to write fairly consistent, nuanced characters (particularly if we can overlook Thomas and O’Brein for a second). Yes, some of the Season II plot is so ridiculous as to be almost insulting, but that didn’t really surprise me so much, and it didn’t stop me from enjoying the show. But blatantly changing characters in order to fit whatever hairpin turn the plot requires this week was the really disappointing part.

    • Anonymous

      I heard an interview on NPR with Elizabeth McGovern, and she said, without giving much away, that this season will reveal fissures in the Crowley’s marriage. Looks like the hairline cracks started appearing in this episode. I loved the long sweeping take. That must have been fun for the cast and crew.

    • Jessica Goldstein

      “To us, she’s turned from a character who had some interesting
      complexities and insecurities into a foil to make the aristocrats look a
      little better, which is something Julian Fellowes does a little too
      often for our tastes.”

      Ditto. I sometimes felt alone in expressing my discomfort about this during the FIRST series. But this time around it’s even more plain to see. I’m not sure if my love of beautifully costumed soaps with British accents can survive Sir Julian much longer.

      • Anonymous

        I think you mean Lord Fellowes.  He’s a baron, not a knight.

        • Anonymous

          Ahem.  That’s Julian Alexander Kitchener-Fellowes, Baron Fellowes of West Starford, DL.  He took the “Kitchener” bit from his wife–who won’t inherit the Kitchener title because she’s female!

          • Anonymous

            I stand corrected. ;-)

    • Anonymous

      I knew of the heavy soap opera handling of plotlines this season beforehand, but was still a taken back a bit by the Daisy and WIlliam situation. Is the poor boy completly clueless? The situation is actually comedic in tone, but I fear it will not end very well for either William or Daisy. On another note, I liked the inclusion of the curling-iron. It’s amazing how little it’s changed over one hundred years and like Bates, I loved Anna’s new hairdo.

    • http://twitter.com/TigerLaverada TigerLaverada

      TLo said: (As an aside, there’s a truly jaw-dropping long take in this episode that starts with Cora in the main entry way looking at her ravaged household sadly, then joined by her husband, then it follows them out the front door as they greet the arriving military staff and the camera circles around the driveway and back into the house, following Thomas. It’s a stunning, cinematic bit of camera work in the middle of the episode that doesn’t deserve to go unremarked-upon just because we can’t find a good place to work it into this review)
      Yay! So glad to see you give props for this! I found it stunning as well.

    • dossett6

      Usually writers (especially one as talented as Julian Fellowes) write extreme scenes for characters in order to set the stage for future reference. I don’t think our writer would do this with Isobel or Thomas unless he has something in mind. Either he will refer back to this in some way, or Isobel will get her comeuppance. I trust him to set it right at some point. One small example: when Violet made the comment to Lavinia “if you’re ever in trouble with the law, you’ll be well appointed” (or something like that, referring to Matthew and her father being lawyers). Well, as it has turned out, Lavinia might have needed a lawyer given her involvement in the Marconi scandel. Every comment and plot twist has a purpose. It seems to me that Julian Fellowes is a very efficient writer and has little time for superfluous flights of fancy with character arcs. He only has 7 episodes to pull this off, so I trust him and love to see where he’s taking these characters.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WKSM57KFWUGRMKPDUW4SPL3GDM Kathryn

      That’s what I’m sayin’ – soap opera-y, ludicrous, implausible, silly, disappointing.  

      • Anonymous

        Except that I think Julian Fellowes deliberately writes some intentionally funny and dark twists on conventions.  That pretty much sums up Gosford Park and I laughed aloud when Pamuk’s seduction of Mary ended up with Pamuk dead.  There’s no way that wasn’t meant to be funny on some level.  

        There’s less of that this season–and I think that it’s because it’s hard to have that kind of humor about WWI.  There’s still some, though.

    • Anonymous

       like the smell of Lady Mary’s burning hair caused by her new-fangled curling iron.

      That so reminded me of Little Women, when Jo burned Meg’s hair with the curling iron.

      • Anonymous

        “What a queer smell!  It’s like burnt feathers.”

    • Anonymous

      Gentlemen, spot on with your assessment of Isobel’s situation(and the whole ep really).  I really liked the character in S1 and now the writers seem to be making her an antagonist just to add drama.  Just in case the viewer didn’t forget it, Isobel loves to be in control.  Wink, wink.

      I also agree that it’s ridiculous that Lord Grantham wouldn’t tell Cora about Thomas’ thievery.  I’m still reeling from last week’s improbability of LordG not demanding that Carson tell him about the scandal that could ruin the family.

      Poor Anna, with her fancy curled hair, ready to be the “other woman”.  She totally needs a Best Gay Friend.

      I loved the look Mrs. Bates gave to that officer in the wheelchair after she barked at Ethel to get to work.  She really wanted to give him the business, but alas, as house staff that would be out of the question.

      FINALLY, Edith has a purpose.  Let’s keep on track with this one, mmmkay?

      • Anonymous

        “I’m still reeling from last week’s improbability of LordG not demanding that Carson tell him about the scandal that could ruin the family.”
               YES!!

    • http://twitter.com/chelwi Christine

      The Thomas bit does bother me, but Thomas was never actually fired. He gave his notice before they could officially can him, so that’s why no one really knows about him being a thief.

    • http://www.lindamerrill.com Linda Merrill

      Thank you for commenting on the long-take of Robert and Cora slowly walking through their altered home and out to welcome the soldiers. In such a fast paced, cut-cut-cut show, taking the time to show this highlighted the full dawning of transformation that was upon them – and their ability to go there, even if it wasn’t overly welcomed. As with the welcoming of the hero general and other honored guests, the Earl and Countess greeted their new guests at the front door with grace. An important moment that the filmmakers highlighted well.

    • Anonymous

      I’m still enjoying the show for the most part, but can’t disagree with any of these points.  There is soap opera, and then there is Soap Opera… and they are venturing pretty close to capital letters.  I half expect Cora’s secret evil twin sister to show up, or Matthew to return home in a coma.  (Once you have a love triangle that involves a coma, you have fully embraced Daytime TV!)  Still, the war has provided a welcome change in tone and I hope they can pull back from the precipice.

      • Anonymous

        Heh.  Or amnesia.  I will die from a soap overdose if Matthew has amnesia.

    • Sara__B

      There are too many story lines being driven forward in heavy-handed ways. The writers are thickening the plot rather than developing the story in ways that make sense to either the time period or to character development. Even so, I love the acting, the costumes, and the peek into a fascinating era. I’m hooked on Downton Abbey.

      • Anonymous

        Not to mention the beautiful hair styles and jewelry. I just love the hair combs and pins that Mary and Edith wear and the lavaliere and sautoir necklaces too. I will have a sad when they bob their hair.

    • Anonymous

      I didn’t buy the Thomas bit either. I watched it on DVD and truly did wonder what you boys would make of it when you saw it. Glad to see you agreed. 

      As sweet as Daisy and William are to be, she annoys the absolute sh*t out of me in S2. I don’t find it unfair at all. 

    • http://twitter.com/chelwi Christine

      The writers are relying way too much on O’Brien having sway over Cora in Thomas’ plot lines. I could maybe accept her convincing Cora to do something for Thomas 1 time, but to not only bring him back to work in the hospital but then to pull the strings that bring him back to Downton is just excessive.

    • Anonymous

      I spent a fabulous weekend doing a DT Season I marathon, so I am now watching in real time. What a great show. A couple of comments on your post.

      1. Thomas. It’s truly a ridiculous plot point — flat out, he would never be allowed back in the house. It bothered me at first that the writers would make the only gay character evil. But when you consider the experience of living in a time when homosexuality was illegal, and being made to feel like a deviant, to say nothing of a lifetime of repressing sexual urges — his venality is understandable. From a dramatic standpoint, I wish the writers would allow him to be just slightly more sympathetic.

      2. Isobel. I disagree here. I love her “jumped up” character and think she’s representative of how capable people rise during a crisis as their competence pushes them into positions of authority. She seems almost American, with her cheerful can-do style.

      3. O’Brien. It seems natural that a lady’s maid would have sway over her. In some ways O’Brien is Cora’s conduit to the world, since she herself is so insular. Also, O’Brien is a great actress who can carry off being two-faced without Cora suspecting. I buy the whole relationship completely: think Rasputin.

      I don’t really understand the whole succession business. When Lord Grantham dies, why can’t whatever daughters who are still there continue to live there? Is there a rule they have to vacate the premises?

      • Anonymous

        The problem about the succession is that none of the daughters will inherit any of his wealth. I’m sure that Cousin Matthew would allow them to live in the house with him, if they so desired. But who would want to be a dependent on their distant cousin, when they were raised to reign over large households of their own (particularly Mary)?

    • Anonymous

      I spent a fabulous weekend doing a DT Season I marathon, so I am now watching in real time. What a great show. A couple of comments on your post.

      1. Thomas. It’s truly a ridiculous plot point — flat out, he would never be allowed back in the house. It bothered me at first that the writers would make the only gay character evil. But when you consider the experience of living in a time when homosexuality was illegal, and being made to feel like a deviant, to say nothing of a lifetime of repressing sexual urges — his venality is understandable. From a dramatic standpoint, I wish the writers would allow him to be just slightly more sympathetic.

      2. Isobel. I disagree here. I love her “jumped up” character and think she’s representative of how capable people rise during a crisis as their competence pushes them into positions of authority. She seems almost American, with her cheerful can-do style.

      3. O’Brien. It seems natural that a lady’s maid would have sway over her. In some ways O’Brien is Cora’s conduit to the world, since she herself is so insular. Also, O’Brien is a great actress who can carry off being two-faced without Cora suspecting. I buy the whole relationship completely: think Rasputin.

      I don’t really understand the whole succession business. When Lord Grantham dies, why can’t whatever daughters who are still there continue to live there? Is there a rule they have to vacate the premises?

      • Anonymous

        I don’t really understand the whole succession business. When Lord Grantham dies, why can’t whatever daughters who are still there continue to live there? Is there a rule they have to vacate the premises?

        There’s no rule that they have to vacate, but the normal procedure when ownership of a home is transferred, whether by purchase or inheritance, is for the previous tenants to leave.  Certainly Matthew could allow them to stay, but, if he did so, it would be out of the goodness of his heart.   He might, after all, not wish to incur the expense of supporting four additional people and the staff needed to maintain them (well, three, really. There’s probably a dower house for Cora).  And I expect that his wife (assuming that he and Lavinia – or someone else who isn’t Mary – marry) would not wish to have the Crowleys in her home undermining her authority with the staff.

        • Anonymous

          Thanks for that explanation. I just looked it up and found that in 1925, the law changed allowing women to inherit property. So, if Lord Grantham can hang on another nine years, Mary will get it all.

          • Anonymous

             if Lord Grantham can hang on another nine years, Mary will get it all.

            No, she won’t.  All that the Administration of Estates Act of 1925 did (that is relevant to this discussion) was to abolish intestate primogeniture.  That a woman could inherit does not mean that she must inherit, and the change in the law could not (and did not) render existing arrangements null and void.  Downton Abbey is held in fee tail male, which means that the owner cannot alienate it outside the male line, by sale or by will.  The entail determines who inherits.

            Even if the Act did apply here, the only circumstance under which Mary would “get it all” would be if Cora, Violet, Edith and Sybil were all dead. (I actually went and read the whole thing! Am I nuts, or do I just have too much time on my hands?)

            • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OSYAJATXUH3QX7ZDDF52GXG4PU Janie R

              Better you than me! And it would be me if you hadn’t. Lol

            • Anonymous

              I live for this sort of thing, too.  I think that the writing with regard to why Mary cannot inherit has conflated the entail with the earldom, and confused some folks who are not aristocracy geeks. Mary can’t inherit the title because she’s a woman, and she can’t inherit the money because it is bound to the estate, and Robert cannot dispose of it in his will: the money goes with the estate, and the estate goes with the title.

            • Anonymous

              I  think that the writing .  .  .  confused some folks who are not aristocracy geeks.

              Heck, it shouldn’t confuse anyone who has read Pride and Prejudice!

    • Anonymous

      Agree about Daisy. I cringed in S1 when she was goo goo eyes at Thomas and now i dont know who she thinks she is to deny William hope when she could always break it off later.

      • Anonymous

        Poor Daisy – she doesn’t want him, and she doesn’t want to lie to him. But she does it, because Ms. Padmore pressures her to. He’s sweet, but he’s not too bright.

      • Anonymous

        Oh, I get it.  She will have a hard time breaking it off with him if William comes back wounded.  Or he may come home on leave and want to get married and she gets pushed into marrying him.  Also, just by being engaged, she won’t be able to go out and find someone that she likes better.  True, I thought at the end of S1 Daisy seemed to begin to like William, but maybe she has since changed her mind. Or she just doesn’t like him enough to get married to him yet.  Lots of reasons for the girl to not want to get engaged.

    • Anonymous

      I do not like what the writers have done with the Cora character.  Cora is an American and this needs to be brought out more.  America went through class change before England (The UK).  Pitting Cora’s “Americaness” aganist the “Birtishness” would be much more intersting than the Cora-Obrien and Isobel plot lines. 

      I hope Edith gets a well developed story line.

    • Anonymous

      Yes, but the folks upstairs are not fully aware of Thomas’ transgressions. Remember? Also, he wasn’t actually ‘fired’, he joined the military before they could actually fire him…..now, I’ll go back to reading the rest of this post! Also, I was very frustrated by this episode and found myself actually yelling at the TV several times. I must confess, I didn’t expect to do that to Downton Abbey, even though several writers told me I would.

    • Anonymous

      I am enjoying this so much!  The hour flew by and I can’t wait for next week.  However, I agree with the criticisms that TLo have made, with the exception of Isobel’s rather abrupt change of character.  I think it’s actually quite common for people to let a bit of power go completely to their heads.  In addition, she’s also had time to adjust to the Granthams and probably isn’t nearly as intimidated as she once was, especially as her true position as the mother of the heir has sunk in.  She’s much less sympathetic than she was last season but I find this change believable.

      The Thomas subplot, on the other hand, is ridiculous.  I’m also finding Carson’s secrets (Thomas’ thievery, the threat to expose Mary by Bates’ wife and Branson’s plot against the general) increasingly absurd.  And what is going on with O’Brien?  Last season she was a cauldron of resentment and out to cause as much harm as possible.  Cora could have been killed if she’d hit her head after slipping on the soap.  But all of a sudden O’Brien is saying that she won’t have Cora hurt? 

      I did love that Edith finally got some acknowledgment.  Sybil is entirely too high-minded and while her dedication to her work is admirable, she annoys me.  And Branson should be in jail.  Are they really going to let him continue to work there?  Or did I miss his exit?  And there’s been entirely too little of Maggie Smith.

      So, it’s seriously flawed but still a delight to watch.

       

      • Anonymous

        I think O’Brien’s change of tune has more to do with guilt over the soap. She regretted it as soon as she left the room but when she found the maid was for Violet that clinched it.

        • Anonymous

          I had the same impression.  

    • Anonymous

      I agree completely on the ridiculous aspects of the plot involving both Isobel and Thomas. REE-dick. She’s become a bitch on wheels, while he would never, ever, ever be allowed back. Even if Cora doesn’t know why he left, she knows he was tossed out, right? For whatever reason, he shouldn’t be back. That smacks to me of writers’ desperation, as in, we need to keep this character on the canvas, but how do we manage that when we’ve made him a criminal and a jerk and found out for both? Silliness. Not credible. And a total cludge.

      But I am happy about Edith. I didn’t like the whole “Ooooh, my dress!” thing when Carson was keeling over in front of her, but otherwise, I have been happy to be on Edith’s side in most of the squabbles. Now, she’s behaving in a mature and compassionate manner, and I’m more on her side than ever.

      Isobel, however, has moved to my Unpleasant list, right under Mary, who has been there awhile.

    • Anonymous

      I think you’re completely off about Isobel.  First of all, she’s not middle class, but upper middle class as she was quick to correct Matthew in S1.  Secondly, she was only “concerned with how she appeared to her cousins” in that she wanted to prove that they knew how to act with household staff and the aristocratic culture.  On her very first visit to the hospital AS A GUEST, she made recommendations to the head of the hospital as to treatment for dropsey dude.  And then bullied him into taking her suggested action. She forced herself into the position of Chairman of the Board. She then made her objections to the unfair voting of the flower show quite known just because she could.  Isobel has never been reticent about her opinions or acting upon what she believes in.  I don’t see this season’s actions as out of the ordinary at all.

      And Daisy has never expressed an interest in William other than friends.  Ever. 

      • Anonymous

        Daisy kissed William.  This would have been pretty damned friendly back then.

        • Anonymous

          Friendly, yes.  But that’s all.  As soon as he talked about her being his sweetheart, she got an “oh crap” look on her face.  She was just cheering him up.  She’s VERY young.

    • Anonymous

      Also found it interesting that William will go to the war as Matthew’s ‘servant’. Exactly what position is that? Does one’s servant serve one tea whilst one is receiving enemy fire? 

      • Anonymous

        British officers of the time had “bat men”—that’s what Bates was to Robert during the Boer War. It’s kind of a valet, but seemed to carry slightly less class distinction. If you said to someone “So-&-So was my bat man” it would be instantly understood that the 2 were close and practically friends. I’ve heard Samwise Gamgee referred to as “Frodo’s bat man.”

        • Anonymous

          Bunter was Lord Peter Wimsey’s batman.

        • Anonymous

          But how does the Army allow someone they drafted to be a servant to someone else? Will William have to actually fight? Or does he literally just take care of Matthew? I don’t entirely get it….

          • Anonymous

            Largely, but his service wouldn’t be limited to Matthew’s personal care, as like a valet in civilian life; he would also be Matthew’s assistant in carrying out his official duties.  Batmen served officers, so insofar as the officer could avoid combat, so too did the batman.  However, as a captain, Matthew is not important enough to be immune from danger.   

    • Anonymous

      I utterly agree, but Thomas wasn’t fired. He left when he deduced he was ABOUT to be fired. Remember his soliciting a place as a medic with Dr Clarkson? Mr. Carson had confided in Lord Grantham about Thomas but no one else—though, of course, the whole staff knew. Still, I take your point about the encroaching suds and can only hope it doesn’t continue thus.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OSYAJATXUH3QX7ZDDF52GXG4PU Janie R

      Thomas wasn’t actually fired. He was going to be fired, but resigned before it could happen. I agree though about the Cora character being manipulated too easily. Blackmail by O’brien would make more sense.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for so eloquently describing the problems this series.  So many of the characters are acting out of character that it is disconcerting.  Isobel this episode, almost everybody last episode.  And the whole business with Thomas is ludicrous.  Lord Grantham would not have pulled strings to get someone back to Downton without knowing who it was, and he’d never allow Thomas back just to make Cora happy if for no other reason than he’d have to deal with Carson who has enough on his plate.  But the ridiculousness was almost worth it for the look Carson gave Thomas at the front of the house when the general arrived.  Delicious.

      I’ve thrown up my hands over the developments with Branson, the socialist revolutionary conscientious objector Irish chauffeur with a congenital heart condition.  Crikey. 

      I too loved the payoff with Edith.  This seemed so much more in character than last week.  She’s a good person underneath, and I’m glad she has a chance to use it and be acknowledged for it.    

      There were some other lovely bits as well.  Mrs. Patmore telling Lang about her nephew (although how that played out ultimately was too soapish), the ping pong noise in the library.  Those are the moments that elevate the show for me.  

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for so eloquently describing the problems this series.  So many of the characters are acting out of character that it is disconcerting.  Isobel this episode, almost everybody last episode.  And the whole business with Thomas is ludicrous.  Lord Grantham would not have pulled strings to get someone back to Downton without knowing who it was, and he’d never allow Thomas back just to make Cora happy if for no other reason than he’d have to deal with Carson who has enough on his plate.  But the ridiculousness was almost worth it for the look Carson gave Thomas at the front of the house when the general arrived.  Delicious.

      I’ve thrown up my hands over the developments with Branson, the socialist revolutionary conscientious objector Irish chauffeur with a congenital heart condition.  Crikey. 

      I too loved the payoff with Edith.  This seemed so much more in character than last week.  She’s a good person underneath, and I’m glad she has a chance to use it and be acknowledged for it.    

      There were some other lovely bits as well.  Mrs. Patmore telling Lang about her nephew (although how that played out ultimately was too soapish), the ping pong noise in the library.  Those are the moments that elevate the show for me.  

    • Anonymous

      The second Ethel started mouthing off in Ep. 1 I turned to my friend and said, “Bear trap.” Looks like she’s living up to the reputation.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1129137319 Paula Pertile

      Its like the game board has been given a good shake, throwing all the pieces off-balance, and it remains to be seen which ones topple over and which ones right themselves. I’m enjoying it, silly plot twists and unbelievable character behavior and all.

      O’Brien’s bedtime head wrap was a treat! 

    • Anonymous

      Thanks guys, for articulating the problems with the writing so well.  We all acknowledge that people change and that everyone possesses shadings of character, but Lordy, last night was enough to give you whiplash!

    • Anonymous

      While I don’t have the same issues with Isobel as TLo do–I think her do-gooder thing was set up last season and while her wartime behavior’s a bit too much, it’s not a total flip of character–I do think DA didn’t have the funny dark edge it had last season.  

      Everybody’s so busy rising to the occasion that they’ve all become far too good for me–even evil Thomas is helping out more than he’s hurting, though at least it makes some sense given his experience.  But Mary’s being positively self-sacrificing and altruistic and even Edith’s getting noble.  

      My sense is that WWI was so awful that Julian Fellowes just can’t get a strong grip on the material–so there’s less irony and more well-traveled tropes.  But maybe I’m wrong and we’ll get some good old duality back.  As it is, I assume will get Richard Carlisle as a villain–while he’s modeled on the various early press barons, there’s no way his storyline *isn’t* influenced by the Rupert Murdoch scandals.

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

        I think that this war is still called the GREAT WAR in the UK. It decimated the society. It left a lot of scars. 

        • Anonymous

          Yep–in Britain there was really a sense of losing the best and the brightest–read recently that the Brits really did lose the cream of the crop–while most soldiers were working class, a higher proportion of the educated and upper classes were likely to be sent to the front–less rejection for service and they weren’t held back to man the factories and farms.  In Vera Brittan’s Testament of Youth–she just loses about every young man she knows–friends, brother, fiance.  

          France lost more young men–to the extent that it affected France’s performance in WWII–it lacked both the men and the leadership to fight the Nazis effectively.

          But in WWII, there was a sense of really fighting the bad guys–I think WWI was bloody and, in retrospect, kind of pointless to a lot of people–lots of pro=war propaganda was just that.  

          Which meant, in turn, a lot of Americans were all too skeptical about the Nazi atrocities later on.

          • Anonymous

            I researched part of my family tree a couple of years back. Even in a small village in rural Scotland, every family had at least one son lost. The effect that must have had on the life of the village – economic and practical as well as emotional – must have been phenomenal. Multiply that over the entire country and it’s hard to take in just how dramatic the impact really was.

    • allisankelly

      If you give the audience indication that you believe they’ll accept practically anything you hand them, you’re likely to lose your audience’s interest rather rapidly.

      This is my biggest bitch at American soaps. And subsequently the reason my 2 soaps went away in the past 5 years.

    • Anonymous

      “And yes, Rosamund always looks smart, doesn’t she? I sort of detest her,
      but I love how much she clearly loves her lifestyle. Being a wealthy
      widow got you so much freedom in those days.” I totally agree. Love how Samantha Bond clearly enjoys playing this role. I had to rewind and rewatch the conversation between Rosamund and “Dear Ma-Ma” re: love and the vagaries of the human heart!!

    • Anonymous

      It was standard practice for an officer to have an enlisted man as a servant at that time and during the Second World War as well.  William would literally take care of Matthew, look after his uniform, clean his shoes and so on.  He wouldn’t be expected to fight, but he’d be in danger if he were driving Matthew through combat territory or accompanying him to the front.  It was a safer job than charging into the enemy’s front line, getting shelled or gassed.

    • Anonymous

      First off, I love it that you’ve chosen to blog about this series!  Thanks so much for that!  :D
      About the Thomas issue – they *were* going to fire him after the garden party, but he gave his notice during the party and was never actually fired.  And the thing about this show is that while they relish dirty secrets, they strive even harder to show that many secrets are kept on a need-to-know basis, so as not to upset people needlessly.  Thomas gave his notice, so his dirty secrets did not need to be revealed to the delicate ladies (who are, in turn, delicately keeping even worse secrets, haha).

    • Anonymous

      Isobel suddenly turning into a completely boorish, overwhelming shrew happily steamrolling over everyone in her path was not only unbelievable but almost more than I could take. It didn’t make sense from what we’ve seen from her until now. Talk about heavy handed. And I suppose O’Brien really is a witch because she’s cast quite an awesome spell on Cora. Cora must be a complete dolt who happens to have moments of clarity. There’s no reason to think otherwise anymore. Wackadoo. 

      The whole thing with Thomas is 100% not based in any sort of reality. I was actually angrily talking back to the tv. Lord Grantham certainly looked the fool. 

      • Anonymous

        I agree about Isobel, but I will say she was pretty damn pushy in treating Mosely’s hands last season. She barged into the hospital and helped herself to the medicines, throwing around her title as board member or chair of the board or whatever. So, we have seen her get over excited when she gets to be the expert. This episode’s depiction is a little over the top, however.

        Lord Grantham *did* look the fool! Not only because he didn’t ban Thomas from the house, but he still hasn’t exhibited the least bit of curiosity regarding the blackmail-worthy scandal that caused Bates to resign? I find that really irritating.

    • Anonymous

      I really hope this episode was a one off detour for the writers. The treatment of both Isobel and Thomas was so ridiculous as to almost overwhelm everything good about the show. If they keep it up I could start losing interest pretty quickly.

      I’m hoping they were trying to portray Isobel as someone so caught up in making sure the patients get the best care possible that she rides roughshod over both manners and common sense — and Edwardian, female House — but if that was the plan they did a damn poor job of it.

      As for Thomas, the whole thing was utterly ludicrous. He wouldn’t have been allowed back on the grounds. Lord Grantham would never have allowed a person like that anywhere near his wife and daughters, much less in a position of authority over Sybil.

    • Susan Walker

      I agree that some of the plotting is getting tortured but I was distracted all night by shots of Downton showing its enormous size and then wondering why they are all squeezing into the library and hall.  Certainly there is a way to make nice spaces for the family to “sit” upstairs or in another portion of the building?!  Oh, I know – it’s more fun to make them squirm.

      • Anonymous

        I’ve been wondering the same thing.  With a house that size there doesn’t seem to be any need to disrupt the family at all.  There must have been an abundance of rooms that were largely unused that could have accommodated the soldiers without the family even knowing they were there.

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

      STEP ON IT – Lord G tells Branson to do this. But was it too early for this expression? Found this in the Oxford English Dictionary – 
      “1923    R. Crothers Mary the Third ii. i. 53   This is life! Go on, Lynn! Step on her! (Lynn bends lower over the wheel.)1926    G. H. Maines & B. Grant Wise-crack Dict. 13/1  Step on it, hurry.1930    F. L. Packard Jimmie Dale & Blue Envelope Murder xxii. 316   Then for heaven’s sake step on it, old man!”The entry also says it’s an American idiom. When I heard it, it felt so wrong. James Cagney would say something like that, not Lord G.

      • Anonymous

        Found a couple of 1918 uses on Google Books.

    • http://toodles.yelp.com AWStevens

      Lady Edith DID have a good day finally.  Liking her more and more.  She needs stuff to DO in order to keep out of trouble.

    • Anonymous

      I hope this isn’t spolierish because it was actually SAID in this episode – so forgive me – but….hmmm, Evelyn Napier coming back?  INnneresting….

    • Jessie Bielicki

      okay, so Violet’s snarky response to Lavinia asking about her son-in-laws family made me remember another scene from the premiere episode that was cut.  It was when Rosamund was trying to get her mother to support Sir Richard for Mary. The dialogue was quick and witty between them-

      Rosamund: Sir Richard may not be all that one would wish, but Mary can smooth off the rough edges.

      Violet: Well you should know.

      Rosamund: What do you mean by that? Marmaduke was a gentleman!

      Violet: Marmaduke was the grandson of a manufacturer!

      Rosamund: His mother was the daughter of a baronet!

      Violet: That may be, but they were no great threat to the Plantagenets!

      I suspect it was cut for American audiences because we aren’t very well-versed in medieval English royal houses, and so wouldn’t appreciate the quip about how unimpressed Violet was with Marmaduke’s aristocratic heritage. And we don’t really have an innate understanding of just how stratified class is in English society, that someone whose grandfather became wealthy from industry would be looked down on. I think we can stretch our imaginations enough to see why aristocrats look down on self-made men like Sir Richard Carlisle, but it’s a bit tougher to fathom how people who are born to the upper class and a couple generations removed from having to work for money would also be looked down on as not not good enough. I think that heirs and heiresses who come from insanely wealthy families that obtained that wealth through industrious grandparents and great-grandparents is basically what aristocracy means in America.

      Or they may have edited it out because this episode makes it redundant. Either way, it makes me sad because it was funny.

      Anyway, it’s an interesting argument that the scene in this episode where Violet says, “There’s no always about the Painswickes, my dear. They were invented from scratch by my son-in-law’s grandfather” calls back to.

      • Anonymous

        But I remember that conversation.  Maybe my PBS station is running a different version than yours?

        • Jessie Bielicki

          Really? I checked the PBS website, and on their video of the episode, it goes straight from “Mary can smooth off the rough edges” to “How can Matthew have chosen that little blonde piece?” I thought the editing was the same way for all the PBS stations. Was your PBS station airing an unedited version for the whole thing?

        • Anonymous

          I remember the conversation on KUHF–Houston, Texas!

    • Anonymous

      It’s fun and dramatic and the costumes are wonderful. But we should all keep in mind that while it might be a Masterpiece Classic, it’s still a Soap Opera and we shouldn’t get too serious about the unbelievable plot developments.

    • Anonymous

      Did they not have a choice about allowing their home to be turned into a hospital? I don’t get the outrage from robert, he so wanted to serve and now he can help and he’s outraged, doesn’t make a lot of sense, you think he’d love having something noble to do for the cause, plus, they’d turn a blind eye to letting Thomas back? Kind if disappointed in the plot they expect the audience to buy into this episode

    • Eileen Mannion

      Ran across this recap and thought you would really like her observations and style … enjoy!

      http://www.thirteen.org/downton-dish-episode-1/ 

    • Scott Hester-Johnson

      Thomas was NOT sacked from Downton because of stealing; Lord Robert and Mr Carson were planning to do so AFTER the garden party, but Thomas beat them to punch by playing the doctor to get him into the medical corps before they had a chance to do it.

      Add to that the pact between Lord Robert and Mr Carson not to tell Cora about Thomas’ thieving, and the return of Thomas is extra delicious. They know he’s a thief and a liar, but because they never “outed” him before, they can’t say anything now.

      Delicious!

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

        “Thomas was NOT sacked from Downton because of stealing; Lord Robert and Mr Carson were planning to do so AFTER the garden party, but Thomas beat them to punch by playing the doctor to get him into the medical corps before they had a chance to do it.”

        Everyone keeps pointing out this extremely minor distinction but it doesn’t change our initial point one bit. Thomas was found out to have done several unsavory things and Carson and Lord Grantham made the decision to fire him for it. That he left before they got a chance to does not change the fact that he did a lot of unsavory things, was caught, and the decision was made to fire him, nor does it make his return to Downton any less ludicrous.

    • Scott Hester-Johnson

      One other thing, it’s interesting that Lang has been released from service with nothing other than “shell shock”.

      During WWI, soldiers who suffered from shell shock and refused to go back were executed as deserters, the same fate as Mrs Patmore’s nephew, which makes it all the more wrenching to watch the old dear.

      • Anonymous

        Thomas, as well, could have been shot for intentionally wounding himself.

        • Anonymous

          But did anyone know that Thomas did that?  He appeared to be alone at the time; he surely wouldn’t have done it if he knew anyone would see it.  It would be easy for him to convince anyone that it was a genuine combat wound.

    • Anonymous

      Finally kust watched the episode and agree with the wildly odd turnabout of Isobel.  It’s just so unlike her character last season.  And the business with Thomas is completely unbelievable as well.  And now William going with matthew, it is all too contrived at times.  The question I had immediately was why not lord Grantham in charge at Downton?  He is an officer in the military after all.  I don’t flly understand how this is all working but would like the idea of some modern day billionaires being forced to open up their extravagant mansions ot revcovering war wounded.  It might be good to have all classes invested in war.  And now I will step down off the soap box.

      • Anonymous

        If we were ever in the midst of devastation similar to WWI or widespread terrorist attacks such as 9-11 or a natural disaster such as a tsunami or large earthquake I’d like to think that modern-day billionaires would willingly open their homes.  If not, I do believe there’s a mechanism for the government to take over private property at such times.

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

          After the Katrina (my home didn’t flood but there was no electricity nor safe running water for months), but Bill Gates didn’t invite me to his house. However, I did receive hospitality from relatives. I am sure that I could have also spent a week or so at a friends house. 

          I think that what upset Lord G. is that Isobel was bossing around his wife and the servants. He also had probably never had to share  the home. He liked his library and now he had access to only half of it. Some officers were in the guest bedrooms. They couldn’t eat in the kitchen nor in the dining room. The living room and other areas on the first floor were occupied. Less privacy than before!

        • Anonymous

          In view of the fact our country has been fighting not one but two (unfunded) wars for ten years now, thousands of soldiers killed, tens of thousands returned with devastating wounds and the only response from the top 1% has been to demand (and recieve) a decrease in their taxes.  End result – massive deficit.  Your thought is a lovely one but just a fantasy….. 

          • Anonymous

            I was thinking more along the lines of devastating events happening right here in the USA, in all areas, even where the billionaires live.  Maybe it is an idealistic thought but if a disaster destroyed hundreds of homes and left thousands injured in Bill Gates’ neighborhood and he was asked to open the doors to his undamaged mansion to give shelter and a place to treat injured people, I just have a feeling he would.

            Unfortunately, most of the US is too insulated and removed from these recent wars to arouse the spirit of “let’s all pitch in and do our part” that the Brits had during both World Wars. 

            • Anonymous

              I hear what you  are saying and I hope we never have to put it to the test.  However, there was not battle action of any sort on English soil during World War I, the setting of Downton Abbey.  They simply recognized that even if it wasn’t happening right in the front yard, they still had a moral obligation and national pride to support the soldiers and country.  That, I do not see in our country at this time except in meaningless rhetoric.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Austen-Jane/100002245814326 Austen Jane

      Glorifying Lady Edith really gave Sybil the shaft. Edith is blathering away with officers and helping them write letters and Lady Sybil is changing bed pans – which one deserves the recognition?

      Also, it may have already been mentioned, but Thomas volunteered to be a medic before he could be fired, much to Carson’s relief. So no, the majority of the household do not know what a villian he is.

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

        It’s a step up for Edith to do something beside mope around the house. These little talks and writing letters are uplifting.Let’s give her a break. Plus, everyone ignores her; this is the first time that she has received recognition.

        Sybil doesn’t need more glory. She is already admired.

      • Anonymous

        Although the soldiers were no doubt deeply grateful for Sybil’s work, she was just one of many nurses doing nurse’s work to them.  Edith was a Lady, the daughter of an aristocrat, so they probably felt she was stepping out of her comfort zone and doing something totally unexpected and un-required of her.

      • Anonymous

        Although the soldiers were no doubt deeply grateful for Sybil’s work, she was just one of many nurses doing nurse’s work to them.  Edith was a Lady, the daughter of an aristocrat, so they probably felt she was stepping out of her comfort zone and doing something totally unexpected and un-required of her.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lenoradody Lenora Dody
    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1017585103 Kanani Fong

      I believe they have Isobel channeling Harriet Jones, MP from Dr. Who. 
      There’s a lot that bothers me about Season 2 –way too many love interest lines going on, and it’s gotten downright sappy. And why does Lady Grantham look so droopy? And does Lord Grantham have nothing better to do than to walk around in his uniform all day? Give it a break!
      Anyway, not sure if you’ve seen Simon Schama’s opinion about Downton Abbey in Newsweek, but it’s sure to set off a permanent war with Fellowes.

    • Anonymous

      I disagree about Isobel Crawley.  I grew up in a family of medical people, and what I see is a war horse hearing the sound of the trumpet– I don’t remember what background we have on her work as a nurse, but has she been to war?  She is totally energized by the opportunity, and it doesn’t matter to her what is in the way– she is 100% devoted to the hospital.  She doesn’t want to share power with anyone who doesn’t know medicine and/or hospital organization the way she does, because she regards it as her domain.  It’s not about aristrocracy vs. the middle classes;  it’s about her knowing (as in being certain of– not necessarily being right) that she knows what to do to convert Downton into a convalescent ward.  In another place and time (now) she would have been a doctor, or a chief of medical staff  (At least, that’s what my b-i-l the doctor says about my mother and grandmother, both nurses).  

    • Anonymous

      Great review!  I, too, was dumbfounded that Thomas was promoted to run the convalescent portion of the house.  Unbelievable.  Thanks so much for adding the jibe about Lady Mary’s curling iron.  I loved that scene and the one of Anna practicing.  

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=14301272 Kate Gorton

      But Thomas wasn’t fired. He put in his notice before any action could be taken. However, everyone knew about his indiscretions and his termination was an inevitability. Plus, I was just starting to have a bit of sympathy for him, after his blind-solider-boyfriend-type kicked it. And now he’s back to being evil, and I can’t, for the life of me, understand WHY, for anything more than the most surface–and soapy–of reasons. That was a definite let-down.