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Downton Abbey

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Downton Recaps: Episode One, Season Two

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I love recaps but decided to give the stage to some very excellent and funny Downton fans this season. I hope you enjoy! 😉

Tasha: It’s two years after the end of season one, 1916, and Matthew is in a battlefield trench. He’s ordering people around LIKE A BOSS. He appears to be some sort of bossy order type person. And thus concludes the entire extent of my military knowledge.

Oh, Matthew’s going back to Downton! Is it wise to shuffle people back and forth between home and battle like that? Who would go back the battlefield?

Downton! The “Abbey’s” in an uproar with furniture moving for a war fundraiser. Sybil’s sobbing at breakfast, Lord Grantham is dressed in a uniform all the time–I don’t know why–and Mr. Bates is in London. I want my Bates!

Lynn: As we were sitting around my house waiting for 9 o’clock to arrive, I couldn’t help but feel the excitement rise at the idea of being able to catch up with my friends at Downton and even see those we love to hate (yes Thomas). Before it even started we were all worried for them in the war

As to what I hope will happen in the next episode, I simply must know what the secret is that Sir Richard is holding over Lavinia’s head like the sword of Damocles. And I really want Mary to tell Matthew how she feels about him but of course she won’t so soon.

As I expected, episode 1 started with a bang as a shell exploded in the trenches on the front. The gritty “Saving Private Ryan” style shooting of the opening war scene was a stark contrast to the polite, quiet and elegant splendor we lived vicariously through in season 1 – and a very nice touch. Matthew looks commanding at the front and also scared. By the time the familiar Downton theme music comes up, we’ve been properly prepared that this year will be very different than the last.

I was surprised to see Lord Grantham not there – as was Lord Grantham. Although he was not happy to not be at the front, I was relieved not to have to worry about him too.

Tasha: So, somehow, while fighting in a war, Matthew managed to become engaged! What. The. Hell. And joy, he’s bringing his fiancee to Downton with him to meet the family. Everyone’s bummed he’s not making mad love to Mary like we all know he wants to–everyone except Mary, who is of course happy. Happy happy happy. Like a Stepford wife, our Mary.

Matthew’s fiancee is not a looker. As Lady Violet put it, “That’s Mary’s replacement? Well, I suppose looks aren’t everything.” Lavinia (or whatever her name is) does indeed bear a striking resemblance to Edith, and the fashion sense of season one. But Mary’s found a beau of her own! Oh yes, Mary has so many prospects. So many. This time it’s a balding executive who runs a tabloid. As Lord Grantham so rightly put it, “A hawker of newspaper scandal–ironic, that!” And he doesn’t even know about the dead Turk.

Clearly Mary’s desperate. Maybe Lavinia and Sir Richard the newspaper guy can get together.

Sybil and Branson’s relationship, meanwhile, seems to be on the rocks, although he eloquently proposed, begging her to “Bet on him,” and is just really hot. I don’t know what’s up with her, but apparently she wants to test her wings before shacking up with the chauffeur. I’m also confused as to why Branson thinks Sybil would tell her family about him coming on to her. Who does he think she is, Edith?

Speaking of Edith, she continues to be an idiot, lip-locking with a married farmer. Slumming it, eh, Edith? Classy as always! I think she likes to play dress-up with other people’s lives.

Meanwhile, below stairs… Team Bates! I LOVE BATES, LOVE HIM LOVE HIM!!!!! Oh my gosh, I think I forgot exactly how much I loved him, I wasn’t sure that was possible. He found his wife, which means he can now be divorced and marry Anna! Yay!!!! Oh, I’m so happy (and jealous of Anna). They’re planning to open an inn and name it The Bates Motel. Uh… they might want to rethink that one.

Vera Bates

BUT THEN, just when you think Anna and Bates will live happily ever after, Bates’ wife, the vampy Vera, shows up. This woman’s a Man Eater, yo. You can tell by the way Bates edges into the room sideways so as to make the smallest possible target and flinches when she talks. She pours the most ominous cup of tea ever and tells him that if he doesn’t come with her, she’s going to say Lady Mary slept with the Turkish diplomat. OLD NEWS, beyotch. But Bates, being Bates, agrees to her terms. Everyone is so disappointed in him when he says he’s going to leave, especially Lord Grantham; and poor Anna! She begs him to stay, saying, “The only ruin I recognize is to be without you!” But he tells her, “I am nothing,” and leaves.

Whyyy Bates whyyyyy didn’t you poison that femme fatale wife of yours when you had the chance? No one knew she was at Downton! DON’T GOOOOOOO, Bates!

Anna is sad. Who can blame her. Moseley, Matthew’s former valet, tries to get her to go out with him by giving her a book! That’s sweet, but he’s no Bates. NO ONE IS BATES EXCEPT BATES!

In other news, Daisy is toying with William’s affections, the idiot, and Thomas is back but not as a footman. He’s in the clinic, which now hosts war vets, and is doing… something. He’s like, in a uniform? Anyway, he gloms onto this one soldier who’s lost his sight, and I’m pretty sure he’s playing an angle, but I can’t tell what it is. And then the soldier gets depressed and kills himself! Meanwhile, O’Brien’s made friends with Lord Grantham’s new valet, Lang, who’s a former soldier. Lang is a German name, by the way, so I’m pretty sure he’s a German spy. He looks way too Teutonic.

Lynn: With loads of new characters in season 2, there are clearly a lot of new paths we are going to be led down in this season’s journeyings. And with the war on, even our old favorites will have to learn a new way of life. But let’s start with some of the new folks. The new housemaid Ethel has spirit but O’Brien is bent on bringing her down a notch. By the time O’Brien makes a fool out of her a few times she is a little less boastful. However, it isn’t until Ethel and Anna can share their pain and have a good cry together that Ethel becomes more likeable (more on Anna’s trouble later).

In order to get to the new valet, Mr. Lang, I guess we should first talk about my favorite poor dear sad sack – Mr. Bates. At the start, bates is off in London attending his mother’s funeral. Guess who shows up at his mother’s? Why it’s Veera – his wife – of course. Upon his return to Downton, Bates tells Anna about Veera’s return and says he is thrilled. Anna is shocked (as am I). What?! Anna is relieved (as am I) that he is happy because it means that he can buy a divorce from her and he Anna can start their life together. Good plan Mr. Bates (except for maybe the part about starting a hotel together – The Bates Hotel – seriously?). The happiness doesn’t last long. Veera shows up at Downton and blackmails poor Bates into leaving and being her husband again.

It seems she has come into knowledge about what happened between Mary and Mr. Pamouk and will give the story to the papers if he doesn’t agree to be her loving husband again. BITCH – as Bates so aptly said. Like the honorable pouty face that he is, Bates quits without saying why to Lord Grantham or Anna, both of whom are furious. Luckily for them, Mrs. Hughes heard the whole thing between Bates and Veera and she tells Carson. Carson in turn saves Bates’ reputation with Lord Grantham by telling him Bates fell on his sword to protect the family’s reputation. Grantham is touched and relieved.

His lordship’s new valet, Mr. Lang is a veteran who suffers from Shell Shock or what we now call PTSD. The usually prickly O’Brien goes soft on Lang and we’re left wondering why at first. Did her actions with Lady Cora really make her look in the mirror and change her ways? Well, no of course not. As it turns out, O’Brien had a brother with shell shock who died when he was sent back out to fight again. Seems like Lang is O’Brien’s new project now that Thomas is off fighting the war.

With Bates gone, Mosely tries for Anna again but he is squarely refused as Anna says she will never love again. Oh Anna. Sigh.

Tasha: I don’t do too good with plots. I think it’s mainly just about how the war is affecting all their lives and pushing them to do things they wouldn’t normally do. You can tell this by the fact that everyone is spouting all this “War is…” blahity blah blah nonsense all through the episode. “War has a way of distinguishing between the things that matter and the things that don’t.” (Matthew, who obviously has not learned this.) “War makes early risers of us all.” (Lady Violet) None of the guys feel like men unless they participate in the war somehow. Even Lord Grantham–how old is he, like sixty? He wears uniforms all the time as if he’s about to go into battle and whines about how no one will give him a commission. It’s ridiculous! Who’s going to send an aging earl into a battlefield? A general who wants to ruin his own career, that’s who. I really wish his wife would tell him to grow the hell up.

Matthew greets Sir Richard Carlisle, while Lavinia looks on

Lynn: Then there is Matthew’s fiance, Lavinia Swire. UGH is all I can say. She is a sweet solicitor’s daughter and just perfect for him – except that she is not Mary, which makes her absolutely imperfect in every way possible. Matthew gets a small break from the front and brings her Downton. Lavinia meting the family is very uncomfortable as was I when I watched it. Mary puts on a brave front but she is so obviously head over heels in love with him. I wanted to smack her for not telling him. Throughout the whole episode, as Mary struggles whether or not to tell Matthew of her feelings, Matthew keeps saying how happy he is with Lavinia but you can see it is not true. He still loves Mary as much as she still loves him. Oh you just want to smack them both and say, “Wake up! There is a war on and Matthew could die. Just stop being so proud and get together already!”

Not to be outdone, Mary brings home a potential suitor, Sir Richard Carlisle a newspaper magnate. He is a self-made man and uncomfortable with the old-fashioned ways of Downton. Lord Grantham hates home and Violet is loathe to admit that he may be Mary’s last best match. Sir Richard meet Lavinia at Downton and we learn that he knows her uncle and has some secret about her or her family that he can unleash at any time. OOOOO I want to know what that is. Maybe it’ll help get rid of her and allow an opening for Mary.

Tasha: Aside from Matthew having a fiancee and Bates leaving with his wife, I was shocked the housekeeper, Mrs. Hughes, was such a busy body! She listens in on Bates’ and Vera’s conversation and then gossips about it with Mr. Carson, the butler, who gossips about it with Lord Grantham. Gossip all over the place!

Lynn: William is dying to go to war but at first is denied. Turns out Violet has lied to Dr. Clarkson to disqualify a few men she didn’t think should go to war – including William. William corrects the error and ships out for training but not before garnering a kiss from Daisy, who is braver this season than last. William thinks this means that Daisy is now “his girl” and is even more excited to go to war with his girl waiting for him at home. Daisy goes along at first but breaks our hearts when she admits to Mrs. Patmore that she doesn’t love William. Ever wise, Mrs. Patmore advises Daisy to lie to William and say she is his girl – otherwise he might die out there with a broken heart. Let’s hope she does just that – we can’t lose sweet William!

Thomas is – to his dismay and sheer terror – on the front. Life in war is definitely not what he thought it would be. Does the crisis bring out the best in him or the worst? Well it seems the worst wins out. Thomas wants to go home (Don’t they all I bet?!) so he gets his hand shot up on purpose to get sent from the front. After that, he writes to O’Brien and has her manipulate Lady Cora into using her influence with Dr. Clarkson (now Major Clarkson) and Lord Grantham to have Thomas reassigned to Crawley Hospital so he can be close to home.

He's blind

You get to see the worst and best of Thomas when he returns to Downton. He visits Downton Abbey and says nothing but nastiness to everyone. Slagging William and Bates and whoever else he can think of. However, at the hospital, he befriends an officer who has been blinded by mustard gas. Thomas is very giving and warm with this soldier and helps him find the courage to go on. Thomas along with Lady Sybil, who is now a nurse, give this officer the hope and encouragement to get out of bed and try to cope with his new life. In one of the saddest moments of the opener, the officer kills himself when Major Clarkson tells him he’ll have to move to a convalescent home since he is so much better. he just can’t face life without Thomas and Sybil. Thomas cries and shows there is still a bit of heart left in him.

With all the footmen gone, Carson is working himself to death – literally. Always the stickler for tradition and decorum, Carson’s contribution to the war effort is making sure that Germans don’t force any changes at Downton. So, no maids in the dining room no matter what. When Carson collapses in the middle of a dinner service, with both Sir Richard and Matthew in attendance, we think it is a heart attack but thankfully turns out to be exhaustion. Even at home, the war is taking its toll.

Lady Sybil becomes a nurse and really comes into her own. Even her mother has to admit that she is a grown and capable woman now. Branson admits his feelings for her but she can’t reciprocate at least now. She does’t love her new work but she can’t imagine doing any less or going back to the way things were. The suicide of the blind officer convinces Sybil to help try to turn Downton into a convalescent home. Maybe if they had done that earlier, this man would still be alive. Violet, Cora and Edith object at first but relent soon enough.

Lady Edith and John Drake

What the heck is going on with Edith? At the beginning she is learning to drive (in case all the young men who drive them around are called to the war) and by the end, she is driving a tractor and kissing a married farmer?! The farmer’s wife saw the whole thing and put a quick end to Edith “helping” on the farm. But I must say I am still left wondering where the heck that storyline came from. And wasn’t that the very same farmer that Mrs. Crawley saved from death last season by convincing Dr. Clarkson to drain the fluid from his heart sac? [Evangeline-Yep!]

Poor Lord Grantham wants to show he is still a valuable soldier but the army won’t let him be more than a mascot. He feels emasculated and no one can make him feel better. It will be interesting to see how he deals with that but I’m happy he is not getting shot at.

Lynn:Last reactions: The gowns are really amazing this episode.

Love the shot of Matthew walking through the steam on the train platform. Like a noir film.

Elizabeth McGovern’s accent still bothers me.

The writing is really gorgeous. Some of my favorite lines:

“Sometimes it feels as if all of the men I’ve danced with are dead.” – Sybil
“There is room for sentiment but not sentimentality.” – Edith
“Really? It is chaotic around here enough already.” – Cora’s reaction to the idea that Downton be turned into a convalescent home.
“What about my dress?!” Edith when Carson collapses from exhaustion in the middle of a dinner party.
“Bitch!” – Bates to Mrs. Bates.

Tasha: Matthew is SO DASHING in this episode, it’s disgusting. I have to admit I was kinda psyched to see him uniform, and wow. rawr. It’s nice that he’s tortured by war now, so he can stare broodingly off into the distance while the camera pans over his noble visage. I liked how Mary gave him her “good luck charm” before he left on the train (what the heck was that thing, anyway? It looked like a pink dog key chain). It was like a fair maiden giving her hair ribbon to a noble knight before he rode into a jousting match to fight in her name. WHY AREN’T THESE TWO TOGETHER ALREADY? Put on your lady pants and tell idiot how you feel Mary, jeeze.

So what did you all think about episode one? PBS has created a great way to chart the course of your love and loathing of each character on their website. Personally, I was very annoyed by Matthew and Robert last night, and had a few good laughs over Thomas’s nastiness now that he’s not really a servant at Downton. And everyone will rue their comments about Edith!

Countdown to Downton Abbey

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Mary and Matthew (from Downton Online)

Today marks the final countdown to Downton Abbey, which will air on exactly this day next week! To prepare for the second season, I point you to my post on Heroes and Heartbreakers, where I provide the historical context of Downton during wartime (I wrote this before S2 aired, so my observations are from that perspective).

If you are on Twitter, don’t forget to follow and participate in the party by using the #DowntonPBS hashtag, and check back at EP after the West Coast airing and on Monday for discussions and recaps, and the historical background for each episode! For more information (and a bit of spoilers, so beware!), visit the page on this site devoted to Downton Abbey news!

Schedule

Episode 1 – January 8, 2012 (8:59 – 11:00 PM)
Two years into World War I, Downton Abbey is in turmoil, as Matthew and other young men go to war — or avoid it. The women also pitch in, and many couples see their romantic dreams dashed.

Episode 2 – January 15, 2012 (9:00 – 10:00 PM)
Downton is turned into a convalescent home with Thomas in charge. Meanwhile, Lavinia and Sir Richard’s secret comes out, Anna tracks down Bates and Branson seizes his chance to strike a blow for Ireland.

Episode 3 – January 22, 2012 (9:00 – 10:00 PM)
Isobel and Cora lock horns over control of Downton’s medical role. Mrs. Bird starts a soup kitchen. And Matthew and William embark on a perilous patrol behind German lines.

Episode 4 – January 29, 2012 (9:00 – 10:00 PM)
In the climactic battle of the war, Matthew and William go over the top to an uncertain fate. Vera plays a cruel endgame with Bates and Anna. And Daisy faces the severest test of her life.

Episode 5 – February 5, 2012 (9:00 – 10:00 PM)
Lord Grantham receives some terrible news from the front line which will impact on everyone at Downton. It looks as though the future of the entire family could be under threat as the greedy Vera Bates threatens to expose all the secrets that she knows about the Crawley family.

Episode 6 – February 12, 2012 (9:00 – 11:00 PM)
The Spanish flu strikes Downton, disrupting one match, hastening another and transforming the fortunes of all. Mary, Sybil and Robert each confront a moment of truth. Anna and Bates know a moment of happiness.

Episode 7 – February 19, 2012 (9:00 – 11:00 PM ET)
In the finale, the family gathers at Downton Abbey for Christmas.

The real Sir Richard Carlisle & the birth of the Tabloid Press

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Sir Richard Carlisle and Lady Mary Crawley

On Downton Abbey, Sir Richard Carlisle is smooth, urbane, influential–and incredibly rich. Carlisle has built his fortune in newspapers–and not just any newspaper, but the tabloid press. His real life counterpart, Alfred Harmsworth, Lord Northcliffe, founded The Daily Mail in 1896 after earning his first million with cheap dailies and weeklies covering nearly every demographic imaginable. The Daily Mail was London’s first halfpenny morning paper, and though Lord Salisbury contemptuously considered it a newspaper “written by office boys for office boys,” it changed the face of English newspapers and made Harmsworth–as he was then known–into a media mogul. Soon, his paper was enmeshed in the heated politics of the day, with Liberals outraged by the Daily Mail’s lowbrow tone and its widespread popularity, and the Conservatives intrigued by Harmsworth’s influence over popular opinion via his newspapers.

Harmsworth may have been a staunch Conservative, but he placed profit first, and in 1903 he founded The Daily Mirror, which was the first penny paper created for women and run by women. Unfortunately, it was not a success, and The Daily Mirror was transformed into a general paper, but the female audience remained his main target. His later coups included the purchase of the Observer and The Times in 1905 and 1908, respectively, and he also acquired The Sunday Times in the latter year. However, Harmsworth wielded the bulk of his influence over WWI-era Britain. Prior to 1914, The Daily Mail had actually played a part in stoking up fears over Germany’s alleged might and its growing navy through its serialization of William Le Queux’s invasion literature, and during the war, Harmsworth’s anti-German propaganda was so vociferous, a German warship was sent to shell his home. His newspapers also toppled Asquith’s wartime government by its unceasing reports about the Shell Crisis of 1915, and helped bring about Lloyd George’s appointment as Prime Minister in 1916.

On a more benign scale, Harmsworth and the Daily Mail encouraged the growth of aviation, racing, and automobiles in Britain, as well as bringing the latest interior designs and household inventions to the masses through his very popular Ideal Home Exhibition (which exists to this day). By the time of his death in 1922, Lord Northcliffe and his Amalgamated Press had held sway over the masses for nearly three decades, and his influence over the press lasted far beyond his demise. For a deeper look at Harmsworth and his tabloids, here’s a 2007 documentary entitled A Tabloid is Born:

Part One:

Watch the other three parts on YouTube.