Friday, January 11, 2013

Downton Abbey Part II - The Revenge of Auntie Mame

Hello again! Part II of Lady Gillian Ravescroft-Anderson's Downton Abbey recap, presented for your reading pleasure. 

Picking up from Part I, Branson shows up at Isobel’s after receiving a summons from m'lady to appear before her. Lady Violet is in the drawing room talking trash about Cora's mother. Lady Isobel says she likes it that Mrs. Levinson isn't overawed by the set-up at Downton. Lady Violet references Hyperion not being overawed by the Bourbons and I think that's our cue from Julian Fellowes to look this shit up on Google since we didn't all go to Eton. Branson apologizes for last night. It's all copacetic. Lady Violet and Lady Isobel are going to tailor one of Matthew's old morning coats to fit him. Branson refuses since a morning coat is the uniform of oppression. Yes.. Morning coat = chains. Branson's political views are really interesting, so sayeth the Dowager Lady V, but seriously. You look like shit. Now shut up and strip.

Outside Downton. Snazztastic red car pulls up in the drive and the music lets us know that it's an important guest. Cora's mother Shirley MacLaine has Auntie Mame’d her way across the Atlantic and arrived at Downton.

This is actually just how Shirley MacLaine spents her usual weekends remembering her most recent past life.

Mrs. Levinson (MacLaine) greets the girls. She reminds us that Sybil is pregnant, not chubby and that Edith’s life is a continuing narrative of He's Just Not that Into You. Then she tells Mary she's sure her wedding plans suck. Down in the servants' hall, we meet Mrs. Levinson's maid, Reed. Since Daisy's still on strike, it's up to the ladies' maids to get Mrs. Levinson her goat's milk and boiled water every day.

More after the jump!

In the drawing room, Mary explains to Grandmamma Levinson that Matthew is related to a distant line of the Crawleys, so it's an incestuous relationship, but not the really icky kind. Cora's mum is more than a little bit bitter that Matthew is inheriting her husband's money, unaware that Robert has already lost it all, so Matthew won't be getting any of it really.

Out in the hall, Mary asks Matthew what's happened to Mr. Polbrook and, predictably, he's presumed dead. Matthew is indifferent and tells Mary he won't keep the money even if he's the heir. Mary informs him that Lord Grantham has lost a lot of his money, but if Matthew inherits from Mr. Swire, there will be enough. Enough to save Downton and to keep Lady Mary from having to move into an estate with --- gasp – only twenty bedrooms. Cue Matthew and Mary almost breaking up – again.

I can't decide who is frustrating me more in this current Matthew/Mary conflict: Mary acting like a spoiled brat who uncharacteristically (for Mary) wants to spend the rest of her life at Downton, or Matthew's obnoxious piety.  I'm guessing at some point Mary will wear him down about the money and Downton will be saved until the stock market crashes in 1929 and they all fling themselves off the roof en masse. At least I hope that's how the show ends. Of course Matthew has to stop blaming himself for Lavinia's death and use the money to help his cousinwife. It's a no-brainer to a pragmatist like Mary, but guilt-ridden Matthew won't budge. FYI Matthew, Crawley heirs are a disposable lot, and once Mary squeezes out a boy, you are no longer that useful as a character. Just knowing that Dan Stevens is planning a move to New York to star in a Broadway show has me wondering if Matthew isn't going to be around for the green-lighted Season 4. 

Anna visits Bates in prison again and … yawn. There's really nowhere to go with this plotline except to somehow clear Bates and get him out of prison. We already know Who Done It (Vera set Bates up). Fellowes is trying to create tension by creating conflict between Bates and his cellmate but this isn’t Prison Break. Show us more rich people laughing at poor people!

In awkward dinner party news, Grandmamma Levinson walks up to Grandmamma Crawley and hugs her. Don't you need permission from the king to do that? They have a little catfight before going into dinner, as all families do. The topic of conversation at dinner this evening is speculation on who sent Sybil and Branson the money to travel to the wedding. Put off by such distasteful talk of money at the dinner table, Lady Violet reveals she is the one who sent the money. Mystery solved! Families should stick together! Love! Happiness! Annnnd cue Mary leaving the dinner table in tears.

Downstairs, Mrs. Patmore attempts to get Daisy, who is still on strike, to help with dinner while upstairs Robert offers to go talk to Matthew, but Branson insists that he should do it, since Matthew's his bro now and they're both in relationships with these uppity Crawley females. Up-upstairs, Anna advises Mary that she'd better get back together with Matthew like right this second because she's not going to find such a nice bloke ever again. So, unless she wants to end a spinster like Edith, she'd better hurry it up and get hitched.
Branson takes Mary over to Downton, and Mary and Matthew speak to each other through an opened door, since it's bad luck for him to see the bride before the potential wedding. Mary says she's not afraid of calling it off. Mary excels at calling off weddings. But Matthew's realized he can't be happy with anyone else as long as Mary is alive, and so they decide to put the inheritance issue aside so they can finally sleep together without causing a scandal be together. Mistress Mary Quite Contrary has developed quite a bit as a character from Season 1. She's gone from giving Turkish ambassadors a happy ending to being all virginal about kissing her prospective husband the night before the wedding.

Meanwhile, Daisy decides to dry the dishes. All is right with the world.

Next morning! Wedding! Everyone is still alive! Huzzah! Upstairs, Cora is having a rather belated sex talk with Mary. Edith gets in a final premarital passive-aggressive dig to the effect that Mary doesn't deserve all her good fortune etc. and it's off to the church! I'm fully waiting for someone to get killed on the way. Mary comes downstairs and shows her wedding finery to Her Two Dads – Robert and Carson. The rapt expression on Carson’s face is probably the most touching moment of the entire episode.

The moment? So special! The wedding dress? Eehhhh...

The guests arrive at the church. Cora promises Sybil that she's next, which is what you say to the unmarried sister at every wedding since the beginning of time. The peasantry cheers Kate Middleton Lady Mary as she is driven through the village in her coach. They can party today and go back to being poor tomorrow. No one dies en route to the church.

Well. Here we are Downton fans. Big hats. Big smiles. Even Edith isn't miserable today. Fade out. Fade in. I'm sure some fans will be mad that they skipped the vows, but I'm rather all right with it. Before we know it, the happy couple is back from France. They didn't die on the honeymoon and they haven't killed each other yet. Robert asks Matthew how things went. Matthew replies, "My eyes have been opened." Yes. Now I know what a spoiled harridan I'm married to. God help me.

Downstairs, Alfred has been promoted to waiting on Matthew. Thomas doesn't like that one little bit.
It's not Branson making things awkward at dinner tonight, but Lady Isobel. She announces she's helping out whores. Real live whores. Lady Violet makes it clear that We Are Not Amused, but Mrs. Levinson is quite all right with this new direction in Lady Isobel's life. Lady Isobel can be a rather annoying do-gooder, but I think this storyline has a lot of promise for her. Mrs. Levinson continues eating, quite oblivious to the whispered conversations and it's entirely possible given recent events that she, too, has been roofied. Mary makes a derogatory comment about Sir Anthony, and Lady Violet and Robert decide it's time to put an end to this Strallan nonsense. Robert doesn’t think it's Strallan's fault and wants to stop Edith from making a fool out of herself over a man old enough to be her father.

Mrs. Hughes asks to see Mrs. Patmore privately. Mrs. Hughes has discovered a lump on a breast and worries that she might have cancer. Mrs. Patmore agrees to go with her to see the doctor. Later, Dr. Clarkson tells Mrs. Hughes that he's sure it's nothing. Which is TV for, "I'm sure it's cancer."

In the ladies' drawing room, Mary and Lady Violet hatch a plan to attempt to get Mrs. Levinson – whom Lady Violet clearly despises – to use her considerable wealth to save Downton from the chopping block – again. Let's not forget that it was Cora's fortune that allowed Robert to keep Downton in the family.

Meanwhile at the Home for Women Who Have Lost Their Way, a familiar face appears. Why, yes, that's Ethel, the maid from Season 2 who was found en flagrante with one of the officers sent to Downton and later discovered she was pregnant with the officer's child. Things have obviously not gone well for her.

Lady Mary wants to know if there is any word from Swire's attorney. Judging from Matthew's downcast attitude, it's pretty apparent that he is the heir. Mary is happy, but Matthew still thinks it's stealing. Oh dear. Lavinia is dead as a door nail and she's still causing them problems.

Oh, all this fuss about being dressed for dinner. Just wear your jammies from now on. It's easier. Thomas gives Alfred some "help" with a stain on Matthew's tails. The "help" burns a hole in it. Matthew has to go down in his dinner jacket, which causes an uproar and nearly causes Alfred to lose his job. Ever up to her old downstairs highjinks, O'Brien later takes and hides Robert's dinner shirts, making Thomas look like a fool and forcing Robert to attend a dinner party in one of his every day shirts. We are all just turning in to Branson. We may as well join Sinn Fein.

From a literary perspective, is it even possible for there to be foe-yay between these two characters?

Down in the study, Robert tells Strallan he must not see Edith anymore, and Strallan agrees to stay away from her. To be fair to poor Edith, Strallan does appear to be hurt, and I think he genuinely does like Edith. Edith gets his letter saying as much the next morning at breakfast, and she runs off crying and stamping her feet like she's Mary or something.

Instead of Washing That Man Right Out of Her Hair, Lady Edith takes her sorrows to Shirley MacLaine Granny, a.k.a The Granny That Gets Shit Done. I don't really get Robert's objections to Sir Anthony here. Sure, he's older than dirt, but Robert's broke and a savvy peer would get his eligible daughters married into money stat before everyone finds out. Lady Mary may have gotten the hottest husband (and the one most likely to stumble into an inheritance), but Edith can rejoice in the fact that she at least got the man with the title and the ready cash. Shirley MacLaine tells Robert to face facts, and Robert reluctantly agrees to let Edith continue to stalk see Sir Anthony.

Meanwhile, at Lady Isobel's charity, Ethel wrestles up the courage to speak to Lady Isobel, but she backs away from making a request and leaves. Over at Dr. Clarkson's, Mrs. Hughes receives news that her test was inconclusive and the sample will have to be sent away to a lab where they can do more science to it to see if she has cancer.

It's party night again. Tonight, Lady Violet and Mary plan to show Downton on display, so Cora's mom will see the "point" of Downton and fork over some cash to save it. Robert's shirts are still missing. The stove, which has been smoking so much in the last few scenes that it's obvious that it will either burn dinner or burn the house down, finally gives out, and the guests have nothing to eat.

It's up to Mrs. Levinson to save the day! She tells the staff to get together whatever food they can and serve the guests as if they are having a picnic. What a brilliant plan! What American ingenuity. The party's a success! Oh, and she's not giving you any money, Mary. She can't touch the capital of her fortune. The whole point of Downton Abbey is that it portrays a world that doesn't – and probably can't – exist anymore. Mary is living in an age of the destruction of great estates like Downton Abbey and she may have to accept that, with no money coming in from any willing sources, Downton might have to be sold and she will have to be Countess of Grantham sans the estate.

Two moments in the last ten minutes or so stand out. Mrs. Hughes, who is one of my favorite characters on the show, finally breaks down into tears. Cancer is essentially a death sentence in 1920, and no Downton fans want to see the end of Mrs. Hughes. Strallan, who really does care for Edith after all, asks for her hand as awkwardly as possible and she accepts. 

The poor dears. They're "Hollywood ugly", you see.

Overall, this is a promising start to the third season of Downton Abbey. I feel like the show has gotten back to its roots and it's more like the show in Season 1 than Season 2. If season 1 seemed like Mitt Romney's Wet Dream, Season 2 was a tad too heavy on the melodrama. If the premiere is any indication of what's to come, Season 3 doesn't seem to be imbued with quite so much overwrought ridiculousness. Next week's episode should shore things up a bit more as we'll see what Matthew intends to do with Swire's money. 

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