Thursday, January 10, 2013

Is It Just My New Plasma TV, or Was Everyone on This Show Always So Pasty?

Hello, Gentle Readers! Following up on Maggie Cats' review of the first episode of Downton Abbey Season 3, new guest blogger Lady Gillian Ravenscroft-Anderson has agreed to provide a full recap! Of course, a regular episode of Downton Abbey is hard enough to recap given the sheer number of scenes (seriously, can Julian Fellowes write more than five lines of dialogue at a time?), so we've broken the two-hour dramafest into two posts for your convenience. Take it away, Lady Gillian...

Downton Abbey is back and with it so many questions. Will Downton continue to survive as a grand estate? Will Matthew and Mary finally get married? Will Lady Edith continue to throw herself at an old one-armed coot find a husband? Which parlor maid will turn out to be a whore this season? Don't touch that dial! I've got a pot of coffee, a pile of blankets, and two hours of Anglophilia on my DVR. It's dark and I'm wearing sunglasses. I've got a lot of ground to cover here, so let's get started, shall we?

The cast of Upstairs, Downstairs takes the stage...

It's spring of 1920. There are fewer young men around to marry your pushing-30 daughters off to. We have less money, fewer maids and fewer footmen. The times they are a-changin'.The Crawleys of the Grantham estate have survived WWI more or less unscathed. Sir Julian Fellowes has run out of plot devices to keep Matthew (Dan Stevens) and Mary (Michelle Dockery) apart, so after well-nigh ten years of ostensible courtship, they are on track to get hitched.

Much more after the jump!

Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown-Findlay) isn't coming to the wedding because she and Tom Branson (Allen Leech) don't have the money, and both working to make ends meet. Robert (Hugh Bonneville) doesn't want Branson at the wedding due the scandalous nature of Sybil's misalliance. However, Matthew's mother Lady Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton), who is a bit of an overly earnest pest at the best of times, has the presence of mind to insist no one cares. Lady Sybil has run off with the chauffeur, and everyone really ought to get over it. It is 1920, after all.

Meanwhile, downstairs, there is treacle tart! In Anna and Bates news, Anna (Joanne Froggatt) is back from London after taking care of her husband's business affairs, since Bates can't deal with his dead wife Vera's estate as he's, you know, in prison for her murder. 

As we are all in uproar due to the Royal Wedding, Carson is in need of a new footman and O'Brien recommends Carson hire her nephew Alfred. We're starting to see a different O'Brien emerge from the scheming lady's maid of Season 1. After having caused Lady Grantham to miscarry  and then guilt-nursing her through a bout of Spanish flu, O'Brien's had a change of heart and amended her Super Bitch ways, but rest assured, Downton fans, the gay guy is still evil. Thomas, who has finally achieved his lofty ambition of becoming Lord Grantham's valet, makes a few snarky remarks about Bates, and Carson basically tells him to STFU or GTFO. We all know Carson would prefer the latter, and I must say Thomas's attitude is getting a little old.

Enter O'Brien's nephew, looking like he wandered out of a Weasley family reunion . He shows up in his Hogwarts uniform (Gryffindor, j'accord) and is informed he's too tall to be a footman (he's all of 6'1"). Carson lets them all know he's there on a trial basis, so we all know Thomas is going to try to get him fired. 

Oh Thomas. You beautiful, beautiful fool...

Matthew and Mary take a romantic walk on a lovely overcast English day and exchange some sexy time talk, and Matthew expresses reservations about moving into Downton Abbey. He feels like they should have time after the marriage to get to know each other. Seems like they should get to know each other before the marriage, but they've wanted to bang each other since 1912, so I suppose it's a bit of a stretch to make them wait any longer. Matthew says he's not sure how he'll feel about taking Mary to bed with her father watching. Is he currently taking her to bed with someone else watching? Carson, perhaps? Is the dowager Lady Violet peeking at them through her opera glasses?

Lord Grantham is in London and is informed that he is broke. Robert has spent most of Cora's fortune on a bad investment in a Canadian rail line. Next time, invest in a hockey team. It seems a tad out of character for Grantham to invest so much of his fortune in this kind of scheme, and to do it against the recommendations of his financial adviser makes it even less believable. He tries to justify it by saying he intended for it to pay off, but it all seems too reckless for Robert. Robert's adviser suggests that he sell Downton, but Grantham argues that the function of the estate is to be an employer and he wouldn't dream of such a thing.

Lady Edith is wandering about the local village and up drives her awkward pseudo-beau Sir Anthony Strallan. She has nothing much to do, and he has nothing much to do and, recognizing this fact, Lady Edith reissues an invitation to the wedding, obviously hoping that one day she can drag Sir Anthony down the aisle one day enjoy the vicissitudes of wedded bliss herself.

Over at Matthew's digs, butler/valet/sadsack extraordinaire Moseley learns Matthew isn't taking him with him to Downton Abbey after the marriage. Matthew never wanted a valet and only took Moseley on at Lord Grantham's insistence in Season 2. Moseley realizes that it is likely that he will be sacked. At least Matthew can rest assured that Moseley isn't someone like Thomas or the Season 1 era O'Brien, otherwise he'd find himself with a bar of soap under his bathtub. Or someone would steal his dog.

Meanwhile downstairs at Downton, widowed reluctant war bride/kitchen maid Daisy is annoyed because the Crawleys aren't hiring any more staff. She was promised a promotion to Mrs. Patmore's assistant, and they were going to hire a new kitchen maid. Thomas, unable to get into any mischief anywhere else in the house, convinces Daisy to go on strike. Daisy has been forever smitten with Thomas, and so she takes his advice.

I vow to dismantle this institution of oppression BOARD BY BOARD!

Matthew's been contacted by his dead fiancé's father's lawyer. Mary wonders if Mr. Swire has left Matthew anything and Matthew is sure that he hasn't. Matthew asks Mary if she's looking forward to the wedding and she wonders if he is as well. Matthew tells her he's looking forward to some sexy time, but then his mood-killer's mother's voice comes reverberating through the hall, and Matthew takes his blue balls and his dear mama home.

It's Branson and Lady Sybil! As if she hasn't shocked us all enough with her politics and choice of marriage partner, Lady Sybil is the first of the Downton girls to bob her hair. Quelle horreur! Someone sent them money so they could attend the wedding, but we all know it wasn't Robert's broke ass, so their mysterious benefactor's identity remains hidden.  Cue organ music.

No one knows how to treat poor Branson, and Branson is quite out of his depths with the fashionable set. Thankfully, Lady Cora Grantham (the always impeccable Elizabeth McGovern) takes the lead in welcoming Branson into the family. Lady Mary, who seems to really want her mother's job, follows suit. Carson is clearly resentful of Branson, and doesn't at all forgive him for overstepping the clearly delineated class lines. In Carson's world, if you're born a poor mick, you die a poor mick and that's that.. But as we are beaten over the head with continually reminded in this episode, the world is changing fast.

As to the late  Lavinia, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a dying man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of an heir. Dear old Reggie Swire named Matthew as an heir to his money before he kicked off.. How much money? Probably enough to save Downton. Plot point!

Downstairs, neither Carson nor Thomas will let Mrs. Hughes, the housekeeper, assign them as valet to Branson. Mrs. Hughes decides she must assign Alfred to the job. Carson feels Alfred can't handle it, but what does he care, since Branson is only a chauffeur? I realize it's fashionable to be meta in these modern times, Carson, but make up your damn mind.

In awkward dinner party news, what is actually more of an horreur than the French bob infecting England like some sort of short-haired plague, is Robert being catty to Branson because he doesn't have the right set of clothes for dinner. Mary's suggestion is that Sybil and Branson should buy a Downton wardrobe, unaware that they likely can't afford it (and neither can Mary, really). Branson insists that he's not going to turn into someone else just to please them, and Lady Violet (THAT'S DAME MAGGIE SMITH TO YOU, PEASANT) says, "More's the pity." This is a cue for Lady Isobel to disagree with Lady Violet and interject with some of her adorable support of the working classes. Bless her heart.

Matthew decides to change the subject to something less charged, like Irish independence. Branson equates Irish home rule on English terms to England being ruled by the Kaiser, and Carson becomes so upset he breaks a spoon.  Those pesky Irish. If they aren't starving during a famine, they're agitating for independence and running off with your youngest and hottest daughter. Upon my word.Lady Cora tries to rescue the evening by talking about Irish gardens, and Lady Edith chimes in, reminding everyone about Lady Whoositwhatsit Tiddlybopp-Doodlefart's garden party, which only serves to make Sybil uncomfortable, remembering her former life. Do these people suck at small talk or what? Tell us again about the cholera outbreak in Paris, Granny. The staff is sitting around eating dinner and Carson is trashing Branson. Branson comes in, well-meaning lad though he is, but knows he's no longer welcome in the staff kitchen and leaves about as soon as he came.

After dinner, the Crawleys decide Branson needs to call his in-laws something that doesn't sound stiff or grand, and Cora and Robert decide on Lord and Lady Grantham, and Sybil responds that it doesn't sounds stiff or grand at all. :Snicker: On the up side, Sybil seems genuinely happy with Branson. Mary promises to accept Branson into the family, and tells Sybil that the Grey family is coming to their dinner tomorrow night, including some chap named Larry, who apparently at one time had the hots for Sybil at some indiscriminate point in the past.

Mary wants to know what will happen to the Swire money if they can't find Polbrook, and it's pretty plain that she's keen to go swimming in the Swire money vault. Matthew insists that he can't keep the money due to some sort of chivalric loyalty to Lavinia, whom he still thinks he inadvertently killed.

Over in Cora and Robert's room, Cora wants to know why Robert was so foolish to invest all his money in one place. He confesses that he's lost almost all of her fortune, but Cora reassures him. It's good she doesn't know that Robert nearly banged a maid.

The next day, Branson feels like he needs to move into the pub until the wedding is over, since he can't take any more Crawley family dinners. Matthew shows he's a good sport and encourages him to stay at the house, and Matthew and Branson start a bromance.

Bates is still in prison and prison still sucks. Anna's convinced Vera committed suicide because Anna doesn't think a thief broke in, cooked Vera an arsenic pie and forced her to eat it. After all, arsenic pies don't kill people, homicidal pastry chefs do.

How long have we spent on this plotline? Only five minutes so far? Oh...

The Crawleys are having yet another dinner and Edith is hoping the unobservant Sir Anthony will notice her Marcelle wave. Edith believes she could be at least as happy with Sir Anthony as Anna is with her imprisoned husband. Way to set standards for yourself, Lady Edith. You modern woman, you.

In the hallway, O'Brien asks Thomas to help Alfred make the leap from footman to valet. Thomas refuses, expressing bitterness over his difficulties getting a valet position himself. He walks away and the wheels in O'Brien's head start turning. She may not be scheming to keep her position in the house, but O'Brien is still the same old O'Brien and I doubt she'll let Thomas stop her from helping Alfred rise to such exalted heights as valetry.

Fast music! Cars arriving! It's time to par-tay! Pan to Branson in conversation with Sir Larry Grey who looks like Rupert Everett and Alan Cumming had a love child and said offspring got his ears caught in a mechanical rice picker. Unsurprisingly, Lady Sybil wasn't ever into Larry the Penguin, so jealous that Branson is now married to Sybil, Larry decides to bully him. Like all Twilight fans tweener girls, Larry makes fun of Branson's clothes, or really his lack of a snazzy set of tails. Even though all Branson has to wear is that really awful brown tweedy number, he has packed his manners, thank you very much and he walks away avec dignite. But hark! Sir Larry has put Something in Branson's drink. I'm really not sure what chemical compound there could have been in 1920 that could cause someone to act drunk aside from, well, alcohol. Sir Anthony, the old dear, noticed something awry during cocktail hour and alerts the family that someone is clearly trying to date rape Branson. This endears him to Lady Edith all the more. So Branson might be poisoned, but Sir Larry may very well have invented the world's first roofie. In spite of Branson's GHB-fueled outburst, Matthew decides he wants Branson to be his best man, and Branson agrees.

Skip ahead a couple scenes to Mary trying on her trousseau. Mary is still spending money like it's going out of style, so Robert decides this would be a good time to let her know that the money is (gasp) gone. 

To be continued in Part II...

1 comment:

Maggie Cats said...

Awesome recap! The line about changing the topic to something less charged, like Irish independence, made me laugh out loud at my desk at work. So thanks for that. :o)