Downton Abbey season 4, episode 7

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The Dowager Countess is like an eagle that swoops in on her prey – she picks up on the subtlest of cues and then goes in for the kill. She got it out of Lady Rosamund and Lady Edith the real reason for their trip to “learn French” in Switzerland. She picked up on Lord Merton’s interest in Mrs. Crawley, and her ongoing sparring with Mrs. Crawley makes one bust out laughing. She has returned in full form.

And as I predicted last week, it did happen, Lord Gillingham’s valet is dead. And Mr. Bates disappeared from Downton, with permission, on the day it happened. I think too many people know, so it will be interesting to see if the secret keeps. Now I get the feeling that Anna is not happy with the outcome and seems to question Mr. Bates’ integrity.

I am loving all the other pairings too: Mr. Molesley and Miss Baxter, the “menage” pursuing Lady Mary, Branson and the teacher Sarah, love is definitely in the air. But not for Rose, her pursuit to prove a point has left poor Mr. Ross with a broken heart. Not for Alfred either: Ivy turned down his proposal of marriage and has left him broken hearted as well. Unrequited love is so hard, but it is better to have loved and lost, than not to have loved at all. I predict Alfred will resurface again…

Lord Grantham has returned, and it is now evident that he is quite the force and steward of the estate. It was evident in his absence how much he holds it all together. I want Lady Mary to marry a strong man to take his place. I would like to see Mr. Blake win out in the end. They can’t keep the audience on tenter hooks for THAT long until Mary decides who will win her heart.

So next week is the season finale. I hope it holds some good story, without the devastating cliffhanger. Tune in next week…

Downton Abbey season 4, episode 3

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If I can sum up this episode in one word its PUSHY! Lord Gillingham was pushing Mary to marry him (my if this only happened in real life maybe more people would couple off and marry!), lady’s maid Edna got Branson drunk and pushed herself on him in his bed, then Mrs. Hughes pushed her right out of a job, my my (to quote Mrs. Hughes) what tangled webs they weave. And what’s to happen with Lady Edith? She has fallen from grace and now we are left to wonder if she has left herself flapping in the wind with Mr. Griegson leaving for Germany?

The relationship drama downstairs is starting to devolve into a circle of repetition: while cute, we want them to make up their minds! Yet we have the Bates and Anna saga, with poor Anna now scared of her shadow and rejecting Mr. Bates affections. For once, Lord Grantham has words of wisdom for the aching Mr. Bates, comforting him and reassuring him that yes its a relationship with ups and down and that this too shall pass. I certainly hope so I hate seeing Bates emasculated like this. And I miss the bubbly Anna.

For one, I’d like to see a story line develop for Lady Rose, and watch a suitable mate hunt her down. The bandleader Jack Ross saved her virtue after her partner wobbled off in a drunken stupor, and he was quite chivalrous towards her despite the fact that he couldn’t sing a lick!

The Countess dowager is reemerging and she is ever at the ready with a sharp quip. Check out this website for some cool quotes to remind you of her wit.

In all the chaos, the one person that holds it all together is the beloved Mrs. Hughes. She is such a rock for that estate, everyone including Mr. Carson that I shudder to think what would happen if she was not such a bedrock of stability. She is an honorable woman, but I would like to see her obtain a level of personal gratification, instead of giving of herself to everyone else. Maybe that is her satisfaction, being the stable force that everything else swirls around. I hope she gets her due, in a good way.

Can’t wait for next week! If you want to refresh this past episode, you can watch it here

Downton Abbey Season 4, episode 1

I really cannot put my finger on the reason for the obsession with Downton Abbey. Its like an addiction to anything: an opium fix, double chocolate fudge cake, sex with someone you really click with, the fixation on Downton Abbey ranks right up there with them all. It was evident in the fall building up to last Sunday’s premiere: searching for any news on the cast, trying to avoid all the spoilers (there are some very shocking events in store!) and the cast tour of America and all their interview videos, I couldn’t get enough!!!

But the wait is now over and I watched it Sunday night, the Tuesday night repeat and this morning I watched it again online – its hopeless for me!

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Please stop reading if you haven’t see the episode yet, but if you haven’t, where have you been hiding under a rock for the last 4 years (lol!)

The show opens with O’Brien, Lady Cora’s ladies maid, leaving the Abbey in the middle of the night to go to India to work for “gasp!” Lady Cora’s cousin Susan Flincher. The search then commences to find a replacement and Lady Rose intervenes and who turns up but Edna Braithwaite, the tart that tempted Branson last season. Now Edna has received a “proper training” and manipulates her way into Lady Cora’s boudoir. Poor Branson, I hope he doesn’t get caught in Edna’s spider web again, but for now she is weaving a nest alongside Barrow the underbutler to trap poor Anna and Bates. She fit quite nicely into O’Brien’s wicked shoes.

But back to Anna – it seems like she is becoming a bit more deceptive in her role. Previously playing by the rules, she has taken a twist and it may come back to haunt her. She is embroiled into helping Lady Rose, the dowager’s great niece staying at Downton to behave badly. Anna took Rose to a dance hall, where Rose met a handsome worker to dance with and by the end of the night there was a fight erupting over Rose. Needless to say, the young man later marched right up to Downton’s back door wanting to see if Rose was OK. Anna then helped Rose change into a maid’s uniform to have a secret tete-a-tete with the young man, but when would you have thought Anna to pull off such a ruse! Jimmy the footman bore witness to all the events so I suspect there will be more with all of them and the smitten young village man.

There continues to be more secret crushes in the downstairs milieu, what with the episode opening on Valentines Day. One of the more interesting unrequited love stories involved of all people Mr. Carson and a long lost love of his. A man from his past surfaced and Mrs. Hughes took it upon herself to assist him and try to arrange a meeting between him and Mr. Carson via the help of Mrs. Crawley. The episode ended with Mr. Carson coming to terms with his old friend, despite the fact that the friend wound up marrying the love of Mr. Carson’s life. In parting the friend shared that this woman had died, and at the end she confessed to loving Mr. Carson and regretting not being with him. How sad that this happened to him, its shows how missed opportunities in life can haunt someone until, if they are lucky can get some kind of closure – definitely ending the episode in tears.

Which come next to the heartbreaker, Lady Mary. After 6 months she is climbing out of the abyss of grief over the death of her beloved Matthew. Her state of mind is palpable and we all want her to “buck up” for the sake of baby George. It takes Mr. Carson to lend a hand to climb out and get back with the land of the living to quote the Dowager Countess. Speaking of, Lady Violet was somewhat subdued this episode, but I expect her to unleash her trademark zingers soon. Meanwhile, I am pulling for Lady Edith, and her happiness, she so deserves her reward in the form of handsome Mr. Griegson.

Aside from some drama with the nanny getting caught treating poor Sybbie badly and being immediately dismissed by Lady Cora, this about sums up episode 1. I know I’ll probably watch the online video 2 more times before next Sunday. Its hopeless…..but in a good way!

Books, TV, Movies: Charlotte’s Lists of Top Fives For 2013

Everybody’s doing the obligatory year-end lists so I thought I’d jump on the band wagon with my top five faves for movies, TV and books. I decided to limit myself to five so I wouldn’t spend too much time on the laptop. lol. Everything is listed from 5 to 1, 1 being the favorite.

First of all: movies. I love Independent film and I rarely run out to see a movie when it first comes out in theatres. In fact, I prefer watching on TV in the comfort of my home.  Just released blockbusters? Forget it. The movies I’ve selected are ones I watched this year but none of them were released this year. All of them I discovered on my own through chance and thoroughly enjoyed. Predictably, all but one are dramas as that’s my preferred genre.

TV: Three of my five favorite shows were on Sundance Channel with two being Sundance Original Series. I love Sundance. It was a little hard narrowing my favorite TV down to five since I am a true child of the TV generation. As with movies, I prefer the quirky, original and creative in my TV viewing. See what you think.

Books: I don’t rush out and read the just-released bestsellers, as a rule. However, four of my five were released this year and I’m pretty sure a couple of them are on the Bestsellers list. (Not sure as I don’t consult any of them.) After reading this article and this article, I’ve decided 2014 will be a year of reading only women writers. It’s long overdue and I urge you all to do the same in support of women’s writing.

Movies

Bonus Pic: ( because I realized after publishing that I have 6 movies listed)
You Can Count on Me – Starring Laura Linney, Mark Ruffalo, Matthew Broderick, Directed by Kenneth Lonergan, 2000
A young mother’s drifter brother shows up back in their hometown after years away and out of touch. The dynamics between the siblings (Linney and Ruffalo), who are complete opposites, makes for a very interesting movie. Not a lot of action here, but a thoughtful unfolding of how differences in perception can create misunderstanding and resentment in relationships. Laura Linney is a nuanced actor and one of my favorites – I’ll watch anything she’s in. Ruffalo plays his well-honed bad beautiful boy that you want to kiss and slap at the same time. Watch this movie if you don’t require car chases and exploding things.

5. The Savages – Starring Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman, Directed by Tamara Jenkins, 2007
Linney and Hoffman portray two siblings who are juggling caring for their sick father with their own busy lives. Their emotional journey as they watch the deterioration of their father and the subsequent decisions they must make for his care is one many of us in our 40′s and 50′s are familiar with. This movie really touched me in a big way as I’ve recently dealt with this issue myself. Sometimes it’s helpful to see your own struggles played out on screen so you realize it happens to other people too. Linney and Hoffman give skillful, poignant performances and I wouldn’t expect anything less from them.

4. The Darjeeling Limited – Starring Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman, Directed by Wes Anderson, 2007
Hilarious. These are three brothers who travel to India to find themselves and bond after their father’s death. The predicaments they get into will make you giggle, or at least smile. I thoroughly enjoyed this offbeat comedy that also has a few tender moments.

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3. The Deep End – Starring Tilda Swinton and Goran Visnjic, Directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, 2001
A mother struggles to keep her son from being implicated in a murder. Both Tilda Swinton and Goran Visnjic are great in this movie, their casting was perfect. Tilda gives a convincing, heart-wrenching performance of a mother stoically trying to keep her shit together while slowly unraveling as she tries to keep life normal while dealing with blackmailers (Visnjic) threatening to expose her son as a murderer. This movie held my attention from start to finish with a strong story and compelling acting. Highly recommend.

2. Brothers – Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman and Toby McGuire, Directed by Jim Sheridan, 2009
Just before a young Marine (McGuire) is deployed (again) to Afghanistan, his younger black sheep brother (Gyllenhaal) is released from prison. The story revolves around what happens in Afghanistan and what happens back home. I have to say I was impressed most by McGuire’s performance as he was not an actor I cared much for until this movie. His acting here was pretty incredible in my eyes. Gyllenhaal and Portman (as McGuire’s wife) give solid performances too but McGuire is clearly the star here. This is a tense yet, in some ways, tender movie. Some of it is hard to watch but definitely worth the effort. Highly recommend.

1. Snow Cake – Starring Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman and Carrie-Ann Moss, Directed by Marc Evans, 2006
OK, movies like this are why I love Independent Film. This is a wacky, crazy, insightful, sweet movie that I will definitely watch again. (I don’t often do that.) Rickman and Moss meet up serendipitously on the road, both returning to their homes after prolonged stints away. Weaver plays Moss’s mother who is a highly functional autistic, Rickman ends up staying with her and the story unfolds and keeps you watching and guessing how it will ever end. If you don’t like this movie then I can’t imagine why not. Weaver and Rickman are great and play two of the most memorable characters you’ll ever meet. Highly recommend.

The movie that most disappointed me: Silver Linings Playbook Maybe it was the mood I was in at the time but Jennifer Lawrence’s character kind of drove me crazy and I wanted to smack Bradley Cooper. I kept looking at the clock during the entire movie.

TV

5. Downton AbbeyPBS – What’s better to take you away from reality than a historical family dynasty story set in another country? The acting is fantastic, the sets opulent, the cinematography bucolic, the fashion glittering and, oh yeah, those dreamy English accents. What’s not to like? It’s worth it just to watch magic unfold from Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess Violet. Eight more days to season 4 – I can’t wait! Squee! maggie

4. Rectify – Sundance Channel -  A young man is released from prison after nineteen years on Death Row after DNA evidence exonerates him. This series follows Daniel as he tries to assimilate back into his old life where he encounters prejudice and resistance as well as support and love. This is a well-written series that makes you think about how opinions that seem so solid can be so wrong.

3. The Returned – Sundance Channel – A French (subtitled) zombie series that isn’t your same old hum-drum, flesh dropping zombie series. I am wild for this series. Basically, it takes place in a small, isolated community in France where deceased loved ones, looking as they did at death,  begin appearing, unaware that they’ve been dead. You can not take your eyes off this show and I can’t wait for Season 2. (Here’s a good synopsis on Flavorwire.)

2. Breaking Bad - AMC – If you don’t know about this series then you’ve been living under a rock. I watched the first four seasons on DVD this year, one after the other, then watched season 5 live. I was shocked by how this show pulled me in with season one. Really, I didn’t think I’d like it, thinking it was all about drugs and addicts and all the shit that goes along with that scenario. In reality, it’s one of the most well-written, well-acted and emotionally compelling shows I’ve ever seen. Now I’m watching re-runs on Sundance.

1. Top of the Lake - Sundance Channel – A  detective returns to her hometown to investigate the disappearance and suspected abuse of a pregnant teenager. The detective (Elizabeth Moss) unearths long-held town secrets and faces demons from her past in this dark, suspenseful series. As with Breaking Bad, this is a well-written and acted show that pulls you in and won’t let go. Elizabeth Moss is riveting in this, playing a much more tortured, compelling character than her gullible Peggy on Mad Men. She was nominated for a Golden Globe and  an Emmy for Best Actress in a Mini-series or Movie and should have won. Filmed in New Zealand, the cinematography is uh.may.zing, winning Adam Arkapaw the Emmy for Outstanding Cinematography for a Miniseries or Movie.

The program that most disappointed me: American Horror Story: The Coven. This show is just too corny. I wanted to like it simply because it’s filmed here and set here and stars Jessica Lange and Angela Bassett but those  facts aren’t enough to make me sit through it one more time.

Books

5. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain – The story of the relationship between Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson. It was fun reading about Paris in the Jazz Age and the antics of the “Lost Generation”. I have to say, though, that if this is really the way Hemingway treated his women then he’s lost some of my respect. One can be a lauded writer but if you treat people like crap it diminishes the work, for me.

4. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri – Set in India and America, this is the story of two brothers, their family and a country torn apart by revolution. It’s a page-turner, for sure.

3. Tenth of December by George Saunders – A collection of short stories every one of which is a gem. I swept through this book in no time and plan to read it again. Highly recommend. the-year-of-magical-thinking

2. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion – If you’ve lost someone close to you, this is the book to read – grab it now! It gave me some solace in the year after my mother’s death by identifying and explaining patterns, behaviors and thinking that seemed wacked out but, in truth, is part of the grieving process. Skillfully and lovingly written, Didion walks us through the long protracted illness of her daughter, the sudden death of her husband and her life in the year afterward. You will see yourself in her story. Highly recommend.

1. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini – The best book I read this year, hands down. Set in Afghanistan, this is the story of a poor family, their struggle to survive and the ensuing life of a son and daughter. This is a richly detailed and engrossing story, a book I couldn’t put down. Until this, Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns had been my favorite book. Highly, highly recommend.

The book that most disappointed me: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. After a promising start this book quickly became Bor.Ing. That is all.

I hope you enjoyed my list of Top Fives and maybe feel inspired to read or watch some of these recommendations. Do you have any favorite movies, TV shows or books you’d like to share?

Downton Abbey – week 7 finale

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Please don’t read further if you have not seen Season 3 finale yet

I knew this was coming. I read that another character wanted to leave the series several months ago, knew who it was, but did not know how the character would exit. The final scenes cast a shroud over the entire episode: Lady Mary, serene in the hospital bed holding her newborn son, not yet knowing that her husband Matthew lay dead along a country roadside, killed in a car crash. What a shocking ending to a season already filled with tragedy.

Going back to the beginning of this episode seams anticlimactic in the shadow of the ending, but here goes. The Crawleys are off to Duneagle castle in Scotland to visit with their cousins Lord and Lady Flintshire, the MacClares. Mary decides to go, despite being 8 months pregnant. Lady Edith goes, and her married editor/suitor, Mr. Gregson follows her up there to continue his pursuit. The Bates, O’Brien and Molesley attend to the Crawleys, with O’Brien getting into a tangle with Lady Flintshire’s maid, and Molesley again playing the comic by unwittingly getting drunk at the Ghillies ball. Meanwhile Lord and Lady Flintshire are desperately unhappy in their marriage, about to ship off to India while Duneagle castle is falling out of the family hands because of financial mismanagement. Lord Flintshire confides in Lord Grantham, telling him how visionary he was in diversifying Downton Abbey for the future while he watched Duneagle Castle slip through his fingers. A bit of vindication for Matthew and Tom. An interesting twist ahead for season 4 lies in their daughter Lady Rose coming to live at Downton after her parents leave England.

Back at Downton, while the family are away, Clarkson gives the house staff a bit of time off to attend the local fair. Jimmy gets into a bit of trouble and Thomas comes to his aid, and winds up getting beaten by some town thugs, but in the end, Jimmy and Thomas make peace and become friends even though Jimmy tells him he could never give Thomas what he wants. Mrs. Patmore is wooed by Tufton the merchant, but Mrs. Hughes calls his bluff after witnessing him carousing with several other ladies at the fair. Over tea, they have a laugh and Mrs. Patmore is thankful that she didn’t go any further with him and winding up chained to the stove.

Another interesting plot was the new maid Edna’s unabashed pursuit of Tom. She flirted, created situations she could be with him by inviting him to eat downstairs, and even went into his bedroom and kissed him. This was an accident about to happen when the timely Mrs. Hughes dismissed her from her job. She then had a sit down with Tom to tell him about Edna’s dismissal, and he proceeded to break down again over the loss of his wife Lady Sybil. It is inevitable that Tom will meet someone new, but with the help of Mrs. Hughes, and others at Downton, it is hopeful that he makes a good choice in his next partner and not the latest help at the Abbey.

So despite all the tragedy, it has been a gratifying season 3, and I look forward to next year’s installment. It promises to continue chronicling the trials affecting the Crawleys and reminds us that tragedy, joy, sorrow and happiness all go hand in hand, affecting both rich and poor equally. No one is immune to it, it is the stuff life is made of, so we must make the best of it while we are able. Thanks for reading.

Downton Abbey – week 6 synopsis

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Please don’t read anymore if you haven’t seen this week’s installment.

This week’s episode turned out to be a 2 hour movie – it was a pleasant surprise to have a longer night of drama to savor. The biggest story line of the evening was Thomas Barrow the valet taking a chance on engaging James the footman in a tete-a-tete and getting caught red handed by Alfred, another footman. This dalliance by Thomas was initially supposed to end in his dismissal from Downton without a reference thanks to O’Brien’s meddling. But in the end thanks to Bates’ sympathy in righting the wrong resulted in Thomas not only staying on, but gaining an under-butler assignment. Plot lines that ricochet like this, no doubt developed by the creator Julien Fellows permeate this series. It is a bit hard to believe how these convoluted story lines change like a chameleon, but overlooking this flaw it makes for good story. I guess karma plays a part in Fellows’ story development.

One character that has emerged possessing the wisdom of King Solomon is Branson, Lady Sybil’s widower. In his ability to look at the situation from all angles, and being able to speak calmly and plainly, he singlehandedly has brought together all of the factions, namely Lord Grantham and Matthew, for the good of perpetuating the estate. I am glad he has won over the Downton women, because without them on his side, he might not be thriving in the position of Downton diplomat.

The Dowager Countess is up to her usual meddling, but for the greater good. She placed an ad for Lady Isobel’s maid Ethel to remove her from Downton and village scandal, but it turned out that Ethel was able to find a position near the Bentley family to be near her son. Another one of Fellows’ convoluted plot lines, that worked out for the best of all involved. She also deftly handled the young niece Lady Rose, who was fooling around with a married man; she was able to ship her north to Scotland and get her out of the picture before she ruined her reputation. Week 7 previews teased a trip north to Scotland by the Downton family, should be an interesting episode.

And now on to Lady Edith. She decided to become a journalist, and met her editor who right away began to flirt and pursue her. She discovers he is married to a mad woman who he cannot divorce, so now poor Edith is in another quandary. How she handles this latest predicament bears watching, I just hope she finds her way to a happy partnership, she deserves it after being jilted at the altar.

Mary and Matthew had an issue come up this week too: in their quest to have a baby, Matthew was taking on the burden of being the one who was having difficulty on his end contributing to the conception of the child. Turns out it was Mary, and she wound up having a surgical procedure to correct the problem. The problem though is why did she leave her husband in the dark, leading him to think that the marriage was under pressure? Perhaps she should take a cue from Branson and be more open and honest about matters affecting the couple. One thing though that is definite, their love is professed often and they adore each other.

The understory of this episode was the house recruiting a team to play cricket against the town team. There were scenes throughout the 2 hours anticipating the match, and recruiting men to play for Downton. The comic relief was provided by Molesley who professed to be a good player, when in actuality he was the one who couldn’t produce when the play began. I was sympathetic to Molesley earlier on, but it seems like his character has morphed into a silly presence, which undermines his former dignity. But with all the tragedy surrounding the abbey, his comedic actions gives a bit of levity to the series. I am glad that Bates has reestablished his presence, its like he never left and he is comfortably back in the role of hammer to Mr. Carson’s authority. I am happy for Anna that she has her man back in her arms.

So next episode is the last one of the season. I hope it ends on a good note and doesn’t leave us hanging until next winter. I anticipate there will be many twists and turns next week, so stay tuned…

Downton Abbey week 5 review

Please stop here if you do not want to read any spoilers in week #5

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This is the week of grrrrrrl power and greener pastures.

The pall of Lady Sybil’s death hung over the first part of this episode, but as life at the Abbey carried on, her passing began to lift. Of course her immediate family was stricken, and poor Tom Branson will suffer the loss of the love of his life for a long time, but life continues in both birth and death.

The most obstructionist character this week was Lord Grantham. I do empathize with the character, especially since he admitted culpability in the decision he made surrounding Lady Sybil, but otherwise he is running into obstacle after obstacle over his patriarchal role. Tom’s desire to baptize baby Sybil Catholic, Lady Edith’s pursuit of a journalist career path, Matthew’s handling of the estate and the Crawley women’s refusal to leave luncheon at Lady Isobel’s because she hired Ethel, a former Downton maid, who is reforming from an unfortunate turn as a prostitute just to feed her son, all have been decisions Lord Grantham vehemently objected to, but were also objectionable to those who were being dictated.  The women all presented a united front, and leading the charge was the dowager countess.

And she is to whom my next comments are directed. The dowager countess met with Dr. Clarkson and persuaded him to deflect the blame from her son Lord Grantham so that he and Lady Cora could reconcile from the rift surrounding Lady Sybil’s death. I was surprised the doctor went along with it, and perhaps he consulted the evidence and found her chance for survival was slim, but I don’t necessarily agree with the countess’ tactics. Perhaps it was her way of speeding up the closure, but I wonder if that could have been handled differently without compromising Dr. Clarkson’s integrity.

And now to the downstairs. Looks like Mr. Bates was successful in his appeal to be released from prison, a bit of good news that was welcome at the house. Thomas is still after Jimmy and O’Brien is egging that situation onward. The footmen are flirting with the new cook Ivy but there is a lot of unrequited feelings being flung about. Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson continue to bicker over progress at the Abbey with Mr. Carson, ever the loyal butler to Lord Grantham. But stirring afoot in the dialogue are discussions about life after Downton Abbey. Daisy continues to visit her father-in-law Mr. Mason on his farm and this week he proposed that Daisy consider taking over farming his land. Matthew planted a seed for Branson to consider in managing one of Downton’s properties and turning it into a sheep farm. Mrs. Hughes wisely talks about a future without all the pomp and circumstance surrounding an estate such as Downton. All this change was summed up nicely in what Mr. Mason said to Daisy: he told her she has 40 more years to work, which would bring her to the 1960′s, and he opened her eyes to the fact that she just might not work her entire career in service.

Next week’s episode proves to be an interesting one – some of the scenes in the trailer for episode 6 look quite scandalous! Until next time…

Downton Abbey Week 4 Synopsis

First off, DO NOT READ any further if spoilers bother you because there’s at least one huge event that I will write about. Though, fans in the UK saw it in October and I’m sure other people have been writing about it in the last several days. Myself, I’ve been almost inconsolable since I saw the episode. Read below to find out why…

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The episode opens with several scenes about Sybil’s pregnancy. She’s close to giving birth. Everyone’s up in the middle of the night and Dr. Clarkson has been summoned, but she’s fine for now. A specialist, Sir Phillip, will arrive in the morning, though the family is divided, with the ladies particularly wanting to include Dr. Clarkson, their family doctor, in the birth, and Lord Grantham wanting the society specialist because he felt like Dr. Clarkson misdiagnosed both Matthew and Lavinia.

Downstairs, they’re atwitter at the baby’s imminent arrival, up in the middle of the night as well. Ivy, the new kitchen maid, has the attention of both Jimmy and Alfred, much to Daisy’s dismay. Mrs. Patmore astutely observes that Alfred won’t like Daisy any better for being rough on Ivy. Poor Daisy! Always fighting for position and attention. It’s very likely that Ivy is actually interested in Jimmy, but both of the new footmen follow her around like puppies.

Ivy’s not the only one interested in Jimmy. Thomas is very “familiar,” in Jimmy’s words to O’Brien, when he teaches him to wind the clocks. O’Brien encourages Jimmy to stay in Thomas’s good graces, which makes me wonder what she’s up to. I’m sure when her plan finally plays out, it will be truly devious. But poor Jimmy, in the meantime, is trying to find his place and feels uncomfortable, a pawn in the game between Thomas and O’Brien.

Mary and Matthew are at it again, still arguing about Matthew’s determination to better manage Downton – after both Mary and Lord Grantham insisted he step in. Matthew’s concerned about the future of Downton, not just for their own sakes, but for their children. Who he’s very concerned about, stopping Sir Phillip when he arrives to ask him if his spinal injury could’ve impaired his ability to have children. Uh oh… What if the heir can’t have heirs?

The Anna/Bates story line is interesting as Anna has doggedly found the proof of Bates’ innocence, as Mr. Murry congratulates her. However, the portions that take place inside the prison are downright incomprehensible. I have no idea why Bates’ cell mate and the one guard are plotting against him so viciously. Did I miss something? Please tell me if I’m alone on this and it makes sense to you.

Mrs. Crawley has hired Ethel, which causes her housekeeper Mrs. Bird to quit, and also ruffles the feathers of Carson, Molesley and a tiny bit less so, Mrs. Hughes over at Downton. Poor Ethel is trying so hard, but is struggling with the cooking and making tea. And poor Mrs. Crawley keeps biting her lip.

Edith is offered a column and discusses it over breakfast with Matthew and Lord Grantham, then later with the Dowager. She seems almost amused by her family’s arguments against whatever direction she wants to pursue.

Quite a lot of the episode is various scenes of the family and staff waiting for Sybil to give birth, intermingling in various configurations, and the two doctors disagreeing over whether anything is wrong with Sybil. At which point, when Dr. Clarkson keeps stressing that he’s concerned, I started to worry about Sybil.

And then comes the moment I was truly concerned about my favorite character, when she asks Dr. Clarkson if she’s on duty, delirious and confused. She’s already had one conversation with Mary in which she elicits a promise from Mary “fight her corner,” defending Tom’s decision to give the baby a Catholic christening. And then, after the baby is born (It’s a girl! Both mother and baby are fine! But are they really??) she has another conversation with her mother, Lady Cora, asking her, “Help me do battle for Tom and the baby.” And when she says, “I just want to sleep, really,” my heart absolutely SANK. The dread I felt for half the episode hardened into absolute certainty that Sybil was doomed, perhaps the baby too.

There are celebratory moments – Lord and Lady Grantham kiss exhuberantly, the servants cheer and are relieved, including Thomas, who tells Jimmy that Sybil is a “lovely person.”

And then. Mary wakes her parents in the middle of the night and every family member – and I mean EVERY family member – gathers around Sybil’s bed as says, “my head” and goes into seizures while both the doctors look on in horror. You know it’s a bad sign when the only people in the room NOT trying to help someone are the two medical professionals.

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Another spoiler line, just in case you didn’t believe me before.

And then Sybil dies. I knew it was coming and I still felt shocked and devastated. It was a beautiful (if absolutely wrenching) scene, well-played by all the actors. Branson, Lord Grantham’s reactions in particular were tough. But the singular most eerie and horrific moment was when the baby started fussing from the other room and everyone fell silent, realizing that Sybil was truly dead and her daughter would have to grow up without her. I’m getting chills just remembering it.

Cut to another moment of shocked, devastated silence as the servants learn that Sybil has passed and their various reactions. Especially Thomas’s, who leaves the room and starts sobbing, “the sweetest spirit under this roof is gone,” and Carson who says, “I knew her all of her life,” absolutely dumbfounded.

Cora, alone with Branson and Sybil’s body, swearing to her daughter that “We’ll look after them both,” and then her growing, quiet, certainty that Lord Grantham is to blame for ignoring Dr. Clarkson.

The sisters have several great moments in this episode, but none better than Mary and Ethel standing by Sybil’s body and Ethel asking if they would get along better now since they’ve lost her and Mary, being Mary, says pragmatically and honestly that they probably wouldn’t. Then proceeds to say, “Since this is the last time we three will be together in this life, let’s love each other now.”

The servants discussing how to feed the baby without Sybil broke my heart. The Dowager saying to Carson “We’ve seen some troubles you and I,” and him responding, “Nothing could be worse,” broke it again.

And then? The image of Branson in the window, holding his baby, uncertain without Sybil and trapped in this grand life he didn’t want, demolished me.

The sweetest spirit under the Downton roof, and my favorite character on the show, is now gone.  Where can we possibly go from here?

Downton Abbey – week 4

If you do not wish to read any spoilers from this week’s episode, then please stop reading now!!!

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*SPOILER ALERT*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

I knew this was coming. You see, Downton Abbey finished filming early last summer, and premiered in Great Britain in the fall of 2012. So the content of the episodes is out there, as is what’s going on with the cast behind the scenes.

I had read that Jessica Brown Findlay, the actress that plays Lady Sybil Crawley was leaving the series. I just didn’t know how she was going to be written off. I found out Sunday: she died in childbirth of eclampsia. It was horrid to watch the episode unfold, and what I took away from number four was the patriarchal mismanagement of a female condition that could have been averted. No matter that the actress was leaving the series, devoted fans felt the pain of her death and wonder why the pleas of her mother, another woman who went through childbirth, a woman intuitive of her daughter’s condition, an established physician who knew Lady Sybil since birth were discredited by the male hierarchy. Her father, and a stranger, Sir Philip made the decisions and ultimately made a bad call that cost Lady Sybil her life. Interesting how the parallel morphs into present day politics, for example Louisiana’s morass of political soup in Baton Rouge, where people with no qualifications are making decisions on other people’s lives and fates without expert input…

But I digress. Lady Sybil’s presence will be missed. She was the only truly purest of heart character on the series. Her death even provoked Thomas  to tears. It will be interesting to see how Lady Cora plays out the drama with her husband, and if or when they are able to reconcile. This episode continues to show the struggle for women to achieve their voice, their rightful place that maybe, just maybe, they know what’s up. The one person who’s voice was conspicuously absent in all the events surrounding poor Sybil was her husband Branson. My heart ached for him as he held his baby looking out the window. Not just women, but men not of the aristocracy suffered from this pecking order.

Aside from the major event of the hour, there were multiple subplots swirling around. Lady Edith’s letter to the editor on women’s right to vote was published and she received a solicitation to write a weekly column, much to her father’s chagrin. The Crawley’s attorney made a visit, and he was dispatched to visit Bates in prison to help him develop his defense. It will be interesting to see if Bates’ cellmate throws a monkey wrench into his proceedings. The new cook is stirring up the footmen, and Thomas is stirring one on his end, with the evil O’Brien plotting to expose Thomas for what he is. And poor Edith couldn’t cook a kidney souffle if her life depended on it: I wonder how long Lady Isobel will tolerate her, despite her noble intention to save her from ruin.

There are 3 episodes left, and hopefully PBS will air the Christmas special, which would mean there are 4 more to savor. Until next week…

 

post-script – last weekend’s Times Picayune published an article in the travel section on what to know if you want to visit Downton Abbey in England. Good read for anyone headed across the pond anytime soon.