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

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

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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.

better late than never – Downton Abbey week 2 synopsis

Sorry y’all for the delayed post – but here it is

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stop right now if you haven’t seen the second episode.

I must say I did not see that coming. My jaw dropped, and I almost fell off the sofa – poor Lady Edith was stood up at the altar by Sir Anthony! Laura Carmichael portrayed the anguish of losing her love in an instant quite handily. Her pain was palpable, her embarrassment visible as she trembled, and to watch her hit rock bottom without any fair warning moved me to tears. Even the staff found some compassion for her: Daisy the assistant cook had kind words to say about Lady Edith’s despite the fact that the Earl doesn’t deserve it (loosely paraphrased). A friend mentioned that Sir Anthony stood her up so he could pursue the freshly divorced Duchess of Marlborough Edith was gossiping about, the woman he professed to Edith on the night before their wedding to have been the loveliest woman he’d ever seen so many years ago (ick).

But then it was right back to business – the eventual saving of Downton Abbey by Matthew Crawley after much vascillating, and the evil tug of war between O’Brien and Thomas. Personally, I think O’Brien has it coming to her: after the soap incident with Lady Cora, her comeuppance is long overdue.

It was a good thing that Mrs. Hughes’ health scare had a happy outcome – with all the tragedy that swirls around the Abbey, a bit of good news is always welcome. But there are dark times ahead, and what looks to be an interesting twist on the horizon between Anna and Bates. Also, I look forward to the development of the ever devoted, yet subconsciously suffering Molesley. I wonder if the downstairs at Downton will eventually make him crack. Until next week, well 2 days from now…

The series is repeated on Monday evenings on WYES, but for those of you who missed them or would like to see the episodes again, check out the PBS website.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/watch-online/?downtonabbey

We return to Downton Abbey

We’ll be blogging about the third season of Downton Abbey over the next several weeks. Please assume that the rest of this post contains spoilers and don’t read further unless you’re prepared to encounter plot details.

Downton Abbey Season 3

First, the American premiere of Downton Abbey is always near my birthday, so it kind of feels like a present to me, but one I can share with family and friends and other rabid fans. This season was hotly anticipated, by me as well as the legions who’ve gotten addicted to this soapy period drama.

Following the changes of WWI, which we saw in Season 2, there were so many moments of adjustment in these first two hours, and we got to see all of our favorite characters in new situations.

O’Brien and Thomas, former downstairs conspirators, are on the outs and now manipulating and backstabbing each other as O’Brien schemes and succeeds in getting her nephew Alfred hired at Downton.

Bates is in prison, which is not quite as dreary and boring as you’d think (which likely owes a lot to Anna’s spunky steadfastness) and Lord Grantham has lost Cora’s fortune in a risky investment, which puts Downton and all of the Crawleys at risk.

Deliciously, the Dowager Countess is fed a bit of her own medicine, wavering in annoyed awe at the arrival at Cora’s American mother Martha Levinson. I never thought I’d see the Dowager Countess back down in any situation, but watching her realize that Downton needs Martha’s money once again, and then trying to curry the favor of a woman she disdains is remarkable.

Mrs. Hughes’ sickness is at first comical as Mrs. Patmore struggles to support her despite her own squeamishness with sickness and doctors, and then poignant as you later realize that Mrs. Hughes probably has cancer, that she will struggle silently and nobly, and probably succumb. What will Downton (and we?!) do without her?

One of my favorite threads through the first two hours was the ways in which each family member and each of the staff had to adjust to the arrival of Branson and his new status as a member of the family. The intimate scenes of Sybil and Branson as spouses privately and publicly were nice touches.

But of course, I must mention the wedding. The Wedding of Mary and Matthew, which is such a perfect plot device on which to hinge so many of these stories. On the one hand, it’s satisfying that they are finally together, but it’s also frustrating that they are still not entirely united as they struggle over Matthew’s possible inheritance. How dreary and cruel Mary can be! But she is riveting, regardless, and always herself.

Her attempt to call off the wedding the night before allowed for some poignant scenes between Mary and Anna but, even more remarkably, Branson and Matthew. Their support of each other was such a nice note and a wonderful way to witness the changes afoot at Downton. Oh, and also, a lovely moment between Mary and Matthew themselves, as they agree to disagree and reconcile.

Which brings me to my two favorite moments of the first two hours of season three of Downton Abbey:

1. Lady Mary comes down the stairs in her wedding gown, with both her father Lord Grantham and her lifelong champion Carson watching, both amazed at her. When she speaks, she addresses Carson first, “Will I do, Carson?” Mary’s relationship with Carson has long been the most redeeming aspect of her character, the chance for her to truly be vulnerable and sweet.

2. At the end of the second hour, in a very poignant closer, Mrs. Hughes reminds Mrs. Patmore that they will all perish one day, which reminds us, the audience, that because this is a period piece, all of these people (if they were real, as well as their real counterparts) have perished. And all that is left is Downton Abbey (Highclere Castle) and our memories/imaginings of them.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!