Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What Did You Think?

Yes, it's back and everyone I know is watching it!  The first episode of the second season of "Downton Abbey" aired on Sunday and much of it was about World War I, truly a watershed event, and how it has changed things at Downton Abbey.  (Spoiler Alert:  if you haven't seen the episode yet, read no further)  It is 1916 and many of the men are either active soldiers and fighting in France, like  Matthew and Thomas; aspiring soldiers ready to go to battle, like the footman William; or honorary soldiers like Lord Grantham, who is frustrated that he cannot fight.  The war is horrific and there are many scenes that deal with the fighting and the wounded soldiers.  The characters have all been affected by war, including the women. Lady Sybil has left to help at a wounded soldier's hospital, but first gets some cooking lessons from Mrs. Patmore and Daisy since she has never even made a cup of tea. Lady Edith has learned how to drive and seems to have found some purpose in life, and a little romance, offering to help on a neighboring farm by driving a tractor.   Lady Mary is praying for the safety of the man we all know she loves, Matthew Crawley, the heir to Downton Abbey.  He is engaged to another woman, much to the displeasure of all the characters.  And there is something sinister about Mary's new suitor, Sir Richard Carlisle, owner of a newspaper empire.

The house itself has seen some changes and in the opening episode is the setting for a concert to raise money for the war.  Mr. Carlson is stressed out, to say the least.  The household staff has shrunk with the departure of Gwen and some of the young men.  And there is a new villain on the show, Vera Bates ( the wife of Mr. Bates) who has forced his return to their marriage with blackmail threats regarding the Crawley family.  And of course, Mr. Bates will only do the honorable thing.  Remember the dead Turkish diplomat from last time?  This incident continues to haunt the show. There are new servants and some are a bit pluckier than we are used to, such as  Ethel --  she knows there are other opportunities out there for her and that things are changing in the world and will never be the same. Also, the new valet is a soldier who has returned from war to reenter service, though he seems fragile and is suffering from shell shock.  It is obvious that the rigid class system of the past is changing and some of those who have been in service will decide to go out into the world and take advantage of new opportunities, as Gwen did.  At the end of the episode it was decided that Downton Abbey was going to be used as a convalescent hospital.  The Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith) is obviously horrified at all these new developments.

And yet many things are reassuringly the same:  the house still has its lustre, the bells ring,  the silver is polished, the chandeliers sparkle, the fireplaces are made up each morning and the kitchen is running at full steam.   The Countess of Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern) is still concerned with getting her daughters married, and is encouraged that Mary has a new suitor.  Mr. Carson continues to care excessively about keeping up the standards in the house, his way of staving off the unsettling social and war chaos going on outside of Downton.   Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson are still the reassuring parent figures downstairs just as the Earl and Countess of Granthan are upstairs,  Mr. Bates continues to be an honorable man, and he and Anna just may be my two favorite characters!  The romances between Matthew and Mary and Anna and Mr. Bates continue to be the driving force in the show.  And Maggie Smith is always a treasure as the Dowager Countess of Grantham,  delivering the best lines in her inimitable voice with eyes bulging and impeccable timing, always making us laugh.  As her withering gaze surveys the flower arrangements made by Lady Grantham, she says  "Cora's flowers always look more suited to a first communion...in southern Italy."   Representing the old guard, she is afraid of the technological and social changes that are happening all around her and expresses her feelings with a flourish.

But for me the brilliance of the show is in the relationships between the characters.  There are so many moments between them that are poignant and emotional.  These special moments are the real heart of the show and here are some of my favorites from Sunday night's episode, the ones that required some kleenex:

When Cousin Isobel tells the family that Matthew is engaged.

When Mr. Bates and Anna talk about getting married, having children and buying a small hotel with the money from Mr. Bates' mother.  Anna is overwhelmed with happiness.

When Matthew is leaving for France and Mary surprises him at the train station to wish him well.  Mary's face often has the most anguished expression on it, and I think the actress Michelle Dockery is doing an amazing job playing this character.

When Mary visits Mr. Carlson in his room after his health scare,  just about giving him a heart attack.  They have such a special bond.

When Anna makes her speech to Mary about her undying love for Mr. Bates, claiming she doesn't believe she will ever find anyone else.

When Mrs. Patmore, the cook, (who I love by the way) after losing her nephew in the war, wells up with tears when she sees young William in uniform, knowing he will be in France soon and fighting for his life.

When it is decided that Downton Abbey will become a hospital for wounded soldiers.  There is beauty in that moment when Lord and Lady Grantham decide to put the house to such good use.

It's going to be a great January and February for those of us who love the show!   
What were your favorite Downton Abbey moments?


  1. Loving it!
    Mr. HB asked me if I wanted to re-watch the last episode already :)

  2. I watched all of Season One on Saturday and Sunday, before the premiere of Season Two. I'm already addicted, totally. Invested in so many of the characters and their relationships. Can hardly wait for this Sunday.
    Thanks for the encouragement to watch it. Without you and Megan pushing it, I probably would never have taken the time.

  3. There were so many, Sunday.

    I chuckled when Edith drove the tractor and had my first tinge of sympathy for her later on.

    I did cry when Mary watched the train with Matthew on it leave. I was surprised by my emotions being so strong - of course, I cried for Anna and Bates as well. I wonder what will happen to Bates. What did Mr. Carlson tell Lord Grantham.

    I thought Cousin Isobel a class act for telling the family about Matthew's engagement.

    Oh, I must truly stop. I loved it all. Thank you writing such a wonderful post.

  4. We loved it. Definitely laughed about the "first communion...in southern Italy" floral arrangements. Oh my goodness, Vera Bates is a nasty piece of work. Paul and I were discussing ways to eliminate her: poison, strangulation, pushing her off a train, etc. etc. We really get into the shows we watch!

  5. I loved all of it! Mary is my favorite character and I do want her to be with MAtthew and not sacrifice herself to the newspaper man! Love love love Maggie Smith!

    Have a great week!

  6. I loved scene where the mean and nasty Mrs. Bates shows up with with her scheme to "persuade" Mr. Bates to return home. No divorce and happiness with the "other woman" for him! Mister is recording the series so we can watch it together on the weekends. I'll get to enjoy each episode twice…….
    Thanks for the review.

    The French Hutch

  7. I'm totally enamored with Bates. So gentlemanly, loyal, gracious...and easy on the eyes. Love the twists and turns with all the characters.

  8. As much as I loved Season 1, I think I'm going to love Season 2 even more! A few of my favorite things from the first episode:

    The Dowager Countess's many zingers, especially her "Toad of Toad Hall" comment.

    The way we're starting to see a little more depth to the villians.

    Lady Sybil and Branson. I can't wait until (fingers crossed) these two finally get together!

    And I really enjoyed seeing these stills you posted. They're another chance to appreciate the gorgeous costumes and sets.

  9. Mom,

    Here are some highlights, etc. When Anna told Mr. Bates that she's never been happier than in that moment that they were together. I could cry right now just thinking about it.

    I also like that Thomas is becoming a little bit more human. I also cried when Mary was praying for Matthew. I have the chills.

    Also every time we talk about it on the phone, I get a little choked up. Basically, I can't wait for the next episode and I NEVER want it to end!!!


  10. Oh, also I love when Maggie Smith calls Matthew's fiance (I'm not even going to bother learning her name) that "blonde little piece." LOL!

  11. Aaaaahhhh Mr. Bates... My sister asked me last season, "Would it be weird if I asked my husband to come to bed with a cane?" Hahaha. We cannot help it; he is totally irresistible. And I am actually glad that his wife is a nasty piece of work, because with Thomas becoming more three dimensional, we need someone else to hate. I love seeing Mary think about other people for a change. I am already loving this season, but it is more somber. A part of me aches for the simpler days of season one, when our characters' reputations were their greatest worry instead of their survival.

  12. Miriam, I think you get the prize for the best "Downton Abbey" observation. It seems that Mr. Bates has turned into a sex symbol! I agree with you that we needed another villain with Vera because Thomas is getting a big more sympathetic. And Mary doesn't seem as selfish as usual. I hope you enjoy this weekend's episode.

    Miss Bibliophile, I agree, Sybil and Branson have to get together!

    Elizabeth, Mary and Matthew have to wind up together! But I have a feeling there will be a lot of anguish until that happens.

    Penny, I also felt sorry for Edith. She is just so misguided! How can she think that the farmer will continue this romance when he is married!

    Lauren, yes how can we eliminate Vera. Maybe there will be a Pride and Prejudice type resolution with someone like Mr. Darcy coming to the rescue and paying her off to get her out of the picture.

  13. Kathy and I missed the first season, but watched it all last weekend. After gorging on seven episodes in a row, we were tortured to have to wait a whole week in between. We've filled up the time rewatching Brideshead Revisited.

  14. David, "Brideshead Revisited" would be the perfect series to watch while you were waiting. I love that show as well as the book. I remember when it was on television a long time ago, the same excitement existed, well maybe not quite the same. It seems that with "Downton Abbey" all ages are watching it. My generation as well as younger people in their twenties and thirties. My daughters and their friends are obsessed with it. It really is a phenomenon.

  15. Oh just you wait...just you wait....it is gets SO GOOD. I'm glad Americans finally have the series now, and I am just trembling with glee at the thought of all the joy you have to come! SO MUCH JOY! And so many tears.

    I must say I just laughed so hard that I cried at Miriam's comment about her sister wanting her husband to come to bed with a cane! Hahahahahaha! Mr Bates and his twinkly eyes!!