We’re well into Season 2 of Downton Abbey and some obvious patterns in coupling are beginning to emerge in this historical or historic melodrama. Let’s examine how some of our favorite characters are getting on, shall we? (Caution: there will be spoilers for those who have not kept up with the series. Some might also be offended by the language in parts.)
Bates and Anna: The Daisy Saw Chain of Desire
Yes, we will, no we won’t Yes we will, no we can’t. Yes we hope, darn she’s back!
It’s hard to remain on Team Bates when all this couple is allowed to do is react to circumstances beyond their control. We want to root for them, don’t we? The lovely maid Anna and stoic Bates have won our hearts from the start. After becoming sweethearts against his will (for he is married, after all, a minor matter), they give each other romantic looks and sighs, and confess their modest dream of starting their own inn and family.
Bates and Anna. Image courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2011 for MASTERPIECE
Then a nasty surprise in the shape of the very inconvenient Mrs. Bates arrives to dampen their plans (but not their ardor).
The wickedly delicious Vera Bates lights up the small screen with her foul plans to destroy the couple and the Grantham family because of her intense hatred for her husband. Bates turns into such a milquetoast when she spouts her venom that you just want to kick his butt to force him into action and whack her one. Alas, he remains a milquetoast.
It is up to Sir Richard to use his nouveau riche power and slap the woman down. Vera more than meets her match in Sir Richard, and frankly, these two spark more fire in their short scenes together than Anna and Mr. Bates ever could.
Poor Bored Lord Grantham
Being the head of a landed estate and master of a multitude of subordinates just isn’t enough to keep him busy, thus poor Lord Grantham is shown reading the newspaper in half his scenes in Series 2. His disappointment at not being given an active commission and sent to the front, where he would stand a 50-50 chance of being killed or maimed, sends him sulking to his small corner of the library.
To make matters worse, now that Cora has won her war of wills over Isobel, she has more important matters on her mind than to keep his lordship entertained. The soldiers must be taken care of: Lists made, sheets folded, accommodations planned, meals ordered, and the day in general organized.
Poor pitiful Lord Grantham is starting to feel neglected and lonely. Rather than working with his steward to reorganize his farms to grow vegetables for the army, and mobilizing his workers to do all they can for the cause, the earl behaves like a spoiled two-year old and attends to matters that are best left to others – namely that of hiring a comely war widow as the new maid. To be fair, Carson consulted him first, but shouldn’t this be Mrs. Hughes’ decision, plain and simple?
The Mary-Matthew-Lavinia Triangle
First Mary didn’t want Matthew. Then she wanted him. Then she changed her mind. Then she changed her mind again, which is when he left her, suspecting that she only wanted him for his eventual title not his humble self. Their parting in Season One gave satisfaction to noone but Mary’s sister Edith.
So Mary had to search in other quarters to snag herself a man. He’s not as pretty or accommodating as Matthew, but boy-oh-boy does her new rough-around-the-edges, no-nonsense and ruthless tycoon promise an exciting romp in bed. In the high stakes game that is the marriage mart, love played absolutely no role in Mary’s decision to bind herself to Sir Richard.
After rejecting his one true love, Matthew hied away from Downton Abbey, only to return two years later with a fiancee named Lavinia. His choice for a wife is as exciting as a crumpled piece of paper. On their first meeting, Mary sidles up to Lavinia with a polite but fixed stare and welcomes her to the Abbey. Lavinia, in awe of her surroundings and the fact that she will one day rule as supreme mistress of the premises, fails to notice the electric looks of longing and passion that pass between Matthew and Mary.
Masochistic Mary, who’s stiff upper lip is firmly planted in front of her clenched teeth, actually tries to be supportive of Lavinia while pretending to be a mere friend to Matthew.
C’mon, Mary! Fess up! One word from Matthew and you’ll drop Sir Richard like a hot potato and jump into Matthew’s sack. Mary experiences a hiccup in that desire when she discovers that Matthew’s unfortunate paralysis has resulted in his inability to perform those rites of passage that turn a blushing young bride into a woman of the world. But then she consoles herself with the thought that, thanks to Pamuk’s manly charms, she has already crossed that heavenly threshold.
Upon seeing Matthew lying prostrate in bed and learning that his prostate is of no use whatsoever, Miss Swire, who still hasn’t figured out that bees come from bees and birds from birds, cries her virginal heart out. She senses that whatever Matthew is trying to tell her must not bode well for their marital relations (whatever that means!).
As for Matthew’s steadfast love for Lavinia: I scoff. I laugh. I guffaw. Honestly, if both women competed in The Dating Game, Lavinia wouldn’t even come in third.
Upstairs Downstairs Love
First he drove her, now he wants to ride her. Branson’s a brash young Irishman who knows his worth. It’s a new age, and social unrest and the war have turned the world topsy turvy. It’s not unusual for a healthy young servant buck to turn his lascivious eyes on the master’s nubile daughter, but to act on his emotions and dare to declare his love? Now that’s awfully balsy of him…n’est pas?
Branson’s object of desire, Lady Sybil, is no namby pamby miss. She was all for the suffragette movement before the war, and actively supported Gwen’s right to improve her life with a typewriter. Sybil’s become a VAD, or volunteer nurse, and washed men’s bloody stumps and tended to their most intimate ablutions. She’s even seen their parts! (Our lovely Sybil has come of age in more ways than one.)
Still, her attraction to Branson, and his to her, is a social taboo that defies the world order as Lord Grantham and his mama know it. Will they find out? Will our hapless couple overcome all obstacles on their path to true love? Or will they part in sweet sorrow? Stay tuned as their world churns.
Lady Edith and Uh, Uh, Uhm ….
Lady Edith on her fine piece of equipment. Image courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2011 for MASTERPIECE
Poor Lady Edith. As if it weren’t bad enough to be caught in the middle of two dynamic and beautiful sisters, she was born with neither personality nor looks. It was Sybil who advised Edith to find her special talents. Well, we know all about one of them – to make Mary’s life hell. But then the war interrupted her favorite sport of baiting her sister. What to do? Drive a tractor, of course, and make sport with the farmer’s wife’s husband after digging deep furrows in his fertile ground. A discreet romp on top of the hay (with all their clothes on) and a joining of moist lips was all it took for the farmer’s wife to aim her proverbial pitchfork at Edith and order her off her man and the land she was plowing.
Poor Edith. Now what? She starts wandering around the house like her papa, with wide vacant eyes, making me wonder if Season 2 is turning into Downton Abbey and Zombies. Then, all of a sudden, Edith discovers the joy of letter writing and transcribing the thoughts of injured soldiers. She plumps up their pillows, fetches their newspapers and books, and takes lessons from the family dog to learn how to become a loyal and useful shadow.
Edith’s good deeds garner her accolades and she blushes from the unexpected glory. Can Edith be saved? Will she turn into an interesting character? So far she’s fooling everyone except Lady Mary, who turning bug-eyed keeping her eyes on both Matthew and her back-stabbing sister.
Yo Mama Wuz Right and U Wuz Wronged
We kind of liked Ethel from the moment we met her, didn’t we? Cheeky and uppity, a bit selfish, too assured, and totally clueless. She’s going to move up in the world and nothing, not even a maid’s position, is going to stop her. When O’Brien plays her tricks on Ethel we laugh,while feeling sorry for her. It’s our first glimpse of the young maid’s vulnerability. She’s all bravado and not too smart.
Caught by Mrs. Hughes in bed with an opportunistic snake, Ethel is cast out of Downton’s downstairs with nothing but the clothes on her back and a growing surprise in her belly. Alas and alack, Ethel’s story arc reflects events that actually happened in the past.
While the Lothario walks away with impunity, the seduced young woman must pay a steep price and become a social pariah.
This Marriage Makes Kim Kardashian’s Seem Eternal
William loves Daisy. Mrs. Patmore loves William like a son. Daisy adores Thomas, but he’s, like, TOTALLY unavailable.
Good old Mrs. Patmore, feeling sad about her nephew’s death, pushes an unwilling Daisy into William’s arm. “C’mon, luv”, she urges the young scullery maid, “It can’t hurt being nice to him – the poor sod is going off to war! What harm can it do?” So a reluctant Daisy goes along with the well-meaning cook and hands William her photo, which is akin to Britspeak for “engaged to be married.” Armed with her image, William knows that he can face a fearless death, which he does, for he returns from Amiens with shattered lungs and takes to his death bed.
Daisy is cattle prodded by the well-meaning staff to marry poor William, who is stoic with the thought that although he is unable to deflower her in his pathetic condition, he can keep her in flour (and butter and tea) for the rest of her life by bestowing her with his name and pension.
The Right Honourable Violet Crawley, Countess of Grantham, and Everyone Else
Whenever Violet encounters anyone, the two immediately become a couple, with Violet gaining the upper hand within a milli-second. Take Violet’s scene with the reluctant minister, for example. With a firm grip on her walking stick, a cemented half smile, and an implacable attitude, she twists his aging co hones by sheer force of her will until he succumbs and marries poor Daisy and the near-dead William, whose face has turned blue. Had Violet been born in another time and social strata, she would have become a dominatrix par excellence!
One other couple must be mentioned: Thomas and O’Brien. As thick as thieves, these two villains cannot get enough of each other and their machinations. Of all the couplings in Downton Abbey, surely this one is meant to last.
And now we can all settle in for the next installment of Season 2 and the goings on at the Abbey. From what I understand, Season 3 is guaranteed. Which coupling shall last? Which shall be fruitful and multiply? And which shall wither on the vine and remain barren? Stay tuned.
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