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Posts Tagged ‘PBS Masterpiece Classic’

These days I am scouring Netflix, Amazon Prime, Acorn, and Xfinity to find a serial costume drama to keep my free nights as satisfyingly occupied as my viewing time with Downton Abbey. I know I have been harsh with my reviews this season. Consider this: One Top Chef’s judge’s explanation of his harsh reviews of the dishes he sampled by the excellent chefs competing on that show was that all the chefs served outstanding dishes. It was his job to find the one dish that stood out from the rest. In that light, I viewed Downton Abbey Season 4 as a sterling show and each episode as a separate dish. The season started out tepid and somewhat disappointing, but finished strong, pleasing my palate and leaving me hungry to see Season 5. Let’s face it, there aren’t many outstanding shows like DA out there, not if you like your characters to be polite, beautifully clothed, and moving in breathtaking interiors and scenery.

downton-abbey-season-4

Cast for the Christmas Special

I admit to enjoying House of Cards, Game of Thrones, and Vikings – but these violent shows are far from polite, and I prefer my daggers drawn verbally, a la Violet. While I liked watching Mr Selfridge (soon to be aired), Call the Midwife, Sherlock, and other PBS Masterpiece specials, they do not compete with my DA addiction.

Last week, I found myself watching DA Episode 1, Season 1 with my sister-in-law, who rarely watches television, but who had FINALLY been persuaded to give the show a try. By the second night, she had watched the entire first season.

Now that we’ve had a couple of weeks to ruminate over Season 4, what did you think of the final two episodes? Thumbs UP, Thumbs down, Meh, or Can’t Decide? Curious minds want to know.

Other posts about Season 4

Dowton Abbey Season 4: Episodes 3-6

Downton Abbey Season 4: Episodes 1-2

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Poor Matthew died as Season 3 ended. We all sat in our seats as if dumbstruck, certain that Season 4 would begin with a resounding bang, including our attendance at his funeral and wake. Instead, viewers have been treated to a season of tepidness. Julian Fellowes has taken us on a journey in a Sargasso Sea of his own making, circling around familiar story lines and swirling his characters in a holding pattern until he can find a way to break them out.

Indiana fireworks explosion @Daily Mail

Matthew’s death surprised us and set the stage for cataclysmic changes in the Crawley household. (Image: @Daily Mail)

Where are the high stakes conflicts? Where are the intriguing story lines that kept us on the edge of our seats from week to week? (And, no, the rape scene does not count. Sorry, Julian.)

Ian McKellen (King Lear), William Gaunt (Gloucester)

We were expecting epic upheavals. (Image: Ian McKellen (King Lear), William Gaunt (Gloucester))

Granted that Fellowes was not given enough time by ITV to rest on his laurels and breathe before meeting the next season’s writing deadlines.  Granted that the goings on at the Abbey still provide some of the best TV drama on our schedules, but none of us could have predicted the steady decline in the riveting story lines from earlier seasons. (Before I continue, I must share that my friend, Hillary, who watched each episode with me, thinks that I am being much too harsh on this season, and that my neighbors, whose judgments I trust, found this season to be an improvement over Season 3.)

Including a lack of time to develop his stories and characters, Fellowes’ decision to remove the writers who helped to make Season One a resounding success didn’t help matters. So, let’s examine the state of Season Four’s tepitude (Episodes 3-6 ), shall we? It is 1922, 6 months after Matthew Crawley’s death.

The Crawleys

The earl’s a nice old-fashioned man who gives a tenant farmer’s son a chance to pay back his daddy’s bills, but, then, in Epidsode 6, he’s shipped off to America to help his brother in law. We’ll see him in the Christmas special, but, still, tepid.

Cora is showing more backbone, but she still has no taste in ladies maids. She loves having her grand babies in the house, although Tom is threatening to move himself and baby Sybbie to America. Cora has no control over Rose, or Edith, for that matter. Tepid.

Rose is a flapper who likes to rebel. Her romance with beautiful Jack Ross (love his voice and brilliant white teeth) is, well, predictable.

Violet and Isobel are becoming strange bedfellow friends. Neither woman is given much to do, which has been disappointing. Violet’s been obsessed with petty theft of her things by a new young gardener (Pegg). She has very little proof, but she hates to be wrong and her stubbornness leads us into familiar territory. In the end she shows her good heart by rehiring Pegg, whom she had fired.  Then she gets sick and is nursed back to health by Isobel, whom she slowly starts to accept as a friend. Not a major story line, to be sure. And what happened to the hints of romance between Isobel and Dr. Clarkson in Season 3? He’s not even listed as a major character on PBS’s site for Season 4. Tepid. Tepid. Lame.

Belowstairs

Thomas is still a snake, but one without a riveting story line. He’s lost O’Brien, his ally in nasty schemes, and has been reduced to plotting behind the scenes via Baxter, Cora’s new ladies maid. Baxter’s obviously reluctant to play along. She’s capable and willing (showing others how her sewing machine works), but, frankly, her story line so far is … diddly, insignificant. You get the drift. As for Thomas, he’s been shipped off to America along with the earl, so we can assume that they’ll both show up in the final installment. Lame

Mrs. Hughes is a nice motherly figure with whom all can share their secrets. Mr Carson remains an old-fashioned fatherly figure who keeps everyone in their place. And Mrs. Patmore is anything but a futurist. No change here. Their story lines are predictable, but, in this case, is that a bad thing?

Bates learns of Anna’s rape, relieving her of the guilt of omission but raising her anxiety that he’ll eventually go out and shoot the bastard, which he will, if Bates’s dark ruminations are an indication. “Your husband’s a brooder, and brooders brood.” Every time we hear their “theme”, we are reminded of the dark side to their story line.  (They can never be happy for long. Even their night out is fraught with difficulties, except for Cora’s interventions.)  Episode six ends with an image of Bates casting an evil eye in Mr. Green’s direction, leaving the viewers with a sick feeling that Seasons Two and Three are about to be repeated in the Bates/Anna “woe is us” story line. These star-crossed lovers are still rotating in a Sargasso Sea of repeated plot lines.

The Clueless Chauffeur

In yet another moment of stupidity, Tom Branson beds Edna Braithwaite, the scheming maid who was laid off last season for bedding him in the first place, but who inexplicably returns as O’Brien’s  replacement as Cora’s lady’s maid.  Tom was a chauffeur, right? So what’s to prevent him from driving outside of the village to find nookie at a safe distance? This plot line is stupid to the nth degree. Plus, does anyone really think that we’ve seen the last of Edna? Tom’s entertained the idea of taking himself and baby Sibbie off to America for a new life, which leaves Cora in a tizzy. We do get a whiff of a new romantic interest when Tom attends a political rally in Ripon. Despite many possibilities, Fellowes has poor Tom whirling around a Sargasso Sea of repeated plot lines. Where is the old Tom’s political fire? We miss that.

Edith. Oh, poor, poor Edith.

Edith finally gets her man, but then he disappears into the bowels of poverty-stricken, post World War One Germany. In his absence, she’s worried that she might be pregnant after a night of illicit love. What was Fellowes thinking? This season was Edith’s chance for a breakaway story line that would turn her into a strong and independent woman, instead we merely get … the same old, same old. Edith’s chance at happiness is snatched away when she finds out she’s pregnant and staring at the possibility of carrying a bastard and facing society’s censure. Fellowes missed a major opportunity to elevate Edith’s growth as a character to another level. He has her rotating around a Sargasso Sea of repeated plot lines – that of the loser sister. Disappointing.

Lady Mary’s story arc: a trio of men and a passel of pigs

Mary, Lord Gillingham, Evelyn NapierGood grief. What made the Mary/Matthew romance riveting was the sexual tension between the two characters. They were attracted and repelled at the same time, and viewers sat on the edge of their seats waiting for their fights to end, their first passionate kiss, first reconciliation, first breakup, second reconciliation, second breakup … well, you get the drift.  Their romance was played out against a backdrop of serious, catastrophic events – the sinking of the Titanic and loss of Downton’s heir, the possibility of losing the entire estate due to bad investments, World War One, Matthew’s engagement to another, the influenza epidemic, etc. When the couple finally married we all sighed a collective breath of relief. Aaaah. And then they conceived the heir, George. Aaaah.  But then a truck drove into Matthew’s path and splat! – the end of an epic romance and abrupt end to Season 3.

At the start of Season 4, we were not even privy to his funeral (bad decision), but given just a glimpse of his grave. This season began six  months after Matthew’s death, with Mary walking around the Abbey like a zombie. She’s sad. She’s grieving. She can’t move. Her lower lip is as stiff as the upper. Tepid and predictable.

Then a  childhood friend waltzes in (Lord Tony Gillingham) and she sorta, kinda perks up. No spark. No sexual tension. This new beau is no Matthew.  I was expecting an actor on the order of a Benedict Cumberbatch or Richard Armitage.  What we got instead was Anthony Foyle, a handsome man, to be sure, but one who’s chin I find worrisomely on the weak side. He’s in love with Mary, who’s still in love with Matthew, so, realizing she’s not about to budge, he puts Mary on the spot and says something like:  Before I leave, promise to become my wife. If you do,  I won’t get engaged to Mabel, a woman I don’t love. If you say no,  you know my situation, I must get married. Mary resists. Smart woman. She manages a twinge when she thinks about her lost opportunity, but we suspect it was just indigestion. This lifeless story line can’t compare to the real character conflict offered up in previous seasons.

Yorkshire pigs wallow in mud at the poplar spring animal sanctuary in Poolesville, Maryland/ Photo credit: Wikipedia.

Yorkshire pigs wallow in mud at the poplar spring animal sanctuary in Poolesville, Maryland. Photo credit: Wikipedia.

Then there’s Evelyn Napier’s return. He who is interested in Mary but introduced her to Pamuk. ‘Nuff said. His interest in Mary is still palpable, but she rebuffs him at every turn. Napier never was an interesting character to begin with, except in his role as facilitator. This time he brings a guest in the form of Charles Blake, his boss and a government administrator. Blake, who served during World War I alongside Tony Gillingham, studies whether large estates can adapt and survive in a post-war society. He frankly doubts whether this can be accomplished, especially at the Abbey. Worse, he fails to share Napier’s enthusiasm for Mary, who, to give him credit, comes off as stiff as an ironing board. But there is chemistry between the two, which was sorely lacking with the other two gents. Sparks fly twixt Mary and Blake as they disagree on every topic, and while they might be failing to “connect” socially, they are surely noticing one another.

Image of scrambled eggs @wikimedia

Image of scrambled eggs @wikimedia

The pigs arrive just when Tom is attending a rally in Ripon and no farmer is around to care for them. During an after dinner walk, Blake and Mary discover that the pigs, who are hopefully going to save the Abbey’s bacon, are dehydrated from lack of water. For hours Mary and Blake toil to save them. Mary mired in muck attracts Blake’s interest. They have a mud fight. They laugh. The fact that she can scramble eggs really twirls his cookies. By this time, Mary, a six-month widow, has acquired three suitors. Napier’s obviously out of the running. Gillingham piques her interest now that he’s engaged. But Blake? Well, his indifference-turned-to-admiration is sure to earn a widow’s heart. Or will it?  Isn’t all this romantic intrigue  over Mary while she’s still grieving for Matthew too soon? You decide.

Belowstairs again

Good grief. How sad is the quadrangle Fellowes conconted? Daisy’s angry. Daisy’s sad. Daisy mopes around. All because of Alfred, who aspires to be a chef now that he realizes he can’t have Ivy, a very uninteresting scullery maid. Jimmy’s story line intersects with theirs and it’s … you guessed it, tepid. He’s just another humdrum character. Alfred, who, as he leaves, acknowledges to Daisy that her romantic interest in him will never be returned, says goodbye to them all. Ho-hum. Yawn.

Where’s William’s daddy when you need him, and why hasn’t he come around to visit Daisy and tempt her with the real possibility of running her own farm and becoming a woman of substance? Hints were made all last season, but the result up to Episodes 6  is … nothing. I had imagined that our resourceful Daisy would make a success of herself this season and haggle with Mrs. Patmore over the price of fresh produce. A missed opportunity – big time.

The costumes. Do the 1920’s costumes really compete with Edwardian clothes? Click on my Pinterest boards and decide for yourself. I rather think that the Crawley women look dowdy compared to seasons past.

Reading the PR spin on PBS’s website, one would have thought that our high expectations would have been met. Were they? Have I left out anything important? Do you agree or disagree with my assessment? Feel free to leave your thoughts, pro or con.

Now, let the sparring begin!

Image links and attributions:

Image, Indiana Fireworks Explosion@ Daily Mail

King Lear Image, McKellen.com

Image of Mary, Lord Gillingham and Evelyn Napier

Pigs wallowing in mud, Wikipedia

Scrambled Eggs, Wikimedia

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mast-downton-s4-series-icon-675×290-scale-2000x2000

Dowton Abbey Season 4 image, courtesy PBS

After Matthew’s shocking death, we couldn’t wait for Dowton Abbey Season 4 to begin, certain that we would be grieving alongside his widow and family at the funeral. As we now know, this did not happen. The action, as it were, began six months after the tragedy. Enough of sorrow. So many reviews of DA now exist, that I thought I’d turn the table a bit. I’d love your reactions to my tongue in cheek observations for Epis 1 & 2:

1. Lady Mary’s wooden with grief, or Lady Mary’s always wooden.

2. Edith’s a hussy; her public passion (in a restaurant, of all places) went beyond the boundaries of good taste, or Edith’s finally getting some – good for her.

3. Mrs. Patmore and Robert Crawley, Lord Grantham, have so much in common – they could stand to lose a tad of weight, or they’re so old-fashioned, their heads are screwed on backwards.

 4. Violet’s quips are becoming predictable, or the dowager duchess will never wear thin. The Abbey simply isn’t the Abbey without her.

5. Lady Cora showed some feistiness in firing that awful nanny, or Lady Cora has the worst taste in ladies maids.

6. John Bates and his Anna will produce a Batesy Jr., or (after Green’s awful assault) we don’t know what will happen to Bates and his Anna.

7.  Tom Cullen as Lord Anthony Gillingham will make a splendid suitor for Mary, or Tom Cullen holds no candle to Matthew (Dan Stevens.) Alternate observation: It’s a bit too soon, isn’t it, to hint of a new guy for Mary? or it’s about time that Lady Mary’s knickers get twisted.

8. Alfred and Jimmy will come to fisticuffs over Ivy, or Daisy and Ivy will  have a major food fight over Jimmy.

9. Molesley will prefer ditch digging over working as a footman, or he will trip Carson on the stairs and ascend to the title of Butler.

10. I miss O’Brien, or I’m glad she’s gone.

 Please let me know your thoughts or provide a few observations of your own.

Note: In past years, I spent hours pulling images from the review DVDs that PBS sent us. Last year, parent company Universal frowned on another blogger’s similar actions (I am not sure she wants me to reveal her blog), taking the punitive step of notifying Google, which blackballed the blog and drove numbers precipitously down. I have spent arduous hours deleting my pulled images from the many Downton Abbey posts on this blog and from the web.  I will no longer pull images on my own and will use only materials released for publicity. PBS has been nothing but supportive of me, and I thank the organization for including me in those heady early years.  – Vic

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The Downton Abbey of seasons past is back, warts and all. Last night viewers were treated to a 120-minute episode of pure Downton Abbey-isms, with Violet spewing her wisdom left and right, character development galore, only an occasional plot twist that stretched the story line into unbelievable territory, Tom Branson as super hero, and even a glimmer of passion ‘tween the sheets twixt Mary and Matthew. So let’s dive in, shall we?

All bow down and hail Bates’s release from prison!

Thank you Julian Fellowes for putting an end to our misery. I had reached a point where I didn’t care if Bates rotted in prison for the rest of his life. This week we were treated to Bates and his Anna sitting side by side, walking side by side, and painting side by side. Their tepid kisses told me that they should stop taking lessons from Mary and Matthew and embark on another steamy honeymoon night.

Ethel and her miasmic scarlet letter washed clean

It’s becoming clear to Violet that: “Ethel is notorious in the village.”
“I don’t think so”, replies Isobel, who will counter her nemesis any time, any where, even at the price of being wrong. Violet always has the upper hand: “I know so. You have touched this house by a miasma of scandal … “

In this episode the two battle axes are at it in full force. Violet shows no quarter, even to the hapless Ethel, who ventures to brag after receiving a compliment about her cooking from Isobel: “These days a working woman must have a skill.”

To which Violet replies:  “But you seem to have so many.”

Our dowager does have a heart and even keener powers of observation. Noticing Ethel’s extreme unhappiness at her treatment in the village, she joins forces with Mrs. Hughes and Isobel to remove the fallen woman from her scene of social crime to another position in another village. Violet places an advertisement in Ethel’s name “to wash her clean.” But the only appealing offer comes from a Mrs. Watson near Cheadle, a village tantalizingly near her son, Charlie, and the Bryans. who are raising him. This is when Violet comes to the rescue!

She invites Mrs. Bryan, who, in defiance of her meany of a husband, encourages Ethel to accept the position, for she feels “uncomfortable keeping a mother separated from her son.” With Ethel working nearby, she can see how Charlie is getting on, and later, much later, reveal that she is his mother.

Lady Rose’s nubility vs the Downton nobility

Let’s see. Lady Rose’s mama is Violet’s niece and godchild. Lady Rose is 18. She is pretty. She is a flapper and a trendsetter, for her wardrobe is years ahead of its time. She is also a liar and a sneak and (blush) the girlfriend of a slimy married man with a house in Warwick Square. This minx’s sole reason for appearing on DA is to spice things up, and I must admit she is more interesting than that dishrag, Lavinia Swire. (Will she hook up with Branson, super man, in future episodes? Curious minds want to know.)

Before the nubile Rose is packed off to her family’s estate in Scotland in July, she will stay with Violet at the Dower House. When questioned if she was capable of keeping such a young girl gainfully occupied and interested, our stalwart dowager replied: “The thing is to keep smiling and never to look as if you disapprove.”

Somehow Rose finagles her great aunt into letting her go to London with Edith so that she can arrange a surprise for darling mummy. Matthew also needs to go there on some mysterious business, and so, like the lion, tin man and Dorothy, the three of them start off for Aunt Rosamund’s place.

Once there, Rose makes her escape in a taxi and disappears ’round the bend. The taxi driver, kind man that he is (and hoping for a fat tip), returns Rose’s scarf and relates the sordid tale of her escapade.

Gullible Rose is rescued at the Blue Dragon from the clutches of lying cad who has (if inferences can be read correctly) fornicated with the girl.

This story arc is so contrived that I felt myself getting mad, except for the fact that we see Matthew in heroic action and Aunt Rosamund look down her aristocratic nose at that dreadful two-timing Terrence.

Once Rose is safely deposited at her great aunt’s home, Violet, with a smile that could neutralize poison, announces that Rose will be trundled off to Scotland after the cricket match to stay alone with her Aunt Agatha.

The camera pans to Rose’s horrified face.

Do we really care? Except that this gives Julian Fellowes a perfect excuse for sending the whole troupe to Scotland for Episode Seven of this season. Stay tuned to find out what happens.

Edith, the not so invisible woman

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Praise Saint Julian, for he has given Edith direction, a job, a nice wardrobe, and a splendid man. Although, let’s be realistic, life will never be perfect for our scrappy gal, who has learned to make do with her eldest sister’s cast offs. We first meet up with our heroine at her granny’s house for tea. Violet is aghast when she discovers that Edith actually means to accept the position of columnist for The Sketch. When Edith reminds granny that it was her idea that she find something useful to do, Violet retorts, “I meant running a local charity or paint watercolours or something!”

At dinner Edith announces that she accepted the job as journalist and her plans to “get the 10 o’clock” and meet her editor for tea. Violet seems quite supportive, saying “I don’t think a woman’s place is eventually in the home, but I see no harm in her having some fun before she gets there”, but then she turns her thoughts directly on Edith. “”Edith isn’t getting any younger, perhaps she isn’t cut out for domestic life.”

And so Edith goes off to London. Her first glimpse of Michael Gregson, the editor of The Sketch, is that of a smiling, strapping man who is looking for “a mature female voice” (and perhaps something else on the side).

They make a date for lunch next time she’s in town, and our Edie takes care to look especially pretty. As she talks of journalism and being jilted at the altar, she mentally rearranges Mr. Gregson’s clothes off his body.

Charmed as she is, our Edie wasn’t born yesterday! Back at the Abbey, this smart cookie checks her man out. And hies back to London blazing mad.
Donning a serious working hat, her best pearls, and killer lipstick, Edie rushes to Gregson’s office to QUIT her one opportunity to make something of herself.

I had the impression, SIR! that you were flirting with me and found me attractive! Only to find you are MARRIED!”

“Yes, uhm, well, let me explain.”

“I find the idea repugnant! No, I find YOU repugnant. I quit!!

“No don’t go yet. You haven’t had your clotted cream and fresh raspberries! You see, my wife is in an asylum. Lizzie was wonderful when she could cook and clean and sew, but she is gone. And I can’t divorce a lunatic. I’m tied, I tell you, TIED to a madwoman, but I’m MAD about you! Just seeing your feisty words in print lifts my spirits. Having lunch with you …”

“Do I look stupid? My cousin, who is MUCH younger and more nubile and prettier, bought that line off some toff on Warwick Square, but I’m not having any of your deceitful and hateful and untruthful lies.”

What if I said, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry?”

“Oh, well, then. If that’s the case, see you next week.”

The Passion of Mary and Matthew

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

One more open-mouthed smooch and the passionate scenes between Mary and Matthew will receive an x-rating. We catch Mary saying such seductive things as, “You’ll make me untidy,” “We’re trying for a baby,” and “While we make our little prince.” I shudder at her passion.

Even the doctor is predicting an increasing amount of sexual activity, saying that Lady Mary will be pregnant by 6 months. Gasp. This is too much for me to bear. I am positively getting red in the face thinking about the lustful way in which these two are cavorting all over creation in order to follow their DUTY to God, country, house, and earldom.

Oh, what the heck. I’m a 21st-century girl. Go team Matthew and Mary. Bring that next heir on!

The sacking of Thomas, or how O’Brien tightens the noose

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

The long arm of forewarning and prophecy made it’s first appearance with this statement: “I expect you’ll find something to do, Mr. Barrow, now that Mr. Bates is back.” Viewers have wondered since the first episode when O’Brien would crank up her evil conspiracy against Thomas and it seems the time is at hand. Thomas is in a precarious situation and knows he’ll be given his notice as the earl’s temporary valet. If anyone was rooting for Bates to rot in prison, it was our erstwhile valet cum footman cum bad guy. But the earl promises Thomas that he won’t be left in the lurch. “We’ll sort things out.”

The fiendish O’Brien, divining the right moment, strikes up a friendly conversation with Thomas and makes this observation about James: “You make a cozy couple I must say. Alfred says [James is] always going on about you. Silly sloppy stuff.”

Thomas stops smoking long enough to retort: Youre quite wrong Miss O’Brien He’s a proper little ladies man.”

“Oh, if that’s how you want to play it.”
“What are you going on about?”
“There’s no need to bark. I only know what Alfred tells me.”
“Well, if he says Jimmy’s interested in me he’s lying.”
“Oh dear, was it supposed to be a secret?”

Lovely stuff, this dialogue. O’Brien and Thomas dance around each other like two vipers. One hungers to kill the other, while the second is distracted by a desire that overwhelms his sense of caution.

And so the inevitable happens, with Thomas making a move on a sleeping Jimmy. (Does this make sense? Would he not wake him to see if the young man was receptive?)

Suddenly awakened, Jimmy is, like, totally spooked.

Credit: Courtesy of © Joss Barratt/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Joss Barratt/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

This happened during an age when homosexuality was criminalized and gays were literally living in the closet. Poor Oscar Wilde was sent to prison and hard labor, only to emerge as a physically and spiritually broken man. Thomas was putting everything on the line by showing his affection to James.

After the truth comes out, Thomas and Carson engage in a conversation that represents the attitude of most gay and straight people at the time:

Thomas: “I was very drawn and got the impression he felt the same way. When you are like me, Mr. Carson, you have to read the signs as best you can, because no one dares to speak out.”

Carson: “I do not wish to take a tour of your revolting world. You have been twisted by nature into something foul.”

Here is where Thomas quietly defends himself, saying, “I am not foul, Mr. Carson.”

Bravo, Thomas.

Jimmy and Alfred are guided by the puppeteer O’Brien, who manipulates the situation in such a way that Thomas is let go without a reference after ten years of service, a disastrous consequence that will lead him straight to the poor house.

There are twists and turns, with the end of the story sorted out by Bates, who, while he feels revenge is sweet, is a decent man. For the first time since his return from prison, Bates has been given an important task by Julian Fellowes – as the instrument of redemption for Thomas. All he has to do is lure a self-satisfied O’Brien to his house for tea and whisper in her ear: “Her ladyship’s soap.”

O’Brien turns paler than Bates’s whitewashed walls and leaves, promising to set things right.

In the end, all turns out well, with Thomas retaining his position in the house as an underbutler. This job is usually held by a former first footman who steps in for the butler if he is unable to fulfill his duties due to an illness or absence. Thomas as underbutler bodes well for further plot developments, and I cannot wait to see him manipulate his new position to his advantage in future DA seasons!

Tom/Branson, superman

Tom Branson emerges as the super hero of this season, able to grieve with the best of them, dandle a baby, divine how to run a great estate simply from observing his granddaddy, order his boozy brother, Kieran, around, deftly sidestep tricky matters of protocol so that he even gains Carson’s grudging respect, and learn to play cricket in the blink of an eye.

These tricks disguise the fact that Tom/Branson plot line often makes no sense. Where is his revolutionary fervor? Buried in the grave with Sybil? While most of the family calls him Tom, Violet and the earl insist on calling him Branson, which is meant to put him in his place. This does set up a running comic dialogue, with Violet constantly being admonished by Cora and her granddaughters. Remarkably, Mary, whose nose is pointed so high in the air that it attracts snow clouds, fully embraces Tom’s entrance into the family, even though the only thing they have in common is baby Sybbie.

Good old Cora comes to Tom’s rescue repeatedly, saying that “He’s our responsibility, he and the baby.” Frankly, the Bryans’ attempts to take their grandson from Ethel makes more sense than this sentimental claptrap. The Crawleys have the wealth and means to get rid of the chauffeur while keeping their grandchild. But the viewers are invested in the Crawleys as decent people. We would balk and leave in droves if the earl and his extended family went off the deep end and used their social muscle to push Tom/Branson out of the picture in order to retain Sybil’s child.

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

The Catholic christening is deftly glossed over, but provides some fun dialogue from the earl, who delights in poking fun at the clergy.

Recall that in episode 4 he suggested that Violet be placed next to a toffee-nosed prince of the church because she’d know how to handle him. The earl gets off another brilliant line at the dinner table, protesting that at a Catholic christening he…

And thus we come to the ridiculous situation in which forward thinking Matthew discovers that Tom’s granddaddy owned a teensy tiny Irish sheep farm, a fact that caused him to conclude that Branson must know how to handle the running of an enormous estate in Yorkshire.

Irish sheep farm. Image @kid's encyclopedia

Irish sheep farm. Image @kid’s encyclopedia

I was drinking wine during this scene and nearly choked with disbelief on that peculiar observation.

When Branson’s brother, Kieran, sensibly invites him to live in rooms above his garage in Liverpool, the upstairs gang just about keeled over from a collective heart attack.  Baby Sybbie in a garage? Over Violet’s dead body!

Kieran turns out to be a plot device upon which hangs our changing perception of Branson, whose super powers include diplomatic skills with which he convinces his brother to eat with the toffs, honors Cora, and impresses Carson. Branson lives in limbo, no longer able to socialize with the downstairs folks and unable to fit in comfortably upstairs. What’s a super hero to do?

Sweep out the old, bring in the new

My DA viewing party took the opportunity to take breaks any time Matthew, Tom, and Mary discussed farm improvements using a volume of Estate Farming and Stewardship for Dummies.

The earl and Jarvis are Downton Abbey’s benevolent overlords, using farming techniques that go back to the Norman Invasion. Murray, Matthew, and our super hero Branson, are forward thinking chaps who are unwilling to squander Swire’s fortune in the manner that Robert used to waste Cora’s inheritance.

It is telling that Robert now thinks of Downton as a dual monarchy, whereas Matthew looks upon his inheritance as an investment that must turn a profit.

Ponzi circa 1920 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ponzi circa 1920 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the young whippersnapper is starting to make sense a desperate Robert brings up a marvelous new American financial invention: the Ponzi Scheme. “I hear that you get a great return on your investment in 90 days.”

Jarvis, seeing his cushy, easy job vanish into thin air, asks for a good reference and sweeps out of the room, old broom that he is. This plot development stepped over the line of common sense too many times, but I understand Fellowes’ need to provide baby Sybie’s daddy with a raison d’etre for remaining in town.

Violet, as usual, gets in the last word, telling her son: “Think of the child. You cannot want your only granddaughter to grow up in a garage with that drunken gorilla. We owe it to Sybil.” Besides, as she sensibly remarks, we could call him Branson again.

Dang right and experience be damned. And so at the end of Episode 6 the new estate manager is … Ta, Da! Drum roll, please – Sybil’s darling Tom, the grandson of an Irish sheep farmer.

The depths of Branson’s super powers have not been plumbed. When the earl, in a moment of self pity, declares “It’s time for me to take a back seat”, our hero comes to the fore with this observation, that Robert knows the people on his estate backwards and forwards and that this knowledge is priceless.

Hearing this, Robert’s face shines with delight and he declares in a Sally Field moment – “You like me, you really like me!”

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

It’s cricket time!

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

I almost thought I was watching a replay of the Ravens and 49ers when the villagers took on the folks at the Abbey in their yearly cricket match. The scenes were so action-packed and unbelievably tense that I missed quite a few details.

The village folk (including Dr. Carson) were up for a thrashing, having won too numerous times to count, and the earl and Moseley were just the right men to bring VICTORY to Downton Abbey. Of course their team was missing two men, mere bumps in an otherwise smooth landscape.

Matthew had to hurry up and get Branson up to speed and teach him cricket in like 30 seconds …

… and the earl had to find a way to keep Thomas, a talented cricketer, on. Fellowes, clever fellow that he is, solved all of Episode 6’s problems in a mere 10 minutes.

Branson will stay on with baby Sybbie at the mansion, which has Cora crowing with delight. Mary and Matthew continue their pornographic display of affection in plain view in the hope of conceiving a little replacement male Crawley. Edith basks in the thought of being loved by an honourable married man and having a paid position. Violet has been reassured time and again that she is perfect, which does not surprise her at all.

And then there’s Branson. He, who has NEVER played cricket before, catches the WINNING ball! Those of you who were not convinced of Branson’s super powers must now agree – the man is unstoppable!

And so, all is now well in Downton Abbey land. See you next week, gentle readers. Same time, same blog.

In leaving your thoughts, please NO PLOT SPOILERS about the last installment.

Images courtesy PBS Pressroom.

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chronicles of downtonInquiring Readers: Thank you for leaving your comments for Downton Abbey Season 3, Episode 5. The winner of a free copy of The Chronicles of Downton Abbey is tinuviel, chosen by random number generator. Tinuviel, please send me your mailing address.

Thank you ALL for leaving your detailed reviews of Episode 5. I enjoyed reading all of your responses. My review of Episode 6 will be posted on Monday, February 11th. My review of Episode 5 is at this link.

Order the book for $19.99 at PBS.org

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Inquiring readers: The Outreach Director of the Daily Glow kindly allowed me to share this fun post by Sharon Tanenbaum. I’ll share a few of her seven tips and then direct you the site. I might even put in a few of my own! Enjoy.

The Crawleys may have old-fashioned manners, but their skin and hair are modern marvels. Here are the best beauty tips from the third season of the Masterpiece broadcast on PBS.

1. Your complexion always looks better in candlelight.

Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

2. For an instant anti-aging trick, stand next to someone who’s at least 30 years your senior.

Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

3. Don’t underestimate the power of a red lip.

Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

4. If you’re going without makeup, make sure your skin is flawless.

Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

To view the final three tips, click here.

Here are some more beauty tricks:

A. Modest attire goes a long way towards rehabilitating your fallen reputation

Ethel

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

B. To look like the classiest woman in the room, stand beside one who is not.

slide_248339_1466729_free

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

C. Simple lines hide figure flaws

Phylis Logan as Mrs. Hughes and Lesley Nicol as Mrs. Patmore

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

D. Protect your complexion out of doors with a hat or parasol, or preferably both.

picnic s3

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

E. You are assured to be treated with the utmost respect when wearing your best power clothes.

Matthew and Mary

Matthew and Mary*

Do feel free to leave a comment, but PLEASE! none that contain spoilers about the last three episodes of Season 3!

*Images Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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Downton Abbey lovers, it is important that you NOT continue to read this post if you have not seen Episode Four of Season 3. PBS is streaming each episode one day after it airs at this link. Do watch it and then come back to share your thoughts.

As many of you know, a major character is killed off during this season (perhaps more). It’s been all over the Internet for months. In fact, some headlines in the U.K. have totally spoiled the surprise for some U.S. viewers. Fear not. For the first time in the 3rd season the writing is up to snuff. While some of us already know who has died, the writers have managed to create scenes that stir us, make us laugh, or promote the plot. More importantly, we are able to react with disbelief, grieve alongside friends and family, and still be stunned by our reactions.

Why did the writers kill off such a popular character? Downton Abbey has made the cast uber famous. Who can fault the younger ones from jumping ship to what seems to be a more promising land for their careers? Us! For we oldsters know this is a big mistake 90% of the time.

Actors are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. Some who stay with a successful series are never able to rise above their stereotypical roles and quietly drop out of sight after their run is over. The same fate happens to most actors who drop out prematurely. Only a lucky few manage to carve a solid career for themselves.

Take Dame Maggie Smith, for example. While hanging onto her meaty role as Violet, she’s performed in the following films during the same time period: Nanny McPhee Returns, Gnomeo & Juliet, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and Quartet. Maggie, who’s no spring chicken, dug deep inside herself, found a few extra hours in the day, and decided to go for the gusto, staying with Downton while accepting other film projects. (Take that, Leonardo Di Caprio. That poor tired old/young soul is takinga break after making 3 films in 2 years.) Dame Maggie could show him a thing or two. She has proven her acting chops, which is where she has a leg up on the young’uns.

It is no secret that offers are raining down upon some of the more popular Downton actors. Godbless’em for being tempted and providing the writers with marvelous ways to “Auf” them, but all I can say is “Sayonara, darlings. You’re not doing yourselves or your careers a favor.” To make my point, visit IMBD to see the projects for which our much lamented expired cast member left Downton.

Now that I’ve had my rant, on with reviewing the show!

The Battle of the Physicians – or a standoff at the Downton corral

It all started normally, with Dr Clarkson assuring the family that Sybil is a healthy young woman going through normal childbirth.

The earl solicits a “society doctor”, Sir Phillip, to oversee the birth of Sybil’s child, explaining to Cora: “We can’t risk her welfare to soothe Clarkson’s feelings. I like the old boy, but he did misdiagnose Matthew and he did miss the warning signs with Lavinia.”

When Dr. Clarkson notices Sybil’s alarmingly thick ankles and muddled mind, Sir Phillip puffs out his substantial chest. “You are upsetting these people for no reason at all!” and warns Clarkson off, telling him not to interfere with doctoring or his much superior social skills in schmoozing with the ladies at the dinner table. We know Sir Phillip is not too swift for 1) He probably received a second-rate education in a first-rate institution simply because he’s upper class, and 2) He disses our pretty Sybil by accusing her of having fat ankles in the first place, which back in those days was considered a major physical defect. Had I been Papa Crawley, I would have decked Sir Phillip.

But Clarkson won’t be put off: “I think she may be toxemic with a danger of eclampsia, in which case we must act FAST!”

Gasps all around. By now the viewers are reaching for their medical dictionaries (click here for explanation of the condition).

Two factions emerge: On one side is the Cora/Clarkson contingent, on the other side the Robert/Phillips naysayers. Clarkson continues his portents of doom, despite Sir Phillip casting dagger eyes at him: “Her baby is small, she’s confused, and there’s far too much albumen in her urine.”

This is TMI for Robert, who reminds Clarkson that the Crawley matriarch is in the room listening.

Violet, godblessher, retorts, “Peace! A woman my age can face reality far better than most men.”

Continuing with his gloom and doom predictions, Clarkson warns that an immediate delivery is Sybil’s only chance. He urges the chauffeur to hie his wife off to a hospital, where they may yet save Sybil and the baby and deliver it by Caesarian.

Sir Phillip puffs up his chest again and declares that a caesarian will be surely kill Sybil and ruin her flat tummy for life. All eyes turn to Clarkson, who reluctantly agrees that as things stand, a caesarian might just do Sybil in.

“Honesty at last,” intones Robert in his best Yul Brynner as Rameses voice. I will NOT put Sybil at risk. I am the master of Downton Abbey and my decision (even though I co-own the place with Matthew) shall stand. So let it be written, so let it be done!

“The decision lies with the chauffeur”, Violet says sensibly, cutting through the bullshit with a rapier voice.

Branson is summoned. Poor man. All he can hear is If… If…If… If… If… If. He looks this-away way, he looks that-away and … stands paralyzed like a pillar of salt.

Meanwhile, what of the lovely Sybil, she of the slim ankles now thickened? We begin to understand why Jessica Brown Findlay’s role was so minor in the first 3 episodes, for the viewer is starting to realize that she is doomed – that it is Sybil, the most popular and most beloved sister, who is about to DIE. But is she?

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

The next thing we know, Sybil has successfully delivered her baby. She’s radiant! Tom is bursting with pride. They ooh and ah over their little girl.

The servants rejoice. The family is happy.

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Cora apologizes to Robert for doubting him. Sir Phillip’s chest is now so puffed he looks like a mating pigeon just given a come hither look.

My friend, who watched Episode 4 with me, kept sighing with relief. “Ah, she lives. Good, she lives. I thought they were going to kill her off.” I started braiding my tongue to remain quiet.

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Back to the cozy little post-labor scene: Jessica Brown Findlay has all of two lines, which was more than she’d been given all season.

She then nuzzles into her sheets, ready for rest, which leaves the viewers sighing with relief and thinking, “All is well. Someone else besides our beloved Sybil is going to die.”

Tick tock tick tock.

The denizens of Downton Abbey are fast asleep when Mary sounds the alarm. Wake up! Wake up. It’s Sybil!

Lady Sybil, we hardly knew ye.

And now it’s time to lay my tongue-in-cheek tone aside, for Sybil’s death bed scene was as splendid a bit of writing and acting as I have seen. Like you, I sat on the edge of my seat and cried. Every one, from a desperate Cora and Tom, to the disbelieving sisters, father and witnesses, to the resigned yet horrified face of Dr. Clarkson, tugged at my heart.

Sybil, convulsing and unable to breathe, dies swiftly, but the reactions of family members take longer to settle in.

The camera lingers on each face, all showing the same horror and disbelief that I felt.

Elizabetth McGovern could not have been more perfect as the grieving mother. Her last talk with Sybil “( my baby, you will always be my baby”), was heart breaking.

Even though I knew that Sybil would die in this episode, this scene with McGovern’s superb, restrained acting was a revelation. I could not watch it without crying a bucket of tears.

Sybil was the glue that held the three sisters together and now she is gone. The reality has set in for the two remaining sisters:

Mary: She was the only person living who thought that you and I were such nice people.

Edith: Oh, Mary. Do you think we might get along better in the future?

Mary: I doubt it. But since this is the last time that we will all be together in this life, let’s love each other now, as sisters should.

Thank you Julian Fellowes, for giving us back the Downton that we have come to love.

We are even given a foreshadowing of events to come when Cora has the earl sleep in his dressing room.

The next day, she can barely contain her civility, saying in a hasty, tight-lipped phrase:

“I must apologize to [Dr. Clarkson]. Because-if-we’d-listened-to-him,-she-might-still-be-alive.-But-Sir-Phillip-and-your-father-knew-better,-and-now-she-is-dead.”A devastated Cora cannot forgive Robert for his part in promoting Sir Phillip over Dr. Clarkson, and who can blame her?

While most of the hour concentrated on Sybil’s tragic end, there were other plot developments, believe it or not.

Lady Edith flexes her career muscles

Edith can’t win for trying. Arising early in the morning to join the men for breakfast, she happily discovers that she has been offered a regular once a week column in The Sketch to discuss problems faced by the modern woman. Wondering if she should use her name, Robert retorts that this is exactly what they want: her name and title. When Matthew rises to her defense, she says with resignation: “Don’t bother, Matthew, I’m always a failure in this family.”

Violet’s response at dinner is hardly better: “When may she expect an offer to appear on the London stage?” This prompts Edith to mouth – “See?” Yet we’re rooting for her. Let’s hope this sister gets her chance to prove herself and find her niche in the world, as middle children are often wont to do.

Ethel Cooks Badly for Isobel

Isobel finally has a meatier role to play, however minor, in which she tries to rehabilitate Ethel into a respectable servant.

Her good Samaritan gesture results in Mrs. Bird walking out the door and Isobel reaching for the pepto bismol any time Ethel serves up one of her culinary disasters.

Downton Servant Merry Go Round

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Daisy, likes Alfred, who is O’Brien’s nephew. He likes Ivy, the new kitchen maid, which prompts Daisy to behave super bossy towards her, which sinks her in Alfred’s eyes. Ivy likes Jimmy, or James, the wannabee footman, which gives Alfred a hang dog look and prompts him to help Ivy out of kitchen scrapes. Sound complicated? Yeah, well, this story line is like watching puppies tussle. Cute at first and then a little boring.

Thomas is falling into O’Brien’s trap …

O’Brien’s jealousy of Jimmy and hatred of Thomas sets her in motion to do both of them in. When it looks as if Jimmy and Alfred will have to vie for first footman, O’Brien sets a trap for him. “Want to wind the clocks? You’d better ask Mr. Barrow,” she advises the gullible young man. And so he does. Thomas is only too happy to oblige and explicitly sets out to teach James a new skill.

After his lesson, O’Brien attempts to pry some details from a reluctant Jimmy. “What are you implying?” she prompts, “Nothing unseemly I hope?”

“No, nothing like that,” he mutters before scurrying away. Our last glimpse of O’Brien has her wearing a Chesire cat smile and rehearsing the next bad thing for Thomas.

This concludes my review of Episode Four. I am so over Bates’s predicament and Mary’s non-chemistry with Matthew, that I am happily skipping over their story lines.

What did you think of this week’s DA and Sybil’s death? Please, no plot spoilers on future developments.

My other Downton Abbey Season 3 posts: Click here

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