Note: Plot spoilers if you have not seen the 2nd episode! PBS is streaming each episode for a number of weeks one day after the air date. Click here to view online videos.
Review: Downton Abbey, S3, Episode Two: Being tested only makes you stronger, or platitudes don’t help when your heart is breaking.
The second episode was largely devoted to Edith, her wedding and aftermath, Matthew’s dithering about Swire’s money, Mrs. Hughes’ health, and the further deterioration of ThomasanO’brien’s relationship
Lady Edith and the wedding that wasn’t
For once Edith is happy and the viewer is led to believe that his time it’s Edith’s turn to shine. But woe betide the middle child, especially one who is plainer than her sisters and who so openly longs for the same good fortune and happiness as were bestowed on those prettier creatures. Poor Edith. It is pathetic to see how much she yearns for equality. “Something happening in this house is actually about me”, she states naively.
She gazes at Sir Anthony in worship, seeing freedom from Downton Abbey and the chance to be mistress of her own house, whereas her affianced is beginning to acquire a hunted look. No wonder. Hounded at first by the earl and then by Violet, he is starting to feel as second class as Edith. I have watched this episode three times and still cannot quite understand the earl’s and dowager countess’s objections. Even today, hardly anyone blinks when a Hugh Hefner or a Donald Trump marries a woman young enough to be their daughter or granddaughter. Has anyone taken a gander at Ronnie Wood’s latest bride? Hello! She’s younger than a Beaujolais Nouveau. The age gap has always favored the man, not the woman. Therefore I’ll ask it again: What is so objectionable about Sir Anthony?
The second episode starts well enough, with a Violet quipping over the wedding arrangements: “At my age one must ration one’s excitement.” That was just about the last time I liked her in this episode. I must backtrack on my last post in which I called Violet inviolate, for I despise her behavior towards the blissful couple, calling Sir Anthony a “broken down old crock” and observing,. “Edith is beginning her life as an old man’s drudge.” What strange things for granny to say in a post war world where practically any whole young man left standing couldn’t serve in the war to begin with. And Daddy Crawley is no better, although one gets the sense that he is starting to put a good face on the situation, saying to his prospective son-in-law: “I’m happy Edith is happy, I’m happy you mean to keep her happy. That is quite enough happiness to be getting on with.” Damned with faint praise, but at least he gave it.
And so Edith’s big day arrives It is pathetic to see how radiant she is. “All of us married. All of us happy,” she declares. How plaintive. How naïve.
Knowing how Papa and Granny Crawley feel and based on Edith’s past track record, the viewer can sense that trouble is brewing. Even the minister seems to have swallowed a sour candy as he commiserated with the still bleating Violet, who, upon seeing Sir Anthony in the pew, says: “He looks as if he’s waiting for a beating from the head master.”
She’s some sore loser and won’t quit until she’s had the last word. This trait has been charming thus far, but there is a time and a place for everything. Violet’s like a python. Once she starts twisting and choking her victim, she’s unable to let go.
Poor Edith, looking quite beautiful walking down the aisle. Her mother and sisters are genuinely happy for her. And then Sir Anthony drops the bomb, hyperventilating and backtracking faster than the speed of light, saying: “I can’t do it. Bye, bye y’all. Take care of my little Edie” as he hightails it out of the church.
Grannie restrains Edith from going after her man, urging her: “Let him go. Don’t stop him. Don’t drag it out. Wish him well.” But if crazy glue had been invented back then, Edith would have poured some all over herself and Sir Anthony and clung to him until they were stuck for life.
A good friend of mine pointed out an implausibility. It was clear that Sir Anthony was fond of Edith and even loved her. Would he have waited until the last-minute to cry off, or would he have sought a less public, less humiliating forum? Like the night before, for instance? Or arranged to meet Daddy Crawley that morning before everyone tramped off towards the church? Or asked that someone stop Edith from walking down the aisle so that he did not have to jilt her in front of kith and kin?
The real Sir Anthony would have done anything but humiliate Edith. This plot development smacks of “deliberate melodrama” syndrome, in which, given the choice to proceed logically or throw viewers off track, the writers chose the path that promises the most gasps and cries of outrage. I almost threw my glass of Merlot at the screen, but then thought of my liver and its enjoyment.
Laura Carmichael truly shines in these scenes, going from radiant to disbelief to grief of the rawest kind, tearing off her veil as she runs to the privacy of her room, flinging aside her tiara, and then, unable to stand the sight of her two lucky sisters, wailing: “ Look at them both with their husbands … Sybil pregnant … Mary probably pregnant.”
Hers was a raw, naked emotion and a cry of longing for a husband, her own house, a family. Now, all of it gone.
No one can console her, not even her mother.
Only a day later Anna enters Edith’s room and asks her: “What would you like me to get you?” and Edith responds, “A different life.”
My heart broke for her just a little. But what placed me firmly in Edith’s camp was this resigned yet stoic quip to Anna’s question: “Can I bring you up some breakfast?”
“No, I’m a useless spinster, good at helping out. That is my role. And spinsters get up for breakfast.
Edith’s made of stern stuff and she’s going to land on top. Mark my words. Grannie Violet takes one more post wedding dig when Carson offers to take the wedding food to the poor. “If the poor don’t want it, you can bring it over to me.” The woman who admonished Sybil with “vulgarity is no substitute for wit,” certainly could have used a dose of her own medicine.
The rest of Downton Abbey’s cast:
Thomas and O’Brien
ThomasanObrien’s dislike for each other is taking a serious turn. Thomas uses Moseley to create trouble for O’Brien with Cora. The valet informs Cora that since O’brien was leaving the Crawley’s service, could he nominate his niece for the post instead? Cora, who doesn’t like surprises, expresses her disappointment to her maid. (Cora’s shown her steely side before when it comes to servants, such as expressing her disbelief that Bates could fully perform his duties as valet when he first arrived in Season One.)
We also get a clear sense of Robert’s lack of fondness for O’Brien and his lack of support for her. O’Brien confronts Moseley, who reveals Thomas’s role in starting the rumor. In one of the better scenes in episode 2, O’Brien promises the footman that if he wants a fight, he ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Daisy is the unlikely heroine in Mary’s quest to save Downton Abbey from bankruptcy and ruin, confirming that she sent the letter for a dying Lavinia to her daddy, a letter that Matthew was certain had been counterfeited. Daisy’s been angry at Mrs. Patmore for not honoring her promotion to cook’s assistant, not knowing that the Crawleys at this point have less money than William’s farmer papa. I find her anger to be cute but petulant, like a kitten not getting its way. C’mon, Daise! The tarot cards and Ouija board say that you are going to inherit a rich yeoman farmer’s assets some day. Stay the course, girl, and you’ll be able to rent Downton Place in the near future.
Lavinia Swire’s Daddy’s Money
Lavinia Swire’s daddy’s fortune causes a heap of troubles twixt newly wed Mary and Matthew. Am I the only one who thinks their scenes in this episode are stiffer than starch and have about as much chemistry as two brooms in a closet?
It was Robert and Matthew who provided the real romance in this episode, or, more correctly, a splendid bromance moment. When Matthew offers to fork over his inheritance to Robert, the earl rejoined teary-eyed: “Don’t be silly you’re not going to give me any money. What I will allow is for you to invest in the place.” Matthew’s scenes with Robert and Tom, with whom he plays pool, were more passionate than his with Mary. (She hasn’t been able to give off smoldering hot looks since Pamuk’s arrival in Season 1 at the hunt.)
Isobel and Ethel
Isobel Crawley remains a peripheral figure, always looking for something worthwhile to do, in this instance converting ho’s into respectable underpaid working women. Poor Ethel is in a very bad way and trapped in a downward spiral. Fallen women without a family had few choices back then, which was to starve, sell their bodies, or enter a workhouse. Shame prevents Ethel from seeking help, yet desperation forces her to come out of hiding to ask for aid from Isobel. I wish Matthew’s mama were given a meatier role, as in Season 1. Lately she’s come off as an irritant and, frankly, I miss her stand-offs with Violet.
The poor Crawleys. The specter of having to live in a luxurious house instead of a mansion and having to let all but 8 servants go puts the lot of them in a bad mood. Off they go a-picnicking to view the grounds of their new abode and surprise the current tenant, who probably thought he had a 90-year lease. Only Cora can see the positive side of things, which makes me wonder all the more about her back story and what makes her tick. In this scene Violet is given a couple of zingers, my favorite of which is a rejoinder to her son, who tries to find room for all the family (talk about boomerang kids!)
Violet: What about me? Where am I supposed to go?
Robert: Well we still own most of the village.
Violet: Perhaps I can open up a shop?
Mrs Hughes, Mrs. Patmore, and Mr. Carson
Without these three upper servants, Downton Abbey, the series, wouldn’t be the same. Mrs. Hughes’ worry about cancer, Mrs. Patmore’s sincere concern for her friend, and Mr. Carson’s astute reading of the situation were a joy to watch. Many worry lines were lifted off Mrs. Hughes’s brow when Cora promised the housekeeper that she would always have a place at Downton and that she would be taken care of.
But my favorite scene was the last one, in which Mrs. Hughes observed Carson singing a little ditty after learning that her tumor was benign. In the first season, Carson declared that the servants were his family. This viewer wonders: is a romance brewing between Carson and Mrs. Hughes? Stay tuned, readers.
For those who have seen the full season, please feel free to comment, but, please, no plot spoilers.
More on the topic:
- Read my Downton Abbey Season 3 posts at this link: Downton Abbey Series 3
- Downton Abbey costumer on Lady Edith’s wedding dress