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Downton Abbey: Season Two, Episode Three

“We’ve dreamed a dream, my dear, but now it’s over. The world was in a dream before the war, but now it’s woken up and said goodbye to it. And, so must we.”

Although we are not told directly when this episode takes place, Branson mentions that Alexander Kerensky has been made Prime Minister of Russia. This happened on July 2, 1917. My guess is, therefore, that this episode takes place during that month. Downton Abbey itself has been turned into a convalescent home which leads to all kinds of changes not only to the house itself, but to the lives of our characters.

The transition does not go smoothly. Robert and Cora seem to believe that the soldiers will muddle along in a corner somewhere while they go on taking up huge rooms for themselves. The scene where the men arrive is fascinating to watch. Robert takes one last look around, as though he is saying good-bye to his home; Cora walks to the door with tears in her eyes.

Even those downstairs are confused and wondering about how this will all work and to whom they will answer. It must be said that a great deal of the confusion falls squarely on Isobel’s shoulders. Although I admire her for finally getting the house and its occupants to do their part, she handles the situation badly. Instead of going in and being grateful to the family and trying to work with them, she takes over and manages to alienate everyone very quickly. I believe she could have avoided Thomas coming back (another O’Brien master manipulation) as well as having to share the running of the house with Cora if she had handled the transition with a tad more sensitivity. By the end, Isobel and Cora are barely civil to each other.

Edith has finally found her niche. She seems genuinely happy to be doing her new job and, once again, we see her smiling. The soldiers all respect and like her. I simply love the General’s toast at the dinner table. Not surprisingly, it is someone outside her family who notices her contribution and the looks of shock on her family’s faces reinforce how unnoticed she is. I love the look on Edith's face. For once, she is the one being fussed over and she doesn’t quite know how to respond. She is, however, proud and pleased -- as she should be.

Unlike her sisters, Mary is only helping out at the house when it suits her. Instead, she seems to spend a great deal of time discussing Lavinia with her grandmother and her aunt. It is she who gets the truth that Lavinia was behind the Marconi scandal and why. Mary is immensely sweet and understanding to a woman who is engaged to the man Mary loves. I do like that side of her. However, this story line is a rare misstep for this series. The fact that a girl as young as Lavinia would have been in 1912 could cause such a national scandal is stretching our suspension of disbelief to breaking point. Not to mention that the reason she does it is cliche.

Lang’s story, on the other hand, is absolutely heartbreaking. His conversation with Mrs. Patmore is moving. We so seldom see Mrs. Patmore reveal any emotion other than sarcasm or snarkiness that her reveal about how affected she’s been by her nephew’s death is sad to watch. Lang responds in such a gentle way and, of course, he’s right. It could have been any of them. The soldiers in the house upset him so much that he has a screaming nightmare from which he wakes up drenched in sweat. Once again, we see the softer side of O’Brien as she soothes him and defends him to her bosses and then looks after again when he collapses in front of the general. I wish she would show this side of herself more often.

Bates is back in Yorkshire and is spotted by Anna in the village. For the first time, we see the friendship between Mary and Anna run the other way as Mary uses Richard to get the information about where Bates is for her friend. The scene is the pub is just beautiful to watch unfold. At the beginning, Anna is hurt and defensive; but, by the end, she is offering to be his mistress. Bates could no more do that than he could go back to Vera. I love watching these two together. The eyes say it all.

Branson is understandably looking for revenge against the British Army and is willing to sacrifice anything to make that happen. I genuinely thought he was going to shoot the general the first time I watched this episode and was so relieved that he does not have murder in his heart. What he does have in his heart is Sybil; it is she to whom he writes the letter that prevents the mishap and it is she he looks at as Carson drags him from the dining room. Although I believe Sybil is still unsure about how she feels, she is obviously relieved that Branson is neither going to war nor going to jail.

William is off to war; but, before he goes, he proposes to Daisy. Much like last season, Daisy allows herself to be manipulated by someone she respects and cares about. I find it odd how invested Mrs. Patmore is in this relationship. My guess is that she is so torn up about her nephew that she will do whatever she feels necessary to keep William alive, even if that means having Daisy lie to him about her feelings. It is interesting that, at this point, this is the only romance that is moving forward as it should; but, it is the only one in which one of the players does not want to play.

Bits and Bobs:

— Downton Abbey being turned into a convalescent home was not all that unusual. The hospitals in England at the time could not cope with the sheer number of wounded coming back from the trenches. As the war progressed, there needed to be a middle ground between the hospital and either discharge or a return to the front. This is where the convalescent homes came in. A fair number of the great English estates took on this role as the war progressed, including Highclere Castle, the house at which Downton Abbey is filmed.

— Each of the convalescent homes was connected to a particular hospital. In our case, the Grantham hospital was for wounded officers. The wounded officers would be sent to the hospital and then, once they were recovering, they would have been moved to the house. It was here that they would rest and continue their recovery.

— Kirbymoorside is an actual town in Yorkshire. It has a pub called the Lion that looks incredibly like the one where this episode was filmed.

— A mitral valve prolapse is when the valve that separates the upper and lower chambers of the heart does not close properly. It is rarely fatal. Interestingly, according to several sources I read when I looked this up, it was not discovered as a problem until 1966. Oops.

— The Easter Rising occurred during Easter Week, 1916. Irish republicans, long wanting to be rid of English rule, thought that the British Army would be too busy fighting the war to care much about happened in Ireland and they would be able to establish an Irish Republic. It failed miserably and, like Branson’s cousin, a lot of innocent people were caught up in the mess as the British brutally retaliated.

— The Marconi Scandal was, in essence, insider trading in Marconi shares by a number of government ministers. Although it caused caught a flurry of articles at the time, there were almost no repercussions, political or otherwise, for the minsters who had profited from it.

— Until after the First World War, the divorce laws in England and Wales were structured in such a way as to make divorce nearly impossible. According to one source, English divorces did not reach 1,000 per year until 1918.

— Forcing a left-handed person to learn to use his or her right is not that old-fashioned a concept. My grandmother tried to teach my very left-handed brother to use his right when he was a baby in the mid-sixties. Luckily, my mother is also very left-handed.

Well Said:

Sybil: “Different ranks can relax together. It has been known.”
Lady Violet: “Well, don’t look at me. I’m very good at mixing. We always danced the first waltz at the Servants’ Ball, didn’t we, Carson?”
Carson: “It was an honor, m’lady.”

Cora: “Thomas? The footman? Managing Downton Abbey?”
About five minutes later, Robert: “Thomas? In charge of Downton?”

Lady Violet: “I say good. If someone’s to manage things, let it be our creature.”
Isobel: “Why? Are you planning to divide his loyalties?”
Lady Violet: “I wouldn’t say I was planning it.”

Rosamund: “And now it’s down to you to save Matthew from the clutches of a scheming harlot.”
Lady Violet: “Really, Rosamund. There’s no need to be so gleeful. You sound like Robespierre lopping off the head of Marie Antoinette.”

Anna: “That’s not very fair to women.”
Bates: “I don’t care about fairness; I care about you.”

Cora: “How do you know so much about a pack of strangers?”
Edith: “They’re not strangers to me.”

ChrisB is a freelance writer who spends more time than she ought in front of a television screen or with a book in her hand.


  1. I was pleasantly surprised at Mary's treatment of Lavinia. I like that our love triangle isn't clear cut. It's not one of those where one couple would be an utter disaster. Matthew could be very happy with Lavinia, she seems like a sweet girl. If she were horrible, it'd be easy to see where the story was going, but now?

    I'd feel happier for Edith finally getting some praise if she hadn't been such a nasty piece of work last season.

    Also, I love Lang's story. Poor man.

  2. The whole convalescent home story was so touching, and it was nice to see Edith find herself and even be acknowledged for her contribution.

    I was worried about what Branson would do, too. And disappointed in Isobel.


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