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Downton Abbey: Season Two, Episode Six

Robert: “I’ve just heard news from the War Office and I thought you’d all like to know that the war is over!”

Another episode that is very easy to place. The war is finally over, so this places the episode in the days leading up to November 11, 1918. Only three months have passed since William and Daisy’s wedding.

Mary is still looking after Matthew, tending to him physically and bolstering his spirits as much as she can. Matthew is suffering from survivors’ guilt, depression over his condition and an overabundance of honor. His conversation with Mary tells us everything we need to know. She basically tells him that she will drop Richard to be with him; he tells her that if she were not engaged, he would not allow her near him.

In spite of all this honor, Richard is jealous of all the attention Mary is showing Matthew. Richard, bless him, doesn’t get it. Because he didn’t grow up with the money or the title that his fiancee did, he doesn’t see what matters to Mary and her family. He is oblivious to the fact that his buying Haxby Park means that a family that has been the Crawleys’ neighbors for generations is out of their home. To persuade Carson to come with them, Richard offers him more money. Money is not what makes Carson tick; he finally agrees to go because of his love for Mary. One of the downfalls of the Richard/Mary/Matthew triangle is that Richard is so unsuitable and, frankly, so awful. His threats to Mary and that horrible kiss ensure we know whose side we should come down on.

What’s interesting is the contrasting views of Mary’s parents toward the Mary and Matthew situation. When Richard asks Robert outright if he should be jealous, Robert ignores him. Cora, on the other hand, rises to the bait Richard dangles in front of her. The fact that it is more important to Cora that Mary have children, even if it means being married to a man the rest of the family abhor, than it is for her daughter to marry the man she loves is telling.

Cora and Richard conspiring to get Lavinia back is going too far. It is so obvious that no one wants her in the house that even Lavinia picks up on it. Mary cannot hide her shock; Robert is furious; even Carson doesn’t bother to hide his displeasure. Lavinia, however, seems to have grown up a bit since we last saw her. She is determined to marry Matthew, even if he says he doesn’t want to marry her.

There is a great deal of tension between Robert and Cora. She has finally found something to do and she is throwing herself into it. Robert has not and is bored. It amuses me when he whines about having to eat lunch on his own because all the women in his life are too busy doing something useful. Cora, wrapped up in her new life, doesn’t see it. The argument is the dining room is the most conflict we have ever seen between these two. Cora would rather have Lavinia be a nursemaid than her daughter; Robert, who loves both Matthew and Mary very much, would rather they were together and happy, whatever the circumstances.

Cora and Isobel appear to have made up their quarrel, but the tension is still evident. Isobel wants to keep Downton as a public house; Cora wants her home back. The scene where Lady Violet just keeps throwing out suggestions until Isobel picks up on one is simply fantastic. It is clear where the Crawley women get their backbone. Even better is the scene where Isobel breaks the news that she will be unable to run Downton. Cora and Lady Violet are hilarious as they assure Isobel that she is doing the right thing; Isobel is relieved that they understand, oblivious to all the subtext.

The contrast between Ethel and Jane is very evident in this episode. Both women are in the same situation, on their own with a young son to care for. Jane, however, is given a job and a home because she was married to the father of her child. Ethel, if it weren’t for Mrs. Hughes, would starve because no one will hire a woman who has had a child without the benefit of a wedding ring. Now that Major Bryant is dead, things are bleak indeed for Ethel and the baby.

Daisy appears to finally be taking a stand. She refuses to accept any help as a war widow because she knows that it would be wrong. She also confesses to everyone that she didn’t love William. I think she’s being too hard on herself. While she may not have been in love with William, by marrying him, Daisy gave him exactly what he wanted just hours before he died. That is a sweetness and a kindness that is hard to match.

Bates and Anna never seem to get a break. Vera continues to make their life a misery and now even the decree nisi is gone. Bates goes to London to try to sort her out, but comes home with a black eye. The final shot, of Vera lying dead on the floor, is ominous. Are we meant to think that Bates has killed her? He has hinted to Robert that he would prefer that Vera be dead, but it’s difficult to imagine a man with so much honor committing murder.

Branson and Sybil seemed to move on a bit in the past few months. She is now clearly in love with him, but still unwilling to make the final decision, again using the end of the war as her deadline. Branson seems, for the first time, to understand more clearly; but, maybe it’s because he is beginning to believe that Sybil may make the decision he wants her to make.

The weakest storyline of the entire series so far is the whole is Patrick truly Patrick story. It is clear from the start that the man is not the heir, but we have to suffer through an episode of this nonsense before it all goes away. It is nice to see Edith have a small bit of potential romance, but otherwise it is impossible to take this story seriously.

But, the best part of this episode is that the war is over. I find it an interesting choice that Julian Fellowes chose downstairs as the place where we hear the news, not upstairs. I believe it is because downstairs is the place that has been the most affected. William and Mrs. Patmore’s nephew are dead; Thomas is injured; it was Mr. Lang who suffered the most. Upstairs, while Matthew is injured, he is alive. And, something is obviously happening that he is not ready to discuss with anyone yet.

Bits and Bobs:

— Jack Johnson was the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion. On July 4, 1910, Johnson fought James Jeffries, the former undefeated champion, who was white. Johnson beat him when Jeffries’ corner threw in the towel. As a result, race riots broke out all over the United States. Lovely.

— Passchendaele is the name of a group of battles that occurred between May and November, 1917, this time in Belgium. They were extremely controversial as both British and French leaders opposed opening up yet another front in Flanders. Many believed that the Allies should just dig in and wait for the Americans who were on their way by this time. But, egos being what they are, certain leaders at the front went for it and over half a million men from both armies were killed. Interestingly, it was during this campaign that Adolf Hitler was injured.

— Rationing did not appear in Britain until the beginning of 1918. Until the end of 1916, Britain’s food supply was supplemented by ships from the United States and Canada. However, the German U-Boats started sinking merchant ships and the food supply became dangerously low. Malnutrition began to appear in the poorer communities while people with money could buy food on the black market. By April 1918, sugar, meat, butter, cheese and margarine were all being rationed. As a result of the rationing, no one in Britain starved during the war.

— Ripon Grammar School, originally founded in 1555, is still one of the better schools in England. Now co-ed, it is known for its engineering college.

— Fifth Officer Lowe was the officer on the Titanic who went back to the scene of the sinking looking for survivors. He pulled four men from the water, three of whom survived and all of whom were identified. Lowe was played by Ioan Gruffudd in the movie.

— “I am the cat that walks by himself, and all places are alike to me” is a Rudyard Kipling quote from one of his Just So Stories, "The Cat That Walked By Himself." If you are a cat lover, read it.

— I love the fact that Robert in his tuxedo refers to it as informal evening wear.

— The Battle of Vittorio Veneto was fought between the end of October and beginning of November, 1918. The victory marked the end of the war on the Italian front. As much as I dislike Major Bryant, there is something horribly sad about dying in one of the last battles of the war.

— Iphigenia was a daughter of Agamemnon. He was commanded to sacrifice her to allow his ships to continue their journey to Troy.

— The war officially ended at 11:00 on the 11th day of the 11th month. To this day, November 11th is celebrated as Remembrance Day in all of the Commonwealth countries and Veterans Day in the United States. The Great War or The War to End All Wars (if only!) took an enormous toll on Europe. The statistics are staggering, but the most staggering is that 37 million military and civilian lives were lost in those four years. In effect, an entire generation was wiped out.

— To put it into perspective, one of the most beautiful buildings in all of England is King’s College Chapel at Christ College, Cambridge. In it is a chapel dedicated to the men of that college who died in both World Wars. The names from the First World War take up three walls; the names from the Second World War one. Without exception, every town or village in Britain I have ever visited, no matter how small, has a memorial to the fallen of this war.

Well Said:

Lady Violet: “I don’t dislike him. I just don’t like him which is quite different.”
Robert: “Did he talk about Haxby? He’s got ghastly plans for the place. Of course, Cora doesn’t agree.”
Cora: “I’m an American. I don’t share your English hatred of comfort.”

Thomas: “Are you suggesting the black market, Mrs. Patmore? I’m shocked.”
Mrs. Patmore: “Oh, I doubt that very much.”

Isobel: “Ah, now you’ve struck a chord.”
Lady Violet: “Have I, really? Oh, thank heaven.”

Anna: “The trick of business is to mind your own.”

Lady Violet: “I had to promise to be a patron, but it seemed a small price to pay.”
Cora: “I know it was for Robert and the girls, but I thank you, without irony, from the bottom of my heart.”
Lady Violet: “And, I accept your thanks, my dear, with no trace of irony, either.”

Carson: “Don’t tell me you’ll miss me.”
Mrs. Hughes: “I will, Mr. Carson. Very much. And, it costs me nothing to say it.”
Carson: “Thank you. That means a lot to me.”

Robert: “Remember, this is not just the end of a long war, but it is the dawn of a new age. God bless you all.”

Carson: “I won’t go until we’ve found a proper replacement.”
Robert: “Whoever we find won’t replace you.”

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.

12 comments:

sunbunny said...

Great review, as ever. In one of the comments on a previous episode, someone said that the second season got silly. I kept watching and waiting for the silliness. Here it is! The whole Patrick thing was so, incredibly stupid and pointless. Why? Why? It was obvious that random burn victim wasn't amnesiac Patrick and the story went nowhere. It's one redeeming feature was that it put a little more focus onto Edith, but that could have easily been accomplished another way.

I was disappointed Lavinia came back. It would have been such an easy way to get rid of her instead of...well...what happens later. I do actually like her. At first she was a little Melanie Hamilton (I relate most of this show back to Gone with the Wind for some reason), but I liked that they gave Lavinia a backbone. Still, Mary and Matthew belong together, as has been obvious from the second episode of the friggin series. Rant over. :)

sunbunny said...

P.S. Oh, the days of yore, when men held doors open for women, people dressed for dinner, and race riots were thrown when black people dared to best white people in sporting events. Seriously, people? Ughhh.

a.m. said...

I've been holding back my comments until this episode for fear of spoiling it for sunbunny and Billie (and anyone else who's just now watching the series). The whole Patrick story line really bothered me. It's the "Nikki/Paulo" of Downton Abbey. I think what bothered me most was that it made Edith look so naive and pathetic. At this point in the season, I was really liking her and then Peter/Patrick came along. It also brought back all the nastiness between Edith and Mary--which had thankfully dissipated.

I also really hated how nasty Richard has become. He was never my choice for Mary but at this point, I have no idea what she ever saw in him. Was it always just money?

And finally, like you ChrisB, I wondered if we were supposed to think that Bates killed Vera too...but I'll leave my thoughts on this storyline until it plays out more in the coming episodes.

Great review as always! Even when I'm not commenting, I promise I'm always reading them:)

sunbunny said...

Oh, a.m., you spoil us by not spoiling things for us! :)

Juliette said...

It is killing me not commenting because I have Knowledge from Beyond the Dawn of Christmas (or something).

I was going to try to make a careful comment but I think I'd better not. Sigh. My snark will have to wait.

Josie Kafka said...

Juliette, TVLine spoiled that last week for us American viewers who really didn't want to know. Thank you for keeping it out of the comments; let's try to keep everyone stateside unspoiled.

Telling them that the third season is acted out by puppies will just ruin the surprise.

Juliette said...

Naughty TVline! I was totally spoiled as I didn't watch it live, but that was bound to happen, as it was one of the big Christmas Day shows.

It's the kitten/puppy wedding that'll really shock everyone.

Josie Kafka said...

A true allegory for those troubled times, eh?

ChrisB said...

Unfortunately, this is what comes with the US airing the show after the UK, Australia and New Zealand have all seen it. I was spoiled by my English friends on Facebook who were extremely unhappy about the turn of events Christmas night.

I have seen the third season thanks to my UK iTunes account, but the Christmas episode has not yet been uploaded. I am, therefore, choosing to live in denial about the kitten/puppy wedding until it airs over here.

Suzanne said...

Thanks for the wonderful reviews! I am enjoying reading them as I watch this delightful series for the first time. You amaze me with your knowledge of history in these reviews and it adds a lot to my viewing of the series.

ChrisB said...

Suzanne -- thanks for the lovely comment, but please don't be amazed. While I am a huge history buff and have a passable knowledge of the First World War, a lot of the details I post I had to look up. I only wish I could retain this kind of detail.

Thanks again and I am glad you are enjoying the show.

celticmarc said...

Chris,

I love history too. I have more than passable knowledge of WW2. Hopefully, Humanity won't be crazy enough for getting into number 3.