Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Downton Abbey 2x01 and 2x02: War! Ugh! What Is It Good For? Drama, Plot and Character Development!

Two years have passed since the end of season 1, and apparently we have a Huge-Ass War going on. Matthew is fighting in that Huge-Ass War, and it is dirty and explode-y and horrid. When he finally gets some leave time, he decides to return to Downton Abbey to mend fences and oh yeah, introduce his Fiancee Who is Obviously Not Doomed to his relatives.

Meanwhile, back at Downton, Grantham is being a Big Whiny Baby about how he's not allowed to go play in the Huge-Ass War with all the other kids on account of him being Hella Old.

While delighted at Matthew's return, Grantham, Cora and Bad-Ass Mutha Violet still ship Mary/Matthew pretty hardcore - as does Mary, who has just returned from London. Of course the reunion is Super Awkward, with:
  • Mary negotiating the World's Most Painful Friendzone with Matthew
  • Grantham bragging about being made a Colonel of the North Riding Volunteers, which means he can traipse off to France with all the other lucky lads! Isn't that great?
  • and two random bitches who show up to distribute white feathers of cowardice to every hot guy not wearing a devastatingly sexy red coat - including William, the footman. 
Meanwhile, Matthew's fiancee, Lavinia Swire, who is nervous and mousy and Not At All Going To Die, spends her evening completely oblivious to the fact that Everyone Hates Her (including Carson, the butler, who's convinced she's a gold-digging ho who's only out for Matthew's title - completely ignoring how his Widdle Mistress Mary got dumped last season for being Precisely That).

Downstairs, Bates returns from attending his mother's funeral with some interesting news. He ran into his Crazy Wife Vera at the funeral and so it looks like he might finally be able to divorce her and marry Anna. Anna is thrilled and Bates is thrilled and they talk about hotels and babies until they are cockblocked by Ethel. Ethel is the new maid and she is horrible. I get the feeling she's supposed to be Sympathetic because she thinks The Class System is Over and Being a Servant Is Dumb - but saying those things while you are currently employed in service is not a sign of higher intelligence. She's also lazy, mouthy, and whiny as a delightful bonus.

To give you an indication of how Awful Ethel is - she's so awful that when O'Brien Very Obviously tricks her into humiliating herself in front of Them Upstairs, everyone downstairs and up has a good laugh and O'Brien gets off scot-free despite not covering her tracks at all.

However, because there are clearly not enough Horrible People On Screen as it is, Bates' Crazy (Hot!) Wife Vera shows up out of the blue, and since she used to be Catherine of Aragon, you know she means (Crazy) business. Turns out Bates inherited a whack of cash from his dead mum so Crazy Wife Vera wants to be his Crazy Wife again - and she's got a hot, smelly sack of blackmail to fling at both Lady Mary (for sex-murdering the Rapey Turk in season one) and Anna (for moving the corpse) if Bates doesn't comply. How did she figure this out? Did she just shake the Crazy Wife Phone Tree?

So Bates abruptly quits, breaking Anna's heart and earning himself a Hefty Dose of Aristocratic Shouting from Grantham - but not to worry! Mrs. Hughes, that sly cat, intentionally eavesdropped on Mr. and Mrs. Crazy Wife Vera through the grate.

Matthew returns to the trenches and runs into Thomas, who's still working with the medical corps. They have a pleasant chat, with Thomas sharing the news from O'Brien's letters - and let us all take a moment to acknowledge how adorable it is that Thomas and O'Brien have kept in touch all this time. They aren't ALL about the Evil Plots, y'all!

Thomas finally decides that he has had Quite Enough Of this Shit and goads a German sniper into shooting his hand, wounding him just enough to get him sent home from the front and leave him a sexy scar that requires a classy black glove. On her end, O'Brien manipulates Cora, who manipulates Grantham, who manipulates Dr Clarkson into getting Thomas transferred to a posting in the village hospital. Thomas fans can rejoice and Thomas haters can all take a step to the left because he was at the front lines for two years before he checked out. Two years watching his comrades take Ironic Bullets to the Head Right After Making Snarky Remarks. As far as I'm concerned, he's earned his Scarred Hand Ticket home.

A few other random Subplots of Note:
  • Sybil goes off to be a nurse. Also, Branson the Irish Socialist Chauffeur is Officially Into Her. 
  • Mrs. Patmore learns her soldier nephew was executed for cowardice and she cries. And everything is Horrible when Mrs. Patmore cries. 
  • Isobel discovers Bad-Ass Mutha Violet has been feeding Dr. Clarkson bullshit illness stories about her servants (like William and Moseley) to spare them from being drafted into the war effort. 
  • Moseley later tells Dr Clarkson that his "lung ailment" is a Totally Real Thing, so Please Don't Send Me To War. He then cements his status as a Cowardly Jackass by hitting on Anna not two minutes after Bates' departure. What a dick.
  • William joins the war effort because Patriotism! and similarly wants Daisy to be his girlfriend, a request Daisy cannot turn down because, apparently, Patriotism! 
  • Edith goes to work driving a tractor for the same farmer Isobel saved back in season one, and they make out because It's Edith and Why the Hell Not. They are caught by his wife, who looks like she regrets letting Dr. Clarkson pump dropsy-goo out of her husband's heart with a needle. 
So there's another dinner, and it's also Super Awkward for different reasons:
  1. Grantham finds out his Colonel appointment is honorary, and he mopes and whinges about how envious he is of the "real men" who are allowed to fight for their country - at least those are the words he manages to sneak past the HUGE ASS SILVER SPOON OF ENTITLEMENT in his mouth. 
  2. Mary's paramour, The Bear Knight Sir Richard Carlisle is there, and he is pretty much the Older, Self-Made Dude Version of Mary. He's crazy-rich, sufficiently handsome and he doesn't parse words and he makes me hate Lavinia Swire even more because at least Mary put in an effort to find someone on her romantic level. Matthew is fooling nobody with Totally Happy To Be Alive Lavinia. 
  3. Grantham's Bitchy Sis Lady Rosamund also arrives, and inflicts her opinion on everyone, and we all know how well that turned out in season 1. 
  4. Since both William and Thomas are no longer employed at Downton, Carson has to ask Grantham's new shell-shocked valet Lang to sub in as a footman during dinner and it goes about as well as you'd expect - with sauce down Edith's dress and Carson collapsed from a Fake Hollywood Heart Attack. Nice job, Lang. At least O'Brien likes you.
Mary visits Carson as he's convalescing and vents about her Boy Troubles. Carson advises Mary to just tell Matthew that she still loves him because he is Carson and He's Too Old For This Shit. Mary goes over to Matthew's house to do just that when --

A wild Lavinia Appears! 

Lavinia uses GUILT TRIP! 

...It's Super Effective.

No Flu Symptoms Here Lavinia is just so prettily and innocently in love with Matthew that Mary just can't pop her delusional little bubble and she flees without saying anything. What the hell, Mary? I mean, I get it - Matthew left you because you were a Delightfully Selfish Brat in season 1 and I understand that you're trying to behave like a Less Than Horrid Human Being now but there is a TIME and PLACE, Mary. TIME AND PLACE.

Besides, Mary's Bitch Aunt Rosamund catches Bright Future Ahead of Her Lavinia being shaken down by Carlisle so she's clearly not as Perfect or Boring as she seems.

Mary is further discombobulated when Carlisle proposes - in a very dashing and honest way, I must admit. He essentially says they make a great team and they could do awesome things together, and it's a pretty forthright and respectful way to propose, especially to someone like Mary. Mary responds to this amazingly well considering how close to she came to flinging herself at Matthew, and tells him she'll have to think on it.

Meanwhile, at Dr. Clarkson's village hospital, Thomas and Sybil have been helping out a young, hot soldier named Edward Courtenay who is recovering from gas blindness. Edward is not adapting to his blindness well, but he finds an unexpectedly empathetic and soulful companion in Thomas. Like, for reals. Thomas acts like an actual emotional human being around Edward and it is beautiful and perfect. 

But like all perfect things on Downton Abbey, it's shot down by an idiot - Dr. Clarkson tells Edward they're to ship him off to a different hospital because Dr. Clarkson's is for Serious Ills Only and Edward is now perfectly healthy except for, you know, his Total Lack of Vision and Mental Stability. Edward responds to this threat by killing himself and Thomas cries. And it is AWFUL and I love him and I'm starting to wonder if Thomas weeping after getting kicked in the junk by love is going to happen every season premiere.

In season three, Thomas adopts a puppy but Edith runs it over with her car.

However, Edward's death does convince Dr. Clarkson, Sybil, and Isobel that their community is seriously lacking in convalescence hospitals - that is,  places that help soldiers focus on getting better rather than simply Not Dying At This Exact Moment. Sybil and Isobel think that Downton Abbey, with its hundreds of unused rooms, could be just the ticket - but they'll have to get through Grantham and Bad-Ass Mutha Violet first!

Things I Liked:

  • Thomas and Edward forever!
  • Sybil learning to cook so she can be a nurse
  • "I hate Greek drama, where everything happens off-stage" - Bad-Ass Mutha Violet, about Mary returning in time to meet Matthew's fiancee
  • "I suppose looks aren't everything." Violet, about Lavinia.
  • O'Brien bonding with the shell-shocked Lang, and her own backstory
  • Bates' proposal to Anna.
  • Mrs. Patmore feeding leftover crepe suzette to the dog instead of to Ethel. 
  • The fact that Mrs. Hughes, and therefore Carson and eventually Grantham, find out about Bates' Crazy Wife Situation within that same episode instead of wasting time chasing red herrings.

Things I Didn't

  • Dr. Clarkson being the Worst Doctor of All Time. Declaring someone unfit for combat without seeing them? Tossing out a blind dude without looking into his mental state? Where did you get your medical degree, the Ponds Institute?
  • Ethel. You voluntarily decided to perform certain duties in return for wages - so stop acting like you were forced into service with a gun to your head!
  • Moseley not taking the hint from Anna
  • Grantham being a whiny bitch because he can't go explode people in France like everyone else
  • Lavinia. Ugh.
Final Remarks: This episode was pretty stellar in showing just how far everyone's come from season 1 - O'Brien's more sympathetic, Mary thinks of other people first, Thomas makes a real emotional connection, and both Edith and Sybil discover something they're actually good at on their own merits. Okay, so Lavinia is a Complete Waste of Space and there are a few too many subplots for my taste, but  otherwise, an excellent beginning to the second season!

Seven Romantically Lacklustre Rivals Out of Seven

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