Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Downton Abbey Holiday Special: "Merry Christmas Everyone - Except Bates. And Lavinia."

Well, the second day of July seems like the perfect day to stay home and celebrate with a nice Christmas special, doesn't it?

Here I am, during the hottest day of summer (so far), sitting next to my fan, sipping cold drinks, and watching Rich White British people snip at each other.

It's Christmas at Downton, and things are bleak - unsurprisingly. Mary is still engaged to Sir Richard, who's turned into quite the pompous ass. Bates is still in prison, with his trial date set for soon in the New Year. And Rosamund, Gratham's Bitchy Sis, is back in residence - bringing Lord Hepworth, her aristocratic suitor, and Marigold Shore, her new lady's maid.

One upside? Sanctimonious Sybil and Butthole Branson are still in Ireland so we don't get to see any of them at all, outside of a written notice that Sybil is preggers. Grantham looks suitably grossed out at the news, as should anyone thinking about Sybil and Branson actually having sex.

During Downton Abbey's traditional New Year's shooting party, Sir Richard proceeds to lose his shit at Mary for dithering on with Matthew instead of him, and he has pretty much every reason to be pissed except for the small matter of his continuing to blackmail Mary with her sex-murdering shenanigans. Both Grantham and Matthew are concerned at Sir Richard's behaviour and can't understand why Mary remains with him.

Grantham, demonstrating a rare show of good sense, goes to Cora to see if he's missing something and finally learns the truth about the Dead Rapey Turk and he wastes no time in confronting Mary directly with it. Aw man, this scene. Grantham was a royal douchebag this season but this one scene redeems him almost completely.

First of all, when Mary asks if he's disappointed with her, Grantham replies that he's not the only Crawley to make a mistake. I'm guessing he means Handy Housemaid Jane, in which case, YES. EXACTLY. The fact that Grantham doesn't hold Mary to a higher standard, and uses his own fuck-ups to empathize with her, is perfect. Probably not historically accurate, but Downton Abbey isn't precisely picky about anachronisms.

Second, he tells Mary that the she deserves better than a man who threatens her with ruin. Again - YES. I've hated the Rapey Turk storyline from the start, and my hatred for that storyline has grown exponentially every time it's reared its ugly head this season to threaten Mary's happiness. Because what happened to Mary was rape - Pamouk broke into her room and threatened her with exposure if she cried out or resisted. Mary was attracted to Pamouk and may have wanted sex with Pamouk, but the scene made it clear that this was not how she wanted to have it and she had little opportunity to say no. And yet, ever since, she's blamed herself for what happened and it's clear she considers herself damaged, soiled, sullied by that experience.

This distraught scene between Grantham and Mary establishes what I suspected all along - that Mary stayed with Sir Richard partly to preserve her reputation, but also because she believes she doesn't deserve a reputation or true happiness. The fact that her father can accept what happened to her - even from the 1920s historical perspective which would have put the blame on her - and still insist that she deserves happiness is wonderful. All is forgiven, Grantham!

Mary also finds the courage to tell Matthew about it - Matthew reacts a little more traditionally, but realizes there's nothing he needs to forgive Mary for since her sex life is none of his business. How enlightened!

Worse news lies ahead, however - it's time for Bates' trial and O'Brien, Mrs Hughes and Grantham are all called as witnesses for the prosecution. None of them, not even O'Brien, want Bates to hang but they can't lie under oath and their recollections of past events don't paint Bates in a very innocent light. The jury soon finds him guilty and the judge sentences him to death by hanging.

Anna is distraught at the news - and furious at her coworkers - but there's very little that can be done. She realizes she cannot work at Downton anymore and decides to resign and travel to New York, to accompany Mary as she rides out the inevitable scandal when she breaks off her engagement to Sir Richard.

Sir Richard takes this news about as well as can be expected - which is to say, extremely poorly, resulting in ridiculously clumsy fisticuffs between him and Matthew. What? No duelling pistols at fifty paces? Mary does try to exchange a few decent words with him before he leaves - because she's classy, and also because, blackmailing aside, Mary had been leading Sir Richard on a merry chase through her garden of Denial.

Finally, though, the characters receive some good - or at least better - news: Bates' sentence has been commuted to life imprisonment. Okay, so it still sucks, but at least now they have time to prove him innocent. Onward to season 3?

Now that Bates is no longer going to swing, Downton Abbey goes ahead with its Servants' Ball. Thomas gets to dance with Bad Ass Mutha Violet and Edith, Daisy asks for a promotion, and Matthew finally gets over his Martyr Angst and asks Mary to marry him. FINALLY.

Random Christmasy Subplots

  • Edith attempts to reconnect with Lord Anthony Strallan, but he shoots her down on account of him being Super Old and with a Dead Arm to boot. 
  • Thomas kidnaps Isis in an attempt to "rescue" her and gain enough of Grantham's gratitude to win the new valet position. He puts her in a shed, only to return to find it empty. He makes such a mess of trying to get her back that Grantham mistakes him for Sincerely Concerned and he gets the promotion anyway! Hurray for no consequences! 
  • Lady Rosamund discovers her boyfriend Lord Hepworth is a fortune hunter, but she's perfectly alright with that until she discovers he's banging her lady's maid. 
  • Thomas and O'Brien, being the Catty Bitches they are, hold a number of seances with a Ouija Board in order to get away with insulting people. Mrs. Patmore eventually joins in so that she can trick the incredibly gullible Daisy into visiting William's dad.
  • William's dad more or less adopts Daisy as his own daughter and it is adorable.
Things That I Liked
  • Grantham and Mary
  • Matthew and Mary
  • Daisy and William's Dad
  • Thomas calling Mrs Patmore "too fat" with the Ouija Board
Things I Didn't
  • Not enough Anna and Bates
  • Sir Richard being a Sir Dick
Final Remarks: Well, that's the season. It had a lot of crazy ups and downs, most of which I didn't like. The fact that Ethel had a recurring storyline but Edith and Thomas didn't irritated me to no end. Matthew and Grantham, while they redeemed themselves mightily in the Christmas Special, were pretty whiny for most of the season and the Mary-Matthew tension was severely overplayed. 

This episode, though, was pretty much lovely from beginning to end. It tied up all loose ends (except the ones required for season three), and it redeemed most of the characters (at least until they screw up in season 3). It's just a shame I couldn't say the same for the whole of the season. 

Rating: Five Reprieved Bates out of Five

Next Up: Season 1 of Veronica Mars

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