Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wordy Old Men on Downton Abbey: Series One, Episode Seven

At this point, you should know the drill. We're using the UK versions. They are readily available online. Series One is available on Netflix Instant, Blu-ray, and DVD (I have no fucking idea how to get rid of that goddamn white box). 

This week's installment finds the fabled "Season" having just come to an end. The Family Crawley, sans Lady Mary, has returned from London and the balls of high society. It is July of 1914. Franz Ferdinand has just been assassinated. Those with a cursory knowledge of world history knows what that means. Matthew's proposal hangs in the air, while Mary hangs back in London with her idiot aunt, Rosamund. Via Evelyn Napier, Mary discovers the source of the scurrilous (though true) rumors was in fact her awful sister, Edith. Cora finds out that she is with child, much to Robert's surprise. O'Brien gets news of the exact nature of the crimes of which Bates had been convicted--the theft of regimental silver--and she and supreme shitbird Thomas set upon scheming to take down Bates, a common theme. Anna and Mrs. Patmore go to London to have Patmore's cataracts removed on Lord Grantham's dime. Molesley sees Thomas rooting around in Mr. Carson's wallet. Carson and Lord Grantham decide that Thomas must be shit-canned as soon as the upcoming garden party is over. Mary, upon finding out that Matthew may not inherit the title of Lord Grantham, sees the footing upon which a fruitful union can be built losing stability and begins to hem and haw. Matthew takes her hesitation as a sign that she does not love him, eventually deciding he needs to leave Downton for his own good. Anna finds out the true nature of Bates's crime, marrying poorly; it was his wife who nicked the sterling. O'Brien, sensing a sacking on the way, resents what she perceives as a slight from Cora and leaves a half-bar of wet soap at the foot of the bath. She has second thoughts but is not fast enough. Cora slips, falls, and miscarries in the bathroom. It was a boy. Lord Grantham weeps for his unborn son but finds solace in the fact that Bates need not go anywhere. A garden party is had. In the most Downton way possible, Bates declares his love for Anna to Molesley. War is declared.

Wordy Ginters: Another great episode. I like the rollicking pace, plot pay-offs coming as hard and fast as the historical markers in the back drop.

Josh "Old Man" Duggan: The pace was fucking breakneck here. It's almost hard to catch your breath. This episode was about fifteen minutes longer than the rest of the episodes of the season, yet the action seemed to unfurl itself with such ferocity that it made the episode seem shorter than the rest.

WG: What know you of the "season" phenomena? The swells gather to marry off children and mingle? Lick the silver spoon, drink from the golden cup, and smoke the finest weed? Shout out to my man Everlast, a big Downton Abbey fan who lurks here often.

OMD: According to TSLF, all the aristocratic families from the countryside flock to the city (London) and attend balls. It's basically the debutante scene. Families throw galas. Daughters "come out." Usually a family would just introduce one daughter a season, meaning that the Bennett daughters all coming out at the same time in Pride and Prejudice was gauche. This was obviously Lady Sybil's first season. It being Mary's fourth season while remaining unattached is the subject of much consternation on her parents' part, especially since Mary seems to be her own worst enemy.

WG: I was digging the gear his lord and lady were sporting when they opened the episode rolling into Downton via car. I don't know about you, when I go on a road trip, I'm rocking the casual gear. A matching velour top and bottom track suit, slip on shoes. Maybe I shouldn't bring up footwear. Evidently back in the day, you had to dress up like the Wright brothers to drive.

OMD: You best believe that I'm sporting my driving gloves, (No glove? No love.) and I've always made sure to get my riding scarf in position snugly 'round my neck. You'll not see me wearing driving goggles, however, as I'm already bespectacled. Otherwise, just my standard attire of boxers, blazer, and baseball cleats. Nothing more. Nothing less. To be fair, were I alive in 1914, I'd surely have dressed like the Wright brothers, but not just for driving in the country.

WG: Lady Grantham is pregnant! Hard to imagine a sex life for those two. Don't get me wrong, I've always found Cora to be attractive. It just seems that his lordship would find the act of humping as too undignified. I think it speaks well of their relationship that they still knock it out every now and again.

OMD: His Lordship seems to be most concerned by doing what's best for the masses. That includes but is not limited to getting his hump on, dignity be damned. That they sleep together--rather unusual for the time--speaks volumes to his affinity for keeping warm at night via the good old-fashioned means of body heat. Perhaps Cora was raised by eskimos, who taught her both how to keep warm at night and how to properly catch whales, the latter being the means by which she amassed her fortune.

Lord Grantham's desire to hear nothing of womanly matters from Dr. Clarkson was hilarious. Your earlier mention of boot-knocking being too lacking in dignity for his Lordship certainly applies here. I also really loved the scene where Robert is about to head into the library when Sybil jumps in and tells him that he cannot go in there because Gwen is getting interviewed for the secretary position with the phone company. His reaction at having been overruled by one of his daughters reminded me of how often Coach Taylor, a stately chap blessed with an innate sense of command and responsibility in his own right, was summarily put into his place by his wife or daughter on Friday Night Lights.

WG: Alas, I have not cracked the Friday Night Lights serial. Buzz Bissinger and Peter Berg together again? I've heard good things. What never goes out of style is men acting like paternal stick up the arses. Good for Sybil. No one else gets over on his Lordship like Lady Sybil.

OMD: Berg brought it to the small screen, but handed the reigns over to show-runner Jason Katims almost immediately. Cousin Bissinger is actually not involved with the show at all. The show, as I've mentioned many, many times in this forum is awesome. The best programming that network television has had to offer in ages, if not ever. As for Sybil, the youngest certainly owns his Lordship. I think he wilts at her determination. Brava, Sybil. Brava.

WG: Did you catch the quote Mary had when Napier dropped a dime on Edith? I believe she directly mentioned "face to face" in her conversation, which is a fairly obvious endorsement of the F2FA theory as the cause of Pamuk's ultimate demise.

OMD: With as coy as Fellowes & Co. get with their cheeky dialogue, one cannot help but assume that they are getting to the heart of the matter: F2FA. It never leaves Mary's mind. Forbidden Turkish fruit has its way of doing that to a fancy lass.

WG: As we've mentioned before, the show challenges viewers to follow some unspoken plot advancement and twists, which is refreshing. The cinematography is sometimes brilliant as well. The scene including his Lordship and Matthew discussing Mary's ruminatin' on the marriage vows was stunning.

OMD: Refreshing indeed. As for the photography, it is beautiful. Tasteful, restrained British opulence or the verdant grounds of Downton in every frame. First, it looks as though they're on a stroll at Augusta, then they've got the beautiful Jacobethan styling of Highclere Castle as the backdrop in the next frame.

WG: For the first time, Bates' body language looked defeated. When Carson came in to share the contents of the "gotcha" note that had been procured by O'Brien, he looked frail and small. First time I'd noticed that in the series.

OMD: I am still not quite sure why this note should have been so damning coming so hot on the heels of Bates's confession to the very misdeeds cited in the note. Bates, while wearing defeat like a leaden cloak, is ultimately a scrapper. Somehow it seems as though no matter what shit gets thrown at him, he's going to end up persevering--a modern-day telling of the Job story, I hope.

WG: Liked the Bates line, "astonished at your kindness" in response to Carson's on-going deliberations throughout the episode. I know you linked the Nick Cave tune last week, since I've been going thru a Cave phase lately, it reminded me of mebbe my fave Cave song: "Stranger Than Kindness" from Your Funeral... My Trial. First proper Cave album I owned. I think I found him via a sampler, Neil Young covers--a benefit album/fund raiser for some org called "The Bridge." He covered "Helpless." Loved it, went to the local record store and scored YFMT. Loved it. Still do. Might be my fave Cave album.

OMD: Great line for sure. The first Nick Cave album I had was Let Love In. If memory serves me correctly, my introduction to the band was through The X-Files--that Songs in the Key of X pseudo soundtrack. I wish I was cool enough to say that I was into The Birthday Party and followed Cave over. I suppose I'd have been a really cool kindergartener if I'd been able to say that I'd been into The Birthday Party since I was born and that I was still unsure as to how I'd feel about Cave with his Bad Seeds. Personally, I go to Murder Ballads first, and then jump up to The Lyre of Orpheus / Abattoir Blues double LP.

WG: Both excellent choices. No More Shall We Part is a fave around these parts. Have you dug backwards beyond that stuff? I LOVE the Birthday Party stuff, it appeals to an angry noise aesthetic that I've got a soft spot for. I found it late as well, only after immersing myself in Cave. Your Funeral... My TrialKicking Against the PricksHenry's Dream, and The Good Son are all great records. Repeated listening is richly rewarded.

OMD: On the Cave front, I have everything but From Her to EternityKicking Against the Pricks, and Tender Prey. Don't ask me why I don't have them. There's no rationale. Simply a lack of time. I'm definitely keener on their later sound. As for The Birthday Party, it's definitely noisier than I'm typically into, which is why I've never really gone whole-hog on them.

WG: O'Brien. An excellent antagonist. Loathsome. She hits all the wrong notes in this episode. Fellowes rounds the corners a bit by having O'Brien stare into the mirror and attempt to convince herself that the conniving double-dealing harpy isn't who she really is. It's easy to hate O'Brien, but you have to feel a little pull there. I'm wondering if she's going to go The Godfather route and split her wrists in a warm tub so she doesn't embarrass her old school brother from Sicily.

OMD: It's a great scene. One word comes to mine. That word is phonetically contained within the words "country singer." A fate that you describe would be letting her off too easily. I want pain. I want blood. I want a torturous demise. I love the twist of the knife that comes later when she discovers that the advertised position was to replace the Dowager Countess's maid. I hope this eats away at her and eventually drives her over the cliff into a state of madness from which she cannot come back.

How great was Bates telling Molesley in only the way that Fellowes would have it done that he loves Anna? In the third person: "He's very keen. Very keen indeed."

WG: That was maybe the highlight of the episode filled with highlights. I loved it. Also, was that Bates in make up playing his own mother? The resemblance was striking. Too lazy to look at the DVD materials, but I'm wondering if it was a blood relative.

OMD You'll love this. It was actually Jane Wenham who played Bates's mum. Jane Wenham was in a bunch of British shit I've never heard of. She was also married to Albert Finney, having popped out a son, Simon, who works as a camera operator.

A single from The Prodigy succintly describes what should happen to her
OMD: I'd love to smack the hell out of Lady Rosamund right about now...

WG: If I were the Dowager, I would say something half corny, half biting, but I ain't got it in me. Oh, wait... The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

OMD: How great was William pounding on Thomas? Thomas has always been a shit, and despite the fact that the hammer is moments away from being brought down on the snaky footman, it's nice to see mild-mannered William give Thomas a once-over. William should make Thomas fluff his pillow (non-sexually) every night until Thomas is out of the house.

WG: The pay-off wasn't as brutal as I was hoping for. I thought Bates might come in to bat clean up. It was cleansing to see someone finally put a fist in Thomas's smart mouth. His unraveling throughout the show was a pleasure to watch. That he appears to be a step ahead regardless is a little galling, but at least he got mussed up a bit. Dude wears some sweet vests. He's got the Gordon Gekko horizontal herringbone thing going on. I like it. I wish they had those sweet vests at Target, I'd be wearing one to the pool this summer.

OMD We should start up a vest shoppe. We'll call it The Vestibule. Vests for all shapes and sizes. It'll catch on like wildfire.

OMD: I loved Cora's response to Lady Edith's sad plea for maternal approval after Cora congratulates Sybil on a season well done. "Don't I? You're very helpful, dear." If Edith weren't such a--what was the word I alluded to earlier?--country singer, you could almost start feel bad for her. That "slut" line draws any last opening for sympathy emphatically shut. Now we get to sit back and take perverse pleasure in every slight that comes her way.

WG: Mary may be named after the Mother of Christ, but she can bring the revenge like a little devil. Revenge is a dish best served cold. At a garden party. With iced cakes and war declarations.

OMD: The father/daughter dynamic between Carson and Lady Mary was here in full-force again. First with Carson's assumption that Lady Mary would never turn Matthew's proffered engagement down, assuming the best in his daughter by proxy. Mrs. Hughes's response--"Mr. Carson, Lady Mary Crawley does not deserve you"--was priceless. I love how differently the two heads of house see everything as pertains to Mary. Later, of course, he, not Lord Grantham, is there to console his near-daughter as she is beside herself at the prospect of having to live without Matthew around, having squandered her best chance at happiness in marriage.

WG: I'm man enough to admit that the dynamic between Carson and Mary is sweet. Like two fluffy kittens struggling to escape a wicker laundry basket. It makes me feel warm inside.

OMD: Speaking of Carson, how great was his phone practicing? I'd love to watch that for an hour.

WG: I'm right there with you. The sense of dignity and duty he brings to the most mundane tasks is inspirational. I would imagine his bowel movements involve a certain decorum and order that would seem otherworldly in today's bathroom culture. Which is in rapid decline. I'm working on a position paper entitled "The Shame of Public Shitting," which attacks both the shoddy and generally unclean state of public restrooms in the City of Lincoln Nebraska, and also the complex psychological issues that crop up in a restroom.

OMD: A friend of mine wanted to write a book detailing the best bathrooms in the land. My personal favorite is the bathroom in the Marfa Bookstore. Not overly glamorous, but classy. Simple. It's bi-fold focus lies equally on utility and cleanliness.

As for this episode, it was such a great close to the first series. It brings a semblance of closure to the necessary arcs while setting the pieces in place for a [spoiler alert] great second series. War is upon us. Batten down the goddamn hatches.

And so ends Series One. We pick right up again next week with Series Two (here on Blu-ray and DVD and also stream-able on Netflix Instant). 

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