Monday, June 11, 2012

Wordy Old Men on Downton Abbey: Series Two, Episode Two

After a slight delay, we--Wordy Ginters and myself--are back with the second episode of the second series of Downton Abbey. We do intend to actually get a second one of these up on schedule on Wednesday, so eat plenty of bran this week. Once again, you can buy the second series on Blu-ray and on DVD. They're the original versions as aired in the U.K. (Series One available here on DVD and Blu-ray.)

This installment picks up in April of 1917, the Great War still a-blazin'. Carson is trying to pick up the slack 'round the manor whilst they try to make do, short-staffed. Bates has been replaced as Lord Grantham's valet by Lang, a shell-shocked vet who has been invalided out. William gets his call to duty and asks Daisy to be his lady. Cora pulls strings upon Mrs. O'Brien's manipulative prodding to get Thomas transferred to the hospital in town. Molesley tries to fill Bates's shoes in the Anna department. His attempts? Unsuccessful. Thomas returns, says shitty things to the staff at Downton, and befriends a gas-blinded Lieutenant only to find that when he befriends someone they are driven to suicide. Patmore gets news that a nephew has gone missing and wants to find out what happened. Mary's nouveau-riche "love" interest Sir Richard Carlisle comes to visit and asks for Mary's hand in a most businesslike fashion by the end of the episode, a proposal she agrees to think on. Lady Edith goes to work driving a tractor at the Drake farm and then cozies up to the formerly deathly ill farmer while his almost-widow watches from nearby. Carson collapses presumably from exhaustion while serving dinner. While resting, Lady Mary visits Carson at his bedside, and he advises her to tell Matthew how she feels about him before it's too late. Emboldened, she tries to visit Matthew while he's in town at the Crawley House but happens upon a worried Lavinia Swire, who is broken up for two reasons--Carlisle's presence and their mysterious history together and the fact that her fiance could die at any time--and who Mary elects to comfort, forgoing all grand declarations of love for her taken cousin. Mrs. Drake sends a note to the house saying that "they decided to hire a man, so they won't be needing her anymore." Lesson: No one will ever need Lady Edith. Lord Grantham agrees to allow (now) Major Clarkson to use Downton Abbey as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers.  

Wordy Ginters: Upon cursory research, the U.S. jumps into the WWI in 1918 right at the tail end to help close things out. By the time this episode takes place in April of 1917, a stunning number of men had been killed, with the final tally estimated around 15 million. Mind boggling. Germany, Austria, and Turkey--or the Central Powers--versus virtually the rest of Europe. By the way, what kind of lame ass name is "Central Powers?"  Continental dominance certainly has come a long ways since those days, as we are about to see in the aftermath of the Wisconsin recall effort.

Tyrone Power, no relation to Central Powers
Josh "Old Man" Duggan: Shit, as they say, has definitely gotten real on the front. The Great War was fucked. All these new ways to kill shitloads of people with such arcane methods of going about battle was truly a recipe for disaster. Central Powers was actually Powers Boothe's grandfather if memory serves me correctly. No relation to Tyrone Power, though. I do like how resistant to Continental ways those wacky Brits are.

WG: I knew things were going berserk when Carson was sorting wood in the beginning stages of the episode. Carson and encounters with the outside world are not a good mix. And the new valet, Lang. Poor bastard. Shell-shocked, not so much from the horrors of War, by my reckoning, but more so from the horrors of filling Bates shoes. Now you know how Michael Jordan's sons feel.

OMD: Carson's reaction to all these sacrifices of decorum belies a besmirchment of his core values. As for Lang, he knows he's both an inferior valet and an inferior soldier. Attempting to fill Bates's shoes would be a daunting task for anyone. Jordan's kids ain't got nuthin' on Lang. It is especially odd that O'Brien is the one to show him the most warmth--well, as much warmth as she is capable of mustering.

WG: And then straightaway Patmore gets bad news via telegram. The telegrams are typically of the dreaded variety on Downton. Titanic. Anal Sex rumors. Notes from Bates' harpy of a wife. And something so disturbing it had Patmore clutching at her breast. For a moment, I thought her other hand was busy working away under the deep, humid recesses of her apron. I thought perhaps she had subscribed to some Gilded Age feminist version of Penthouse Letters: "I never thought this would happen to me, but one day when I was making a mincemeat pie..." But no, her nephew, Archibald Philpotts (wasn't that Cary Grant's government name?) got plugged for cowardice. At least it was a clean break.

OMD: I actually got my consumption diagnosis via a telegram. Western Union. Sadly (or really, luckily) we had no such luck on the Patmore front, though I'm sure she's into literary erotica a la mode. These are not books she can fetch from Lord Grantham's collection. She surely has to clutch them furtively 'neath her dress and sneak them into her room where she hides them under her mattress. Cary Grant's given name was Archibald Leach. My guess would be that he and Archibald Philpotts were brothers. I did like how Lord Grantham would not have Patmore speak fully of the circumstances around Archie's demise. One mustn't speak ill of our soldiers without having been at the front.

WG: Speaking of plugged, what do you make of Thomas in this episode?

OMD: He certainly comes back and still flashes his complete and utter shittiness at first opportunity. Given his bedside interactions with the blinded officer and his reaction to his suicide, it would seem that Fellowes (who wrote the entire second series) was making a slight attempt at humanizing Thomas what with stories of his being picked on for being different and his empathy for the visionless chap with a bandage 'round his head and a twig in his hand.

WG: Previously you had mentioned, if I read you correctly, not altogether facetiously that Fellowes may have an issue with homosexuals based on how he has reverted to the crudest caricatures in the character playbook with the way he has represented Thomas. Perhaps there is an explanation for the rough portrayal in this episode. As Thomas begins to hip himself to a hint of humanity, he reveals to one of the gas blind soldiers that he's had to fight because he was different. Is Fellowes saying that ANYONE would be a dick if they had to grow up gay at the turn of the century? I'm inclined to believe that. It can't be a walk in the park now. How gruesome would it have been back then? Later, when that gas blind would-be lover takes his own life, we see Thomas crying. The only emotion he's showed in the series besides conniving and smug satisfaction over being a dick. I like to think he's not crying over the loss of the soldier but crying because of what he has become. A pale, fat, ratso type of guy with the heavy burden of a homosexual cross to bear and a lifetime of shat. Being shat on and scheming to shit upon others. It can't be a good place. And now, to top it all off, his hand looks like a piece of boiled ham, and he's stuck nursing soldiers who have far greater "legitimate" physical wounds. It ain't easy being Thomas. I'm going to cut him some serious slack. I'd love to see his character get walked back towards something resembling humanity, and then see someone else--Anna, Matthew, or some other "good" character--go the darkness route.

OMD: I did mention the possibility, though I sort of doubt it. Clearly, Hitchcock had his fear of homosexuality as his long history of effete antagonists and thinly veiled homosexual relationships amongst his bands of villains would seem to insist. Thomas certainly seems to be a classic Hitchcockian villain. As for Fellowes saying anyone would be a dick given the circumstance, I don't know that he's going that far. I think it's certainly a bit of an explanation for Thomas, but these are Brits, and Brits are nothing if not predisposed to repression by choice. They're not an emotional people. As for Thomas's connection with the Lieutenant Courtenay, it seems to me as though the connection is far less of a sexual one and much more that Thomas sees their plight as being similar. When someone else is faced with the prospect of continuing on with his unchangeable condition, rather than chug on down the line with steeled heart, he gave up. It makes Thomas feel all the more alone. That said, I still can't make myself feel for the shitbag. As for characters breaking bad, I'm sure it'll be the delightful Lavinia and Lady Sybil training their sights on Lang and William, ruining them for life with spurious accusations of thievery, chicanery, and pulchritude.

How Lady Edith should have dressed at the Drake Farm
WG: Edith on a tractor. I was eager to see what "work clothes" she was going to put on. I was a little disappointed that she came out looking like she had been shopping at Eddie Bauer. I would have preferred more of a Hee-Haw-themed look, with some bib overalls and a cravat from the Red Sovine collection. But alas, that would have been too modern. Regardless, I couldn't watch any of the scenes with Edith and the married Mr. Drake without one word bouncing around my brain: TEETH! A lot of gruesome chiclets per square inch in those scenes. I do enjoy the blue collar turn the Grantham girls have taken though. Good to see them mixing it up with the rabble and doing something outside the bounds of the upper crust norm. I believe Mary had the best quip when she snarked about Edith's tractor driving thusly: "She's found her metier, farm laborin'." I'd like to hear what a Women's Studies student would say about the show. If there is an ounce of good in it in this regard or not. However, Sybil looks like Stevie Van Zandt with that nurse headgear. Not cool. That beauty needs to be unleashed. Anything that evenly mildly references a bandanna detracts from any attempt at seriousness. No one looks good in a bandanna. None. Nada. Nunca.

OMD: Thankfully, only the bandanna resembles Miami Steve. Lady Sybil is still beyond reproach past that. The tooth wrangler in the farm scenes had their hands full to be sure. Between the blue collar Crawley sisters and the issues the Crawleys are dealing with on the heir front it seems as though a progressive feminist bent is at the fore. I just found out that Fellowes's own wife was left title-less after her uncle died without male heirs because of the still-arcane rules of succession and peerage (the latter pertaining to his wife), so it would appear that the ax he grinds is a personal one.

WG: Regarding aesthetics, Mary or Lavinia Swain? Strictly on looks. I'm a sucker for dark hair and dark eyes, and Mary has her moments. Lavinia, despite Carson's fatherly protestations to the contrary, is an attractive ginger, but just barely. Kind of a weird amalgam of Sissy Spacek and Nicole Kidman with a dash of Boris Becker. Ultimately, I'd lean Mary. You?

OMD: It's a toss-up. Mary's attractiveness varies largely on the angle at which she is shot. When she was on horseback venturing into the murky depths of the woods and butt-play, she'd crane her neck at times, and the first thought that would pop into my mind was that Sigourney Weaver was going to burst forth from within Michelle Dockery. Lavinia's neckline is always especially fetching, and she's tastefully gingered. I guess I gravitate slightly more toward the slightly more angular features of Lady Mary than Lavinia, though only slightly. Boris Becker was a dreamboat.

WG: I enjoyed the scene between Mary and Carson. You could hear the clock ticking ominously in the background behind the dialogue. Is Carson short for this world? Or is it more likely a not too subtle note that time is running out for Mary to get square with Matthew. If Dr. Zhivago, Love Story, or Misery have taught us anything about romance entertainment, it is the unrequited love that lingers longer for the viewer. I want them to stay apart for the angst factor.

OMD: While I'm refraining from getting into spoiling anything from later episodes, it would seem that given the content of their conversation, the clock would have been ticking for Matthew and Mary. Angst mounts.

Then-anonymous author of garden smut
Elizabeth von Arnim
WG: And another failed woo via Molesley and Anna. I kind of felt bad for Molesley. He's a decent guy, but come on. There is no after Bates for Anna. And that book? Elizabeth and Her German Garden? Weak effort. Tarzan was out back then. Edgar Rice Burroughs is always the right call when trying to impress the ladies. I could listen to Molesley say the word "laundry" all day long.

OMD: The book he brings for Anna sounds awfully lewd, doesn't it? I'm not sure what euphemistic nature a German garden had in WWI-era England, but it can't have been good. Surely it has to do with well-tended rows of flowers in the most tawdry sense possible. Molesley's lack of game surely won't hurt him as long as he doesn't mind turning his gaze in Ethel's direction.

WG: The title Elizabeth and Her German Garden seethes with demented Germanic sex oddness. The fearful kind. The Dada movement was in full flower at the time. I'm relatively certain Molesley had his fingers knowingly on the pulse of the bleeding edge sex-art scene in Europe, war be damned. Anna sees right through the gimmickry though. After experiencing the authentic manliness that is Bates, surreal nonsensical rejection of reason and logic seems batshit crazy. Bates > Dada.

OMD: Why dabble with the surreal when you've experienced the real and he it is so delicious?

WG: Is anyone hornier than Ethel?

OMD: No. I'm embarrassed for everyone around that crass little harlot. She can't even hold it in in day-to-day conversation in sexually repressed England.

WG: The sexual tension (?) between Ethel and Thomas had smoke coming off my TV screen. Some very direct and impertinent eye contact going on. I'm feeling tingly in the deep, humid recesses of my apron just thinking about it.

OMD: Yeah, I've got no idea how to qualify whatever was going on there. I think maybe it's that they're the shittiest, pithiest people that the United Kingdom had seen up until that point. Ethel probably senses that Thomas is gay and wants to throw a bone in him just to cross one off her list. The tingling I'm feeling is in my stomach. I'm either pregnant or about to throw up from repulsion.

WG: Carlisle is a stand in for Rupert Murdoch, right? Obviously that smirking shit is up to no good with Lavinia. I did enjoy his line about being responsible to his investors rather than the readers. Sums up the issues of our modern media nicely. The Dowager Countess was ladling up that craven ambition for money and power with a spoon.

OMD: He certainly seems to be Murdoch to me. My guess, and this is just a guess, is that he plans to have Lavinia walk through fire with ovoid rocks in the hopes that baby dragons spring forth from the aged eggs. As for the modern media reading, once again Fellowes contextualizes the issues of today against the backdrop of yore. A kind of "this shit was a problem then, too" statement. Fix this shit, Western society. I think the Dowager Countess was actually showing hard when presented with the prospect of such a driven suitor. If he came from noble stock, she'd be rushing Lady Mary down the aisle posthaste.

WG: Exactly. Nice work by Fellowes using the past to illuminate the present. Meet the new boss. Same craven money worshipping tweed suit as the old boss. Eminence front. Blue eyes. Won't get fooled again. Boris the spider.

OMD: I love that when finally given the opportunity Lady Edith would totally have chosen to make it with a married farmer, yet Mary is the "slut" for venturing into the sweet forbidden realm of F2FA. I've said it once, and I'll say it again: Fuck Edith. I wish Mrs. Drake would bitch-slap Edith, the would-be noble home-wrecker. I'm sorry, but there's a significant distinction between partaking in Turkish anal pleasures and dalliances in the hay with a married man while his wife is no more than forty yards away.

WG: Edith is desperate in the worst way. I fear for the horses.

OMD: As do I. Equine rape is no laughing matter. It's an epidemic. I like how clueless Lady Edith was as to how old that tree was. Did you plant this 40-year-old tree, Farmer Drake? Of course you didn't, you'd have to be at least 55 to have been even reasonably expected to have been able to plant this tree. What a fool am I! Let's fuck!

Computation of Edith's horniness led to six deaths at NORAD
as Joshua overloaded
WG: So much for the nascent pro-Fem shoots and leaves. Edith is worse than teen-talk Barbie who whined on a string about Math class being too tough. And hornier than a Barbie as well, which is no small feat. Let's be honest with each other. I suck at math too. But I'm relatively sure that quantifying Edith's horniness requires some kind of squaring or cubing or power to the something or the other. It's a big number not arrived at easily. Computers will whir. Lights will flash and pop. Much calculator tape will unspool. And it ends with a scientist looking at a number with too many commas, a spit take, and the failed bid music from The Price is Right.

OMD: Joshua from WarGames would completely melt down and the world would end were he tasked with computering out her horniness. I suppose that will happen with such a hellacious appetite with no release opportunity for release at her disposal on account of her being so seriously overshadowed by her winsome sisters. The entire universe would implode were Joshua asked to figure out whether Edith or Ethel was hornier.

And holy shit. No Bates. An entire episode without our stoic hero. Fuck my life. Fuck our lives. Fuck Bates's churlish wife. Why hath thou forsaken us, Fellowes? Where the hell is my Batesey?

WG: Cue Auden: Stop the clocks. He was my north, my south, my east, my west. Dismantle the sun.


j.carol said...

love the game of thrones reference. thank you.
oh lady edith. when i first watched the show i felt really sorry for her and i let every evil thing she did slide, but on second and third watching and listening to josh bitch about her nonstop, i have changed my turn. she is terrible and pathetic.

Sarah said...

Of the 3 daughters, I am still trying to figure the age sequence, if Edith or Sybil are the youngest. I say Edith is and DH thought Sybil was. Nonetheless, clearly the most beautiful of the three is Sybil. I have a hard time liking Mary but found myself liking her a little bit more this episode.

The crazy old man Mary brought around looks like something from a James Bond movie. He does seem to be up to something with that vajazzled creature Matthew brought around.

Edith is kind-of a dirty whore, and may be having to eat her words from first season when she said Mary was a whore. Is it wrong if I was kind-of cheering her on a little at the same time having a little sympathy for the farmer's wife, and yet, the guy was so old that it was definitely wrong?

Hell, at this point, the love story between Daisy and what's his face has captivated my attention the most.

Can't get enough British love! And scandal!

Episode 3 tonight. And possibly 4.

Josh Duggan said...

Mary is the oldest. Edith is second. Sybil is the young pup.

I really hope that Lavinia had some vajazzling done.

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