Wednesday, June 20, 2012

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

Another week, another installment of Wordy Old Men on Downton Abbey with your hosts Wordy Ginters and Josh "Old Man" Duggan. Tell your friends, family, and even foes about what's going down here. 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.) Why the British versions? Because they're unabridged, unlike what aired in the U.S. 

Recap time. Ladies Edith and Mary help plan a variety show of sorts for the convalescents. Cora and Isobel butt heads over the use of Downton as the convalescent home, and Isobel elects to go where she is appreciated, France. Matthew and William go missing while on patrol. Everyone at Downton frets over the missing young men. Mary discovers that Branson has professed his love for Lady Sybil, who has not yet reciprocated any statements of a shared love but still makes Mary promise not to tell their father. Mrs. Hughes finds the randy Ethel in a linen closet making sex with the choady Major Bryant and shitcans the ginger hornball on the spot. Despite O'Brien trying to get Mrs. Patmore and Mrs. Bird in trouble for stealing food from the kitchen at Downton, Lady Cora joins in on the soup kitchen (read that however you'd like) running in Crawley House. Lord Grantham discovers Bates is working at a pub and goes to ask him back to Downton. Matthew and William walk in mid-show, stopping the music as if they were Eddie Murphy in the biker bar in 48 Hours, with Mary being ever so happy to see Matthew. Ethel shows up downstairs begging Mrs. Hughes for help as she is knocked up by the Major she'd been humping.

Wordy Ginters: "I might not be a woman of the world, but I don't live in a sack." I was thinking the same damn thing Mrs. Hughes. The big ending doesn't turn out to be whether or not Matthew and William find their names on a list of war dead, but that Ethel is pregnant. It's a sly little commentary on social mores with the Major/presumptive father later playing to the crowd with lame magic tricks, life still intact. Quite a contrast to Ethel who quite literally has her life thrown into chaos. Ho Hum. This episode was a bit flat for me.

Old Man Duggan: There is definitely much less that seems to happen in this episode. What one could argue is the big event in the episode is an ultimately uninteresting one for the viewer, as no one gives a fuck about Ethel. Sure, nothing about Major Bryant doesn't reek of douchebag extraordinaire, but Ethel is a ginger (or insert any of her shortcomings and character flaws here, but clearly ginger is atop the list) and therefore deserves none of our sympathy. With no emotional weight attached to the one clear major event of the episode, it definitely doesn't carry the heft that past episodes have. I think the big things that happen in this episode are seen but unsaid, which leaves a weird feeling in my innards. This may be withdrawal. Obviously, the big shit (other than Bates coming back to Downton and storming back into my heart) is related to the eldest and youngest Crawley daughters realizing exactly how they feel about certain chaps--chaps with whom they are not actually attached. Recognition of feelings is certainly important, and when Matthew walks in the damn door with William in tow, Mary's tears of joy that teeter on the edge of her eye are nearly ours. It may not put butts in the seats, but in a serialized format these episodes are important.

WG: The return of Bates was a bit anti-climactic. In my mind, he returned to Downton shirtless on horseback, in a procession lead by six albino cheetahs on diamond leashes, and scantily dressed woman twirling flaming batons. Fellowes chooses a more conventional route. Grantham, being the good man that he is, recognizes the folly of his ways, and invites Bates back into the fold whence appraised of the real reason behind Bates' hasty exit. I love Bates' dialogue. 'Who would have thought an amateur concert could be the summit of all joy?" When Anna was encouraging him to trust his happiness, I wanted to reach through the screen, grab him by the lapels, and tell him to run, or more realistically, hobble with dignity, for his life. I shudder to think of the punishment that he has in store after being allowed a glimmer of happiness.

OMD: I'll refrain from commenting one way or the other on Bates's happiness and whether or not it will continue. I would like to raise a question as pertains to O'Brien and Thomas: What exactly did Bates do to them? He got a job that that country singer Thomas felt (unjustly) he deserved. Yet O'Brien is sitting there trying to tell Thomas that Hughes's message to Major Clarkson was Bates's handiwork. Jesus H. Christ. All I've got to say is that every goddamn episode in which Bates doesn't appear until the 28-minute mark is excruciating. My heart cannot take that torture. Furthermore, I do not want to him to ever live in a "fog of misery" again. I think his "God, I want to" response to Anna's telling him to "get used to being happy, and trust it" is telling in that he's still hesitant to get too excited. Hobbling away, he shall not do, however.

Mrs. O'Brien, Amateur Volcanologist
When Mrs. O'Brien asked to borrow baking soda, my first instinct was to assume she was making a model volcano.

WG: Of course. For the science fair portion of the convalescent entertainment. What did you think of the musical number that was Matthew and Williams figurative return to the living?

OMD: It's hard to ignore the lyrical significance as it pertains to Mary and Matthew. Matthew walks down the aisle (literally) singing, "I would say such wonderful things to you," Mary joins in singing in unison, "There would be such wonderful things to do / If you were the only girl in the world / And I were the only boy." There's a whole lot of subtext here. Everyone sees how much Mary loves Matthew, and vice versa, but somewhere out there lie Sir Richard Carlisle and Lavinia Swire, who Matthew quickly states he's off to see in London. Fellowes can be such a goddamn tease.

Total tangent here, but "Your Affectionate Cousin, Mary" has to be one of the most fucked up signatures on a correspondence I've ever heard. I know they're distant cousins, but sometimes it's hard to get past the inbred nature inherent in British aristocracy.

There is something that doesn't quite work for me about the sequence in which Matthew and William are out on patrol. It's shot hand-held, as one would expect, but somehow it never feels like they're at the front despite the evil Gerries trouncing through the woods. Obviously, there are budgetary constraints, and Downton Abbey is British television, so they're likely working with an even smaller budget than if it were an American program. Still, the tension doesn't get ratcheted up enough to affect any real emotion from me. I also think on a purely visual level that it's going to be difficult to make me feel the grit of war on high-def digital video, even with the tinting going on. I know film is expensive, but perhaps for these scenes film would have served them well.

WG: The choreography drained away some of the drama . No rationale. No bearings. Were they out getting some air? The scene seemed shockingly freestyle compared to the head to head trench warfare scenes we've come to know and love.

Comely nurse
I liked the first few seasons of Project Runway like everybody else, but I'm no fashion expert. I did notice the dresses Mary and Sybil were rocking at dinner had game. Even the Dowager looked smart in a beautiful blue velvet number. I even liked Grantham's "going to a public house" attire. Maybe before the end of Season Two we'll see Lady Sybil in a tasteful teddy?

OMD: I never paid Project Runway any heed (though I do watch Design Star), but wardrobe did shine in the latter half of this episode. I liked how "of the people" Lord Grantham's pub get-up was. Speaking of "public house," how great was it that Carson is so proper that he has no other way but to take umbrage at the notion of a trained valet working at a pub and has to refer to it in its full name while others in service still call it a pub? As for Lady Sybil, I think I speak for the world when I say this: We will welcome any attempt to make Lady Sybil even more ravishing than she already is; lingerie is both welcome and encouraged.

WG: What do you make of Sybil and Branson? Will they or won't they?

OMD: Well, now, that would be telling, wouldn't it? I will say that I loved how that scene in the garage (I pronounced that in my head to rhyme with "carriage") was shot. The reflections of Branson and Sybil in the glass of the car to intimate an in-frame closeness that wasn't possible given their station and Sybil's reluctance to embrace Branson's love for her were really cagey and more than make up for the weaker scenes in the "field" of combat.

WG: In general, the forces of good win this episode. Cora turns out to be human and ends up rolling up her sleeves and helping out with the impromptu soup kitchen. Mary doesn't narc on Sybil and Branson. The Dowager feigns real emotion at Matthew's possible death. Even Thomas apparently has backed off from his feuding with Bates, after Hughes drops a dime on him. O'Brien remains a humorless bitch. But what's new? How can she try to stir up so much shit without sweating thru that black cassock she wears during her day job.

OMD: I don't know that I'd go so far as to qualify Thomas as backing off from feuding with Bates. I just think he doesn't see there being much to gain given his station. As for O'Brien, it's a little known fact, but the black cassock is actually the official get-up that one is supposed to wear whilst stirring up shit. Other than that, yes, good wins out over evil this episode. The Krauts fail to capture Matthew the Brave and William the Strong. The prole breaks down the young aristocrats last defense around her heart. Cora works the soup line. All is right in the world.

All right, is it just me or does the notion of Mrs. Patmore feeling anything "in her waters" strike the fear of God into you, too? I have no idea what she means by that, and I surely would prefer not to be filled in. I'm scared of your waters, Mrs. Patmore. I'm scared to death.

WG: Sometimes you look into the abyss, and sometimes the abyss looks into you.

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