Wednesday, August 1, 2012

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

And just like that, here we are again. Your Tenzing Norgays (as usual) for Wordy Old Men on Downton Abbey are Wordy Ginters and Josh "Old Man" Duggan. Tell your kinfolk and your people that they need to get this while the gettin' is good. 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. Do it (but follow those links if you do).

As the episode begins, Fellowes wastes no time in getting the ball rolling. We are thrown into Downton in the midst of preparations for Matthew and Lavinia's pending nuptials. The parents of the dead fuckwad Major Bryant have done an about-face and want to see Ethel's bastard child. Carson kindly tells a broke Thomas that he should be pushing on since he has no position at Downton. Branson and Sybil announce their plans to move to Dublin--where Branson has a job as a journalist at a paper and Sybil looks to continue on in nursing while giving up her life in the aristocracy--whereupon Lord Grantham puffs out his chest and gets indignant and tries ineffectually to strong-arm Sybil into doing as he commands.

And then everything goes to shit. Spanish Influenza hits Downton Abbey like a motherfucker. Before you know it, Carson, Cora, Molesley, and Lavinia are near death. While sickness takes its hold on the house, Anna tells Bates that they're getting married and there's not a goddamn thing he can say to deter her. The intrepid Dr. Clarkson prescribes Aspirin and cinnamon and milk to those coming down with the sickness. While Lavinia is resting, Mary and Matthew share a dance and their feelings for one another. As was inevitable, Lavinia walks down the stairs while they're kissing. It is revealed that Molesley isn't sick with flu, but rather he's drunk from having to taste the wines. While Cora is ill, Robert takes the war widow maid, Jane, into his room where they kiss but are interrupted by Bates, whereupon Lord Grantham's conscience gets the best of him and he breaks off the tryst before it really starts. The next morning, Lord Grantham tries to buy off Branson at the Grantham Arms. It is determined that the wedding must be postponed. Cora is the illest of the stricken and looks to be potentially dying. Major Bryant's shithead father wants to take their bastard grandson and raise them without Ethel. Mrs. O'Brien tries to confess her role in the miscarriage to a delusional Cora but realizes it won't be heard. Having stabilized, Lavinia breaks off the engagement with Matthew on account of his obvious feelings for Mary. Sir Richard Carlisle comes to "help" and prevent Mary and Matthew from getting together if Lavinia were to perish. Cora gets disturbingly sicker, bleeding out of her nose and looking like hell. Thomas lends an overeager helping hand to endear him to everyone and try to get his job back. Lavinia takes a shocking and sudden turn for the worse after looking to be well and just before dying tells Matthew to be happy with Mary, saying her death is for the better. Cora and Robert mend their strained relationship after she comes through on the other side. Bates and Anna get married furtively in Ripon. Lord Grantham promises to provide for Jane's son after she hands in her notice. Mary has a room set up in secret for Anna and Bates on their wedding night. At Lavinia's funeral, Matthew tells Mary that the two of them are cursed and that their kiss killed Lavinia. Robert gives Sybil and Branson his blessing. When the staff arrive back from the cemetery, Bates is arrested for murder.

Wordy Ginters: Throw all of the relationships in a pot, add a dash of Spanish Influenza, and stir like a bastard. Matthew standing up like Freddie in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels didn't throw me, but the whipsaw switchbacks from weddings, to funerals, to Bates shirtless and ultimately cuffed may have.

Old Man Duggan: So much shit happened in this episode. The recap for this chapter was ridiculously long, and not for my lack of wanting it to be more brief.

WG: Come on Fellowes, save a little something for Season Three. Or better yet, parcel that action out a little. And no sign of Patrick's melted face.

OMD: I am seriously hard-pressed to think of an episode of television in which so much happened, plot-wise.

Jordan Mooney, WWI Nurse
WG: My favorite angle of the last part of Season Two has been the ascension of Branson. As Bates wilts, Branson gows. You figured when they laid their cards on the table some ugly bluster would come down. Fathers of the world can't front on that. I liked how Fellowes had Branson handle the heat shamelessly. Grantham pre-sages Cocktail by whipping out the checkbook and tries to buy his daughter's future back. This brings up an important question, who makes a better WWI nurse, Sybil or Elisabeth Shue? Branson, unlike Tom Cruise, shows a little fucking reserved nobility. So he's got a gig at some Irish newspaper, eh? You got him pegged for covering the Gaelic football and hurling beat, or does he land on the opinion pages day one?

OMD: Branson has definitely been the undeniable success story in this season. Everyone else who we find ourselves rooting for has gotten the shit kicked out of them from time to time, but Branson has won at every turn. At least Fellowes gave us someone who hasn't been beaten down this season. I loved Branson telling Carson that he felt no shame. Damn right you shouldn't, Branson. Bully for you. Mr. Mooney was clearly inspired by Lord Grantham, whose failed attempt at buying off Branson surely made it 'round their social circle for generations. On the nursing front, I'd imagine Elisabeth Shue would deliver any and all liquids I needed via bottle poured over top of her breasts, so I'd have to opt for that nurse each and every time. As for Branson, I'm sure he'll make his name by way of covering the Irish War of Independence is just getting underway with their Declaration of Independence having happened just a couple months earlier, given his proclivity for politics it seems unlikely that his fate would operate outside of the rebellion. Of course, I suppose that Icarus has flown too close to the sun, and his wings will melt in a most horrible way because no one can be happy for good on this show.

WG: I was trying to connect the dots between the various "couples" and various maladies. Those being cuckolded in some fashion are the ones who get the sharp end of the stick. Lavinia? Dead. Bates? Jail. Cora? The worst bloody nose ever. Ethel? Doomed to live in a shadowy one-room efficiency with only a baby, a wooden pacifier, and short-brimmed steam punk hats for company.

OMD: This is definitely a bizarre trend. Getting fucked around on by your mate? Here. Let me stab you in the arm and mash your testes with a rusty 19th-Century garlic press. Ethel's being punished for being the horniest thing with two legs in the history of the world. That randy broad and her dumb-looking mouth-breather of a kid are doomed to a life of destitution. The Depression is gonna fuck that kid up something rotten.

WG: Have you sussed out what LP Matthew threw on the old gramophone? I thought for sure we'd hear the phat beats of Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" rocking the drawing room.

OMD: You'll be glad to know that from what I can tell, Zip, Goes a Million was a musical written by Jerome Kern. It was based on the 1902 novel, Brewster's Millions. Yep. Brewster's Millions. It did rather poorly, and a Broadway run was cancelled after its failure in London. A separate musical was later adapted from the same novel in 1951. "Look for the Silver Lining" is the tune they dance to. Given how quickly it was at the end of the record and the fact that slower records weren't widely available until the 1930s, they had to have been listening to it on 78, or at the very least Fellowes made it appear to have been a 78 to keep up with historical accuracy.

WG: Excellent. Brewsters Millions! is this the same vehicle that brought about the genius pairing of John Candy and Richard Pryor?

OMD: Oh, don't you know it.

WG: I generally dig the camera work on this show, but the dizzy, spinning, kissy, busted sequence was a little over the top for me. Matthew's smoldering repressed self-pity provides all the fireworks my groins need.

OMD: It rubbed me wrong the first time, but it makes sense from a psychological standpoint, as Matthew and Mary are in the throes of a moment. The camera movement puts the viewer in that disorienting place. It might be a little heavy-handed, but it didn't get to the point of bothering me.

WG: I loved the dated remedy for Spanish Flu: Aspirin, Cinnamon, and Milk. I bet you served plenty of those in your barista days?

The Dr. Clarkson of lawyering
OMD: Fucking Clarkson. It reminds me of George Bluth, Sr. every time he realizes his lawyers have given him terrible advice. "I have the worst fucking attorneys." It's like Clarkson is just out to dick Matthew over at every turn. You'll never walk. Lavinia's fine. Jesus, Clarkson, get your druthers about you, you sod.

WG: I plight thee my troth. Bates shirtless. Obviously Anna employed the reverse cowboy. It was gratifying to see a look of relieved joy wash over his face, if only for a moment. Somehow, I had pictured Bates with broader shoulders and at list a hint of muscle definition. Sweetly complicated move that Jane left that room as a wedding gift? Was that on the up and up or was she planning on luring Grantham in for a hump?

OMD: The audience got the moment they had been waiting for since about the 20th minute of the first episode. Bates and Anna together in marital bliss. I was choked up when Mary took Anna into the room that Jane had done up on the way out. That's where the show gets me--those little moments where a character goes out of their way to do well by another character when they don't have to, especially when the act of kindness affects a character whose life otherwise has so little going on to be counted as something momentous. These small kindnesses carry a weight that in any other hands would be rendered mostly inconsequential.

WG: Without a doubt. The compassion displayed by some of the characters goes a long way towards keeping the viewer invested.

I laughed when Bryant's wife jumped on him for his frequent use of the word "bastard," and he countered with "nameless off-shoot of a drudge." Much better.

OMD: He's unquestionably a shithead, but his categorization of that fallen randy housemaid was spot on.

WG: The end scene where the Dowager Countess was searching for salvage value in the Sybil/Branson marriage via Branson's involvement with the press and the politics hits a little close to home. The aristocrats have been running that game for years.

OMD: There are certainly socio-political elements of the show that are just as relevant today as they were then. Human nature, I guess. As long as people have their precious status at stake, they'll spin anything and everything to save face. I liked that Lord Grantham ended up eventually coming to terms with everything despite his petulant protestations early on.

OMD: It's weird but it felt like Bates was scowling at Branson when Branson said he had no shame. I'm sure I'm projecting something that wasn't there, but it seemed odd to have the camera linger so long on a reaction shot of Bates--a reaction shot that seems to convey annoyance at the least and ire at the most.

WG: I had the same reaction. It put me off a little. I thought Bates of all people may recognize that love trumps social mores. His reaction is another indication of how batshit crazy it was to cross the caste system back in 1918 England. Or more likely, an indication of how the relationship between the aristocracy and the great unwashed was beginning to blur. I'm pretty sure this was covered in the opening ceremonies of the Olympic games.

OMD: Honestly, I really liked the Molesley flu gag. Amidst all the real sickness, the timid Molesley being sick with drink--and by way of occupational hazard no less--broke the tension just a bit.

WG: Funny scene. I laughed out loud as Doc Clarkson made the diagnosis by sniffing. The wine pairing and decanting was intimidating. Pudding wine.

OMD: Most definitely. I would have no idea where to begin with wine for the pudding course.

The first time I watched this episode I thought that Lavinia's death was absurd. I had no real knowledge of how the Spanish Influenza actually struck down its fatal victims. I later found out that I was dead wrong. It hit the young and healthy hardest, and apparently fake-outs like happened with Lavinia were commonplace. The more you know.

OMD: And lastly, the emasculation of Robert Crawley, Lord Grantham, continues on. His money cannot buy off Branson. His youngest daughter is flying the coop and leaving the life of the aristocrat. He leaves to buy off Branson only to get back and have Cora have taken a turn for the worse in his absence. He grasps feebly at seizing onto his last shred of virility with Jane but is interrupted and eventually thinks better of it all. Methinks it may get worse for Robert before it gets better, despite the fact that Cora seems apologetic for having neglected Robert's needs for the past couple years.

WG: Grantham does appear to be in a fragile state. He needs aspirin, milk, and cinnamon, or maybe just a handjob and a nap. A man trapped in the wrong time period. Too early to go buy a red sports car or dabble in Scientology, too principled to have a scandalous affair. That leaves the stock market. Knowing Fellowes penchant for sadism, I'm guessing Grantham will get into margin trading on utilities a few weeks before Black Tuesday in October of 1929.

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