Friday, August 31, 2012

Wordy Old Men on Downton Abbey: Christmas at Downton Abbey

Your Sacagaweas (as usual) for Wordy Old Men on Downton Abbey are Wordy Ginters and Josh "Old Man" Duggan. This is the last installment until new episodes begin airing. It is a super-sized episode and as such you've got a lengthy recap coming at you. 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).

Christmas has descended upon Downton. Lady Rosamund arrives to join the whole fam damnily. Gifts are given to the staff from the Crawleys. Staff and aristocrats alike are concerned for the fate of Bates, who awaits trial. It takes roughly two lines for Lady Rosamund's lady's maid, Miss Shore, to come across as off. The family plays charades, O'Brien and Thomas dance with Ouija, and Bates sits alone in a cell. The Most British Man Ever, Sir Anthony Strallan visits and relates that he's lost the use of his right arm in the Great War. It is revealed that Lady Sybil and Branson were married with just Edith and Mary in attendance and that Sybil has "crossed the Rubicon" and is with Fenian child. 

Upon Rosamund's insistence, Lord Hepworth comes for New Year's. The Crawleys and Company toast 1920. The rich folk go on a shoot. Mary admits to Matthew of being annoyed by Sir Richard Carlisle; Carlisle and Mary quarrel over a shared laugh with Matthew. Edith attempts to woo Anthony, but he rebuffs her advance by saying he's too old for her and will not burden her with being his nurse. The Dowager Countess discovers that Lord Hepworth is in dire financial straits and instructs him to confess his ruination to Rosamund. Carlisle increases the pressure on Mary to set a date, leading to a pained exchange before dinner and tipping off Lord Grantham to something being amiss; Cora finally tells Robert of Pamuk's face. 

The prosecution calls Miss O'Brien, Mrs. Hughes, and Lord Grantham to the stand and draws a damning portrait of John Bates through their testimony. Bates is found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. Lord Grantham and Lady Mary talk of the Turkish Incident, and he tells her to kick Carlisle to the curb and go stateside to wait out the storm. Going a step further than what O'Brien has advised, Thomas takes Isis and hides her in an abandoned wooded cabin in an effort to gain Lord Grantham's favor and win Bates's vacated position of valet. Anna visits Bates on Death Row, and he implores her to forgive everyone for their testimony and tells her that he is thankful to have loved her as he does. Mrs. Patmore "channels" William through the Ouija board and tells Daisy to visit his father, who takes her as his surrogate daughter when she visits. Isis is deemed missing and and search party is formed. Mary tells Matthew of her deadly anus. He responds to the news of her murderous asshole by telling her to jettison the choady control-freak Carlisle and that he could never despise her. Thomas goes to fetch Isis, but she is no longer in the cabin he locked her in; he rightly shits himself. Having come back to the manor empty handed, he finds Lord Grantham with Isis in tow, having been found returned by a village child. Mary and Anna plan to run from their misfortune in the States. Robert tells Carson to hire on Thomas, driving a stake into the hearts of Thomas loathers the world over. Mary breaks it off with Carlisle, who becomes the spiteful, base cad he has shown himself capable of being in glimpses. He and Matthew scuffle with Carlisle's resentment coming to a head. Anna spies Miss Shore and Lord Hepworth acting a bit too familiar. A telegram informs Downton of the change in Bates's sentence from death to life imprisonment. In the midst of the Servant's Ball, Anna sees Miss Shore and Lord Hepworth slink off upstairs and guides Mary and Rosamund to the philandering hucksters. Cora begs upon Robert to move past the shame in having a working class son-in-law. Anna and Daisy sit alone at the Ouija board, and a spirit [presumably a Pamuk and Lavinia tag team] tells them, "May they be happy." In a digitized flurry of snowflakes, Matthew proposes to Mary.

Wordy Ginters: New opening scenes! I can almost smell the pine trees. Ah shit, there's Thomas. Buzzkill. Regardless, I'm not too proud to admit: I'm a fucking sap for Christmas. Love it all. Nat King Cole. Bing. Holiday Inn. Mistletoe belt buckles. Meet Me in St. Louis. Especially Meet Me in St. Louis. I'm down with all of that stuff. The holiday vibe had me at full stature despite Thomas slinking about. It's been 140 degrees every day for seven weeks where I'm living, and I damn near got up the gumption to do up a cup of hot cocoa to authenticate the mood. Damn near.

Old Man Duggan: I'm almost the exact opposite regarding Christmas. I don't particularly like it. I hate the fucking music, especially the music pouring out of Buford Tower across the river/lake from my job for one-third of every hour. The Christmas stuff I like: Die Hard, Die Hard 2, Bad Santa, Scrooged, "Carol of the Bells," Handel's Messiah. I'm a fucking miserly bastard. That said, Christmas this time meant a supersized episode of Downton, so whatthefuckever. As for hot cocoa, don't let the heat stop you from drinking anything. I drink my coffee hot, year-around. Have your cocoa and drink it, too.

WG: Care to speculate on the contents of Patmore's gift box? I'm guessing a vintage Wes Unseld Washington Bullets jersey, or maybe some bunion salve.

OMD: My guess? Marcellus Wallace's soul. That or a Jack Rabbit. I liked the deft touch of the gift-giving scene, and how much it seemed to mean to the servants.

WG: The Dowager got a nut cracker for a present, get it? See, she's a ball buster. It's funny. Did you happen to catch the French term she used in reminiscing about her time with Hepworth's old man?

OMD: I laughed. That Cousin Violet. What a card! As for the quote, the Dowager Countess said, "Où sont les neiges d'antan," which is from a famous 15th Century poem by French poet, thief, killer, barroom brawler, and vagabond Francois Villon. The poem is referred to as "Ballade des dames du temps jadis (Ballad of Women of Times Past)" but was just titled "Ballade" by Villon. The quote translates directly to "Where are the snows of last year?" but was translated into English as "Where are the snows of yesteryear?" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, which was actually the instance in which the word "yesteryear" was coined. It's an oft-quoted/-cited line, having been featured in Mad Men, Inglourious Basterds, Catch-22, The Dharma Bums, and The Glass Menagerie, just to name a few places.

WG: I loved Hepworth. His smooth, comfortable, sexy charm was a nice contrast to Carlisle's ham fisted hostility. He'd be fun to have around, although I think he's probably on to his next mark. I don't blame him too much, Rosamund's maid was a hot little tart.

OMD: He sort of reminds me of Robin Colcord after he falls on hard times. Still a fairly smooth-talking Brit, but cannot be trusted. Miss Shore, Hepworth's P.I.C., really wanted to stir some shit up. I don't even really see the point. The conniving shit-stirring with the servants couldn't have served her a gainful purpose. If anything, it sort of proved to be her undoing, as Anna was hep to her game. He's probably moving on to Miss Havisham. As for Hepworth, I do wonder if perhaps his troubles portend coming troubles for the aristocracy in England. Post-war unemployment is high well before the Great Depression hits in England leading to quite a bit of strife, if I'm not mistaken. Maybe that won't matter until the Fourth Series, but I'd be surprised if Fellowes didn't start working that in there.

WG: The central role of a Ouija Board in a Christmas episode is ballsy. No accident that bad things happen to Isis shortly after wee-jee shows up on the scene. You ever screw around with one of those things?

OMD: When you introduce the spirits to manor, prepare for objects to move, glass to break, children to cower in fear, and dogs to get locked in sheds. It seems like I must have at some point. Not a life-changing experience, obviously.

WG: I never dabbled. The way Patmore muscled that planchette around to further manipulate Daisy reminded me of Wes Unseld working the boards for the Washington Bullets. Everyone always talked about Elvin Hayes as the heart and soul of that team, but the Big E doesn't get his without Wes cleaning the boards, and Chenier keeping the defense honest from the perimeter, right? I don't want to belabor the point, but it struck me that Fellowes is using Patmore in a Unseldian manner, or maybe they bear more than a passing resemblance to each other. That, and Bates is Christ.

OMD: I associated Patmore much more with Pistons-era Dennis Rodman. Not fully insane yet. Workmanlike. Still devious, voracious, and dirty, but not tatted up and dying her hair like a crazy-ass tie-dyed shirt. Bates is most definitely Christ.

WG: How about Edith and ol' toothsome lefty?

OMD: Oh, Sir Anthony Strallan. I do wish that he'd accept Edith's love. I hated her so much when she wrote that letter to the Turkish Embassy, but she's done nothing but hurtle toward spinsterdom for the six years that have passed since that point. I think she's suffered enough. Give her the old Brit.

WG: The nurse-maid schtick has to buy her some goodwill, right?

OMD: Indeed. Back to the Ouija board. The message Anna and Daisy got: "May they be happy." Presumably, "they" are Mary and Matthew. Each has had a lover die at Downton. The obvious reading of that message is that it's from Lavinia, but there is another possibility: Pamuk. I think Lavinia is obviously involved, but there's no way that Pamuk isn't analizing any and every ghost all up in Downton. You think Pamuk and Lavinia tag-teamed that message? More importantly, are they enjoying the much safer option of F2FA in limbo?

WG: I love Bates's selflessness and encouragement for Anna to forgive. But seriously, how much better is the episode if he hangs? That is the kind of drama that would leave a mark. Especially a Christmas special. Bates dies for the sins of the aristocracy. Maybe Fellowes will eventually follow through during season three. It will be a fun thread to hang on. Some beautiful scenes in the slammer, Anna with her jailhouse eyes and John Bates with his dignity and a stubble beard.

OMD: Hanging Bates would be completely and utterly devastating. Now that we're on level ground, I don't mind saying that I wouldn't be surprised for Bates to get the verdict overturned entirely only to have him confess to Anna that he did, in fact, finish off the late Vera Bates, thus ruining their relationship. After all, what the fuck else could happen to Bates and Anna to tear them apart after a single moment of happiness? The jail scenes were sad. Bates looks beat. Don't get me wrong, he's one stoic motherfucker, and he'll be Anna's Atlas, but fuck me, let Bates be happy for at least two episodes, Julian.

WG: The other plot conventions have been telegraphed for awhile, but it didn't take away any of the gratification. Matthew getting in a scrap with Carlisle. Cora finally giving up the goods to Lord Grantham about Mary's deadly F2FA technique. Matthew and Mary. Pretty scene there too. Big fat snowflakes. Or was that burning embers and ash? Knowing Fellowes penchant for visiting hellfire on those who have sniffed joy and embraced the idea of happiness, the ash could well have been the same end of the world variety as from The Road. Viggo Mortenson and that kid were just off camera huddled in a shopping cart sucking melted snow water from a rusty pudding tin.

OMD: That nighttime scene outdoors between Mary and Matthew was totally filmed in the summer. You can tell the snow is fake. It actually bothered me a lot the first time I saw it and ended up getting distracted. I really like the scene now, but only because I can now move past how fake the digital snow looks. If it is ash, maybe I'm misinterpreting Lavinia and Pamuk's message. Or worse yet, Lavinia and Pamuk are the ones who will be happy, and they can only get there by raining down ruin upon Matthew and Mary.

WG: For me and mine, the biggest emotional pay-off was the relationship between the doltish Daisy and dead William's old man. Perhaps they both had selfish and obscure reasons for getting into the deathbead marriage. I like where it's headed. Daisy's new haircut is going to be a sensation, there was a lot going on this episode, but it will get noticed. Trust me. You've opined eloquently before about the sweeter parts of this series generally being those moments that reflect basic human decency and kindness. The evolution of Daisy's relationship with William's father, and the evolution of her own struggle with the marriage, certainly reflect a nod towards kindness and decency.

OMD: Of all the moments in the episode, the scene at his cottage were the nicest. I'm on record as being extremely irritated by Daisy, but it was really nice to give her a family, something she's never had. It's weird, but the other emotional kicker in the Christmas Special was another Daisy scene; this time it was when she was stoking the fire and the Dowager Countess came into the room to find her crying. Every once in a while, the Dowager reaches out to somebody, and it's really touching.

WG: What did you think of the trial?

OMD: One of the weirdest things about when I watch British films and television is when they have courtroom scenes. I am so used to seeing them in American media, but the language of the trial is different, so despite the fact that I feel like I have a fairly strong grasp on the ways of the American legal system, I'm totally lost when it comes to Britain's. Like when Matthew was describing the appeal process, I understood the words he was saying, but I'll be damned if it wasn't like trying to make out Spanish language television without subtitles. Not nearly close enough to full comprehension to feel good about knowing what the fuck is going on.

As for what happened in the trial, I could be wrong, but how the fuck would anyone have known that Mrs. Hughes overheard the conversation Bates had with his dead wife? She didn't tell anyone, did she? I really don't think she did, certainly not anyone who would have been spoken to by the prosecution. Did she tell Bates that she overheard them quarrel?

Any trial thoughts on your end?

WG: Befuddled as well. Overdone. Everybody knows Bates is screwed. I kept hoping Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny mode would appear on the scene to spark things up a bit.

OMD: I, for, one am excited to see where Fellowes takes us in the third series. The teasers that were put up recently have primed my pump. I'm in your hands, Mr. Fellowes.

WG: And I'm watching from the closet.

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