Thursday, September 27, 2012

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

So Downton Abbey's Third Series finally started airing stateside. This was originally posted in September when we had lofty goals and thought we could do Wordy Old Men entries on Boardwalk Empire and Downton Abbey concurrently. 

Old Man Duggan: I don't know about you, but I couldn't wait for this shit to air Stateside. Shall we dive on in? This episode comes in at a lean 66 minutes. One shudders at what PBS might have done in the first season to trim the fat as it were. Lean beef is never a good thing, and Downton Abbey needs to be spectacularly marbled.

Wordy Ginters: Agreed. Have we been cruelly kept from Prime cuts? Bold flavors? Regardless, the familiar piano line in the theme song also had me at full stature.

With this smirk, I thee wed
OMD: Despite the fact that Matthew and Lady Mary are to wed, the meat and potatoes of the conflict in the episode lie elsewhere. On one front--the decidedly more dire situation--it would appear as though Robert has squandered the bulk of the Crawley fortune by investing nearly all of it on surefire Canadian railway stocks. Given the circumstances surrounding his marrying Cora in the first place, I can hardly say this came as a surprise. Frankly, I was expecting this to happen. For the most part, Lord Grantham is a good man, but not all good men are good businessmen. It would seem as though that applies here. It is at times puzzling as to why Fellowes tears down so many of the stand-up gents while letting the snakes advance, but I suppose c'est la vie.

WG: In the end, I respect Fellowes more the morning after precisely because of these kinds of moves. When you are playing within the confines of a traditional melodrama, it's a refreshing twist to see the heels get over, and the hero's heaped with woe.

OMD: As a corollary to this central point of conflict in the episode, Matthew gets news that good ol' Reggie Swire put Matthew in his will as the third in line of succession for his massive fortune. Of course, the guilt-ridden, honor-bound Matthew will not accept the inheritance if good Mr. Pumpkin/Pillbox/Pulbrook did in fact bite the bullet, as he still believes himself to have broken Lavinia's heart and thusly her will to live. If only Anna would tell them about the message from the Gods of Ouija at the end of the Christmas Special, all might be good.

WG: I hope that Ouija Board makes it into an episode or two in Season Three. Matthew is almost too good to be true. Honest, caring, thoughtful, fair. I imagine he's a lot like Jeff Francoeur. And as the episode concluded, I'm still not certain the issue of the partially purloined inheritance is resolved between the two. And probably a leap to assume the death of the would-be heirs breaks the way it needs to land the money in Matthew's lap. If the tumblers fall into place, does his principled refusal to partake of said funds hold water? I'm not so sure. Seems a bit persnickety to me.

OMD: Of course, Matthew's steadfast opposition to accepting the money should it come his way drives a wedge between Mary and himself the night before their wedding, leading to the typical pre-wedding tiff that leaves the viewer reclined back in their seat never wondering as to whether or not the couple will marry but going through the motions of watching as the stressed-out couple wonder if they can be together when they have such a fundamental difference only to realize they love each other thanks in large part to the source of the other conflict in the show, Tom Branson. If there was a slightly tedious element to this episode, it was the construction of a false barrier between Matthew and Mary. Yes, you could construe his actions as careless when viewed in scope of how they affect the family and Downton Abbey as a whole, but she loves Matthew precisely because of who he is and wouldn't really want him to change on such a fundamental level.

WG: Slightly tedious is correct. Some eye rolling occurred when that little pre-nup squall erupted. Too fast. Too predictable. But the more I think about it, the more I'm with Mary. Matty is being a little selfish in his righteous grind to toe his own moral code. He should think about what good that money could do. How many people it could help. Apparently, the aristocracy are the job creators. Several of the Crawley's mentioned the importance of providing employment to the peeps suckling from the sumptuous Downton teats. Fellowes has to be working political doesn't he? Job creatorz!

OMD: And then there's the aforementioned Branson. Nevermind the horrendous hairdo that the showing Lady Sybil is sporting, the real tension comes from the Fenian son-in-law without *gasp* tails for dinner or a morning coat. What. A. Dick. Obviously there was going to be some awkwardness, and Branson does himself no favors, but Lord Grantham doesn't make things easy. Of course, neither does that privileged jerk-off (Larry Gray) who slips our strapping Irish lad a mickey. There's a subtext here, of course. Rich English pricks slip mickeys on a prank, but I think we all know what that arch-browed, ill-mannered twink wanted once he wore down young Branson's defenses. F2FA. And Larry doesn't care if his Fenian mark is conscious or not. He's basically the proto-frat boy. Still, Branson might have been better served biting his tongue. I agree with him in spirit, but why exacerbate things when unnecessary. Oh, and Sir Anthony Strallan! Fucking put that ponce in his place, brother-man. And after Anthony swoops in, fucking Matthew makes Branson his best man.

Chests be swellin'
WG: I've felt that surge of emotion one other time in my life. Matthew making Branson his best man took me back to 4th grade, and a young Sylvester Stallone, playing a pugilist by the name of "Rocky Balboa," in a sporting drama called Rocky. The same emotion that swelled within my 4th grade chest, which showed a preternaturally sexy amount of smooth width and marbled girth even then, as "Rocky" triumphantly ramped up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum, swelled again at Matthews generous offer to Branson. My heart soared. My spirits were set aloft. Great moment. Larry Gray was a dick, a dunce, a thing to be mocked. Nice twist that one armed Strallan dropped a dime on him. With Matthew's guidance, Branson just might find some dignified balance to his firebrand politics. He's a kid though, what do you expect? He's still in his Rage Against the Machine phase.

OMD: I can tell you this: Irish gardens are blessed with far more variety than English ones.

WG: I envy your globe trotting exploits.

OMD: I loved the scene with Isobel and Violet summoning Tom to Crawley House. Oh, Molesley will fit you for that morning jacket, sir. And how great was it that it was Violet who sent the money to Tom and Sybil? Snarkiness aside, she is exceedingly unpredictable.

WG: Playing against the stereotype is typically a winner. She could. Not. Be. Stopped. I almost felt bad for Branson, his principled anti-tails, anti-costume rhetoric crumbled like an old scone in a cup of warm tea. Lady Grantham pushed him all over the mat with nothing more than a confident demeanor. Jedi mind tricks learned carnally from Alec Guiness.

OMD: Are there two lonelier, sadder Brits that Sir Anthony Strallan and Lady Edith? If she doesn't end up with him, she'll turn batshit crazy and start writing poetry from her bedroom while never leaving the house, some unholy amalgam of Emily Dickinson and Miss Havisham.

WG: I could totally see Lady Edith going Havisham. A broken heart leads to a gift for manipulation and a candle fetish. I'm all for it if she pimps around Ethan Hawke. Strallan certainly needs some more convincing. When Edith practically car jacked his ride early in the episode, the look on his face was fucking delightful. Half what the hell are you doing, half surprise, and another 1/3 disgusted. I don't know if he's keeping her at arm's length out of kindness, a true belief that they are too far apart in age, or from flat-out disgust.

OMD: "Hobbledehoys," eh, Mr. Carson? I think it's safe to say this is getting stored away in the old archaic nouns notebook I keep for myself when wanting unfurl insults at the dullards and ne'er-do-wells I cross paths with on a nearly daily basis. For those wondering at home but lacking in the desire to crack out the dictionary department, a hobbledehoy is a gawky, awkward youth. Can we assume Alfred Nugent is Ted's father? Does that make Ted less American in our eyes? So are we to assume that Miss O'Brien comes from a long line of lanky gingers? Oh, and another red-head? If ever there were any question, there is none now: The ginger quotient on Downton Abbey is higher than on any other program[me] in the history of television.

WG: Would it be too much to ask for Beat Happening's "Red Head Walking" as theme music? No, I don't think it would.

OMD: Since it's unlikely that'll happen, will embedding it work?
Fucking Bates's new cellmate. You just know that's a ticking time-bomb, set to go off exactly when Bates is free/about to be free/or happy for the first time since his wedding day. And the second time Anna visits Bates at prison, there's a pair of lines that I initially thought were throw-aways, but they caught my ear the third time I watched the episode. Bates asks Anna, "But how long will that take?" when she presents her plan to write to all the contacts in the book, to which she replies, "Why? Are you going somewhere?" He smiles back at her, and the line floats there for two solid beats. I'm surely not insinuating that I believe Bates is going to break out of prison if this all takes too long, but there are lots of places for this storyline to go, and the ominous presence of his doucher cellmate could certainly externally propel him down an ill-fated path.

WG: You know what I thought of the doucher cellmate? The doucher cellmate was a physical manifestation of Bates' conscious. Believe it. Also, I think the old school English jail house uniforms are pretty sweet compared to the old black and white stripey numbers that were en vogue in the US back in those days. Saville Row has always had an edge on the US when it comes to fashion. The shots that establish the prison are a little incongruous as well. That place gleams with white light and windows. Even more so than the church. The holiest of holy is the relationship betwixt Anna and Bates. It is not to be sullied or torn asunder.

OMD: You're actually the second person I know to say that they thought Bates's cellmate was a figment of his imagination. Time will tell, I suppose.

So newly tied together through matrimony means carrying your bride up and down the stairs naked while her dad looks on helplessly but with a smile on his face? The Brits are fucking weird.

WG: As a father of a daughter, I don't know if I would look forward to that very much, if at all.

OMD: Molesley the Essential. I loved O'Brien's initial scoffing at the thought only to see at the wedding that he actually was valued. Even when he's not trying, Matthew is our hero, putting O'Brien in her place. And is that a stirring of discontent between Thomas and O'Brien? Are the thieves not so thick anymore? Speaking of stirring, discontent, and Thomas, his prodding of Daisy causes a one-person strike in the kitchen. Mrs. Patmore's handling of the whole situation actually had me laughing.

WG: Patmore was all right in this episode. "Have you swallowed a dictionary?" O'Brien and "Mr. Barrow" are definitely on the outs. I was thinking O'Brien is one of the most powerful and aggressive players on the scene. She's a shitheel schemer, but she usually figures out a way to get what she wants. Like shoehorning in her nephew as the new footman when Lord Grantham was distracted. He's tall. And he worked at a hotel. He might as well have been a convicted child molester in Carson's eyes.

OMD: Six-foot-two? Egads! Get thee to the freak show, Nugent.

When Branson and Tom are walking off together, away from the pub in their suits, hats, and overcoats, resolved to form a unified front as brothers-in-law against their high-minded wives, I had a momentary flash of how much I wanted the two of them getting a spin-off in which they fight crime on the streets of Ripon. Holy shit would that be a great fucking show. I still want them to be Tom Branson and Matthew Crawley, but they need to beat back street toughs and ruffians while hitting the bottle hard and running from their familial duties while serving a greater good.

WG: I want to watch that show. Would they have uniforms? Superhero powers? Or are you thinking more of a straight up Sherlock Holmes kind of vibe? Maybe a bit of a Wild Wild West steam punk thing? It was another heart swelling moment. You'd have to be a cyncial ass cynic of a sonofabitch not to get a little caught up in that scene.

OMD: I was thinking darker. Maybe like Simon & Simon or Hardcastle & McCormick or Cagney & Lacey (Season Two on, of course, C&L sans Gless is not C&L) or England Dan & John Ford Coley with a heavy Luther tinge.

Is Lady Mary not the spitting image of Jackie Kennedy when modeling her "going away" outfit?

WG: For real. Had the same exact thought. When the JFK, Zombie Killer movie finally comes out, I think I know who has the inside track for Jackie O. That's a thing, right? Hollywood doing movies of all the former presidents as monster killers or monster enthusiasts of some sort? Martin Van Buren, Yeti Fetishist? Grover Cleveland, Fish Fucker?  Wilford Brimley, Moustache Haunter? Was Wilford Brimley ever elected President though?

OMD: Pretty sure he was. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the catty repartee between Shirley MacLaine and Maggie Smith. I know the ladies love this stuff almost as much as they love Cool James. That homing pigeon simile complete with the "dreadful" add-on was pretty goddamn funny.

WG: Shirley hung dong. Great scene. I hope Fellowes can keep it fresh between the two. It won't be easy

OMD: If the news of who paid Branson and Sybil's fare wasn't it, the nicest moment of the episode might have been when Lady Mary descended the staircase in her wedding gown with her glowing fathers, Carson and Lord Grantham, looking on proudly. Carson is at least as moved at the moment as her actual father. I loved Mrs. Hughes's gentle ribbing of Carson in the pews at the church. I don't know about you, but when Lord Grantham said he was "so happy [his] chest could explode," I had a terrible flashback to Roseanne, when Dan had a heart attack at Darlene's wedding. That is not how I want Lord Grantham to go down.

WG: (I'm just going to stand back and admire that one like everybody else.)

OMD: Oh, and Mary's brief glimpse at Matthew, eyes sealed shut, after they kissed and made up, was a great moment. And I really liked their little exchange before running through the rigmarole of the actual ceremony.

OMD: Despite the fact that two full series and a Christmas episode built up to this moment, the actual wedding is an afterthought and therefore is not necessary. Fellowes is a crafty bastard who knows what moments actually matter.

What have ye?

WG: I've given all I have to give. Surprised at myself for how much I enjoyed welcoming Downton back into the fold.

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