Thanks to PBS's dumb airing and alterations, I get to start off every entry with the disclaimer that if you watched these as they aired on ITV, then this is actually the fourth episode that aired. As aired on PBS, this is the "third." As always, Wordy Ginters and myself will be your spirit guides. Come get some.
Old Man Duggan: I got seven-plus minutes into rewatching this episode before I was first struck with a moment that stood out on its own merits to write about. That's not a good sign. "Edith, dear, you're a woman with a brain and reasonable ability. Stop whining and find something to do." The dichotomous nature of The Dowager Countess is endlessly fascinating to me. Violet seems so beholden to the old ways almost all the time, but she'll make these small yet extremely important gestures and statements that encapsulate everything that works about the show so well, and those are often coming from a surprisingly feminist point of view, ultimately.
OMD: There's also a little moment previously in that scene where Violet makes a little comment wherein she expresses surprise at the price of the sedate(?) that Edith brings which led me to believe that perhaps Fellowes was making a sly comment about inflation. He was not. Upon further investigation, I don't think that could have been the case as in 1920 the UK was actually in the midst of its first year of post-war deflation. I suppose it's possible that Violet hadn't purchased her medicine since 1914, but I highly doubt that. From 1920 through 1935, there was only one year in which the UK experience anything other than deflation, some of which was due to the astronomical rates of Great War inflation that was simply unsustainable which was then likely stretched out because of the wider effects of the Depression. That's a significant tangent, but I left it in here to illustrate that sometimes I give too much credit to a deft storyteller like Fellowes only to find out that I read way too much into something.
WG: Where else can you go for that kind of research and piercing insight? Nice hustle. I assumed it was an echo of the precarious financial situation from the previous episode. Regardless, what the hell is a sedate? Could a narcotics jones be the real reason behind the Dowager's unflappable demeanor?
OMD: The Bates Lettergate of 1920 was fairly tedious, reeking of invention of conflict for the mere sake of adding tension to an otherwise static situation. Having said that, it still provided the nicest moment of the episode: Anna getting the veritable fuckload of letters. Despite irritating me for the greater part of the episode, it was still hard not to hold back a few tears for Anna's happiness. More often than not, it is the random moment of unbridled happiness that gets me on this show. I guess that shows I'm a bitch to character. That said, the shitstorm that follows Bates does become truly unbelievable at times.
WG: The orgiastic letter reading scenes were excellent TV. I read lots of criticism of Downton. It's PBS. It's a soap. It's predictable. It's saccharine melodrama. It is all these things, and it still manages to pull of scenes like that and make them feel authentic.
OMD: Speaking of tedious and irritating, Ethel's back. Fuck my life. She's not just back. She's. Back. In the fore. Mucking up the works. Holy shit, do I want that character out of this show. Nothing good can come of that randy ginger being involved. I truly give zero shits about her, and her presence and Isobel's responsibility for it make me grow to dislike Isobel. Ethel is a cancer, a pox on this house. At least the charisma-less sack of potatoes finally did the right thing and got rid of her kid.
WG: She does have a charisma deficiency. Fellowes may be getting his feminist on with this plot thread as well. Her baby daddy is dead and happy. Ethel is the one left with a shit stain where her life used to be. I did get a kick at how vile the idea of "prostitution" apparently was in those august circles. Many of the characters couldn't bare to utter the word.
WG: I was thinking J Crew's Jenna Lyons.
OMD: How about that weird Lord Grantham anti-Catholic line that came without warning? Obviously it sets up something, but sometimes he'll do or say something that seems so out of character with the rest of the traits that Fellowes has laid out for Robert. Then when he takes umbrage that Lady Edith for having penned an op-ed about women's suffrage, you can't help but wonder what happened to the Lord Grantham of old? Sure, he'd be slow to accept what his daughters wanted to do, but it doesn't seem like he would get all up in arms about something so sensible as having his daughters want to be granted some semblance of equality. At the very least
WG: The anti-Catholic jab was out of nowhere. Not that I didn't get a kick out of it. Speaking of Manti Te'o, I kind of liked this.
OMD: As for what the line sets up, there's the same old tension between Robert and Branson. As one of the elite, Fellowes takes his opportunity to once again show that the idealistic revolutionary is too naive to understand the error of his beliefs. Granted, revolutionaries are typically naively idealistic, but sometimes it comes across as condescending when the point is being made by one of the elite. Fellowes might want to consider that before approaching any more revolutionary story arcs. I did like Branson telling Robert, "We all live in a harsh world, but at least I know I do." Want another go around with the paper man, Robert?
OMD: Can't say that I did, as I try to block Julia Roberts from my mind.
Carson's equation of a dangerous revolutionary to an electric toaster was priceless yet totally in character.
WG: He shit white for a solid week after Grantham had phones installed several episodes back. I shudder to think of how he'll handle the toaster. I think someone will be ordering some sedates. The look on his face when the devil toaster was revealed is worth a second look. Acting.
OMD: Jimmy Kent. The world stops when a pretty face enters the room. It's strange, but there are very few characters who have been introduced into the mix part way through the series who are engaging. Other than knowing that Jimmy is the belle of the servants' ball, early returns are not promising for him reversing the course. And I'd say that it's hardly shocking that Mary was championing the cause of rewarding good looks. All I can say is, bring back Gwen
WG: Ah yes, sweet, silly, Gwen. Sexy ginger housemaid with aspirations to be an admin assistant. James will be lucky to stay out of Thomas's clutches. And if James' female counterpart, Ivy, somehow gets between Daisy, the carrot in her mouth, and Alfred, all the better. Daisy sucks.
OMD: The brief addendum to the Jimmy conversation was great. Carson praising Alfred only to say, "...Even if he is Miss O'Brien's nephew," which is met with laughs and Matthew saying, "Clearly nothing worse could be said of any man." I'd say that's true. At least pre-Hitler/-Stalin. Great. Another flimsy conflict that will surely fail to engage because it involves two characters who we barely know and about whom we care very little. Who might be so lucky as to be deemed first footman? Will it be Alfred? Will it be James/Jimmy? Will anyone care? And then Ivy comes in, and it would seem that Fellowes is going to set up some sort of love shape. A love triangle? A love quadrilateral? A love pentagon? Daisy gets what she wants only to have it immediately complicated, recalling a certain Stones tune. I'm speaking, of course, about "Brown Sugar."
WG: "House boy knows that he's doin' alright."
OMD: When Sybil re-enters through the doors of Downton Abbey, the first thing that comes to mind is, of course, holy shit, how bad is that hair? What the hell were they thinking?
WG: Another Stones' song to the rescue: "Paint it Black."
OMD: And it takes forty minutes, but finally we have a simmering conflict that seems to matter for the overall narrative. Matthew and Robert with differing views about how to run Downton. New school versus old school. The moded versus the outmoded. Youth versus the aged. The competent versus the incompetent. Here is some fertile ground for meaningful tension. Please breathe fresh air into this world Mr. Fellowes.
WG: Agreed. Limpid pools of blue-eyed Matthew is just the sort of principled and persnickety sonuvabitch to show Grantham the error of his ways. Grantham hasn't been as grateful or deferential as he should be. He was this close to spending the rest of his days shuffling around the race track, sorting through cigarette butts and looking for coins. With ONLY eight servants to wait on him back at Downton Lite.
OMD: This episode had plenty of eye candy for the ladies. The arguably attractive Jimmy Kent with his shirt agape was the obvious one, but I'll say this: Branson's ass looked mighty well-formed in those pajama bottoms while he stood at the desk/dressing table/whatever the fuck that thing was. I'd take a bite out of that sumptuous rump roast.
WG: Dude is like the Irish 50 Cent.