Sunday, January 13, 2013

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

For those who watched the episodes as they aired in The U.K., the "second" U.S. episode is actually the third one. PBS is crazy. As always Wordy Ginters and I will take you by the hand guide you through the Downton Abbey corn maze, where we'll dry-hump the scarecrow from a place of love and curse when we stumble over errant stalks. 

Old Man Duggan: A lot of things to cover here. Edith. Thomas versus O'Brien. The future of Downton being threatened by financial ruin. Matthew's deliberation over the acceptance of Reggie Swire's fortune. Mrs. Hughes's bosom and Carson's concern for it. The horrendous Ethel's return to the fore. Anna's continued quest to free Bates. All of that is important to the episode, but I'd like to start somewhere else. What the fuck was with the tiny little circle the prisoners were walking in? Was that not the tiniest prison yard ever? Just once I'd like to see Bates hop down on the bench and pop off a set of twelve reps of 225 wearing just a wife beater and then posture up at his slimy cell mate.

Wordy Ginters: I'd like to see a Bates exercise show. Slap a pair of Bodies in Motion with Gilad Janklowicz exercise pants on him. Shirtless on a beach. Elevator music in the background. 30 minutes of slow, sensuous bench press reps with Bates's head cocked at the camera, a sly grin on his face, and a smoldering carnal stare in his eyes. Might be just the boost this country needs to close in on New Year's resolutions.

OMD: Seriously, what the fuck is up with his cell mate? I love how within the context of the Downton Universe all Bates has to do is walk into a room and someone is going to loathe him with every ounce of their being. Are we to believe that the Brits hated cripples that much? Were veterans of the Second Boer War treated like Vietnam Vets when they returned? Oh shit. You know what that means, right? It means we need to team up on some time-travel fan-fic in which John Rambo and John Bates team up, fighting the good fight and blowing away pederast junta generals, presumably set on the Côte d'Ivoire. Clearly Bates's cane will be weaponized, though in a much more interesting way than to simply have it double as a sword.

WG: Why couldn't Bates have a supportive cellmate like Tim Robbins from Shawshank? I'm in on the fan fiction. Cote d'Ivoire is an inspired setting. The cane. So many possibilities. Maybe it doubles as a woodwind, upon which Bates plays such haunting and soul stirring music that it causes pederast junta generals to fall into a state of catatonic weeping, thus rendering them particularly vulnerable to hot lead from Sly. But hey, I'm just spitballing.

OMD: That marks two straight weeks that we brought a Stallone franchise into the mix here. Bets on next week? Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot? Oscar? F.I.S.T.?

WG: Rhinestone.

OMD: Since we're already on the subject of Bates, I like that Anna is fighting for her man and all, but I think I'm ready for this story line to run its course. We're a mere three episodes in, and I'm feeling the tedium. Perhaps that's why PBS chose to air the first two together. Having watched these episodes as they were airing in the fall, this arc felt like it would never end. I love that Mrs. Bartlett painted a picture in which the dearly departed Vera Bates was back-lit like an angel through the mist and the fog lamps. How apropos.

WG: Agreed. How long can they drag it out? At this point, I'm pulling for Bates as the murderer.

OMD: Same here. Much better for the story.

"Edith's a speed fiend. She likes to go at a terrific lick." I bet Strallan. I bet. That statement certainly holds true as she races toward the altar. By my count, Edith had about forty-five minutes of screen-time in which she was engaged to be wed to Lord Anthony. Two seasons of dancing around for Mary and Matthew. Somewhere in the neighborhood of a season-and-a-half for Sybil and Branson's courtship to transpire. Maybe four episodes dedicated to Edith and Anthony. Not only is she the forgotten daughter within the Downtonverse, but she gets very little in the way of screen time.

WG: Her character is defiled almost as much as Bates. I was hoping that Strallan would show up for the wedding with his hair painted jet black and his trousers rolled up. Are the kids doing that these days? Rolling up their pants? Maybe a pair of topsiders or some TOMS on his feet. It would take 25 years off him immediately. Did you notice the bit where he acted like he wasn't quite comfortable with the upstart Branson being in the family. They've been telegraphing his altar walk since the Titanic sank.

OMD:  "All of us married, all of us happy, and the first baby on the way." It took one second shy of two minutes for that statement to be rendered null and void. Julian Fellowes wastes no time in teaching his characters not to put the cart before the horse. The show has its shortcomings, but taking the piss out of the cocksure with expediency is not one of them. The sad thing is that I actually wanted something good to happen to Edith. I suppose to an extent this is desirable to having her nurse Strallan for the duration of the show. If ever there were a trap door in terms of narrative growth for her character to fall through, he was it.

WG: An "Old man's drudge" is no way to spend your married life. I'm with you. I was glad to see Edith on the cusp of happiness anyway. I'm not sure what is worse, getting spurned at the altar or changing Strallan's diapers? They tied up Hughes's cancer scare pretty quick. What's next, Edith's suicide watch?

Should've been Cora. Havisham instead.
OMD: We talked of Lady Edith becoming Miss Havisham in jest after the first episode (or first half of last week's double-episode). That was without the gift of hindsight. Now it would appear that perhaps she will become Miss Havisham. If you ever hoped for a better a rendering of Miss Havisham's origin story, look no further. Here it is.

WG: Spot on. She'll have enough hate in her to kill an army.

OMD: If it served no other purpose, the conflict between O'Brien and Thomas brought us this exchange: O'Brien: "Jilted at the altar. I don't think I could stand the shame." Thomas: "Then it's lucky no one's ever asked you, isn't it?" How fucking great was that? It's weird, but I sort of have Thomas's back on this front. O'Brien feels like Thomas was in the right as he toiled away in footman obscurity, trying to work his way up, but when it's her kinfolk, they should get every advantage despite not being capable of the work? I can't blame Thomas for taking umbrage at her finagling.

WG: "I wouldn't be in her bad books for a gold clock." The both of them are double-dealing shit heels. Seeing them trying to get over on each other with such deadly venom is one of the reasons I love the show. Rooting for either of them makes me feel unwholesome.

OMD: If only all of us were so lucky as to have Downton Place be the fallback if our current manors proved to be too unwieldy a financial burden. If I lose my apartment, I'm couch-surfing or hoping my boss doesn't figure out that I'm sleeping on one of the boats. I sure as shit don't have to worry about how I'll run a house with only eight servants.

WG: I wish they would have further explored possible names for Eryholme. Downton Place. Downton Downsized. Downton Valley. Downton End. Downton Isles. Downton Light. Financial ruin must have meant something different back in the 1920s. Eight servants. Who gets downsized? You know they take Carson and Hughes. That leaves Patmore, Thomas, and O'Brien. Daisy. Hell, they don't have eight servants now, what the hell were they talking about?

OMD: Carson, Hughes, Patmore, *shudder* O'Brien, Anna, *shudder* Thomas, maybe Molesley if Matthew needs a valet and then Daisy to do all the Charlie work.

If I thought that Matthew's refusal to take the Swire inheritance was tedious in the first hour of the season, then holy shit was I ready for that horseshit to be done with by the end of this one. I suppose it means that we'll get a nice view of what the future of Downton in the control of its next heir could be with Matthew coming on as co-caretaker. The big question, of course, is how will he keep Lord Grantham from squandering another fortune by way of a foolish investment? How do you think Robert loses this money? Pouring all of his resources into bootlegging just as the Volstead Act is about to get taken out when FDR takes office? Investing heavily in the U.S. stock market the day before the crash?

WG: My hope is that a future episode begins with Grantham walking out of a race track at dusk, a look of abject horror on his face as he examines a betting slip, and then wads it up and pitches it towards a trash can. He misses. Badly. The camera circles in from on high to reveal a crumpled $3 Million show bet on a horse called Isis. A black swan waddles by and squats over the betting slip.

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