Sunday, February 3, 2013

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

Because PBS chose to air two episodes together in the first week, we get to explain once more that if you watched these episodes as they aired in the UK (or ordered the DVD or Blu-ray (Original U.K. Version)--both of which came out on Tuesday--and are watching it that way), this is the sixth episode/chapter. We two fellas, Wordy Ginters and Old Man Duggan, will be your Downton Abbey shepherds.

Old Man Duggan: Alas, this week we must boldly go forth without the lovely Sybil. One has to wonder if perhaps Fellowes forced that unfortunate haircut upon her this season to soften the blow of her eventual demise.

Wordy Ginters: A devil's haircut. Sybil's death is just what this season needed. A shake up. I'm glad Fellowes had the guts to do it.

OMD: Fucking Ethel. "When you lose your child, there's nothing worse under the sun." Well, I can think of one thing. Bringing Ethel back. Then she proffers this tragic line: "And I could cook something special." That puts an awfully horrific spin on the word "special," doesn't it?

WG: For fuck's sake, how bad can her cooking be? The faces Isobel makes when tasting Ethel's food reminds me of that Bobby Knight press conference when some poor sap asked him about "game faces"
OMD: I am completely behind Cora's decision to freeze out Robert in the sack. Get thee to a dressing room. His hard-on for nobility got them in this mess in the first place. Tapsel was a self-important wanker and a shitty doctor, shittier than Clarkson, which is quite the feat. But because he wears a dinner jacket well and looks like he hasn't passed a bowel movement in at least fifteen years he must be listened to, right Lord Grantham? Cora's tear-soaked tongue-lashing to this effect was just what I wanted to hear. Robert is generally a kind-hearted, well-intentioned chap, but whenever he is put upon to choose between the ways of old and more enlightened and modern ideas, he invariably sides with tradition and class. If there were one trait he possessed which persistently threatened the future of the Crawleys and the estate, it is this. And now it has cost them. More importantly, it has cost the audience getting to continue to look at Jessica Findlay.

WG: It is COLD in the Grantham boudoir. He's quickly becoming garbage. It was fun to see the women-folk chop the men off at the knees throughout this episode.

OMD: "My dearest boy, there is no test on Earth that is greater than the one you have been put to." Vince Young and the Wonderlic would beg to differ, Violet.

WG: I remember after a youthful misstep, my father suggested that I might not be able to match Neil Smith's Wonderlic score based upon my apparent lack of wits. Neil may have held the all-time low Wonderlic score until Vince came along. Needless to say, Neil Smith earned much more than my father, and I contribute to a blog. Who is so goddamn smart now?

OMD: This love pentagram downstairs is not working for me at all. For starters, Daisy and Thomas are the only two downstairs who are established characters. Neither of them are especially sympathetic. Then Fellowes adds three new faces to the mix, expecting us to care about them at all with very little room in the narrative to build them up with character development. This move hearkens back to Degrassi: The Next Generation--which Larry David watches, by the way--when the producers decided to cast off basically the entire original cast. I'll grant you the point that keeping them involved in the plot past high school was pretty pointless, and some of the new cast, particularly the fetching Nina Dobrev and future 90210 Brenda v.2.0 Shenae Grimes were positive additions to the show, but eventually the show had shed everyone we gave a shit about in favor of the younger siblings of the characters, none of whom were appealing from any standpoint. I was so leery of this happening again with the British version of Skins, which is also awesome, that I simply stopped watching after the second series after having my fears be validated by the opinions of a trusted bunch of friends. Screw Effy and her friends. Bring back Gwen.

WG: I can understand your beef, but I don't mind it that much. I kind of like how Fellowes has positioned Daisy all over the board from loathsome simpleton to farm overlord in waiting. Alfred is more or less likeable. He's an honest trier. I'm not sure what the hell is going on with Ivy. She obviously wants in Jimmy's trousers but Fellowes hasn't matched them up exactly. I like the current ambiguity of it all. Still, Fellowes has a lot of work to do to crank the sexual tension up to Bound levels.

OMD: The dinner with Mr. Travis is both tiresome and funny. Every time he opens his mouth out spews the same tired tradition "Our Religion is the only True Religion" nonsense. I love when Edith jumps into the fray. Of course Lord Grantham sides with Travis in the most irksome ways. When Cora chimes in with the line, "You're always flabbergasted by the unconventional," I wanted to stand up and give her a slow clap that would make the cast of Lucas blush. Just 17 minutes into the episode, Cora has wasted little time exposing Robert's weaknesses and with a healthy amount of venom to boot. For those unaware of the reference, when Cora follows that barb with the line, "Not everyone chooses their religion to satisfy Debrett's," Debrett's is a publication that serves as a genealogical guide of the British aristocracy complete with a short family history of the titleholders.

WG: Pretty progressive talk from the Debrett's crowd. I'm guessing Fellowes LOVES Bill Maher.

OMD: After a few scenes featuring the stern Mrs. Bartlett, it is not hard to see why she and Vera Bates became fast friends. She's just as insufferable and shitty as her evil dead friend.

WG: How can you not like Bates? It ain't natural. I don't get the venom. I guess the alleged bribe could have pushed Bartlett along. But she was being a shit about Bates when Anna was channeling her inner Agatha Christie. I guess if you aren't in Debrett's, your life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

OMD: Daisy at William's father's farm. Him offering her the farm to look after. Is this the means by which I'll finally be relieved of having to watch her suck the air out of every scene she's in? I'll forgive Fellowes a lot of transgressions if he jettisons her off to milking cattle on the countryside.

WG: Let's bump that up a notch and put Daisy in her father-in-law's bed. And assume that once she has been properly deflowered, her speech impediment will be cured, which is a view currently held by several members of Congress.

OMD: Nice.

It looks as if Matthew has stumbled upon a way to put Branson to work in a meaningful way at Downton. Catholic Land Manager Extraordinaire, Tom Branson.

WG: That softball is telegraphed from miles away, isn't it? Oh sure, Tom will be too proud and want to strike out on his own, not wanting to be a burden, etc. And who knows how he'll react after he reads the article in the LA Times about the Los Angeles diocese. But one thing is for certain: black faced sheep will soon be grazing on Downton lands.

OMD: Is it any surprise that Carson and Lord Grantham nearly shit their knickers at the thought of the women in the same house as Ethel? It's as if they're going to contract whoring cough. From there, there is no turning back. "Well, of course, you know these days servants are extremely hard to find." I laughed so fucking loud when the Dowager Countess dropped that line of reconciliation at the table after Robert stormed in, ever the blowhard and ever clinging to tradition. He really can be a petulant twat.

WG: Whoring cough. Another one to add to the book of old timey maladies. Ouija boards. Telephones. Toasters. Whores. Carson has a more interesting list of phobia's than Bill Murray in What About Bob?

OMD: Dark Bates! Thank fucking Christ that the dipshittery of Lord Grantham is immediately counteracted with Bates being a badass and telling Craig he'd be done for if he didn't redirect Bartlett's testimony. At least one paragon of the masculine ideal is stepping forward and exerting his will upon the world with aplomb.

WG: That shit was straight out of The Wire. I noticed when Anna pleaded with him to "not do anything foolish" he couldn't bring himself to make eye contact with her. No eye contact! I knew it was on. Was that a spoon he was threatening Craig with? Even more impressive. Any fool can threaten with a knife or a shiv. To get your message across with an implement designed to dismantle pudding takes real moxie.

OMD: I have no idea what it was. Maybe a broken tuning fork? Half of a dining fork? A jagged letter opener that had gone unused for so long while Anna's letters were being diverted?

I think the funniest part of the episode had to be Anna smirking after Mrs. Hughes said, "I see. Well, I'll tell Ethel that she has a treat in store," following Molesley's assertion that Jesus likely only let Mary Magdalene wash his feet.

WG: The women had no time for the silly men folk and their outdated thinking in this episode. Molesley, Grantham, and Carson still think its the stone age. I know the timing doesn't line up since this show had its original run in Britain last fall, but in some ways these tradition laden blowhards evoke the outmoded thinking some of the big shots in the Republican party demonstrated prior to the election. Molesley is Dick Morris. Dick Morris is Molesley.

OMD: So I suppose Dr. Clarkson's intervention had to happen for the show to move on--after all, any hope for the show going forward would be torpedoed by becoming mired in marital strife between Robert and Cora--but we did get treated to Cora taking the gloves off and doing some significant, eye-opening damage to Robert. He needed to hear that his inflexibility could very well sink the Crawleys and Downton Abbey into ruin.

WG: Over the course of the series Grantham has been a pretty likable rich guy. Not an easy feat for any show to pull off. (The most likable rich guy in a TV series ever? Ricardo Montalban, Fantasy Island). But more and more, he's the heel. I like the turn for the worse. And again, credit to Fellowes for keeping things fluid, and making his characters somewhat ambiguous. I predict the next script flipper will involve Thomas turning a new leaf and becoming kind and benevolent. He'll engage in sweet little gestures like teaching Daisy how to give handjobs.

OMD: Daisy HJs. She'd likely quiver and stammer on like a fool whilst in the throes of stroking.

For all of the tedium that has surrounded the Bates's wrongful imprisonment storyline and its apparent interminability, I still got choked up when Anna came running out onto the lawn, letter in hand. Fellowes still gives us our moments, even after some head-scratchingly bad plot points lead one to worry about the show in general, which brings me to a topical question. Which of the following storylines that stateside TV viewers are currently being subjected to is worst: (1) Bates's stretch in the joint and all of the surrounding nonsense; (2) The love pentagram downstairs in Downton; (3) Ethel; or (4) Boom Mic Brian getting all mixed up in Jim and Pam's marital strife on The Office?

WG: Answer: (5) Watching Mario Batali half-ass his way through episodes of The Chew.

OMD: And let's be serious: when Wordy dropped the devil's haircut line, you thought that this would be at the end of this week's column, didn't you?

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