Sunday, February 23, 2014

Wordy Old Men on Downton Abbey: Series Four, Episode Nine

We come to the conclusion of the fourth series of Downton Abbey with the 90-minute Christmas Special, and Wordy Ginters and myself will once again be your guides. Lady Rose is presented and we get our first proper glimpse at "the season." The Crawley family becomes entangled with Mr. Sampson again, as a damning letter penned by the Prince of Wales gets lifted from his mistress's possession. Bates's criminal ways show their value, though not before it is deemed likely that he did avenge Anna's rape. Cora's mother and brother, Martha Levinson (Shirley MacLaine) and Harold Levinson (Paul Giamatti), come to London for Rose's debutante ball. The Fourth Series is available for the low, low rate of $24.96 on Blu-ray and $21.96 on DVD.

Old Man Duggan: Perhaps it was that history was playing much more centrally in the goings on or that there seemed to be larger problems facing the Crawleys, but this was far and away the best episode of the season. It made me remember the best of Seasons One and Two.

Wordy Ginters: Downton definitely closed strong. The last two episodes were solid.

OMD: Maybe it's just that Julian Fellowes finally had the budget to show a "season" in London, but I will say it was nice to finally see what the hubbub has been about. The troika of Crawley girls and now Rose have had so much relying upon their being matched that it was refreshing to see the presentation of a debutante to the King and Queen.

WG: It makes for some pretty television, the pomp, the circumstance, the handsome visage of Giamatti at a picnic.

OMD: Miss Sarah Bunting, aside from being no taller than five-foot-one, is sort of pulling the same bullshit that Edna Braithwaite was on Branson. This whole uppity-broads-guilting-Branson-for-marrying-up thing can go away any time, Fellowes. I'm sure it was and probably still is a thing, but I think we've gotten the point. Can we move along please?

WG: Is Branson hot for teacher or still wrestling with the do I or don't I belong class consciousness thing? If I had my druthers, Branson would be dealing with a troika of suitors, not Lady Mary. And fucking-A, how about cuffing Thomas around for that impertinent tone? I know the fog of grief, the responsibilities of running a pig farm, and dreams of a different future are clouding his vision, but Jesus H. Christ, if Thomas being a major league prick can't bring the clarity of brutal violence, what can? Thomas deserved a punch in his cigarette hole on several occasions. But whats new, eh?

OMD: Yeah, fuck Thomas. He was such a conniving shit this episode.

So it would appear that Brownshirts did Gregson in. Or at least waylaid him. For over a year. Goddamn proto-Nazis. Let's hope they didn't detain and brainwash him only to release him back into the UK a spy.

WG: I'm holding out hope for The Manchurian Candidate scenario. Once the proto-Nazis beat you, you stay beaten. Forays into the US and the Rhineland are a nice way for Fellowes to keep things fresh next season.

OMD: Much of the episode centered around a purloined love letter written by the Prince of Wales--and future King Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne to marry Wallis Simpson as seen in The King's Speech--to the married but dallying Freda Dudley Ward. Of course, the shitty Mr. Sampson played an integral role in the misdeeds. It seems shocking to me that Sampson hasn't been thrown out of high society on his ear. It's too bad Gregson wasn't there to school him, but I suppose if ever there weren't a need for Mr. Gregson it would be when there is an ex-con capable of murder in the fold waiting to ply his skill set.

WG: I dug the development of Bates over the course of this season. From ardent lover of Anna to shadowy master of the criminal arts. Forgery. Pick pocketin'. Perfect murders. Penny Licks. The man is like a proto-James Bond. I was the opposite of chuffed when Lady Mary was thinking about dropping a dime on him. Is Hughes the only one on that damn show with a lick of sense? Thankfully, the purloined letter evidently tipped the scales enough for Mary to torch the York to London train ticket in the fireplace. That was some satisfying TV. Burn ticket burn.

OMD: Mos def. Hughes is always right. They may as well change the name of the show to Mrs. Hughes and All of the Wrong People Around Her.

The scheming to get the letter was quite a bit of fun in a Downton Abbey kind of way. Ultimately though, the crafty Mr. Bates pulled a couple of metaphorical rabbits out of his hat of underhanded tricks and put off dishonor to the Crown for another day. I liked that his learned skills in forgery first saved Molesley and now the monarchy, but no one knows that it was Bates himself who penned the letter granting them access to Sampson's quarters.

WG: Bates was the inspiration for the Digable Planets song "Rebirth of Slick."

OMD: And we have our exit music.

Mary and Rose's gasps of shock when Robert showed them the letter was really fucking funny.

WG: I laughed out loud.

OMD: While I wasn't entirely sold of the fact that Madeleine Allsop would seem to fall for Harold Levinson, the fact that he still wanted her to write to him was sweet. Fellowes does a good job of injecting the show with these nuanced minor characters who provide the audience with an anecdotal glimpse at a type of person a la mode. I, for one, hope we get to see more of Madeleine, even if Paul Giamatti--who I liked here--doesn't make a return appearance.

WG: You've doped out the heart of it. Fellowes elevates Downton above trifling replacement-level soap opera entertainment precisely because of these types of characters and nuance. He's got a knack for developing characters that are relatable, regardless of their station. When they choose the righteous path, it's damn satisfying. On the other hand, I never quite bought into Lady Allsop being truly rehabilitated. I'm still smelling scheme. The guy who plays her old man was equally crooked in Sexy Beast.

OMD: Ivy looks to be headed stateside. I've got nothing to say about that. Didn't ever give a shit about her.

WG: If she thinks she can escape first date finger-blasting by fleeing across the Atlantic, she's tragically mistaken.

OMD: Mary and Hughes knowing but ultimately being all right with the fact that Bates murdered the odious Mr. Green is kind of awesome. It took Mary a bit longer to come around to Mrs. Hughes's line of thinking, but Bates is invaluable to the family and the damning evidence is commingling with the burnt cinders in Mary's fireplace at Crawley House.

WG: Damn right it took Mary a bit longer. I'll be generous and posit that she's been preoccupied with matters porcine.

OMD: Given the fact that so many characters have perished in the past two seasons, I was damn near certain that the Dowager Countess was going to die in her sleep after she and Martha's tête-à-tête in the hall after the party. "Violet, I don't mind looking in the mirror because what I see is a woman who's not afraid of the future. My world is coming nearer, and your world? It's slipping further and further away. Good night." That seemed to me to be a farewell speech to Violet.

WG: I haven't followed the trades like I should. Has Maggie Smith already indicated she isn't coming back? That last scene is a fitting coda, but I hate to see her go off into that dark night without getting the last word.

OMD: Thus far there's not been any announcement. If I remember correctly, Siobhan Finneran's departure wasn't announced until early spring of last year, well after Downton Abbey had aired in the UK.

There was a lot of talk about the past and future going on in this episode. This is clearly a time of transition for the UK, and Fellowes wanted to be sure to drive that point home. Between the old guard scrambling desperately to find themselves new revenue streams to recover the fortunes that they were unsuited to hold onto in the changing times and the old guard being informed that they must be adaptable to survive, this more than any other episode really tried to advance the cast of characters into the 1920s. Even Carson cut loose on the beach, with Hughes holding his hand as they waded into the sea of change.

WG: Without Carson and Hughes holding things together, Downton's pants would fall down around its ankles inside of two weeks. It was a cool moment seeing them with clasped hands in the ocean. I would have definitely lost the "will we see Carson's bare feet" prop bet for sure. The show has leaned on change as a back drop pretty frequently. The war. The depression. Post war. I'm eager to see how far Fellowes will advance the calendar for the next season.

OMD: Still no sign of Gregson. Mary still bats around a couple of gents. What direction do you think Fellowes will take us on those two fronts? There has been a fair amount of talk about this fourth season being a virtual recap of Season One. Do we get the Great War and William dying from war wounds in Season Five? Where, oh where are you Mr. Gregson?

WG: I'm guessing Fellowes wrings some good mileage out of Germany and Gregson. Too many rich writing opportunities to let that thread wither on the vine. I'm less interested in Lady Mary's "plight". How about a wild-card suitor? Jack Ross? Or maybe a new character altogether. Regardless, by finishing up with a solid run of ep's at the end of the season, at least I'm looking forward to next season.

OMD: Yeah, after Matthew's untimely (and widely spoiled) death, it was hard to get it up for this season. With the rape happening early on, I was very worried. Hopefully the ship has been righted.

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