Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Wordy Old Men on Downton Abbey: Season Six, Episode Seven

The Crawleys have a day at the race track while most of the servants get time off to encourage Molesley and Daisy in their exams.

Old Man Duggan: Judging from the tea-time light sniping between the sisters Crawley, it sure looks like Edith and Mary are headed toward one last sororal kerfuffle to fill Fellowes's quota for the series. While it seems they should be past it all, Mary's continued curiosity surrounding Marigold and her casual jabs regarding Bertie sure portend a row.

Wordy Ginters: Did you catch that look? Serious eye-fucking. I enjoy the pettiness between the two. Nothing says sisterly love like throwing shade.

OMD: Mrs. Hughes ascertainment that Thomas might find more happiness in another setting might be more true than he'd care to admit. His disposition clearly defaults to underhanded shitheel, but since O'Brien departed, he has been decidedly less horrible. Most of his conflict with staff comes from a storied history of conniving. Maybe a new setting and a fresh start could actually see him change his spots or more importantly find something resembling happiness, roots notwithstanding. Of course, it probably wouldn't have been easy to find many accepting of a gay man as a butler--under or otherwise--in 1925 England.

WG: Thomas is more screwed than any of the characters. Most of them have a new lease on life, or are too old for it to matter much. Thomas is the one who appears destined for heartache and woe. No job. No prospects. Getting the Bates and Anna treatment to an almost comical degree in this episode. He was cold-shouldered and shunned at every turn. Bringing lemonade to a picnic is the basis for the first chapter of Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People for fuck's sake. I was hoping Fellowes would have him step on a rake just to drive the point home.

OMD: Much as I suspected Amelia Cruikshank is a serpent befitting her heinous fiance. At least she is calculating enough that Isobel could conceivably be happy with Lord Merton as it suits Miss Cruikshank's needs. Violet accurately surmising "I expect they'll have to drag you out as you break your fingernails catching at the doorcase" was outstanding and painted a delightful picture that would have been right at home in a Roald Dahl story.

WG: Excellent line. Fave Dahl movie adaptation? Fantastic Mr. Fox is too easy, I'll go with James and the Giant Peach.

OMD: While I read a ton of his books as a child, I've only seen the first adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Fantastic Mr. Fox. If we're ruling out Fantastic Mr. Fox, then I've got no other recourse than to go with the other one I've seen.

A few minutes later of screen time after her meeting with the undesirable Miss Cruikshank, the Dowager Countess opined that a month amongst the French should make her long for home. Strong showing early in an episode that saw her exit so early. Of course, the concern here is that for drama's sake she'll end up washed up on some remote island, sans beach ball, never to return for the sake of the show. Given that the S.S. Paris suffered no major catastrophes in 1925 per its Wikipedia page, we can safely assume that if anything happens of that nature, it will have happened because Violet fell overboard.

WG: It would be a Game of Thrones type gut-punch to cast the Dowager into the void. She was the shits early on, but at this point she's on the beloved TV curmudgeon icon Mt. Rushmore, right up there alongside Fred Sanford, Lou Grant, and Archie Bunker.

OMD: The back-and-forth courtship proceedings that Mary puts prospective mates through must be exhausting. Henry Talbot must be the 46th pursuer. Her post-race convo with driver Hank was inevitable because it's the dastardly anused Mary we're talking about, but how many fucking wedding are going to get packed into the special? It seems like Edith couldn't possibly get married by the end of the next episode, and Isobel and Lord Merton aren't anywhere near that point unless they head down to the Justice of the Peace.

WG: One episode and a Christmas Special left, right? The wedding gambit is such a tired and stale move for a TV series. Leaves me cold. At this point, with the head fakes and dilly-dallying, it's hard to see how any of them get to the altar unless Fellowes gets out a shoehorn and forces the issue in the last 2 episodes.

OMD: The racing scenes were decidedly less exciting than they probably should have been, but I suppose that should have been expected. Downton Abbey isn't exactly going to be breaking new ground in filming car racing scenes, but the score probably acted against any tension that could have existed in those sequences apparently serving the function of "let us delight in the marvels of 1920s technological advances" more than anything else. That said, if ever there was a clear red shirt in the show--or in his case, a red scarf--Rogers was set on a fated course toward dead man's curve from his initial entirely transparent introduction.

WG: Man, those racing scenes were flaccid, weren't they? So British. So NPR. Where was Sacha Baron Cohen's Jean Girard when we needed him most? Once again, Fellowes badly telegraphing his punches. Was there any doubt blood would spill on the famed Brooklands circuit?

OMD: With all of Mary's apprehension leading up to the race? No doubt whatsoever.

Despite it being the site of the revelation of Andy's illiteracy, the testing-break picnic was a nice scene. It's weird how refreshing it is to see the staff enjoying an afternoon in a meadow out of uniform and just enjoying each other's company. Of course it also serves the purpose of exonerating Thomas of any wrongdoing, as Patmore knows why Carson was amping up the prodding of Thomas to find other work. Carson's stodginess upon Thomas's return to find the couple Carson furtively enjoying a seat in the library still shows his desire to rid the house of him, but at least there was a moment of communal staff respite from their work cave.

WG: For me, that picnic was an example of the satisfying pay-off you can achieve when good character work is established early on. I think Boardwalk Empire in particular was great at doing this type of thing. Because the characters are sturdy and fleshed out, it's enjoyable just watching them do shit that isn't obviously driving the plot forward. Mundane day-to-day scenes work in service to the story because the characters are established and three dimensional. You want to hang with them because you like them. It's a shame the show didn't develop more in that direction, instead of the tired old bullshit with Mary playing the dating game, and the Bates' various Making a Murderer sideshows.

OMD: While believing Mr. Dawes's statement as to Molesley's test scores being better than some Oxford and Cambridge grads is a tall order, his finally getting a victory was such a relief. The heart of the last couple seasons gets his deserved exit from service. This is something that would be too bad if there weren't just two episodes left, but as the series is eying the finish line, this is fantastic.

WG: Fuck yes.

OMD: Molesley's position presumably being vacated and Andy aspiring to pig farming means Thomas's job search has probably been for nothing. The underbutler will simply have to do everything that the butler and valet don't do.

WG: A possible ray of light for Thomas. Why not?

OMD: Septimus Spratt: Bringer of Isis, Jr. The look on Robert's face as he ran to embrace that furry little shit machine was that of a five-year-old boy. His eagerness to bring the untrained pup upstairs can be directly tied to the zero shits that he'll have to pick up. The rest of the servants will eye that dog with the disdain that they usually reserve for Thomas.

WG: It reminded me of a three or four episode run a few seasons back when it was pretty evident that Lord Grantham preferred Isis to Edith. Fellowes should have edited in a shot of someone downstairs rolling their eyes, or at least looking peeved at the idea of hauling dog shit and incessantly scrubbing shit stains out of the carpet.

OMD: Hopefully the last shot of the show is an old Thomas feebly scrubbing a dilapidated rug with adult George wandering around the manor in an open bathrobe, boxers, and a stained wife beater muttering to himself about that damned rock and roll.

Patmore's plan for Carson preparing the dinner was fucking high art. It made every second of oblivious assholery he doled out pay off spectacularly. Hughes continuing to pile work onto his plate was gold. Judging by the man hiding in the bushes with a notepad and camera, Patmore's evil genius will see a karmic comeuppance in the next episode, unless Fellowes is tossing us one last misdirect. Maybe her bed and breakfast makes Michelin, and Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon visit it 85 years later.

WG: That's a crossover I'd love to see. Coogan and Brydon fucking with each other in Patmore's B&B? I'm in. Why isn't Coogan HUGE over here? I think Saxondale is considered a minor work, and it's fucking genius. Jesus Christ, a guy like Seth MacFarlane is relatively huge, and I can't even easily access Alan Partridge stuff. Almost makes me think Trump is on to something.

OMD: Nearly all of the Steve Coogan stuff is currently available on Hulu. Everyone should brush up now.

Two more episodes. Any bold predictions past the presumed triple wedding?

WG: I'm going to pull a 180 and root for more deaths than weddings.

OMD: Same here.

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