Downton Abbey’s back! Are you so excited? I’m so excited. I am, in fact, just back from a Downton Abbey viewing party, where we drank champagne and ate finger sandwiches (recipes to come later this week!) PBS, sly minxes that they are, have aired the first two episodes back-to-back, without a break. They’ve also cut a few scenes, to get the two episodes, which total two hours exactly, down to an hour and fifty minutes. Downton will be airing again on PBS at 8pm this Thursday, as well as streaming on PBS’ website, if you missed last night’s viewing and need to catch up. Below the jump, there will be literally nothing but spoilers, so if you still haven’t watched Downton, please stop what you are doing, obtain the program however possible, and spend the next few hours of your life with the Granthams and their servants. As this ran a bit long, I”ll just be covering the first hour or so today, with the rest to come along shortly thereafter.
Alright, everyone still here? Good, because WE ARE AT WAR. Literally. Our dashing Matthew, heir to Downton Abbey, is covered in mud, fighting in the trenches in the Somme, and oh, it’s 1916. Matthew (who still has a valet, despite the fact that, you know, we’re in the trenches of World War One) will have a few days leave, which he’ll use to go to Downton. Could you imagine if he didn’t? If season two just started, and instead of the comings and goings of a manor house in the English countryside, we’re suddenly in the midst of a Band of Brothers-esque war drama?
But no, we’re back at Downton, and so let’s check in on the vast majority of the main cast members in this cast of thousands:
- Anna is showing around a new maid, Ethel.
- Ethel is, well, mouthy.
- Lady Sybil has gotten bad news, and feels useless.
- Lord Grantham is back in the army properly, something that was weighing on him.
- Mistah Bates is in London for his mother’s funeral.
- Lady Edith is taking driving lessons from Branson.
- William would like to be called up for military service, despite the fact that he’s his father’s only child.
- Thomas is at the front, in the medical corps.
- Cousin Violet/Granny/Professor McGonnagall/The Indominable Maggie Smith is back in fine form, arranging flowers.
- Carson is working entirely too hard.
Now that we’ve caught up with a good number of our old friends, let’s get to the plot. Cousin Isobel/Harriet Jones has some breaking news: Matthew is engaged! To be married! To Lavinia Squire! This is distressing news, furthered by the fact that he’s bringing her to Downton. Mary’s apparently been in London as well, and she and Matthew are going to show up on the same night. DRAMA. Except no, because this is Britain 100 years ago, and these sorts of people do not make scenes. Except they do, sometimes. Spoilers! Anyway, Matthew, Lavinia, and Mary are all going to attend a fundraising concert at Downton later in the episode. So that will be painful and awkward.
Meanwhile, Sybil “feels as if all the men I ever danced with are dead” which is a beautiful line, and just as she’s feeling useless, she runs into Cousin Isobel, champion of DOING THINGS. Isobel convinces her to enroll in a nursing class, but points out that Sybil will need to know how to, you know, make a bed and cook a bit. O’Brien overhears, and reports back to Cora of Sybil’s plans, clearly trying to make this out to be a bad idea, because O’Brien hates joy.
Downstairs, Ethel manages to insult pretty much everyone, especially O’Brien, and, I believe the proper phrase, is “gets ideas above her station.” Meanwhile, Violet and Isobel are united in convincing Cora to let Sybil become a nurse, and Isobel’s manservant, Mosley, has been medically excused from service.
MISTAH BATES IS BACK! I know he’s not the most popular character, but sorry all, I am solidly on TEAM BATES. Oooh also MARY IS BACK! Which will make far more of you happier, I am sure.
Down in the kitchens, Sybil is asking for cooking lessons, and it’s all very sweet, though Sybil can’t even fill a kettle properly. William is upset that his father isn’t letting him volunteer.
Upstairs, Edith is causing trouble, casually dropping the bomb that Matthew will be attending the concert, and that he’s engaged. Edith, you are horrible. Mary (badly) feigns happiness for Matthew, and then mentions that she’s interested in Sir Richard Carlisle.
And now, for the concert! Enter Matthew and Lavinia, and cue longing, happy glances between Matthew and Mary. They resolve to be friends. Downstairs, Mrs. Hughes and Carson debate Mary, Matthew, and Lavinia. I love how solidly Carson is in Mary’s corner.
Oh! This is horrible. During the concert, two (admittedly middle-class-looking) women start handing out white feathers to men not in uniform, calling those men out as cowards. William gets one, and he clearly feels very badly about it.
At dinner, Isobel announces that Sybil can indeed get into the nursing school, something that she hadn’t quite mentioned to her father yet.
Outside, Bates, confident that his wife will finally allow him to divorce her, proposes to Anna ““ though he’s asked Lord Grantham’s permission first. It’s still sweet and lovely, and possibly the most chaste proposal kiss-and-hug in the history of the world.
Back at dinner, Violet is throwing barbs at Lavinia, while Matthew and Mary speak alone for a moment ““ who thought it was a good idea to seat those two next to each other?! I mean, it’s the best idea, but also torture for Mary.
And now, we begin with the “O’Brien screwing with Ethel” part of the episodes. O’Brien sends Ethel up to see Lady Grantham, causing hilarity all around, as it made Ethel look like an idiot.
Meanwhile, at Isobel’s house, Doctor Clarkson bemoans how many soldiers the village hospital is expected to take, and how there’s no room. Isobel also ferrets out the fact that Lady Grantham (Violet) has gotten Clarkson to request medical discharges for Mosley and William, both of whom are their parents only children. This doesn’t sit well with Isobel.
Bates and Anna are making all sorts of sweet plans for the future, til they’re interrupted by Ethel. Boo, Ethel.
Mary wakes up incredibly early to see Matthew off at the train, and gives him a small toy dog she had as a child, which is her lucky charm. Matthew also makes Mary promise to look after both Mother and Lavinia, which, really, is a bit much to ask.
Back at Downton, Mrs. Bates has shown up. BOOOOOOO, you horrible evil woman, BOOOOOOO. Mrs. Hughes suggests the Bateses (?) go and have tea in her sitting room, where Mrs. Hughes can eavesdrop on them. Mrs. Bates, upon hearing of Mr. Bates’ mother’s demise, would like to get back together now that Mr. Bates has some money. But wait, there’s more! Mrs. Bates has heard all about Mr. Pamouk, including exactly where he died, and who helped carry him across the house. She’ll go straight to the newspapers if Mr. Bates doesn’t leave with her immediately. This makes Mr. Bates furious, but he sacrifices his job and his almost-fiancÃ©e to protect the honor of Downton. Lord Grantham, to put it mildly, loses his shit over hearing of Bates’ departure. Anna is also not pleased, but being quicker on the uptake than Lord Grantham, realizes that Bates is doing this for some stupid honorable cause, though he won’t tell her what it is.
William is frustrated and sad about not being able to go to war, so Daisy gives him a kiss to cheer him up. William is thrilled, and asks Daisy to be his girl.
Hey, we’re back on the Somme with Matthew! War is hell, essentially, but also, there’s Thomas! Of course, out of the millions of British men serving in World War One, those two are totally going to run into each other. Perfectly logical.
Back at Downton, Lady Sybil leaves for her two-month nursing course. And then Isobel and Violet have it out over the medical deferrals Violet obtained for Mosley and William. Dr. Clarkson promises to correct the error. Also, again, Carson is working too hard. Mrs. Hughes confesses to Carson that she overheard the conversation between the Bateses. Lady Sybil says goodbye to Branson, who chooses this moment to profess his love for her. While Sybil is flattered, rather than similarly smitten, she does promise to keep secret what Branson’s told her.
Oh dear, we’re back in the middle of the war. Thomas is not doing well, and is doing considerably worse when the fellow he’s speaking to is shot to death mid-conversation.
At Downton, Mr. Mosley asks Dr. Clarkson to not, in fact, rescind the medical discharge ““ he doesn’t want to go to the front. At dinner, Lord Grantham finds out that his military position is an honorary one ““ he won’t be going to the front after all. He’s clearly crushed. Speaking of crushed, we learn that O’Brien corresponds with Thomas, who would like to come home. Additionally, Carson informs Lord Grantham that Mr. Bates’ departure was blackmail, and that Bates left to protect Downton’s honor. Carson hints that there’s some secret that Bates is keeping hushed up, but doesn’t tell Robert what it is.
Chapter two of “O’Brien messing with Ethel,” Ethel is dusting the electrical plugs and checking for vapors. Carson suggests that Ethel check with him before following any more of O’Brien’s orders. Later, in their room, both Ethel and Anna have a bit of a cry. Bad day for them both.
Edith then mocks Mary for praying. EDITH, YOU ARE THE WORST. Mary, of course, is praying for Matthew’s safety and safe return.
Matthew and Thomas, miraculously in the same foxhole in the front, share a cup of tea and reminisce about Downton. Thomas, it sounds like, would like to go back and work at the hospital in the village, which would involve string-pulling and getting discharged from the front. Thomas then quite deliberately gets his hand shot by the Germans.
This is where the first episode, according to how it was initially aired in Britain, ends. I’m going to stop here for the moment, because looking at 120 minutes of Downton is simply too much for one go. I’ll be back tomorrow with the second episode, or the second half of last night’s monster episode.
Things we have not discussed and ought to:
- ALL THE OUTFITS
- What a good cooking teacher Daisy is to Sybil;
- The Dowager Countess’ hats and one-liners;
- Carson’s anger that the World War is causing him to serve less than perfectly-staffed dinners.