Catching The Torch

Trials by Fire in Hostessing, Motherhood, Life


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Downton Review, Episode 7

Downton Review Episode 7

A Desire of Suitors: Downton Abbey Episode 7

Here we are at the penultimate episode of Season 4.  Le sob – it’s almost over!!

As we all breathe a sigh of relief, Anna tells Mary about her attack and reveals that the rapist was Gillingham’s valet, Mr. Green.  She makes Mary promise not to do anything with the information, citing her fear that Bates will kill him and then hang for the crime.  Mary’s reaction was wonderful: after falling backwards into a chair with an “Oh God,” and looking as if she would vomit, she immediately decides to cancel Gillingham’s upcoming visit and make him fire Green.  When it proves too late to get ahold of him to cancel (where are you when we need you, Victorian text messaging?), she plans to go to London to convince him Green needs to go.  Meanwhile, Gillingham and his evil valet make their visit to Downton and Mr. Bates uses the opportunity to ask Green where he lives.  Subtle, Mr. Bates.   And if I may say, pretty snarky asking your poor wife if she’d “gone off” Mr. Green since the last time, reminding her how much she initially liked him.

Mary is managing her “desire” of suitors quite well between avenging Anna and keeping the estate running.  I love that she has a cache of men again.  Her scene in London with Mr. Gillingham was a master class in productive flirtation.  Between the outfit, the eyes, the hand gestures, and her sarcastic admittance that she does indeed like him, it’s clear why the men of the series are so enthralled by Icy Mary.  “I find that both irritating and beguiling in equal measure.”   When she walked out of the restaurant; she didn’t saunter, simper, or strut.  Her exit was a perfect example of how to catch the eye and admiration of everyone around you simply with your self-confidence.

Also on her errand list for London, Mary breaks up Rose’s scandal.  Rose has gotten herself engaged to Jack Ross sort of out of love but mostly to irritate her mother.  She admits this to Mary who reveals this to Jack who in turn admits his mother already told him this and also he figured it out.  He says he was planning to call off the engagement and end his relationship with Rose, but wouldn’t if “the world were just a little bit better.”  Of course, if the world were just a little bit better, Mary “wouldn’t want him to.” And thus the Race plot-line is neatly resolved and wrapped in a pretty bow.  (Eyeroll.)

While Mary is breaking hearts, Branson continues to run into New Girl who has found some lipstick and is the village teacher.  Goading him at turns about being a socialist land manager for the aristocrats and allowing himself to be a “beast of burden,” for the Family, she is an interesting, though slightly irritating love interest for dear Branson.  However, she is a teacher, so more points to her side.  And not bent on ruining his life, which is a huge improvement over Braithewaite.  It is sweet to see Branson speak of the hard work the Family actually does when he defends Cora, calling her “another beast of burden.”  Also, it gives us hope for his happiness that he no longer falls apart at the mention of Sybil.  All in all, Branson will need someone to spar with, and this teacher might be just the one.

Downstairs, we have Steady Freddy returning to Downton after writing to Ivy to tell her his father has died, admit his love, propose marriage, and invite her to live in London where he will get her a job.  (Maybe we don’t need Victorian text-messaging after all…)

“He puts a lot in a letter, does Alfred.” ~ Mrs. Patmore

Ivy declines, and Mrs. Patmore gives Daisy the day off to avoid more heartbreak when Alfred does visit.  She spends the day with Mr. Mason (her father-in-law from her first marriage) at his farm.  It’s easy to forget she is to inherit this farm and has an open invitation to come live with Mason and learn to run it.  Mr. Mason encourages Daisy to go back to the House to say a final farewell to the man she has loved.

“There won’t be too many people who you love in your life, Daisy.” ` Mr. Mason

She does, in a very sweet scene.  Alfred realizes that he perhaps never saw what a great gift was in front of him, but Daisy gracefully refuses to settle for second best.  She tells him she loved him, but that now she must go her way and he must go his.  I really wanted Carson to eavesdrop and start singing Loch Lomond at this point.  Instead, we had an even sweeter scene in the yard in which Mrs. Patmore tells Daisy,

“If you were my own daughter, I couldn’t be prouder of you than I am right now.”

Speaking of daughters, Cora is clueless as ever to her middle child’s anguish and, um, pregnancy.  Thankfully, Edith has a wonderful Aunt in the form of Lady Rosamund, who comes to Downton to take charge.  Edith wants to give the baby to the new Pig Man to be raised on the Estate, but Lady Rosamund convinces her to go abroad and have the baby adopted by a couple in need.   This way, she says,

“They are happy.  The baby is happy.  And you are, well, if not happy, at least free.”

They announce first to Cora then to the collected company at dinner that they are going together for several months to Switzerland to improve their French.  Why not France?

“Ugh.  You know what the French are like.” ~Lady Rosamund

The Dowager Countess for one is not convinced and summons Rosamund and Edith to tea.  After seeing that she must “take the slow road” to get the story out, she finally gets Edith to admit

“If I told you the truth, you would never speak to me again.”

Counters the Countess,

“Then you have told me the truth.  Now I would like to hear it enunciated more clearly.”

As usual, Edith was wrong and not only will the Countess speak to her, she counsels her and offers emotional and financial support, including offering to help find the long-lost Gregson.

Finally, we come to the Bazaar.  After much wringing of hands and passing off of responsibilities, Cora successfully pulls off the Village Bazaar.  Robert returns in time to make out with her on the lawn and sing her praises to the family.  Hooray for one Intact Love Story.  Also at the bazaar, Molesley and Baxter cement their friendship/flirtation/alliance which has been sweetly brewing throughout the episode.  Molesley wins at a Feat of Strength game and finds the courage to tell Thomas to stop bullying his new friend.  It was adorable and those two are in trouble now.

We also discover that Mr. Green has met his death by falling into the street or in front of a train or something in front of a lot of people in London.  Did we mention that Bates asked for a day off to “go to York” the same day Anna was in London with Mary?  And Green died that day?  Shocking.  Bates, please tell us you learned something from your last non-murder and at least have an alibi.  Probably not though.

Now it is time to get ready for the last episode for an entire year – le sob!!  No, we mustn’t complain.  After all, to quote the Dowager Countess:

“My dear, life is a series of problems that we must solve.  First one, and then another and another and so on until at last we die.”

To buck you up and give you courage to face the End, I will leave you with this recipe for Bread Pudding:

Bread Pudding

Lady Katy's Bread Pudding

4-6 servings

Prep time: 15 minutes.  Rest time: 1 1/2 hours  Cook time: 1 hour  Total time: ~3 hours

Ingredients:

  • 1 loaf of English Muffin bread, cubed in thick cubes (4 cups) (You can substitute any bread; baguette, cinnamon raisin bread are also delicious.
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 TBS maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Method:

Preheat oven to 350*  In an 8-inch square pan, toast cubed bread in the middle of the oven until bread is crisp but not golden, about 5-7 minutes.  Mix melted butter in with bread, tossing to coat bread completely.  In a medium bowl, whisk together milk, cream, eggs, maple syrup, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and vanilla.  Pour over bread, stirring to coat.  Cover and chill pudding at least 1 1/2 hours.  Bake pudding in middle of oven until it just sets but still trembles slightly, about 50-55 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Adapted from “The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook” by Emily Ansara Baines

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Lady Katy’s Bread Pudding

Lady Katy's Bread Pudding

4-6 servings

Prep time: 15 minutes.  Rest time: 1 1/2 hours  Cook time: 1 hour  Total time: ~3 hours

Ingredients:

  • 1 loaf of English Muffin bread, cubed in thick cubes (4 cups) (You can substitute any bread; baguette, cinnamon raisin bread are also delicious.
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 TBS maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Method:

Preheat oven to 350*  In an 8-inch square pan, toast cubed bread in the middle of the oven until bread is crisp but not golden, about 5-7 minutes.  Mix melted butter in with bread, tossing to coat bread completely.  In a medium bowl, whisk together milk, cream, eggs, maple syrup, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and vanilla.  Pour over bread, stirring to coat.  Cover and chill pudding at least 1 1/2 hours.  Bake pudding in middle of oven until it just sets but still trembles slightly, about 50-55 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Adapted from “The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook” by Emily Ansara Baines


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Downton Review, Episode 6

Downton Review, Episode 6

“I’m FINE.”

“I’m not going.  They’re my pigs!”

Far and away, my favorite bit of Episode 6 was the rescue of the pigs.  Mary and Mr. Blake walk down to visit the starter pigs that are to revolutionize the farming of the Estate.  To their dismay, they discover that the pigs are dying from lack of water.  Mr. Blake picks up a pair of pails and runs for the water pipe.  After a proper, “Wait just a moment,” Mary, in all of her evening finery, picks up two more and runs after him.  The montage of the two pumping water in the muddy barn and racing back to the pigpen ends with Mary falling in the mud, submerging her shoe, and giving the perfect woman’s response to her predicament: an icy, “I’m FINE.”  The pigs are saved, and Mary and Blake sit to take a rest.  They get into a literal mud-slinging contest, perhaps symbolizing the verbal sparing that has characterized their relationship.  The scene concludes with Mary giving the most phenomenal cackle her character could produce.

Back at the house, Mary makes the smirkiest, flirtiest plate of scrambled eggs imaginable.  She and Blake enjoy breakfast and banter until they are interrupted by the shocked Ivy.  Immediately, Mary (who does not know her employee’s name), reverts into Ice Queen mode, bids Ivy good morning, and stalks upstairs.  In the course of a single scene, these two have gone from enemies to frienemies, to flirt-emies.  I love that Mary discards the two proper English Lords as suitors in favor of a man who is willing to speak his mind and get his hands dirty.  A lot like her late husband, don’t you think?  In other news, poor Evelyn.

In a long, drawn-out plot, Tom goes to a political meeting and meets a girl.  Full lipped, talkative, kind, modern.  A lot like his late wife, don’t you think?  In other news, maybe Sybil left behind some lip-stain for New Girl to inherit.

Lord Grantham is summoned to America to save his hapless brother-in-law.  Both he and we do not understand this plot twist.  Another funny bit was the farewell on the lawn, where Lord Grantham is most concerned with the welfare of his most beloved girl: his dog.  Bates begs off as his valet to stay with Anna.  Mrs. Hughes intervenes with Mary who intervenes with Robert.  Mary now knows that Anna was “attacked,” but Mrs. Hughes does not reveal the identity of the rapist.  This results in three tender scenes: Mary comforting Bates, Mary offering help and understanding to Anna, and Jimmy and Thomas (who is going in place of Bates) showcasing their friendship.  Later, it is revealed that Lord Gillingham and the rapist valet Mr. Green return to Downton and we are all relieved that Bates is in the house.  After Anna’s terrified reaction and Green’s admittance that he hated the opera performance and went downstairs, Bates puts the pieces together.  He sends a look of death to Green and his butter knife shakes.  Green is clearly going to be killed.  I say Bates in the boot-room with a cane and butter knife and Mrs. Hughes covering the traces.

Thanking our lucky stars, we discover that the Dowager is sick, but not mortally so.  She has bronchitis, and is nursed from the brink of pneumonia by her own frienemy, Isobel.  Even in the depths of a fever, the Dowager manages to complain about her “nurse” and deliver some scathing one-liners.

“Bring me a new nurse.  This one talks too much – like a drunken vicar.” 

“The food is disgusting.  Everything she puts into my mouth is suddenly disgusting.”

Without sleep, and with a curt dismissal of wannabe nurses Mary and Lady Grantham, Isobel succeeds in bringing the Dowager back to health and we all rejoice.

Next we travel to London with Edith and Rose.  Rose meets her scandalous boyfriend.  They go boating.  I want to be interested in this, but I can’t be.  I don’t know if it is all the simpering or Rose’s own ambivalence to her love affair makes this boring, but we’ll see where it goes.  I bet Robert discovers it, blows up, and we all roll our eyes.

And finally we come to Edith.  She has come to London, as we all might have guessed, to get an abortion.  Her scene with Lady Rosamund describing her thought process, fears, and determination was well done.  Lady Rosamund “refuses to be shocked,” encourages her to keep the baby, but says she will support Edith in any decision including accompanying her to her appointment.  At the appointment, the office is dark, dingy, and filled with weeping women.  After the rape scene, I was quite nervous about how gruesome this scene was going to be, but thankfully we were spared.  Edith takes a look into the operating room, decides she’s making a mistake, and leaves.  A relieved Lady Rosamund follows her out and later promises to help Edith break the news to her parents.

Many people have expressed disappointment in this season of Downton Abbey, writing phrases like “the bloom has gone off the rose” and “the jewel has lost its sparkle.”  I myself tweeted after the Rape Episode that Downton may have jumped the shark.  I think these statements don’t quite cover it.  The scenery is still beautiful, the clothes are gorgeous, the writing is witty…

The stories have simply lost their subtlety; lost their grace.

When I first became enamored with this show in Season One, The Hubs asked me what I liked so much about it.  I answered, “Even though it is set a century ago, they are telling stories of family, losing homes, bad investments, a shaky economy, the uncertainty of the future, rebelling against your parents, rebelling against tradition, love.  The plot lines have classic and modern elements – everything is relatable.  But in addition, the show is set in this gorgeous landscape, with beautiful music and costumes.  It’s truly a rare treat.”  In Seasons 1 and 2, the show dealt with classic and modern conflicts such as PSTD, war, unrequited love, living with handicaps, homosexuality, defying your parents, exploring other cultures.  It was graceful, personal, subtle.  The stories were explored in depth and throughout several weeks.  Then suddenly we had Season 3 and Sybil’s gruesome, vivid death in childbirth.  The show took a turn for the sensational.  Almost every episode after that can be labeled.  The Car Crash Episode.  The Child Abuse Episode.  The Rape Episode.  The Premarital Sex Episode.  The Abortion Episode.   Of course, these conflicts are also both modern and universal.  I maintain that the way they are presented has changed.  There is more shock value, more sensationalism, and I wonder if this is missing the point.

At any rate, I miss the subtlety.  I miss the grace.  I miss the idea that we might weather the blows of life and still walk upon the high road.

Thoughts?


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Downton Review, Episode 5

Downton Review Episode 5

This was by far my favorite episode of the season and perhaps my favorite ever.  It was a soothing balm of classic Downton-ness after a rough, emotional season.

The sparring between the Dowager and Isobel Crawley was at its height as the ladies battled over gardener Pegg and the missing “things, things, things!”  Grasping at her purse, Isobel rages against the Dowager over the firing of young Pegg and the accusation that he stole both a pen knife and a very valuable piece of china.  She’s so affronted at the Countess’s perceived prejudice that she claims she would indeed burn the Abbey down and dance around it “if it would help.”  Later, Isobel’s sneaky search through the Dowager’s drawing room resulted in the best delivery of the word “Eureka!” in recent.  Ever the wise one, the Dowager acknowledges to Robert that Isobel’s fury at her is merely a way to work through her grief:

“It is her fuel. Some people run on greed, lust, even love. She runs on indignation.”

In the end, the Dowager discovers that young Pegg was not the thief; in fact, the missing things were merely misplaced.  She restores him to his position, apologizes, and asks forgiveness.  Isobel discovers this during a meeting of the ladies refereed by Dr. Clarkston.  As he declared, it was

“… Game, set, and match to Lady Grantham.”

In all, the Dowager’s plot felt very conclusionary, and tonight we may find out why.  The teaser for the next episode showed her in bed, obviously very ill.  Dame Maggie Smith, I acknowledge that you are 79 years old, but please please don’t leave us yet.  The loss of your character might be the death knell for the show.

Upstairs, we have a pregnancy, an illicit affair, race politics, and Mary whipping everyone into shape!

Edith is pregnant, as evidenced by the note from her doctor.  Her baby-daddy is AWOL in Germany.  If I were a betting woman, I’d guess that Michael Gregson is not so much captured by the bad guys as he is one of them.  On the bright side, she has a closetful of baggy jumpers that should take her right through the first two trimesters.

The illicit affair award goes to Rose who is caught by Mary in the basement making out with the band leader!  (This is starting to sound like Clue…)  This would be scandalous enough, but this affair is laced with…

Race Politics!  A black man in Downton.  Just in Downton, guys.  Jack Ross, the inexplicably terrible crooner from London has been hired by Rose to play Robert’s birthday bash.  Carson lunges for his butter knife when Mr. Ross enters the servant’s hall, and later asked him if he’s visited Africa.   Mr. Ross responds with the quip,

“And why should I go to Africa, Mr. Carson? I’m no more African than you are. Well, not much more. My people came over in the 1790s. We won’t go into why or how.”

Mary.  The sweetest scene in this episode took place in the nursery where she, Isobel, and Tom play with the babies and discuss their beloved late loves.  There is much healing both of hearts and relationships in this little scene.  Isobel essentially gives Mary her blessing to pursue love again, and Mary tells her that she is simply “Not quite ready to be happy.”  Although it sounds sad, the laughter, memories, and love what’s left  (the babies) is a beautiful illustration of another part of grief.

Mary also still holds Evelyn Napier’s heart in her teeth.  His “friend,” Lloyd George’s anti-aristocrat toady, is another story.  She slams him down repeatedly and this should prove a wonderful sparring partner for her.

Downstairs, we have Mrs. Patmore squirming over Rudoplh Valentino, Carson being disturbed by everything, the love rectangle being smashed, and the Bates not enjoying a heart-wrenching date night.

Jimmy is allowed to take Ivy to the movies, and quickly makes a pass at her on the way home.  When she refuses, he tells her she owes him and she’s “not playing the game.”  She yells and runs off.  Cutesy music and beautiful moonlight accompany this lesser sexual harassment.  Eye-roll.

With Ivy disillusioned by the handsome fellow, she turns her attention to Steady Freddy who has been accepted to his culinary course after all.  Alfred prepares to leave, thanking Mr. Carson and the Family, and lastly Daisy.  As his parting shot as the Good Guy, he soothes her heartache by telling her that although he was never going to be her man, her approval and friendship meant a lot to him.  She wishes him well, and we all say, “Awwww.”

Mrs. Patmore’s management of this heartbreak by putting the girls to task and giving Daisy dignified exits when she needed them was wonderful.  It was so motherly and I loved it.

Poor Anna and Mr. Bates.  They agree to go on a date night, are granted a few hours furlough, and Anna makes a reservation at a nice hotel restaurant.  Their goal is to have “a night away from the shadows.”  Sadly, when they arrive, the maitre-de snubs them, but Lady Grantham who is there for a charity dinner swoops in to save the day.   We discover that Anna is still so broken over the crime committed against her that their happiness is crushed.  It is just sad.  Real and awful and sad.

I am very excited for this night episode, but am sure tricky Mr. Fellowes will throw us a curve ball.  I can only hope that he isn’t aiming to strike out the Dowager…


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Downton Abbey Review,  Episode 4

Okay, Julian Fellowes.   My hopes that the rape plot-line would be treated in a manner respectful of a horrible crime have been fulfilled.  We all suspected that Mrs. Hughes would eventually tell Mr. Bates, and so she did.  She even respected Anna’s wish that the identity of her attacker remain unknown.  The scene in which Mr. Bates tells Anna he knows is absolutely perfect.  Shaking with anger, he tells her that Mrs. Hughes has told him what happened, when and where.  Anna reacts with anger as well, that her “secret” and her “shame” has been found out.  Very quickly, Bates makes it clear that his rage is caused by the fact that she was violated and attacked in such a brutal way.  “Why do you talk of shame?” he asks her, tears in his eyes.  “I do not accept that there is any shame in this.”  When she says that she fears she is “spoiled for him,”  he ftakes her face into his hands and says “You are not spoiled!  You are made higher to me, and holier because of the suffering you have been put through.  You are my wife.  And I have never loved you more…”

When this whole horrible rape storyline began, I was furious that such a crime against women would be exploited for entertainment value.  I anticipated an entire season of angst between Mr. and Mrs. Bates, a pregnancy, dripping with drama.  But in the space of four episodes, the show has explored Anna’s fear, isolation, loss of self-respect, loss of self-worth, and her willingness to sacrifice everything to keep what she feels as shame from hurting those she loves.  Thankfully, they allowed Anna a confidant in Mrs. Hughes, and made that confidant brave enough to help Anna by keeping check on her health and telling her support system about the crime committed against her.  The writers allowed Anna’s husband the absolutely perfect reaction: refusing to accept that there is shame or dirtiness in Anna because she was attacked, crying of anger not at her, but because she had to suffer, and assuring her that what she has gone through has not made her weak, less, or dirty, but stronger, higher, and holier.

There are still holes to poke in the way this was dealt with.  Is it perfect that everyone is focused on how another man (Bates) will react Anna’s rape?  Can something be said about how Bates as a man intimidates Mrs. Hughes to get the information.  Does it suck that Anna has to defend her attacker to save Bates’ neck?  Would it be great if someone had gone to the police with this?  No, yes, yes, and yes.  But this is after all a TV show, and I am very relieved that my fears of exploitation have been assuaged.

And as this is a TV show, let’s move onto the fluff and fun!

One of the new “couples” on this show that I absolutely love are Dr. Clarkston and Isobel Crawley.  No, they are not actually together, but the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene in Isobel’s drawing room was a perfect representation of an old married couple.  She was admitting that she did not feel accepted by the family, he was trying to reassure her.  She continued whining, and he responded with the perfect Husband Eye-Roll.  She then sighs and flop on the couch.  The only thing missing was her saying “I’m fine.”

The other new “couple” is Isobel and the Dowager.  Finally, FINALLY in this episode we get some zingers from the Dowager!  She’s been pretty tame all season, but in this episode everything she says is hilarious.  The blossoming kinship between these two former enemies is both funny and heartwarming.  Each scene between these formidable actresses is sparking with fire, humor, and talent. “Wars were waged with less fervor.”

At last, we see some the downstairs staff venturing into the working-class world outside of the Abbey.  In this episode, the kitchen girls help prepare Alfred to take a test for admittance to a culinary course in London.  “Is there anything I should know about London?” asks Steady Freddy.  “There’s a great deal, dearie,” answers Mrs. Patmore, shaking her head.  It’s adorable to see everyone from love-struck Daisy to stoic Carson encouraging this Alfred’s effort.  Spoiler – he doesn’t pass his test, but thank goodness because we will be treated to more cutie Daisy trying to win her man.

(Speaking of Steady Freddy, the Ivy/Jimmy exchange when she chastises Jimmy both for making fun of Alfred and not having any ambition is further proof that the Love Rectangle is the reincarnation of Carson’s Past.)

New-fangled gadgets and new-fangled people show up downstairs in the form of a refrigerator, sewing machine, and shady ladies maid.  At least this one is tied to already-evil Thomas and not trying to find the evil in sweet Tom.  After drooling over her American orange juice and declaring her undying love for a brand-new employee, Lady Grantham marches downstairs to bully Mrs. Patmore about the refrigerator.  When questioned about her unwillingness to accept any modern inventions, the wonderful cook confesses, “I would like to be rid of me corset.”  Love. Her.

Moving upstairs, Mary has tons of suitors and suitors who are bringing suitors!!  And the cutest purple top in the world!  AND, she’s snarking at Edith again!  Vintage Mary is back!!! After blotting a tear for Lord Crazy Boringham’s engagement announcement, she practically runs into the arms of her old beau Evelyn Napier.  I’ll say this for Evelyn: he has a much classier way of acknowledging Matthew’s death than her last suitor.  May we only hope that Mary doesn’t Pamuk Evelyn again when he brings his new buddy to the house next week.

Oh Edith.  Your man has gone AWOL and you’re sneaking off to the doctor’s office after your one-night stand.  Please please allot more time to this melodrama.  I can’t wait.

Also upstairs, we see the adorable children!  Mary doles out an extra ten minutes of her extraordinarily busy day to spend with her son, and looks to Tom for reassurance that the children are happy.  Whew.

Speaking of Tom… Tom, please don’t leave.  No one wants you to go.  Even Robert loves you, as evidenced by his confession that he will genuinely miss you and little Sybie.  Robert looked so much like Henry Higgins leaning on the mantlepiece and admitting in his staid English way that he cared, that I wanted him to break into song:

to the tune of “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face”

I’ve grown accustomed to his face,

He almost makes the day begin.

I’ve grown accustomed to his brogue, it’s becoming rather vogue.

The tails he wears to show he cares

Are second nature to me now.

Like breathing out and breathing in.

I was serenely aristocratic and content before we met.

Surely I could always be that way again, and yet.

I’ve grown accustomed to his rants, accustomed to his hats,

Accustomed to his face.

I’m very grateful he’s a plebeian and so easy to forget

Rather like a habit one can always break and yet

I’ve grown accustomed to the trace of the Irish in the air,

Accustomed to his face.

At the family luncheon, Lord Grantham stated “If we don’t respect the past, we’ll find it harder to build the future.”  This line seemed like the thesis for this episode.  Although TV shows must always move forward as art reflects life, watching Episode 4 reminded me of what I love about Downton Abbey.  We had lots of juicy zingers from the Dowager, fabulous clothes, suspense, heartache, romance, scenery, and the drama of family.  Even the luncheon scene was representative of respecting the past to build the future: we’ve never seen the family dining alone for this meal, but the repartee and feel of the scene brought us back to the heart of Downton.

Downton Abbey Episode 2


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Downton Abbey, Episode 2= Unnecessary Violence

Anna

Anna gets raped.  It’s tough to watch and not entertaining.  It felt like the exploitation of a very serious crime against women for shock value.  I’m not loving it.

Below is a link to Joanne Froggart explaining how she prepared for the scene and description of the moral high ground Julian Fellows believes he took in the filming of it:

http://www.express.co.uk/news/showbiz/435313/Joanne-Froggatt-defends-Downton-Abbey-rape-scene

She says, “Julian… was adamant that we wouldn’t depict that kind of violence against a woman on the screen and that’s something that he didn’t want in a show of his, that he’s a part of…”

Yes.  The actual penetration wasn’t shown, but we were treated to a sexual assault, beating, and a long clip of Anna’s screams as she is raped, which were cut cheesily with the aria. I don’t think this is the moral high ground.

The gentlemen over at tomandlorenzo.com wrote excellent review of this episode that I loved:

http://tomandlorenzo.com/2014/01/downton-abbey-the-horrible-hard-to-watch-one/

They discuss how Anna’s character was completely morphed to add drama the rape scene.  Anna, a reserved, proper, soul was inexplicably flirty-McFlirtyton with a man not her husband for a solid hour.  A disturbing implication that “she asked for it,” haunted the episode, intentional or no.

Presenting rape in a moralizing fashion carries much responsibility.  Especially in light of the fact that the show’s writers and producers believe believe that “Julian’s written that in a way that is not gratuitous at all… He’s done a beautiful job of hitting the right note with it.”   Obviously, I’ve not seen the rest of the season and do not know where this storyline will go.  In my opinion, the only way Julian will “hit the right note” is if this agonizing storyline includes the victim receiving mental and physical intervention, the victim or someone else speaking out against the crime, and punishment for the attacker.

I understand that these were not common outcomes of rape in this time period, and I frankly don’t care.  Rape is not entertainment, and if Julian Fellows is going to moralize on it, he should empower his female characters and punish his victims.

It seems to me that the writers of Downton Abbey are beginning to use devastating traumas facing women as shock value bits cloaked in moralizing story-lines.  The shocking episode of last season was Sybil’s painful death in childbed.  Sybil’s Death was much like Anna is Raped.  A long, agonizing sequence with a woman screaming, writhing in pain, and the ultimate devastating trauma: death.  Another example of a female character victimized by men. (Her father and her father’s doctor).   The moral of Sybil’s Death storyline was that family must stick together at all costs.

Matthew’s death scene was cartoon-like compared to Sybil’s.  His suffering was shown with a quick, still shot of a car on top of his dead body.  We didn’t hear his screams, didn’t witness his bleeding, or experience any element what would’ve been a torturous death.

Why the difference between the suffering of men and women in the last several episodes?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that the use of very serious traumas for entertainment is not my favorite.

If this is the direction Downton Abbey is going, I will pack my bags for greener pastures.


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Downton Abbey Review: Season 4, Episode 1

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Oh Downton Abbey, how glad we all are to be back on your lush, imposing grounds for the fourth season.  We are without some of the beloved characters that shine light into the large corridors, and literally, without sunlight itself for the majority of the episode.  Subtle, Julian Fellows.  Verrrry subtle.

Of course last season’s untimely death of everyone’s favorite chap Matthew effects the entire estate, and we begin on a somber note:

The Mourners

Mary:  New mother, new widow, and first daughter of the family.  Mary is frozen, wraith-like, and terrifying.  The look she gave Edith on the stairs on Valentines Day with her cryptic intonation: “Have a happy time.” – Edith should’ve dissolved into dust right then and there.  And it’s heartbreaking to see how she’s weakened in the face of her increasingly asinine father, Lord Grantham.  He shuts down every attempt from anyone to engage her, and instructs her to rest.  When he speaks to her, any spark of light disappears as she retreats into her grief.

Isobel:  The Mourner-in-Chief title goes to Isobel Crawley, Matthew’s widowed mother.    Her grief-stricken face, the gentle, heartbroken stroke of Edith’s young, lively cheek, and the line “When your only child dies, you’re not a mother any more.  You’re not anything, really.”  Knife. To. The. Heart.  (And Emmy consideration please??)  I thought her saddest moment was when she left the Big House almost in tears because she was denied access to her grandson by Nanny West.  Which brings me to…

The Villains

Nanny West:  What a monstrous character.  What fantastic casting.  Her bilious threat to little baby Sybie:  “Go. To. Sleep. You dirty little halfbreed.”   I died a little inside.  Thank goodness Cora was eavesdropping and sacked her immediately.  Then like any grandmother worth her salt, The Countess of Grantham gathered her half-orphaned grand-babies in her arms, vowing to stay with them and protect them until the Evil Nanny had left the county.

…Wait, no – she sat on a chair without touching either child and calmly ordered Mrs. Hughes to find a maid to sleep in their room.  Not a specific maid who had shown kindness to or skill with the children, just any old maid who might or might not be as crazy as Nanny West.  I know this was how it was done in this time and in this culture, but I still think it’s astonishing.

I sort of love that it was Nanny West’s insulting treatment of Thomas that got her caught.  I wonder though, was her protest to Thomas’s touching Baby Sybie implying that she considered Thomas to be abhorrent, or did she just want to deny the poor chauffeur’s daughter any kind contact?  We’ll never know.  Onto the next villain…

Thomas:  I know he’s painted as the worst villain of them all, but I’m struggling to understand his motivation to antagonize the Bates’ this season.  If we remember from Season 3, Mr. Bates saved Thomas’s place at Downton by giving him the antidote to O’Brien’s venom: “Her ladyship’s soap.”  This intervention did not only save Thomas’s job, but actually resulted in his promotion to Under-Butler, a position higher than Mr. Bates, who serves as valet to Lord Grantham.  And Thomas and Anna Bates enjoyed a bonding moment when Anna comforted him after the death of Lady Sybil.  Thomas and Mr. Bates are not best buds, but these slight reconciliations make it hard to believe that he would throw saintly Anna under the bus to save the new ladies maid, Braithwaite.  (Can we please re-name her Jones or something?)  And while we’re on the subject of ladies maids…

O’Brien:  I love that snarky, unhappy O’Brien ran off for an Indian adventure with snarky, unhappy Lady Susan Flincher.  That was a perfect exit and I loved it.  In other news, Shrimpy is screwed.

The Heroes

Tom Branson:  Oh endearing Tom.  My favorite scene in the episode is him grinning and leaning on the open car door to “chauffeur” Mary around the estate.  Mary hesitantly steps outside the great house into the sunlight to meet her brother-in-law, after being coaxed back to life by everyone in the house except her own parents.  I am really enjoying the Tom/Mary alliance, which is encouraged by everyone’s favorite character…

The Dowager Countess:  Her scene lifting Mary back to life was excellent, and the tea party for Tom and Mary was wonderful.  My favorite moment of the episode was when the Dowager suggested Tom teach Mary about the workings of the Estate, something she herself obviously has no clue about: “Take her around, show her the live… er, the livestock.”

Other Moments

Lady Grantham’s reaction to Thomas’s lie regarding Anna’s blouse destruction and supposed spite towards Braithwaite.  (Wow, what a soap opera!)  The way she backs out of the room with her mouth hanging open makes me want to cast her in The Real Housewives of Ripon.

Daisy, Mrs. Patmore, and Valentine’s Day cards.  The kindness of Mrs. Patmore sending a card to Daisy, and the grace with which little Daisy received the news that her card was from a “friend” rather than a “follower” before she runs from the room was too sweet.

Rose – Ugh, please do not follow up on this Rose-Dates-A-Farmer business.  We’ve already explored the Love Transcends The Class Divide trope beautifully for 3 seasons with Tom Branson and Lady Sybil.  Let’s not cheapen it with Cute Rich Girl in a Maid’s Costume.

Edith – The downtrodden daughter is running off with an adulterous, coffee-making, Nazi-to-be.  This should be great.  At least she has a fabulous peacock dress.

Carson – Glad to know Carson has a past and a love-life, but even gladder that he talked back to his favorite “child” Mary when she sassed him, and then embraced her like the loving father-figure he is when she needed him.

Looking forward to tomorrow’s episode which I will be live-tweeting.  My twitter handle is @katyroo44.  It’s debatable whether I will be able to get past one tweet editing my thoughts down to 140 characters… we shall see.

If you just can’t wait for Episode 2 and need a Downton fix, check out Jimmy Fallon’s parody episodes, called Downton Sixbey.  Hilarious!!

Late Night with Jimmy Fallon: Downton Sixbey, Episode 1

What was your favorite moment of Episode 1?  What didn’t you like?