Downton Abbey — S2 Ep1

The Somme, 1916.

Wait a second.  1916?!  Wasn’t it just August, 1914?  Well, time has marched on since we last looked in upon the denizens of Downton Abbey, and oh what change it has brought.

The first of these changes becomes quite apparent, when we see Matthew Crawley face down in the trenches, caked in dirt and barely dodging gunfire.  Everyone’s favorite third cousin once removed has gone to war, although right off we learn that there’s been some relief called in and he has a few days of leave coming to him.  Instead of traipsing off to the Isle of Wight or something (did people traipse off to the Isle of Wight in 1916?), he’s going back to Downton Abbey.  After all, there’s a girl he wants to see.

After the credits roll, it’s back to Downton for us as well, where we get bowled over by a lot of information very quickly.  Bear with me while I try to hit all the important points.

Promotional photo of Ethel, the new maid at Downton Abbey.

First off: Gwen is nowhere to be found, replaced by a similarly ginger-haired new maid, Ethel.  Anna’s busy explaining to Ethel how to fluff the pillows and such, while Ethel squawks at the presumption that she doesn’t know how to run a house.

There’s a huge banner up in the great room which would seem to indicate that a fundraising concert is being held at Downton to support the Hospital (and thus the troops), so it’s no wonder that everyone’s bustling around even faster than usual.  Bates is in London for the funeral of his mother.  And though Robert is given a snazzy new uniform to wear, he’s not really back in the Army.  He seems resigned but frustrated by this.  Of course, almost immediately Robert gets a letter inviting him to be Colonel of the North Riding Volunteers, which convinces him that this means that he’s back in the Army properly (though I’m not sure why, as the word “volunteer” seems pretty prominent . . . ).  Huzzah?

Also at the breakfast table, Sybil gets some bad news, although we don’t know what kind as she simply excuses herself from the table in tears.  Oh, and it would seem that Edith is being given driving lessons by Branson. Huh.

From the kitchen conversation, we learn that William really really really wants to enlist, but his father’s request for him not to (he’s all daddy has left) keeps him from doing so.  He is extra perturbed that Thomas is on the front, in the medical core.

Back upstairs once again, the Dowager Countess has arrived.  “War makes early risers of us all,” she declares. “I thought I would help with the flowers!”  Help, criticize. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to!

Violet makes her way into the drawing room, interrupting a conversation between Ethel and Anna regarding how everyone around Downton speaks of Bates like a King.  The times have most certainly changed! A sidenote: Maggie Smith is pitch perfect (uh, as always) in this scene.  She fusses about with the flower arrangements, muttering about them looking like creatures from the lost world. El oh el.

Violet’s still there in the drawing room to listen in when Isobel sits Robert and Cora down to deliver some news: Matthew is engaged, to a Miss Lavinia Swire.  He will be bringing her by to meet the family and staying for a few evenings before returning to the war.  While they all had once hoped that Matthew and Mary would put aside their differences (code for “just screw already”), it would seem that if that’s not to be the case, the two better buck up and play nice so that they stop torturing everyone around them with their “will they or won’t they”.  It won’t be an utter disaster when Mary returns from London to find out that she’s seeing Matthew and his soon-to-be-bride that evening at all!  Meanwhile, Violet’s just glad that Matthew and Mary aren’t both traveling back to Downton by train, and won’t run into each other there on the platform.  She hates Greek drama, see, where all the fun stuff happens offstage.  So do we, Violet.  So do we.

If that weren’t looming disaster enough, Isobel runs into still-upset Sybil in the parlor as she’s leaving, and learns that another boy from town has been killed.  She laments that it seems that every boy she ever once danced with is now gone, and that she wishes that she could do much more than just fundraising — have a proper job to help.  This prompts an invitation from Isobel to try to get her into a nurse’s training course in York, which O’Brien overhears (and goes running immediately to blab to Cora about). Naturally.  It should be noted that Jessica Brown-Findlay is just magnificent here — managing to convey the passage of time much more convincingly than a subtitle did, with Sybil’s growing maturity somehow subtle and yet so very obvious at the same time.

There’s a nice scene here down in the servant’s dining room, where Ethel makes it clear that she’s happy for the job and all, but this isn’t exactly the last stop on her list in her own mind.  She wants the best, and she’s not afraid to admit it.  She’s also not afraid of O’Brien, as she makes a crack about how at O’Brien’s age it’s hard to change.  O’Brien’s expression is priceless, and just like that, Ethel’s made her first real enemy.

1 2 3 4 5 6