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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The momentum established in episode one of Downton's third season
continues to pick up steam in episode two, as the estate's future seems
more uncertain than ever and woes aplenty are suffered upstairs and
Robert, Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) is a good and honorable man, but most assuredly not a man of business, and his estate, without a massive injection of cash, is destined to be lost. Matthew, heir to an unexpected fortune but himself a man of honor, believes that he must forgo the money, even though it might be Downton's salvation. Thus, the ever- beautiful Lady Mary, she of the subtle barb and the alabaster skin (Michelle Dockery), connives with her Grandmamma Violet, the Dowager Countess, she of the none-too-subtle barb and the wrinkled skin (Maggie Smith), to convince Cora's American mother to use the vast Levinson fortune in aide of Downton yet a second time. They make nice over tea and cakes. They slip comments about the importance of such estates into their conversation. Most of all, they plan an extravagant dinner party as a means of overwhelming the rich old heiress with the unbridled splendor of the whole thing. No scheme could be more naive or more mistaken. Feathers sprouting, emeralds dripping, opinions flowing, Martha Levinson (the monumental Shirley MacLaine) is not so easily taken in. Nor will Cora go along, stating that her family is not responsible for Downton's troubles, that they shouldn't have to keep bailing it out, and that there is absolutely nothing wrong with downsizing and living more sensibly.
To complicate matters, everything about the planned dinner falls apart. Sartorial mishaps and conspiracies force both Matthew and Robert to wear black tie and dinner jackets instead of white tie and tails (Robert says he feels like a Chicago bootlegger). Worst of all, the kitchen stove breaks downno surprise to Daisy, who has been warning them all week, to no avail, that something is wrong. With the prospect of no food, the denizens of Downton stand thwarted and befuddled. Should they just give up and send everyone home? Martha Levinson to the rescue, if not with money, then at least with quick thinking! She orders cold meats, fruit, cheese, salads, whatever, to be laid out in the dining room, where guests will help themselves to a buffet dinner and then take their plates wherever they would like in the house to enjoy an indoor picnic. Isobel and Cora declare their support, Violet her horror, and the fun begins. Downstairs, everyone pitches in to help the kitchen staff, housemaids slicing and valets chopping. Upstairs, the guests are faced with something new and strange, a world turned upside down, and, behold, they end up enjoying themselves (one old bat declares she feels like one of those bright young people one reads about in newspapers)! The night ends with Martha serenading the guests, especially the unhappy Violet, with a saucy rendition of "Let Me Call You Sweetheart." Revolution has taken Downton!
All is not picnics in the drawing room, however, and the most important of the episode's subplots involves housekeeper Mrs. Hughes's discovery of a lump in her breast. Supportive, if not always saying exactly the right things in the right way, Mrs. Patmore stands by her as she begins the medical tests that will determine if she has cancer. Mrs. Hughes, as footman William once pointed out, is the true heart of the house; her loss would be unbearable. Mr. Bates is still in prison, roughing up his cell mate to remind him that he's bunking with a murderer (what did he really mean by that, we wonder). Always energetic Isobel, in full Eleanor Roosevelt mode, is out doing charitable work, this time for wayward women, which brings her into contact with former Downton maid Ethel, now walking the streets for her survival. Thomas is still scheming, but this time O'Brien is scheming right back at him (it's like watching Hitler turn on Stalin)!
And then there is the storyline that all good Romantics must love best, the burgeoning love of Lady Edith and Sir Anthony, the frustrated, plain sister and the one-armed, older gentleman. One grandmother, Violet, tried to wreck the whole thing (is she just contrary for the sake of being contrary?), but another grandmother, Martha, came to the rescue, saying bluntly and poignantly to Robert, "Your daughter is sad and lonely." It is as if she had said, "What is wrong with you people? Why are you so determined to remain stuck? Do you want to be unhappy?" In any event, every indication points to a third wedding (with the oddest assortment of brothers-in-law in the annals of storytelling).
Julian Fellowes and Downton Abbey have been criticized for sugar coating the upstairs/downstairs world of the English social structure, which was in many ways not very nice. There is some truth in that criticism, but who, after all, really wants to watch week after week a completely realistic depiction of people living and working in drudgery? What is apparent, and was also apparent in Gosford Park (and you have absolutely no business watching Downton Abbey if you have not seen Gosford Park), is that, though Fellowes comes from the world of the aristocracy and though he understands it and has some sympathy for it, he's not really, in the end, on their side. He seems to have much more admiration for the characters who are aiding progress, or who are at least willing to go along with it. They are the future, and it would appear that season three belongs to them.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Only winning supporting actress for Maggie Smith last night the show is
still airing new episodes in the UK. Back from the wedding with a new
car. It seems like MacLaine has made her nest and it seems Smith is not
feeling the inclusion of her in family dinner all the time. It seems
everyone knows of the money problems Downton is facing except for
Cora's mother. Finally with the marriage happened the romantic pair of
the family can sleep in a bed together with Anna interrupting their
happy time. Violet comes up with an idea to how Mary can get her other
grand mother to help keep Downton up and running. It seems they are
setting up something to do with cancer with Mrs. Hughes. Violet's plan
to keep Downton up comes out as predictable and she is found out from
how she is so trying to get what she wants. To impress American granny
they must plan a dinner to make all other dinners so they can get the
funding they need. Thomas is still he's mean old self and now he has
gotten Thomas a new foots man because he always wants to be the best.
Mary seems to want to keep Downton running because she really takes
after her grandmother. Robert really does not like Edith because he
cannot be happy with the man she loves, but Granny here to the rescue
showing how much the Americans can be more acceptable of things like
this. Dinner starts and there is no dinner, also people have been
robbed but to save the night it is American Granny who has come up with
an idea, and for once we get Violet giving the line of the night "I
thought you were a waiter" to her son Robert. We also get the rare
moment to hear Shirley sing a song getting the whole house to sing even
singing her final line to Smith showing these two women can be friends
from different cultures. Unfortunately America cannot help the British
but they give them some advice saying to let Downton go. One short
scene with Robert and Martha who seem to be the two characters that
spent the least amount of time together. Nice episode tonight because I
felt all the actors were great especially MacLaine who was better this
time around. Also recent Emmy winner Maggie Smith had a lot more screen
time with more one liners and showing all the young actors on this show
how to do it.
EPISODE GRADE: A- (MVP: Shirley MacLaine)
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