'Downton Abbey' Season 2, Episode 1 Recap
When we last left our favorite British period drama, things in both Downton and the outside world were on the precipice of disaster. Mary and Matthew broke up once he thought she only wanted him for his title. Cora lost her baby thanks to a little help from O’Brien and some soap. Edith’s chances with the nerdy Sir Anthony Strallan were ruined. And Mr. Bates’ marriage was complicating his blossoming love with Anna. Oh, also there was that little matter of the country going to war.
PBS aired the first two episodes of “Downton Abbey”’s second season back to back, so here’s the recap for part one.
It’s fitting that season two begins right in the middle of war itself, as World War 1 rages around Cousin Matthew. “War has a way of distinguishing between the things that matter and the things that don’t,” he tells Thomas. That sums up pretty neatly the feeling of the first outing of Downton’s second season. War has put the idle lives of the Crawley family into sharp relief and everyone is feeling the repercussions.
War has changed a lot of things for the lives of Downton’s main family. Matthew’s off fighting, with only limited leaves to come home and visit. Lord Grantham is hoping to go back into the field and be useful. But a dinner with some fellow old war fogeys puts him back in his place, reminding him he’ll be nothing more than a figure-head in this battle.
Sybil is feeling at a loss for what to do as well. “It feels like every man I’ve ever danced with is dead,” she tearfully confessed to Cousin Isobel. This is when Isobel, always the forward thinking lady, suggests that Sybil go to nursing school. Sybil, the show’s resident feminist, is all over being actually useful instead of selling programs and planning concerts. But first she has to learn some hard facts of life. Like how to boil water and make a cake. Sybil can barely even turn on a faucet, which is awesome. I’d love a life where I could legitimately wonder “oh shit, how does tea even work?”
O’Brien, as usual, stirs up trouble by telling Cora about Sybil’s nursing dreams. Everyone in the family is shocked by Sybil wanting to become a nurse. Except, oddly enough, for the Dowager Countess who is all “this is war, yo. Recognize.” Cora finally relents when Carson takes her downstairs to see Sybil baking a cake, hoping Cora will put a stop to this madness. Carson’s snobbishness and rigid class system is hilarious, insane and oddly endearing. I mean Carson was acting like Sybil was cooking meth, not a cake.
Meanwhile, Edith is learning to drive from Branson. When not driving, she’s still being a sort of terrible person by making William feel bad about being unable to enlist. Keep being classy Edith.
And what’s going on with the most important upstairs character on Downton Abbey? Well the Dowager Countess is busy wearing giant feathered hats and rearranging flowers like a boss. She’s also convinced the resident doctor to write to the war office to get butler Molesley and footman William out of duty. When Cousin Isobel finds out she ruins all Violet’s good work, although Molesley squeaks by.
As always things were just as dramatic downstairs, only with less gorgeous dresses. Most of the drama came courtesy of love birds Anna and Mr. Bates. After the death of Mr. Bates’ mother, he’s come into a little bit of cash money. He plans to use the money to buy off his wife Vera and finally make an honest woman of Anna. They smile and kiss and imagine the wonderful future together when they’ll own their own bed and breakfast and have a gaggle of baby maids and valets. It’s adorable. “Oh they’re so happy!” I think to myself. “There’s no way anything terrible will happen to them now!”
Unfortunately, the former Mrs. Bates can feel Mr. Bates happiness like it’s some kind of giant emotional bat signal that she must come to crush. By the way Vera is played by the lovely Maria Doyle Kennedy who previously played Catherine of Aragon on “The Tudors” which means she has somehow found herself typecast as the woman who refuses to be divorced.
Anyway, Vera threatens to leak the death by sexytimes suffered by Mary’s Turkish diplomat and Bates puts in his letter of resignation. Lord Grantham is angry but thankfully Mrs. Hughes has learned some stuff from working with professional over-hearer O’Brien and spies on Bates’ meeting. So Carson tells Lord Grantham about Bates’ honorable sacrifice for the family and Lord Grantham feels bad for being so mean.
In other corners of the house, William is bummed because he got a white coward feather and his father doesn’t want him to enlist in the military. Daisy cheers him up by giving him a kiss and his face immediately gets that crazy stalker look like most of the characters in “Twilight”. This is the moment Daisy should start writing a ye olde version of “She’s Just Not That Into You” for William.
Speaking of not being that into someone, Branson is all up in Sybil’s grill about his feelings for her. He just wants Sybil to run away with him and leave behind her family but Sybil isn’t ready yet. But Branson doesn’t seem like a quitter so I’m guessing their story is far from over.
Unsurprisingly Thomas is finding war a lot less fun than accusing other people of stealing in a giant mansion. Always the schemer, he purposely wounds himself in the hand in order to get sent back from the front.
The Mary and Matthew of it All
While we love all the characters of “Downton Abbey” equally, it’s impossible to pretend that the romance between Matthew and Mary isn’t a big part of the charm of the series. So what’s going on with these two idiots/star-crossed lovers?
Well Matthew has gone and gotten himself engaged to a tiny slip of a girl named Lavinia Swire who seems sweet and mousey. So basically he found the anti-Mary. After hearing about Matthew’s engagement Mary has a good cry with Anna by her side and then collects herself together. I mean, she’s Mary Crawley, she doesn’t have time for emotions. She immediately invites a Sir Richard Caryle, some sort of newspaperman that causes half the family to get that “oh god, non-gentry!” look on their faces.
But it’s not all bad news on the Matthew and Mary front. As Matthew leaves to go back to the war, Mary meets him at the train platform. She gives him her lucky stuffed animal, which he seems to carry with him at all times now. Maybe someone isn’t as over a certain elitist ice queen as he seems?
Best Maggie Smith Lines
Watch even a few seconds of “Downton Abbey”, and it’s pretty clear that Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess gets all the best lines. Here are some of her gems from season two’s premiere:
- “Oh that’s a relief. I hate Greek drama, you know when everything happens off stage.” – Her reaction to finding out Mary and Matthew won’t be meeting on the train but instead at Downton.
- “I’m afraid meeting us all together must be very intimidating,” Cora says of Lavinia’s entrance.
“I do hope so.”
- “Why don’t I drive you?” Edith asks Sybil, on her way to nursing school.
“She’s taking enough changes with her life as it is.”
Watch out for part 2 of the recap but until then: What did you think of the season two premiere of “Downton Abbey”? Will Matthew and Mary ever get back together? Is Mr. Bates gone for good? Sound off in the comments!