Downton Abbey: Series 2, Episode 8.

This week’s final episode of Downton Abbey’s series 2 was jam packed with plot resolution, angst, longing gazes and ashen faces.

Downton is abuzz with preparations for Matthew and what’s her name’s wedding. Matthew is still expressing frustration with his injury and Lady Mary can barely tolerate what’s her name’s presence, echoing this reviewer’s feelings. Lady Sybil is being pressured by Tom to make a decision because he obtained a job at a newspaper in Dublin. Lady Mary remarks snidely, “Married to the chauffeur?” Apparently the sisters have not yet told their mother and father about Lady Sybil’s dalliance with Tom, probably spelling trouble (and drama) for them down the road.


Ne’er-do-well Thomas is in a hard spot because of the disaster with his investment in the black market. Carson tells him he is trespassing on their good will but, as the audience is well aware, it is often difficult to shake a good villain. Tom the chauffeur shows up in a suit and he and Sybil are about to drop the bomb on the whole family assembled. The Dowager Countess is of course wary, as anyone would be given Tom’s intense facial expression. Cora’s face is the embodiment of horror. It’s always nice having Cora around for those unexpected moments of American snobbishness, which is of a breed entirely different than her English family’s. Lord Grantham does not want his daughter to ‘throw away her life’ and Lady Sybil tells him that she cares not for money. Further, she cannot be locked away like a caged animal for the rest of her life.


Class differences and the arbitrary divisions between the various worlds is one of the many focal points of the show so this reaction is expected. Lord Grantham’s continuing solution to every problem being to throw money at it either reveals an impotence on his part or a misunderstanding of the changes taking place around him. The butler Carson is also having none of this Sybil and Tom affair, reacting just as horridly as the family did to the idea.


“I used to think Mary’s beau was a misalliance but compared to this he’s practically a Hapsburg.” The Dowager Countess on Lady Sybil’s potential engagement to Tom.


Lord Grantham threatens that Sybil will be cut off from any more money, a threat which has no effective power over her as she’s stated many times in the past if he were not so daft. Or maybe Lord Grantham cannot imagine a worldview in which money does not play a central role? Again Mr. Carson’s health is acting up, either indicating some serious underlying illness or another dramatic plot turn, likely the later. Lady Cora is also showing signs of illness like Mr. Carson, indicating it may be a plot point. Mr. Moseley, although he’s also been seen throwing back a few so who knows, is also having symptoms of illness and simultaneously Cora begins to feel ill at the dinner table.


Anna tells Mr. Bates that the two of them are getting married but Bates has apprehensions  given the drama surrounding Mrs. Bates’ death. The two of them need to just get on with it lest we lose interest entirely in their treading water. Mrs. Crawley and Lord Grantham are discussing the Spanish flu and how it is spreading through Yorkshire, then Livinia or whatever her name is also falls ill at the dinner table. So, it seems everyone will, conveniently and presciently it seems on Lord Grantham’s part, now have the Spanish flu. At this point, we can assume a plague is moving through Downton.


“Wasn’t there a masked ball in Paris when cholera broke out half the guests were dead before they left the ballroom?” to which Lord Grantham replies, “Thank you Mama, that has cheered us up to no end.”


Maybe this plague will end up killing Lividia or whatever her name is because we all knew that was coming to make way for Lady Mary. Now that everyone is falling ill, Mary and Matthew have some time to themselves with the newly arrived gramophone providing diagetic music proper to the period. Now comes the confession from Matthew that he’s sorry about God only knows what. While Livinia is upstairs convalescing Matthew makes his move on Lady Mary, only to be interrupted by Livinia, who had to have seen that interchange. Moseley does not have Spanish flu, he’s just drunk according to Dr. Clarkson, whose diagnoses are not always the most air tight since he also predicted Matthew would never walk again.


The maid Jane and Lord Grantham are going to run off and have an illicit affair. His getting her son into that grammar school sealed the deal with regard to that. Bates interrupts Lord Grantham’s interlude after which Lord Grantham begins to doubt himself and what he’s doing. Mrs. O’Brien, showing a lot of humanity and emotion in this episode, is nursing Lady Cora who is particularly ill with the Spanish flu. Lord Grantham offers Tom money to forego his marriage to Lady Sybil but, of course, Tom does not want money either, again highlighting how ineffective Lord Grantham’s universal salve really is. Really, though, Tom has been quite a flat character up until recently so, having not previously formed an opinion one way or the other, it is difficult to root for him but at the same time modern sensibilities dictate the audience cheer the romance forward.


Due to Livinia’s illness the wedding has to be postponed, a real disappointment since everyone wants to see them together right? Cora’s condition has worsened and she looks like death so at least the makeup department is recompensing for the amateurish presentation of Patrick Gordon a few episodes back. Mr. Bryant returns to Downton to continue his boorish behavior. Mr. Bryant wants to take baby Charley away from Ethel and cut her out of the baby’s life entirely so that he is raised properly rather than as a bastard. If they could include a non sequitur in the series in which we see some horrible end befalls Mr. Bryant this audience member would be ecstatic.


Livinia reveals to Matthew to that she overheard what he said to Lady Mary and that he kissed her. Livinia then expresses her doubts about their getting married and she does not want to stand in Matthew and Lady Mary’s way. Livinia says she has had these doubts for quite some time. Daisy is still struggling over how she feels about her marriage to William after she is requested by William’s father to visit him at William’s family farm. Here’s my problem with Daisy’s moral dilemma: grow up Daisy. William was dying and probably knew you did not love him anyway. What she did was kind but it sullied by her moping and self-righteous approach to the entire thing. The conundrum is solved simply by not accepting the pension money, acting respectfully and dutifully with regard to William’s father and just get over yourself.


Cora’s condition has deteriorated and if she lasts through the night Dr. Clarkson predicts she will live but, again, his diagnoses are to be taken with a grain of salt. Lady Mary and Carson are reconciled and he thanks her for her concern. Their relationship is definitely one of a charming grandfather-granddaughter dynamic. Livinia’s condition has suddenly eclipsed Cora’s in seriousness, leading to a fulfillment of the plot point prediction earlier. Livinia’s death, while not unexpected, is nonetheless tragic. She was a good sport while she was around Downton but now that that plot snare has been cleared away, conveniently, the Matthew and Mary drama can move forward with likely complications from Sir Richard now.


Matthew’s such a wreck in terms of his inability to decide what he’s about and why the sudden ashen face with ice cold eyes? Someone needs to relent with the white powder in the makeup department. It was understandable while people were ill with the Spanish flu but to make Matthew’s face pale as parchment to convey his inner grief is a tad much. Cora has recovered from her  illness because God knows we cannot rid ourselves of her. Ethel has decided to keep her baby in a sudden surge of self-empowerment which has been heretofore lacking. Bates and Anna are civilly wedded, bringing to a conclusion and ultimate satisfaction their mutual feelings for each other. Lord Grantham’s love interest in the form of the maid Jane has decided to leave Downton Abbey so as to avoid further awkwardness between them. Lord Grantham responds to this an offer to help her son Freddie in the future. “I have no right to be unhappy, which is almost the same,” Lord Grantham responds to Jane’s question asking him if he is happy. The emotions exhibited in this scene really do not have any basis in reality and drip with so much contrived sap it is hard not to notice.


Lady Mary has prepared a honeymoon suite for Anna and Bates, once agso ain showing signs of life beneath her otherwise icy exterior. Everyone turns out for Livinia’s funeral, house staff included, which seems more than a little odd. Were Mrs. Hughes and Livinia really close? Surely her and Carson would take shots while Matthew was off vacillating between loving Mary and some other ill-conceived platitude of his. Thomas is officially back on board with the Downton staff because such a delightful villain cannot be allowed to go so easily.


Matthew is being a drama queen, claiming that Livinia died of a broken heart and that Matthew and Lady Mary killed her because they are cursed. At this point I would give up if I were Lady Mary, he’s hormonal and half insane. Really though this plot needs ultimate resolution if the show is to move on to better things. Truly I hope Lady Sybil does not leave the show. Lord Grantham reconciles himself to Sybil’s leaving with Tom Branson the chauffeur, redeeming him and his snobbery but not rectifying his eternal desire to solve everything with money. This episode has been sorely lacking in appearances from the Dowager Countess who really helps breath new life into some of the more plodding entries, as exampled by when she tells Lord Grantham about the various things they can do to minimize the scandal of Sybil’s marrying Tom. Setting up what is sure to be a focal point of action for series three, Bates is arrested at the conclusion of the second series leaving Anna alone to deal with the scandal, pouting with her ashen face as the cops lead Bates away. Why the heavy handed powder in this episode? I apologize for continually reiterating that but it is to the point of sheer ridiculousness this far into the episode. Everyone looks like they have Spanish flu perpetually in this episode, it makes no sense. A worthwhile conclusion, however, to a great season that has been filled with some ridiculous contrivances but has nonetheless succeeded in concluding and setting up plot threads with aplomb. Indeed, the recently announced third series cannot come soon enough.