Downton Abbey: series 2 episode 3

downton-abbey-season-2-3-episode-3-cora-isobel-robert

SPOILER WARNING: Plot points will be revealed in this episode-by-episode discussion of ITV period drama Downton Abbey.

Written by Julian Fellowes. Directed by Andy Goddard. Originally broadcast: 2 October 2011, ITV.

Downton Abbey has been converted into a convalescence home for wounded soldiers, but a number of people are nervous about the new arrangement… Also, Anna spies Bates in the village, Branson’s rebellious plans hit a setback, Thomas gets a new job, and Mary learns some information about love rival Lavinia…

When is it set? No earlier than August 1917.

Where is it set? The house. The village. Lady Rosamund’s house in London. The Dowager’s house. The Red Lion pub in Kirkbymoorside.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Major Bryant (Daniel Pirrie) is an injured officer staying at Downton now that the house is a rest home. Maid Ethel takes a shine to him and flirts. At one point, she tucks her new friend’s blanket in. “I may need some more tucking soon,” he says suggestively. “Well, no one tucks better than I do,” she replies, getting the pun.
* Captain Smiley (Tom Feary-Campbell) is another injured serviceman. He’s lost his left hand, so can’t write to his mother to tell her. He asks Edith to write the letter for him.
* General Sir Herbert Strutt (Julian Wadham) is Matthew’s superior. He comes to inspect the new hospital.

Best bits:
* The glee that Barrow takes from being the manager of Downton and therefore being able to lord it over Carson.
* The arrival of the first batch of wounded is done in a 68-second Steadicam shot, which starts in the hall, leads Robert, Cora, Sybil and Edith outside, circles around many extras unloading from a truck, follows Sybil back inside, finds Barrow helping a wounded officer and ends on Mary walking into the room.
* Anna tracks Bates down at the pub where he’s now working. Their romance has a likeable Brief Encounter vibe.

Worst bits:
* Matthew shows up at the house unexpectedly. For someone fighting the Hun, he doesn’t half make it home to rural Yorkshire a lot.
* Noted firebrand Branson, who’s already in a bad mood after one plan to cause a scene has failed, is told that Matthew is bringing a famous general to the house. O’Brien asks why he’s interested in the information. The camera actually tracks in like Branson’s a bad guy in a Bond film. “No reason,” he says, almost twirling his moustache.
* Matthew says he’s just lost his soldier servant and can’t find a replacement… on the very weekend that newly enlisted William has popped home for a visit. Hashtag Downton Abbey plotting!

Real history:
* Branson tells the other servants the news from Russia: Alexander Kerensky (1881-1970) has been made Prime Minster (this happened on 21 July 1917). Additionally, Tzar Nicholas II (1868-1918) and his family have been imprisoned (this happened from August 1917), but Bolshie Branson is certain they won’t be harmed.
* Branson says he lost a cousin in the Easter Rising “last year” – the Irish rebellion against the British occurred in April 1916. The cousin was walking down North King Street when an English soldier shot him, he said, “because he was probably a rebel”.
* It turns out Lavinia was a key source in the 1912 Marconi-share scandal, which involved Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd-George (1863-1945) and others. She gave secrets about her dodgy uncle to newspaper baron Sir Richard Carlisle, as a way of getting her father out of a large debt.

Upstairs, Downton: Worth mentioning is the BBC revival of Upstairs, Downstairs that ran concurrently with Downton Abbey. A three-part miniseries started on Boxing Day 2010, just six weeks after Downton Abbey’s first season had concluded. Six more episodes were then shown in early 2012 (ie, between Downton’s second and third seasons).Both shows being made around the same time led to some minor bad blood, with Jean Marsh (who co-created the 1970s Updown and played Rose Buck in both versions) suggesting that Downton Abbey was rushed into production as a spoiler series. If so, the plan worked. Updown didn’t return after its second block.

Maggie Smithism of the week: Violet is happy that former footman Thomas Barrow will be put in charge of running the house now it’s also a hospital. “Why?” asks a jealous Isobel, who wanted the job herself. “Are you planning to divide his loyalties?” Violet: “I wouldn’t say I was planning it.”

Mary’s men: A busy week for Lady M. She writes to beau Sir Richard on behalf of Anna, who needs help finding Mr Bates. She then has a chat with Matthew when he shows up. And her old friend Evelyn Napier is in hospital elsewhere and asks Mary to get him into Downton. (Dr Clarkson and Isobel object to such favourtism, which royally pisses Robert off because it’s his house after all.) Later, Mary says to her grandmother that there’s no point chasing Matthew any more because, even if he were to ditch Lavinia, there’s no guarantee he’d propose to Mary. Violet asks if they can perhaps take their fences one at a time. Mary inititally plans to tell Matthew about Lavinia selling secrets to the press, but then finds out she was doing it for noble reasons.

Doggie! It’s seen as the house is converted into a hospital. Later, Isobel asks Robert what they should do to stop Isis (yay! The dog finally has a name!) bothering the patients. “Absolutely nothing,” says an irritated Robert.

Review: More change. People both upstairs and down are unsure how the new situation in the house will work, and this causes plenty of entertaining rows and tension. On the downside, Mr Lang’s subplot doesn’t make much impression, perhaps because we didn’t know him before the war. But the Isobel-Cora rivalry is fun.

Next episode…

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