downton abbey series 2: more thoughts. and the clothes! (no spoilers beyond episode 3)

ok, i’ve calmed down a bit now.  when i did my series 2 marathon over the winter holidays, my immediate reaction was:

  • that was AWESOME.
  • it’s sort of like if gossip girl was happening during WWI and in england instead of on the upper east side…
  • anyone who thought this was more melodramatic than season 1 is silly.  (only in my head i used a much stronger word) i mean, really.  forget the dead turkish diplomat.  remember The Soap?
  • i hate ethel

i don't usually think women in TV shows who get knocked up after a one night stand deserve what they get, but ethel brought me pretty close to the precipice...

i sat down this past weekend intending to watch episode 1 again in the hopes of sharing some thoughts with my friends here on the interwebs, but it was late, and we had the closest thing to a blizzard here in NYC since halloween, and it was a perfect night to get carried away with a good soap opera.  so 3:30 sunday morning found me turning off the TV after re-watching the christmas special.  this time, my thoughts were:

  • that was AWESOME
  • it *really* is sort of like gossip girl in WW1 england…only, is lady mary more of a serena or a blair?
  • wow, cora is a bit wildly inconsistent…and lord grantham! what, exactly, were you expecting to accomplish?
  • branson got HOT.  and also, way more pushy and annoying
  • will “the only boy” ever not be stuck in my head?
  • the trench scenes are AWFUL
  • i still hate ethel

so today i’m reading some of my favorite sites for reviews.  (i lifted my private embargo after watching it again)  may i recommend the Slate TV Club?  and the indispensable tom and lorenzo?  and what i am finding is that i guess i was way more forgiving of seeming mis-characterizations than a lot of tv critics and other watchers seem to be.  for instance, TLo have this to say about cousin isobel’s feud with cora in episode 3:

“When we look at the Isobel of S1 we simply can’t picture her running around the house, barking orders at both the staff AND the family, and getting into shouting matches with Cora. It simply doesn’t ring true in any way to us. “

meanwhile, in my notes–yes, because i actually took notes while i was watching–i had written:

i feel that the character’s motivation is coming from her lack of control over the matthew situation. and, like anyone might, she is overreacting to other things by attempting to assert control….there is something subtle and sad that has changed in isobel’s character that fits very well. like she’s constantly trying to stave off despair and tears. and, as ever, she’s always ready to find a way to “be useful” and try and impose her own version of control. it’s the only thing that makes it understandable, the self-righteousness with which she gets molsely and william cleared for service. what must it be like to have your own son over there while others’ are spared? and not even for what she would see as a legitimate reason?

so clearly i am just approaching it differently, protected by my love for good soap (but not The Soap) and my knowledge of how it ends and how satisfying i found the end to be.

meanwhile, my initial response to the marital relations of lord grantham and lady grantham were more forgiving than most reviewers would offer:

i think the series conveys very effectively how at a loss lord grantham is by all of the changes. he’s a man who wants to be useful and the country doesn’t want him and the women in his life are finding their own ways.

today, they rather more on a par with the slate review i read this morning.

Last year I adored Lady Cora. I loved the way Elizabeth McGovern balanced can-do American optimism (we must find a way to smash the entail so Mary can inherit the pile of bricks my fortune rescued) and offended disappointment (OK, we can’t get around the stupid legalities, but let’s figure out a sneaky way to achieve the same result). As an immigrant myself, I related to Cora’s cultural isolation—how could she remain so cheerful when she was surrounded by snobs contemptuous of her homeland and her bloodline? And she seemed like a good mother—caring and confiding, but realistic and practical. Now she seems spoiled and weak. Her squabbles with Cousin Isobel are petty territorial disputes, and she is too much in O’Brien’s thrall.

Last year I was almost envious of Robert and Cora’s relationship—a marriage that despite all the odds was loving and respectful. Now they seem like a couple of idiots reciting meaningless words. That ridiculous bedroom speech Robert made: “We dreamed a dream, my dear, but now it’s over. The world was in a dream before the war, but now it’s woken up and said goodbye to it. And so must we.” I wanted to put a pillow over his face! Of course a man like Lord Grantham would be all puffed-up and grandiose, but this is an intimate conversation with his wife, not a speech at a regimental dinner. It made me question the foundations of their marriage.

meanwhile i have become completely fascinated by thomas and o’brien.  amazing how on the one hand you can almost sympathize with thomas for getting himself invalided out of the war and still feel ashamed of him.  and i love o’brien’s secret, inner moral event horizon (which she apparently crossed with The Soap, and is now attempting to recover).  she has her own boundaries and there is no consistency but she follows her own rules.

hello, gorgeous! i'll let you decide if i am talking about the delightful dan stevens or lady mary's perfect edwardian blouse.

finally, there is something so perfect and yet so absurd in the writing of matthew and mary this year.  the trope of the star-crossed lovers who believe they deserve to be star-crossed is a classic for a reason, but somehow this version of it feels so satisfying it is hard not to be caught up.  the actors are so lovely in these parts, and play it with such the right balance, that even a die-hard ‘shipper like me isn’t even sure if she is rooting for mary or lavinia to end up with matthew.  there is something so mature and heartbreaking in the way that mary actually seems to like lavinia while still realizing how much she loves matthew, and in the genuine affection matthew finds himself having for mary while believing himself to be safe in the arms of lavinia.

also, the clothes (all snaps from the downton abbey screencap page at caps by emma jane):

great neckline, great color.

i love the collar on this otherwise basic blouse.

and this dress!

look at that great detail in the back!

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11 Responses to downton abbey series 2: more thoughts. and the clothes! (no spoilers beyond episode 3)

  1. Debi says:

    LOVED reading your post! I can’t wait to see in what direction they take Thomas and O’Brien…AND Branson and Lady Sybil….I originally thought season 2 was much more soap-like than season 1 but I see your point! Though you must admit the episode with the candadian lost relative was a bit more soaplike??? but then again, there was the dead Turk…..true, true…. Cant’ wait for season 3!!!

  2. puu says:

    LOL. the canadian was a bit much, i admit, (i personally believe he was a fraud) and the horror of mrs. bates was occasionally too much to ask of me (and i am pretty sure it was suicide meant to look like murder)…but overall i love it in all of its soapiness, and episode 3 was where it started getting awesome. “the only boy in the world” indeed…

  3. I definitely agree with your musings about Isobel, and find the glossing over of this in favor of just showing Cora vs Isobel stand-offs a tad frustrating. Julian Fellowes can be so nuanced at times, but if the storyline/character doesn’t interest the overall goal, he tends to ignore them.

    • puu says:

      also, what really gets me about fellowes is that he is so good at his nuance, he’ll often have you rooting for the aristocracy over everyone else without you even realizing it. tory through and through, is mr. fellowes! :-)

  4. Clare says:

    Great post, loved reading this, it somehow fed my craving for a bit more downton now we have to wait until september for the next installment!

  5. Carolyn says:

    Great post! I adore Downton Abbey as well… the clothes!!! (drooling)

  6. Meg says:

    Yes yes yes yes yes. To all of it. I have unnatural obsession with the awesomeness of this show, and I agree with everything you’ve just said. Matthew & Mary, the costumes, Cora, Ethel (ANNOYING)… love it all!

  7. Rose Rowland says:

    The clothes are still pretty in Season 2 but what I find interesting is that you can actually imagine real people wearing these clothes and moving around in them which I often have a problem with in period dramas. Face it = for the last few show, Sybil’s been mostly in a uniform and Mary and Ethel are in Blouses and belted skirts.

    • puu says:

      it’s true, there is something wonderful about how wearable many of the fashions seem to a modern viewer. the evening wear is still pure fantasy, but the workaday waists and skirts are elegant and simple.

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