Friday, July 6, 2012

Summer TV Rewind: Downton Abbey 1.03

“Everything seems so golden one minute, then turns to ashes the next.”

So while I think that, in general, “Downton Abbey” might have benefitted from slowing down the pace a bit and not trying to cover multiple years of history per season, I will say that there is always something new in every episode, and I definitely appreciate that. In this episode, it was Bates trying something really stupid to fix his limp and Mary entertaining a visit from a couple of suitors (and Matthew joining the fray as well, which was rather amusing). I think this episode in particular really has the greatest effect on the series going forward. Mary’s actions in this episode have consequences that are still felt in the second season finale/Christmas special. So yeah, while some of the stuff in this episode was, admittedly, some of the more far-fetched, soapy stuff the show has done, I liked how it advanced the plot and affected so many characters. And we got to see a little more of Sybil’s personality, too, even if it was in a sort of tangential way. Character development is always welcome for sure. Mostly this episode, like the rewatch in general, is reminding me how good the first season was overall. This is crack television.

Given the big upstairs-related event that happens in this episode, the downstairs plot coverage is slightly less than the usual. One of the two downstairs plots involves Gwen, a maid who appears to be Anna’s roommate. Anna is trying to clear off the top of the dresser in their room, and she really wants to know what is in the heavy case Gwen has placed up there. Gwen reveals that it’s a typewriter. She’s been taking correspondence courses in secretarial skills like short hand and typing, and it’s her dream to leave service and become a secretary. She hasn’t revealed this dream before because she’s afraid it might offend her coworkers who think working in service is a noble calling. Anna seems to approve of Gwen’s ambition, and she helps her try to hide the typewriter when O’Brien comes nosing around. O’Brien, of course, reports to Carson and Mrs. Hughes that Gwen has a suspicious package, and when they find out it’s a typewriter, the staff is all quite confused. They don’t understand why Gwen would want to be a secretary, and even worse, they don’t think she would succeed because it’s above her station in life. Sybil takes an interest, however, and she both finds a want ad for a secretary and offers to serve as reference for Gwen.

Mr. Bates is also trying to keep a secret from the rest of the staff in this episode. He visits a kind of shady shopkeeper who makes prosthetics and advertised a limp corrector. It’s a ghastly sort of metal and wooden leg brace. Bates is rather desperate to diminish his limp, however, so he spends all of his savings to buy it. To say that the limp corrector is a disaster for Bates would be an understatement. He’s constantly doubling over in pain, and the rest of the staff are noticing. Eventually, after a particularly bad episode, Mrs. Hughes demands to look at the leg, and what she sees is horrifying. Bates’ leg is all bloody. I was having trouble figuring out if the brace was supposed to screw into his leg or if the wounds were caused from the metal constantly rubbing against his leg. I think it’s the latter. Anyway, there’s a nice scene near the end of the episode where Bates and Mrs. Hughes throw the limp corrector into the Downton lake, and Mrs. Hughes makes Bates promise never to try and cure himself again.

Most of the upstairs portion of the episode deals with Mary’s love life (which isn’t exactly surprising), however I found a bit that focused on Edith to be a bit more entertaining. Similar to how she felt about Patrick, the original heir, Edith seems determined to take Mary’s sloppy seconds. Since Mary doesn’t seem interested, she’s going after Matthew. She asks Matthew if he’d like to get to know his new town better by taking a tour of the area churches, and he happily agrees. Not because he really is interested in Edith, but because he really wants to see those churches. It’s quite hilarious that the poor boy doesn’t know what he’s in for! Although, actually, it’s Edith who gets more than she bargained for. Matthew is really, really enthusiastic about touring churches, but he’s not so enthusiastic about Edith. For some reason that isn’t quite explained, he’s suddenly hung up on Mary. Which I’m sure irritates Edith to no end, because this seems like something that has happened to her more than once.

And finally, the big events of the episode mostly involve Mary. Evelyn Napier, the son of some noble or other, is visiting Downton, presumably to spend some quality time with Mary, and he’s bringing a friend with him- a Turkish diplomat named Mr. Pamuk. The Dowager Countess and Cora are extremely happy that Mary seems to be taking an interest in someone of appropriate breeding who can give her the life to which she is accustomed. They plan a big hunt, and Mary is told she will ride out with Napier and Pamuk. All their plans turn on their head, however, when Mary develops more of an interest in Pamuk than Napier. It’s rather entertaining to watch the three men (Napier, Pamuk, and Matthew) stumble all over each other to vie for Mary’s attention. Mary seems most stuck on Pamuk, even though there would be no future in that (both of their families would seriously object.

Thomas is assigned to be Pamuk’s footman, and reading the signals wrong, he tries to get a bit too friendly with Pamuk. In exchange for telling no one what happened, Pamuk asks Thomas to show him to Mary’s room later that night. Thomas is only too happy to oblige. When confronted with Pamuk in her bedroom, Mary first objects a little, but they do end up having sex. Unfortunately, for Mary, however, Pamuk doesn’t survive the night. Mary frantically wakes up Anna, but the two of them aren’t strong enough to move the body. They have to include Cora as well. Unfortunately, Daisy glimpses the three women trying to drag the body across the house. She hasn’t said anything yet, but the fact that she saw can’t be good. The next morning, Thomas, bearing what looks like a Moroccan silver tea pot (I wonder when the Crawleys were in Africa?), finds Mr. Pamuk dead in his own bed. While the scandal of how Mr. Pamuk died is still not known to the general public, the death still rocks Downton to the core.

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