After last week's less than stellar episode, I went into this installment with low expectations. While it could have been my attitude, I think it more likely that viewers everywhere felt as I did. From great tragedy we found overwhelming compassion and the icy hearts of formerly black souls coming to life.
This was award-winning television. Stepping back from the day-to-day issues of the convalescent facility, leaving Cora to her work, losing the petty trivialities that bore through some of season two, we were graced with the good spirits of those who live in and care for Downton Abbey.
I don't know if we have game-changing episodes of Downton Abbey, but if there were to be one, this might just be what it looked like. When Matthew and William were lost behind enemy lines, there was anxiety, but nothing like the immediate reaction of family and staff alike when they were wounded on the front.
I wondered when both Mary and Daisy felt someone walk over their graves if they were truly close enough to Matthew and William, respectively, to have such deep rooted feelings as their friends were injured, but the tapestry of their lives are so deeply woven I don't think even they know how they truly feel about those who have gone off to war.
Their wounds were dire. Matthew suffered a sever spinal cord injury and William a mortal wound to his lungs. Everyone sprung into action. Violet found her wit was far reaching and impossible to ignore as she first requested and then demanded that William spend his last days at Downton Abbey. She had tried to keep him from conscription and failed, but at this she would succeed. Indeed, he ended his days in a private Abbey bedroom, something even the heir to Abbey didn't do.
I looked outside my window, thinking perhaps Hell had frozen over when Mrs. O'Brien and Thomas discussed their wishes to go back in time and undo what they had already set in motion. When faced with the impending death of a friend, suddenly the idea of calling Mr. Bates' wife seemed small and worthless. Thomas even admitted as the son of the working class he was tired of seeing only officers treated with respect after their service, and wished William the best; he wanted to shake his hand before he left this earth.
When Thomas and Mrs. O'Brien are infighting about their misdeeds, you really understand the impact tragedy can have on every soul.
Despite Daisy's fear of leading on William, especially as he lie dying, she agreed to marry him. I think it was fear that kept her from giving her heart to him in the first place. Unfortunately, she was right to be afraid; she had given of it freely she would not have been as composed as she was for him when he needed her most.
Matthew must live with the knowledge that he may never be with a woman again, and in fact decided he would never ask a woman to settle with him knowing his true fate. That Mary went to Mr. Carlisle for help against Mrs. Bates and that their engagement was announced was trivial. There is little room for another man in her world. Somewhere in this story, Matthew has become her life. When Isobel finally made it home, even she noticed the change in Mary, although their connection was quite brief.
Other household news:
- It was ironic that the house took on a maid with a baby when Ethel had given birth and was without work. The new maid had the good fortune to be a stranger to the house.
- Branson, who once thought they would never shoot the Czar and his family, was telling Sybil that sometimes a hard sacrifice sometimes had to be made for a greater future. I'm not sure I like him as Sybil's future.
- I fear Mrs. Bates will continue to cause great pain for Anna and Mr. Bates. A divorce hardly seems on the near horizon.
- When Lavinia said she couldn't live without Matthew, I got quite worried she might take her own life. Did anyone else get that impression?
I was emotionally tousled about during the hour, and met with tears more than once. The break in Abbey routine was as welcome as it was unsettling, and if they can continue to deliver this type of storytelling, I'll be watching for as long as the series is produced.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.