There had to be a first, right? The second season two episode of Downton Abbey finally had me cursing at characters other than Thomas and Miss O'Brien. Oh, don't get me wrong, they were definitely leading the pack, but I'm mortified that Lady Grantham is so blind to their ways.
She fell on the wrong side of my character list with her behavior and lack of judgment. A battle is being waged, not on the front lines, but inside the Abbey walls.
It's amazing how little things have changed. Once again we are shown just how similar and yet how different things were then and now. Branson's big plan to get back at the army backfired when he was turned away for a heart murmur. He's so blinded by passion for a cause he barely understands, he comes very close to losing everything. His naivete was most apparent when he spoke about Czar Nicholas's family being held hostage at the Alexander mansion in Russia. A new dawn, a new age of government! Who would want to start that with the murder of a bunch of young girls?
I want to dislike Branson for using his position at the Abbey to try to make his point, but his youthful and ingenuous view of the world can hardly be held against him. It's refreshing to see someone so certain of what they believe in.
Not only do we still encounter war protesters in 2012, but it appears our curling irons haven't changed much at all. The attention to little details, such as introducing the new beauty gadget, is what makes Downton Abbey feel so alive.
At Lady Grantham's request, Thomas is put in charge of the Downton Abbey convalescent home. Every time there is a scene with Cora at her vanity and O'Brien hovering behind her, I wince. Nothing good has come from a single shot of that nature since the beginning of the series. I don't understand why the Lady is so easily swayed by her servant. It's the ultimate irony that Mrs. Patmore's nephew was shot for cowardice... while a true coward like Thomas was promoted to Corporal, and is now the acting Sergeant at the Abbey.
I have never understood the relationship between O'Brien and Thomas, other than a shared desire to only better themselves at the cost of all others. Even Thomas was surprised at O'Brien's manipulating determination to ensure his return to the Abbey. Both of them smirk like evil cartoon geniuses at the thought of Thomas rising in rank above Mr. Carson.
Thomas should thank his lucky stars for both O'Brien and Lady Grantham because anyone who wants a severely shell shocked man to "stuff a sock in it" clearly has no business in the medical field. And yet there he is. The symbolism of his ringing the front door and walking through it was too much for me. He is not better than one single staff member of Downton Abbey, and will never be.
When will there be a smackdown between Cora and Isobel? Another tick in the lack of judgment ledger is the decision to put both Cora and Isobel in joint command of the household. It's hard enough for me to understand household ranks and where current Lords and Ladies stand in comparison to their heirs, but now I have to try to understand the army?!?
Is there any reason Lord Grantham, who feels so inadequate in his superfluous role as a morale booster, didn't step in and demand to be the officer in charge of the Abbey convalescent hospital? I realize he would be "reporting" to someone of a lesser rank, but it would have clearly been a better alternative to all the others offered. Isobel and Cora will never work well together, and I imagine we will see a lot of alliances made as the season progresses. Who would you have put in charge?
Lady Mary matures and softens and Lady Edith finds her place. While Cora fell a notch in my eyes, the way Mary dealt with the changes in the Abbey and with the Lavinia situation show how much she has matured and softened since we first met her. Even her love for Matthew doesn't force her to share with anyone what she learned during their conversations. Do you think Mary made the right decision in keeping Lavinia's secret?
Edith's struggle to find her place as the middle sister has never been a mystery. I don't know how it will affect her future, but she has a genuine aptitude for helping the patients. Not in a medical fashion, but as an undeniable morale booster (as opposed to a figurehead like her father). Quietly going about her business, she was singled out at dinner by a visiting General for her contributions to the recovering officers. To finally see a smile on her face, and have her talents rewarded was one of my favorite moments of the episode.
Lives at the Abbey will continue to change, and it is my dearest hope that the Lord and Lady Grantham come to a full understanding of this new world they live in. It would be difficult to change, and they have most assuredly been very accommodating in loaning their home to the Army. But it's not selfless. They still make demands, and use their status to get what they want at the expense of others. It will be interesting to if they grow past that or if the younger generation just plows them over and takes control.
For more on what happened in the episode, please see the recap and quotes (Violet's stinging tongue makes every episode worthwhile!) and share your thoughts below, especially on the parts of the episode I didn't cover, such as Daisy's engagement, Anna and Bates re-acquaintance and how well behaved Isis the dog is in spite of the spirited new occupants!
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.