Editor's note: Need to catch up? You can read Erin's hilarious primer on series one of DOWNTON ABBEY over at FYA. Film Crit Hulk and I will also join the conversation in ensuing weeks, and you can always jump in the discussion in the comments!-Meredith
“I hate Greek drama; you know, when everything happens off stage.” - Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham
Loath as anyone should be to disappoint Dame Maggie Smith, much has happened in the Downton Abbey universe since the Earl of Grantham decided to kill the mood at the garden party by announcing England’s entrance into the Great War. Series Two picks up two years later, and all of Downton Abbey struggle as they adjust to the new life which wartime demands.
Impotence and cowardice are the orders of the day, with some characters struggling to feel more useful while others use whatever means afforded them to remain out of harm’s way. Lord Robert feels stymied by his largely ceremonial role as Colonel of the North Riding Volunteers, particularly as his heir, Matthew, is leading the charge on the Somme. (Complete with a wartime valet, of course; there may be a war on but we must have our standards.) Lady Sybil, who loses approximately one eligible suitor a week to the gunfire of German forces, decides to train as a nurse, a decision which first horrifies her mother until she sees how genuinely happy Sybil is when she's actually doing something of importance. Even Lady Edith learns to drive!
Sybil learning to make a pudding, an essential skill in nursing.
Downstairs, sweetly earnest William is torn between his loyalty to his country and honoring a promise to his father not to voluntarily enlist. Carson the Butler has become obsessed with keeping up appearances in the face of missing half of his staff, one of the few strokes of absolute realism is the episode, and most of the rest of the house is moping after the absent Mr Bates, who has travelled to London to bury his mother.
Meanwhile, Maggie Smith has been using her influence over the village doctor to keep Mosely (Matthew and Isobel Crawley's butler) from being called up for service, a favor for which he is exceedingly grateful. And Thomas, who enlisted as a medic at the start of the war, gets himself shot on purpose so that he can be sent home, because Thomas is completely irredeemable in every way. Wherever there is injustice in the world, wherever babies cry for having their candy stolen, wherever you find yourself running half an hour late on a Monday morning and can't find your car keys anywhere, that is where Thomas shall be.
Of course, it isn't all war fundraisers and footage of people being blown up; we must also stop and be bored by love stories too. Matthew has recently proposed to a young lady named Lavinia Swire, who looks exactly like Taylor Swift, acts exactly like Taylor Swift and has approximately 80 teeth in her head, exactly like Taylor Swift does. Carson, Lady Mary and I instantly hate her; Lavinia presumably writes a song about how mean we are.
Someday she'll be livin' in a big old city, and all we're ever gonna be is mean.
Bates, fresh off his mother's will reading, tells Anna that he has quite a bit of money stored up and that once he pays off his wife, they can get married, make babies, and work together forever! Because Anna is the moral opposite of Thomas in every way, she overlooks this shoddy proposal and says yes anyway. They are happily in love for approximately 2.7 minutes and then Mrs Bates shows up to chew all of the surrounding scenery and threaten Bates with the Crawleys' ruin, in re: that pesky time that Lady Mary fucked a Turk to death. Oh, Mr Pamuk. You are the plotline that will never die. If only Lady Mary could have sex with this storyline, then it might too randomly drop out of existence. Bates, because he is the moral opposite of Lady Mary, falls on his sword and quits his position at Downton. He drives off into the sunset, stiffly sitting beside his horrid wife, who is flossing just a bit of Highclere Castle out of her teeth.
So what's next for our favorite landed gentry and their humble servants? The winds of change are blowing across the Yorkshire meadows; the newest maid (the insufferable Ethel, whom I am sorry to say is not randomly and hilariously killed at any point during this season, so adjust your expectations accordingly) speaks only of how she'll be moving up in the world, whilst Irish Socialist Chauffeur Branson eschews his social standing and declares his love for Lady Sybil. Can the war really force equalization? Are the peerage of England staring at their final days? The first World War did much to advance the causes of both women and the poor, but from a numbers game alone, it can be argued that it was merely a waste of lives and capital. How many lives (and how much money) will be cut short this season? And will this war reach its nasty fingers into the lives of the Downton elite, or will it content itself with slaughtering a generation of working-class and poor men, an Oliver's Army doomed to repeat itself just a few decades later?
Dame Maggie Smith is not amused.
Film Crit Hulk will pick up with TV Talk for next week's episode. Let's hope he crushes stupid Ethel with his Hulk fists!