In the second season opener of Downton Abbey, war is on and it’s a fight for survival not only in the trenches but also with the heart. Will Matthew and Mary come to terms with their love? Will Anna end her run as a spinster? What will become of Bates and his new villainous wife? So many questions beg to be answered, but one thing is for sure, Downton will bear witness to more delicious backstabbing, schemes and hardship—all done tastefully with poise and proper behaviour, of course.
Downton Abbey, Season 2, Episode 1— It’s 1916 and the second season opens with Downton heir, Matthew Crawley, deep in the trenches during the Battle of the Somme as a commander of his unit. Also fighting is Thomas, who volunteered as a medic, and didn’t think he’d actually be in the trenches, finds himself doing what he can do to stay alive. Will this make him a better man?
Back at Downton, the Grantham family hosts a benefit concert to raise money for the war effort. The staff is also in disarray while Bates is off in London for his mother’s funeral. All this chaos makes Carson extremely uneasy. He likes things done properly. He’s a bit OCD that way, but there are worse things in life. But a damper is put on the night when two strange women present William with a white feather, indicating that he is a coward for not enlisting in the war. Poor Wills.He doesn’t understand why he wasn’t called but feels guilty.
Putting an even worse damper on the evening is Lavinia Swire, Matthew’s fiancé. In the short time that’s past, his mother Isobel, tells the family that it was a quick union and although they’d all hoped he and Mary would marry, they must move on. Lord Grantham accepts this realizing in times of war people do what they need to do in times of desperation. Lavinia comes to the concert and is introduced to Mary while Edith snickers on the side lines, knowing this causes her sister pain. And it does. It’s clear Lavinia knows she has a lot to compete with. Just looking into both Matthew and Mary’s eyes…oh one can only hope things will turn around for them! But this love story is not an easy one.
Mary copes the best way she can and in turn announces her interest in Sir Richard Carlisle, a newspaper magnate who is more interested in juicy, scandalous stories. Mary wants him to come stay at Downton so her family can get to know him. Because he’s older, Lord Grantham doesn’t really approve but accepts her reques
Downstairs, the drama continues when a new maid, Ethel, is put in her place by O’Brien when she’s told Lady Grantham wants to see her immediately to compliment her for her excellent work. After she bursts into the family’s private evening – acting like a fool – she goes downstairs furious to see that everyone has had a laugh at her expense. Let this be a lesson to you, Ethel, you don’t piss of O’Brien!
When Bates returns to Downton he brings good tidings for Anna. He tells her that his mother has left him more money than he thought and that he thinks he’ll be able to buy off his wife, Vera, and get a divorce. She asks, “Is this a proposal then?” It is.
But in Downton things never come easy. When Vera Bates shows up she blackmails Bates into staying with her and insists he leaves his job at Downton at once. She’s heard some gossip about Mary and Kemal Pamuk and she’s threatened to take her story to the tabloids. Being the good man that he is, and trying to maintain the Grantham family honour, he tells Lord Grantham he’s leaving, which angers him greatly. Is there no hope for Bates at Downton? We later learn that Mrs. Hughes overheard the whole conversation between Vera and Bates so she may end up helping him. Who knew Mrs. Hughes had it in her to spy?
Back onto the war effort, Isobel learns that the Dowager Countess, Violet, has written bogus letters so that Molesley and William would be safe from the war. When she’s confronted, Dr. Clarkson proclaims his intent to correct the situation by telling the council they are both healthy after all. But later, Molesley tells Dr. Clarkson that he has been finding it hard to breathe lately and that he may have a “lung condition.” Realizing that Molesley is just a coward, he says he will let his case be.
On his way back to war, Matthew is greeted by Mary at the train station who sends him off with her lucky charm, a tiny stuffed dog. She hugs him and it’s clear the two are madly and deeply in love with one another. He says that if he doesn’t make it back, he’s glad they mended fences and have become friends. Oh the English, their proper behaviour.
Season 2, episode 1 ends with a poignant quote by Lord Robert Grantham to sum up the times, and what may lie ahead: “It’s a brave new world we’re headed for, no doubt about that,” he says to Cora. “We must try to meet it with as much grace as we can muster.”
ON A CULTURAL NOTE…
• Branson teaches an eager Edith to drive. It’s not really an acceptable thing for a woman in society to drive and Branson quips, “you’ll put me out of a job.” But Edith is determined and claims it might be a useful skill as there might not be many men around to drive after the war. Sad, but true.
• With her new driving skills, Edith helps a local family on their farm by driving their tractor. Such good will on Edith’s part, showing that a high society girl has the chops to farm, but she gets herself in a pickle when she’s caught kissing the farm hand. Well, Edith, you almost had it goin’ on.
• We already know that Sybil is already showing signs of being progressive but when she gets more bad news that another friend of hers has died in the war, she makes a bold decision to take Isobel’s offer to train as an auxiliary nurse to help the war effort. But first she must gain some skills. She goes downstairs and asks for Mrs. Patmore and Daisy’s help for a few cooking lessons. When Mrs. Patmore asks her to make tea, the staff laughs at Sybil for not knowing how to boil water. But because she’s an amazing young lady, she accepts the laughter and forges on to make tea, and even a cake. BIG strides!
• We are introduced to the beginning of the scandalous world of the tabloid. During that time they could break anyone’s social standing. Once your reputation was tarnished, it was tarnished for good. Needless to say, Mary is in for a rude awakening. Will Sir Richard find out her past? She better hope not.
Downton Abbey Season 2 airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Vision TV (Canada).
—By Toni-Marie Ippolito