What Are You Looking At?
Scattershot thoughts on the return of ‘Downton Abbey’
By Kimberley Jones,
8:59PM, Tue. Jan. 10, 2012
I inhaled Sunday night’s two-hour return of Downton Abbey in a Durham, NC hotel room with my parents and lost most of my musings to the post-show duet of Dad’s foghorn and Mom’s more elegant staccato-snore – 38 years and change, they still make beautiful music together – so all I’ve got are these sputterings. Spoilers ahead.
Maggie Smith, if I could be sure I could upright myself from a deep curtsey (I’ve been lax at yoga lately), I would low-bend to you now. You make icing out of acid-tongued. Favorite tart treat, which the Dowager Countess said upon learning niece Lady Mary’s awkward reunion with jilted boyfriend Matthew Crawley had been delayed? “Oh, that's a relief. I hate Greek drama, when everything happens offstage.”
Are we witnessing the rehabilitation of O’Brien? She cracked her stone-cold-bitch veneer to show some kindness to the Earl of Grantham’s new valet, a WWI vet struggling with shell shock. I’d normally vote no, not with the reptilian Thomas back in town, but then the closeted former first footman went and got humanized by falling for a wounded soldier who then offed himself. (In truth, that interlude, while moving, felt more like a plot point to get episode two cooking. But still: Were those real human tears from Thomas, or did I just dream that?)
I love me some Downton Abbey, and laws yes, I missed it something fierce, but next to Masterpiece host Laura Linney’s creepy stalker-smile, my love pales by (cracked-out) comparison. Dig that black lace sheath, though.
Everybody at the estate is befuddled by how to best contribute to the war effort – Grantham, it pains me to see you so low, and bewilders me to see you still wear your peacocking honorary military garbs – but it’s also giving the ladies of the house room to grow. Sybil may still be putting off her hottie Irish-radical beau – not sure why, considering dating the help is a snappier way to snub Ma and Pa then putting on Hammer pants – but she gets major points for going full Florence Nightingale. Dud Edith signs up to the cause, too, in her own way, by manning a tractor at a neighboring farm (mostly, it turns out, to get in said farmer’s pants). Here, I defer to the right-on observation of my colleague Melanie Haupt (who, by the by, writes exquisitely tangy Top Chef recaps for us): “Edith Crawley is the Jan Brady of Downton Abbey.” Truth.
Bates! Stop falling on that goddamned sword! If you have to poke on something, try Anna! (Look, it was her idea first.) Lord Grantham’s now-former valet is so shrouded in mystery he’s not an enigma, he’s a borderline-bore. He was in and out of this episode too fast, caught in the devious machinations of his long-lost and comically nasty wife, but then again, if his whole arc this season is to be a man of honor forever dishonoring himself for the honor of others, well... yawn.
My short fuse with Bates may have something to do with a disgruntlement at having taken PBS’s Downton Abbey Personality Quiz and been branded a deeply decent Bates type. Between you and me, I was seriously gunning to be a Dowager Countess. Great hats, even better sour-faced rejoinders.
Missed the premiere? You can stream it at KLRU now. And check back here next week, wherein I attempt to white-glove serve dinner to the viewing party amassing at my house. Hey, if Sybil can learn how to man a tea kettle, why can’t I tackle a roast chicken for the first time?