Highs and Lows of Downton Abbey, Season 2

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This post contains major spoilers for the second season of Downton Abbey.

The United States is (finally) caught up with Britain on Downton Abbey, and I for one couldn’t be happier.  Since this season wasn’t as pitch perfect as the first, I was able to pinpoint some highs and lows of the season to discuss.  This is a long post, but I don’t expect to be writing about Downton for quite a while after this.

Best Upstairs Plot: As I’ve stated before, I have no problem with love triangles (or quadrangles).  Thus, I found the Mary-Matthew-Lavinia-Carlisle business to be the most involving plotline of the season, even if it was soapish.  Adding new love interests to the already complicated Mary and Matthew heightened the drama to a maximum.  The Spanish Flu removed the sweet Lavinia from the story with a fell swipe.  On the other hand, it took the combined efforts of Mary, Matthew, Cora, and Robert to chase the slimy Carlisle from the picture in some of the season’s most satisfying scenes.

Worst Upstairs Plot: The business of Canadian P. Gordon claiming to be former heir Patrick Crawley seemed more like time filler than necessary to the story.  Sure, it gave Edith something to do, but other than that, it was the closest Downton Abbey has ever come to jumping the shark, though, thankfully, the resolution insinuated that P. Gordon was not in fact Patrick.

Best Downstairs Plot: This may not be the most obvious choice, but I was quite attached to Daisy’s storyline this season.  Her half-romance with William posed interesting moral questions, and their deathbed wedding was heartbreaking.  The plot came to an endearing climax when Daisy finally went to visit William’s father, gaining her own father figure in the process.

Worst Downstairs Plot: What exactly was the point of the Ethel-has-a-baby storyline?  Perhaps if it had involved a character from Season One to whom audience was more attached, it might have resonated better.  But in its current state, it only functioned to get Ethel out of the house and give Mrs. Hughes something to do other than her housekeeping duties.

Speediest Plot: The Spanish Flu came, went, and quickly solved one of the love triangles of the series.  It seemed almost too convenient that the only casualty of the Flu was Lavinia, the main obstacle standing in the way of the Mary-Matthew endgame.  And furthermore, one minute, Cora had a hemorrhage, and then she was fine.  Carson seemed only mildly ill throughout the whole incident, and no one else was affected.  For a disease that killed millions of people, Spanish Flu left Downton fairly unshaken.

Most Dragged Out Plot: The saga of Anna and Bates was elongated to the point of absurdity.  The machinations of Vera Bates were almost unbelievable, and it seemed like every episode, Anna and Bates had a new obstacle to overcome.  I was ecstatic that the two finally married in the last normal episode of the season, but then everything blew up in their faces once again with the murder trial.  This plot added a lot of drama to the season – and gave Joanne Froggatt and Brendan Coyle plenty of opportunities to demonstrate their acting chops – but can’t Anna and Bates be happy for more than a day?

Best Upstairs Scene: A tough one to call, but I have to give this to a scene in the making for the greater part of two seasons: Robert and Mary discussing the ramifications of the Mr. Pamuk incident.  In the beginning, Mary looked entirely defeated as she realized that her father knew her secret.  But Robert handled the situation with great love for his daughter, encouraging her to end her troublesome engagement to Carlisle even if it risked scandal.  Well played by Michelle Dockery and Hugh Bonneville, this was a satisfying conclusion to one of Downton’s most important subplots.

Best Downstairs Scene: William and Daisy’s wedding nearly had me in tears.  The inevitability of William’s death makes the scene absolutely heartbreaking, and the music and the faces of those present only add to the tragedy.  The question of Daisy’s true feeling regarding the wedding adds intriguing subtext to the scene, and its ramifications carry into later episodes.

Upstairs Scene We Should’ve Seen: Though they may not be Downton’s most popular couple, the audience should have seen Sybil and Branson’s wedding instead of hearing it mentioned.  It seems absurd that the first wedding of one of the Crawley sisters would be brushed under the rug, even if it was unpopular among the family and took place in Ireland.

Downstairs Scene We Should’ve Seen: I’m cheating on this since it also involves upstairs characters, but I would have liked to see some more resolution regarding the soup kitchen that Mrs. Bird and Mr. Molesley were running from Isobel’s kitchen.  It could have been one of the causes that Isobel undertook after the war.

Highs That Don’t Fit Anywhere Else: How can I go this far without mentioning Dame Maggie Smith and her Dowager Countess of Grantham?  Smith is so good in the role that her brilliance is to be expected.  Her quips this season were as funny as in the first.  Meanwhile, downstairs, Thomas was as sneaky as ever, and you have to enjoy the way he schemed to keep his job.

MVPs of the Season: It goes without saying that Maggie Smith is an incredible asset to the program, but I would like to give other shout outs.  First is Michelle Dockery, who has played Lady Mary with an enormous amount of finesse.  Mary has made the transition from seemingly stone cold to sympathetic, no small feat for a performer to make real.  Can someone give Dockery an Emmy?  Second is Joanne Froggatt as Anna, the heart of the series.  Anna’s reaction to Bates’s sentencing was chilling, and that was entirely down to Froggatt.  Other cast members deserving of shout outs include Dan Stevens as Matthew, Hugh Bonneville as Robert, Penelope Wilton as Isobel, Brendan Coyle as Bates, Jim Carter as Carson, and Iain Glen as Carlisle.  And let’s not forget the writing of Julian Fellowes, the music of John Lunn, and the cinematography of Gavin Struthers, David Marsh, and Nigel Willoughby.

For those of you who watch Downton Abbey, what highs and lows do you have?

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7 thoughts on “Highs and Lows of Downton Abbey, Season 2

  1. I love this analysis of Season 2. I agree, I would have liked to have seen Sybil’s actual wedding instead of hearing about it. And really, what was the point of the Ethel and her baby plot? One of my favorite upstairs scenes from this season was from the episode before last, when Mary and Matthew danced together by the record player soon after he could walk again. They share a tender moment and Lavinia walks in on them. I loved that Matthew expressed the feelings he still harbored for Mary and I wasn’t expecting him to be so forward.

    I’m excited to see what happens in Season 3! I hope we see Sybil, Branson and their baby as well as Mary and Matthew’s wedding. Maybe Edith will find true love? I also wonder if O’Brien will come clean to Cora about that bar of soap incident from Season 1.

    • Thank you! I too love the Mary-Matthew dance scene; it’s certainly in my top five scenes of the season. Though Sybil and Branson’s wedding was ignored, I doubt that Fellowes will skip over Mary and Matthew’s. In fact, I imagine that’s why Cora’s mother (to be played by Shirley Maclaine, in case you haven’t heard) will be coming to England. I also wonder whether O’Brien’s soap incident will come to light; it’s one of the few major secrets that hasn’t yet been exposed.

  2. I loved season 2, and the Mary-Matthew dance scene was one of my favorites, as well. I also wish we could have seen Sybil and Branson’s wedding, and I hope they won’t be left out of season 3, even though they’re in Ireland now.

    Nice review! 🙂

    • Thanks! I too am interested to see how Sybil and Branson figure into the third season. Fellowes likes to keep the most of the action at Downton, so I imagine they’ll have to leave Ireland if they’re still going to be an integral part of the show.

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