TV REVIEW: Downton Abbey - Episode Two

There's all sorts of romantic entanglements going on at Downton this episode. We've got Lady Mary off gallivanting with Tony Gillingham, Charles Blake turns back up to throw a spanner in the works and then there's Cora flirting with Withnail, I mean Mr Bricker (this was the one I was rooting for - Cora needs a plot of her own goddammit! Also RICHARD E. GRANT). Then Bricker starts flirting with Isis the dog. God forbid! Oh and then there's Molesley and the thieving ladies' maid whose name I've not learnt yet, but I'm struggling to retain interest in that particular plot line.

And with love comes war, more specifically, Lord Grantham arguing with just about everyone he can reach with a booming voice and a shake of his head. The tone was set in an early mealtime which was less a luncheon, more a battle ground before dinner that evening became the dining room equivalent of the Western Front. Amongst the more trivial stuff is resisting Rose's attempts to get a wireless for Downton, but that soon gave way to the Lord and Branson going at it about whose politics were better. Everyone bristled beautifully when Branson mentioned the killing of Charles I in response to Lord Grantham's repeated accusations about the atrocities occurring in Russia. It's all delightfully polite but shots were most definitely fired.

I think Fellowes is missing a trick by not adopting the Hero versus Big Bad approach for a series. It may just be my liberal politics, but Branson is the unsung hero of the piece, fighting for justice and an end to the oppressive social class system that he has managed through the convenience of marriage to rise through. Clearly in opposition, the Big Bad could be Lord Grantham. I want to see Hugh Bonneville in full villain mode, tearing down any threat to the establishment and bellowing "BUT WHAT ABOUT THE CRICKET?!" in the faces of bewildered villagers.

Lady Mary's impending sexpedition with Tony Gillingham led to some beautiful comedy moments, both with Anna and Charles Blake who turns up all charming and mentioning sex to get her a bit flustered. But still, Gillingham's got his allotted week to prove he's the man for Mary. Contraception according to Lady Mary is wonderful; read a book and send your maid out for condoms. It's like the equivalent of your mate asking you to pop to the pharmacy for you because her parents are wandering around town, but with enforced societal servitude instead. I also loved the judgemental pharmacist; things haven't changed all that much apparently.

The much-anticipated meeting of Gillingham and Lady Mary was all awkward and not at all romantic. Doing the gentlemanly thing, Gillingham gets separate rooms connected by an adjoining door and allowing Mary to stay under her own name to not attract any suspicion. But this struck me as a little silly really. The manager's in on the arrangement and it's hardly going to take investigative skills to find out Gillingham was staying next door, put two and two together and get 'illicit sexual affair'. Apparently a scrumptious dinner was the going rate for a whole week of 'making love' in those days, so clearly interest rates in that respect haven't changed all that much either.

I could talk about Lady Edith's struggle to gain control over daughter Marigold, but I kept being distracted at those points. I am obviously sympathetic to her plight, but she needs a bit of spark about her. Bring back Gregson I say! Yes, I know he's likely dead at the hands of some proto-Nazis, but still, she was much more interesting when he was around (which goes entirely against my usual rage about women characters who are only defined by the men around them, I know). 

- Becky

Catch Becky's review of the previous episode here.

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