Downton Abbey: The Christmas Special

Ahhh, now that’s what I want in a season-ender. The right blend of suspense, catharsis, and satisfaction.

Below this photo, there be spoilers…

How much would you love to see them on Dancing With the Stars?

As always, I hardly know where to begin. Let’s start with who was missing: Sybil and Branson. Sounds like things are going well for them in Ireland, and I’m glad Lady Cora made it clear to Lord Grantham that she will not be deprived of the joy of visits with her grandchild. But I missed Branson’s spark and Sybil’s velvety voice. I hope we’ll see more of them in Season 3. Because, yes, I am already counting the days.

Sir Richard just got nastier and nastier–all that grumbling over the servants getting a little down time. (Where down time = preparing a giant feast, cleaning and decorating the whole house, doing everything they always do plus more besides, BUT HEY!, after they’ve hauled all the food to the dining room THEY DON’T HAVE TO WALK AROUND THE TABLE PUTTING IT ON PLATES. Slackers.) And the constant babysitting of Mary, getting rough with her, berating her semi-publicly. It’s true she was cold and brusque with him. It would be hard not to be, with a man who’d informed you that one step out of line and he’d bring public disgrace upon your family.

And that was my one disappointment: in their break-up scene, I kept waiting for Mary to put it to him clearly. How could she love him, or even feel at ease with him, ever, after his threats and bullying? She actually apologized to him, for pete’s sake. He needed to hear it bluntly: he thought he’d purchased her, and although she was willing to go into business with him, essentially, merging their assets–her social position; his fortune–she was not willing to be owned. He tried to bribe her most trusted servants into spying on him. I think she should have spelled this out for him crystal-clear, sort of a grim version of Elizabeth Bennet’s “had you behaved in a more gentlemanly manner” speech to Darcy.

But the development and pace of the Mary-Matthew thread satisfied me immensely. What did you think?

Mary was hilarious in the game of charades–excuse me, “this isn’t charades, this is the game.” Her irritation at the others for failing to decipher her inscrutable gestures. And Dame Maggie was at her blistering best in that scene:

VIOLET: “Sir Richard, life is a game in which the player must appear ridiculous.”

RICHARD: “Not my life.”

CORA: “Sir Richard, your turn!” ย 

VIOLET: “How soon your your maxim will be tested.”

Having come to appreciate Edith, I was disappointed to see her backburnered once again. Loved her line: “Do you think I’m going to give up on someone who calls me lovely?” Even though the remark, and the relationship, were left hanging in a sorrowful silence, I think we haven’t seen the last of Sir Anthony. (Is he a Sir? I can’t remember.)

Okay, the Bates trial. NUMBER ONE: I’m glad Anna married him, glad she got those visits to prison. NUMBER TWO: Not impressed with Bates’s lawyers, nor with Lord Grantham, who fell apart the moment the questions got probing. Interesting that all the worst evidence against Bates seems to have come from Bates’s own statements: what O’Brien saw and heard, what Bates said to Lord Grantham about his horrible wife, the scratch on his head after his return from London. I was longing for a fiery William Garrow-style cross-examination by the defense. But I suppose we need to save some drama for season three…Well, Anna and Bates are certainly stoic enough to wait it out. I loved their sad, sweet parting.

I’m still wondering about the possibility that O’Brien’s the guilty party. Her eyes were black holes of pain during the whole episode, except the silly planchette board scenes, and she had a couple of cryptic remarks. Perhaps they were red herrings. Logistically, a case against her seems sketchy–did she sneak to London (no easy feat for a lady’s maid) and slip poison into Mrs. Bates’s tea or something? The m.o. actually fits O’Brien’s history; we’ve seen her act similarly before, plotting a somewhat impulsive crime–“the soapslip affair,” to quote a recent search hit in my blog stats. I realize “plotting an impulsive crime” is a self-contradicting phrase, but that’s what she did with the soap. Got all inflamed with rage and came up with a way to hurt Lady Cora that took a tiny bit of planning but was carried out still in that first flush of rage. And then she immediately regretted it, “This is not who you are,” and turned back to pick up the perilous soap, but alas, she was too late.

So I can believe that O’Brien might decide the only way to do penance for the pain she caused by vindictively meddling in Bates’s affairs was to remove the source of the problem. And I can imagine her whisking off to London on her half-day (does she get a half-day?) and pretending to have information for Mrs. Bates. I can picture a conversation between them, O’Brien speaking convincingly of her intense dislike of Bates and Anna, Mrs. Bates nodding with narrowed eyes, and when Mrs. Bates’s back is turned, O’Brien slips some poison into her cup. The arsenic Mr. Bates bought is a coincidence. That’s my theory. I don’t know if I buy it, myself, but I think I find it more plausible than Mrs. Bates actually suiciding….

But I digress.

I’ll leave Thomas to you in the comments (oh, Thomas!), and that very sweet scene between Daisy and her father-in-law. ๐Ÿ™‚

Oh yes, and then there was the distraction-thread of Lady Rosamund’s betrayal. Have at it.

Episode Five recap.
Episode Six recap.

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