Monday, January 14, 2013

the young and the restless. and the crawley family. (aka: my thoughts on downtown abbey so far.)

Listening to: Doubting Thomas by Nickel Creek
Adore this: "Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering. There's still a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." - Leonard Cohen, Anthem 

Hey all! I wrote this recap last week. I still haven't seen episode 2 of  the new season of Downton Abbey. So ... some of my theories might already be faulty. Nevertheless, I'm going to go ahead and post. I know the two big spoilers from this season, which I won't mention here, but I don't know how the dots connect just yet. Also, that picture up there is one I took of Union Station, in Nashville. It's not an Abbey ... but I figure it has the same kind of vibe. Kinda? ;) 

Downton Abbey. Are you watching this season? I'm still watching, even though ... I dunno. I can't explain this feeling exactly ... but I worry that Downton and I might be headed for a breakup. For now, however, I remain faithful to the Crawley family. And while I don't plan on writing about every episode, I thought it might be fun to write about their most recent shenanigans. You game?

Before I share my thoughts on the first episode, I should point out that there are lots of Downton Abbey recaps that are well-written, smart, and thoroughly intriguing. My post will not be one of those. My friend Ruth writes excellent reviews of Downton. Actually, Ruth writes some of the most cerebral reviews I've read regarding any kind of media.

Quick Tangent: One of Ruth's favorite TV Shows is Once Upon a Time. When I confessed to her that, despite my love for fairy tales, I couldn't get into it, she made this for me:

That's so spectacular. I might have to give the show another whirl, just for that jawline. 

So! As I was saying, my opinions on Downton aren't super snazzy. But, obviously, that's not going to keep me from tossing them out there.

Here are my thoughts about the beginning of the third season in the lives of my beloved Granthams and Granthom-esses. (Spoilers for the first episode might be included.)

* Matthew and Mary are, officially, kissing cousins wed. Eh. 
I feel like it's time for me to make a confession: I've never bought Matt & Mary's chemistry ... at least not like lots of people obviously do. Is this awful of me? Am I just missing it? I like M&M, of course. I want them together, because I want everybody to find somebody. Regardless of whether the situation is real or fictional, I'm a hopeless romantic. But occasionally, I see people compare Mary and Matthew to Elizabeth and Darcy, which compels me to quote the great poet Si Robertson: "NAW!" Also, "No way, Jack!"

They're not even in the same stratosphere. I think lots of fictional couples have sizzley chemistry. There are fictional couples that I like even more than Liz and Darcy, in fact. But Matthew and Mary aren't in my top tier. Is it just me? 

Nevertheless! I was happy they finally tied the knot. I was happy from a fan's perspective, at least. The plotty part of my brain wonders how they'll keep up the tension in the show now that the romantic leads are finally together, especially because Fate in the name of Julian Fellows seems determined to keep them apart. Anna and Bates are The It Couple now, I suppose, when it comes to star-crossed lovers. But their storyline is getting a bit redundant, right?


Back to the wedding. 

* Mary's Silver Headband is the new black. 
The Downton fashion is always fun, though it has never rocked my world quite like it did during the first season. Mary's wedding dress was lovely though. She had a couple of dresses I liked. Hear me, friends: if you can rock a drop waist, you really need to do that. At least once. I can't wear a drop waist (even though modern drop waists are certainly more wearable than they were in Mary's era), but I think the style so elegant and stylish and SO fun on girls who know how to work it.

Mary's dress was cool, but my favorite part of her ensemble was the silver headpiece. Guh! I wonder if that style, that fairytale-garland-headband will trend for a bit? That would be fun! I've decided that it's my favorite fashion statement on Downton, following the fitted black jacket, dress, top hat, and wispy veil (the veil!!!) that Mary wore back when she went fox hunting with the ill-fated Turkish gentleman boys. That was so sick, in the best possible way. I don't think they'll ever top that one. 

* Branson got to eat at the big kids' table.
Branson, the Crawley family's former Chauffeur ... and current son-in-law to the Earl ... is back. And married to Sybil. And he's just as crazy-eyes intense as ever. 

Seriously, his eyes are always like this: "!!!!!"

And his eyes are always !!!! because he's a man with a cause. A political man. A newspaper man. And so, in the name of freedom and class equality, the battle he decided to pick with his clueless, overindulged inlaws was ...

... not wearing a dressy jacket to Matthew and Mary's wedding.

*slow clap*

Breakdown of the scene: 

Branson: I refuse to wear anything fancy. I'll wear my suit. Because a brown suit represents the working man, and that's what I am. I worked for you miserable lot for years I tried to poison you at dinner, remember? and wooed Lady Sybil away from this awful place! So don't ask me to wear a dress jacket! No silken threads shall e'er touch these progressive shoulders for as long as I...

The Dowager Countess: Young manSimmah-daw-naw. You may wear one of Matthew's jackets. Here ... Mr. Belvedere shall tailor it for you. 

Branson: Politics! Freedom! The Barricade! *stinkeye* *!!!!*

Dowager: *levels him with The Look*

Branson: *shivers* *shudders* *shrugs into Matthew's old jacket like a scolded little kid*

The Dowager Countess is too cool sometimes. I adore her. 

Seriously though, Branson's love-promotion from downstains to upstairs has potential to be one of my favorite things about this new season. The Crawleys, though I heart them, can barely go to the bathroom without requiring the help of their butlers and maids. They don't dress themselves. They don't cook for themselves. They don't do their laundry. Other than Sybil, I don't think any of them have even seen the kitchen (unless they're off to scold the staff). They're mostly very large, well dressed toddlers. That's actually one of the cool things about the show, the idea that this very indulged pocket of people, who really are clueless to their indulgences, suddenly have to pick up pace with the rest of the world. Just because they were born into wealth, that doesn't necessarily mean they'll get to keep it. Maybe worse still (for them, at least), the day might be fast approaching when people don't fawn all over them for their big house, silk dresses, or their antiquated titles. The War, supposedly, changed things for the Crawleys.

... but I'm still not buying that the war actually affected them much. 

I didn't see much evidence of that change on the first episode (with one exception I'll discuss in a moment). Certainly, as all the trailers for S2 noted, war changes everything. And I adored the scenes with the soldiers in the house (a historical reference to Lady Almina, was was a total BOSS.) But maybe because WAR changed the whole theater of human history ... and Downton has always played out on a much smaller, more personal stage ... the change hasn't resonated just yet. I feel like the war pulled me too far away from the little fires the Crawleys are forever stomping out. Make sense?

They don't seem to crack until their family is affected by 1.) losing the house (that, most of all) or 2.) losing someone. In the second season, I also felt like time bopped along a bit too quickly, even by Speedy Gonzalous Downton standards. That said! What the war tried to do, and maybe didn't succeed at, Branson has potential to do on a more intimate, and therefore far more effective scale. Change has come to the Crawleys again, not as an overarching world war, but in a more subtle way, in a family way. I also like Branson's passion paired against the overly buttoned-up Crawleys. Theirs is a subtle, wonderful (and often lovely) language of veiled insults and wry observations. But Branson just hollers out whatever the heck he's thinking. He's a modern man. He's got the !!!! eyes.

Sadly, I do feel like outgoing, vivacious Sybil has ... kinda taken a backseat to her chauffeur husband? Her light seems dimmed a bit, doesn't it? Or is it just me? But this is only the first episode. 

* Edith should be a Gatsby girl. 
I keep waiting for Edith to get a storyline that rocks. Mary's had some great moments. So has Sybil. Edith needs a big storyline this season, besides the occasional fling with farmers and wealthy old aristocrats. Don't you think? And I hope Edith's Big Story doesn't involve her awkward obsession with her current suitor. I fail to see the chemistry between Edith and ... what's his name? Let's call him General Mundane. Every time Edith tries to flirt with General Mundane, he looks spooked. Or like he just passed gas and hopes nobody else in the room realizes it. Truly, I don't have a problem with the age difference. They're both adults. What irks me is the lack of anything resembling romance when they're in a scene together. (And they don't even have to make out for this chemistry to happen. One of my favorite fictional couples is Beatrice and Benedick, of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. For the majority of the play, they sling sassy barbs at one another, barely - if ever - actually touching. But there is still so much awesome romantic tension between them.)

How many times does Sir Anthony Mundane have to say, "I'm too old for you..." before Edith realizes he's actually saying, "I'm just not that into you..."?

She's not into him either; I think she's just a little desperate for the kind of attention her sisters have always come by more naturally. And maybe she's desperate for love, too, and ready to settle into something that could be love, and hope it blooms eventually. Like it did for her parents. (Which is one of my favorite little quirks of their storyline, btw). But I don't want that for Edith, not yet.

Because I don't want her to be The Other Crawley Girl for the rest of her life.   

I want Edith to run away to the states with Grandma-mah McClaine and become a flapper. Party with Scott and Zelda. Fall in love with an American film star. Rock out in red lipstick and a high hemline and run through the rainy streets of NYC arm in arm with a bunch of wild, naive American girls who don't know, or care, about propriety. Even though Edith's kind of stuffy and bratty, I like her. I especially liked her in the war scenes, when she realized she had a few talents besides just being a prop to her sisters' charmed lives. I want her to have a storyline that's completely different from everybody else's.

Mostly, I want her to make some things happen instead of sitting and waiting for things to happen. Her mom crossed the ocean to find a wealthy Earl and settle down. I think it would be rad if Edith crossed an ocean too -- to find her own life (and maybe have a string of boyfriends in the process). I want Edith to become the black sheep, the breakaway wild girl. That'd be fun.

* Mary will be the Dowager Countess, someday. 
I know I mentioned her a bit already, but I'll mention her again. Because I like Lady Mary, a lot. I really, really like her high-handedness. I like how she's icy and snooty until she falls a little bit in love with something, or someone. And then you see her surprisingly sweet vulnerability shine through. There was a scene in this episode when Mary was chatting with Granny Violet, just the two of them. In that scene, I realized how much they mirrored each other. They're both no-nonsense women, with tough personalities that sometimes crack just enough to reveal so much heart. Have you noticed the similarities? 

The biggest similarity between them, I think, is what they love. I have a theroy that Mary loves the house, and all it represents, a bit more than she'll ever love Matthew. Or anybody, for that matter. I think she's dreamed so long of being an heir, that it's become her one BIG obsession. (If Downton Abbey were a musical, Mary would sing this tune.) If I were in the mood to get really thoughtful, I might write about how the Crawley's obsession with the house and their position in society could mirror that little urge we all have to create things, or be involved with things, that outlast our lifetimes. But that'd be a serious tangent in a post where I've used Duck Dynasty to discuss Downton Abbey. So, onward. 

* Thomas...surprises me. 
I'm saving this comment for last, because it's surprising me even as I process it:

Thomas is slowly becoming my favorite character on the show.

Actually ... I don't know if anyone will ever truly top Lady Violet. But Thomas is pretty spectacular.

I used to mostly love to hate him. But I started seeing him differently during the war-season. Post war, Thomas seems the one character who has emerged shaken, stirred, and kinda shattered. He looks older, and not necessarily because he's been aged by years, but aged what he'd seen. He speaks differently. He carries himself differently. The mischievous glint in his eyes from season one has been replaced with a certain darkness, almost an icy resolve. He's not plotting with O'Brien in the pantry anymore. Now, he's not so much plotting at all as he is ... surviving? It's hard to hate Thomas now, isn't it?

Matthew, who also endured the frontlines of a war, seems to mostly be over it. Maybe money can't ease every problem, but something - money, Lady Mary, his crutch-grief over breaking Lavinia's heart, whatever - seems to have given him enough to occupy his mind. But Thomas doesn't have any of that.  He looks like he's seen ghosts, or maybe like he's always seeing them. I wonder if maybe Thomas is the barometer for what's really happening in their house, their society, even in their changing world. Under all the layers of glitter and glass and sparkling chandeliers, there are still ghosts of war, lost loves, deep fears, raging jealousies, and a simultaneous deep fear and tattered hope for true change. Theirs' was a wild mix of of restlessness and tenacity. (So is ours, right? : )

And if this season keeps tapping into those desires, it's going to be so fun to watch.  

[Edit: Just watched Episode 2 and I do believe Thomas's ongoing feud with O'Brien ... is giving him some lightness, yes? Yay for family feuds! ;)]

(I almost forgot - this whole shtick about Lavinia's dad leaving Matthew the money, even though he knew Matthew broke Lavinia's heart, ... is ridiculous. What dad would actually do that? But whatever. I'll roll with it.)

Are you still watching Downton? Still intrigued by the crazy Crawleys? Still in love with Lady Violet's beloved blend of pompous sass and sarcasm? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments! :) 


  1. Oh gosh, I can't get into Once Upon a Time either... I'm so glad I'm not alone.

    Also, I can't even pick my favorite part of this post. I especially liked that part about Branson's eyes being "!!!!" because that's SO TRUE.

    Okay, I lied. My favorite line: "They're mostly very large, well dressed toddlers." YES.

    1. What's up with us not liking OUAT? I can't put my finger on what's not working for me. But I never can connect with it. That said! Your Bachelor tweets are HILARIOUS. :)

  2. I agree that the drop waist is one of the coolest fashions ever. :) I would totally wear it if I could {but I'm pear-shaped and seriously don't need any more attention drawn to the hip area, LOL}. I love 20s/30s fashions and even hairstyles, but for the first episode I was a bit disappointed because some of them seemed really unflattering on the ladies. There were some pretty ones, though, and they're much better in episode 2.

    I'm liking this season pretty well so far. I have to disagree with you about Thomas, though. He does seem different, but he's still a jerk and I have no patience with him. The family should have gotten rid of him when they had a chance! :)

    I was being very diligent about avoiding spoilers, but I think I've stumbled across two this past week completely by accident, and that irritated me.


    1. I'm probably giving Thomas too much credit. Maybe he's as conniving and villanous as ever :) He adds some spice to the cast though, don't you think? Even though his actions never directly affect the Crawleys, he's so interesting to watch. And watching him go against O'Brien is almost as fun as watching them plot together. It's impossible not to see the spoilers. I was doing great until a few hit twitter.

  3. While it is Downton and I love it, this season, so far, is my least favorite. Matthew and Mary are not my favorite. And now that they are married I don't like them hardly at all.
    And yes, I dream that Edith finds a tall, dark, handsome stranger that everyone loves and we're all totally jealous. And Thomas. I am loving his battle with O'Brien. Totally on his team.

    1. I'm the same way about them being married!! What's up with that? They'd wanted each other for so long (...supposedly) that I thought it would be pretty fiery. But all they ever do is argue about money. And Matthew is just so ... soft. I can't describe it. He crumbles. I don't mind an emotional character but he comes off so much more lazy and boring to me than he has in any other season. The battle b/t Thomas and O'Brien is rocking my world, truly.

  4. Maybe it's the MBA in me, but I feel like they know they're perfectly capable of dressing themselves, but they feel it's their responsibility to provide employment to sustain the economy of their world. It's touched on when Lord Grantham realizes he's about to lose the estate - one of his arguments for keeping it is that the house provides employment for so many.

    I just bought my wedding dress a couple weeks ago (eeee!!!!!!) and I've been on the hunt for the perfect veil to go with it. I didn't love Mary's dress, but (SPOILER ALERT) I loved Edith's dress. What I did love was the headpiece and veil, and I feel like Edith made much better use of it (right down to throwing it down the stairwell). Anyway, if anyone suddenly inherits $200,000 and is feeling generous, I wouldn't mind using that tiara and veil as my "something borrowed."

    Also, I feel like they're trying to make us believe Bates might have actually killed his ex-wife, and as much as I love love love Bates and Anna, I'm starting to let myself believe it.

  5. I can't believe you don't watch OUAT! I am aghast. Please give it another try!!!

    I've watched all of DA season 3 except for the Christmas special so I won't weigh in other than to say you are going to love Thomas's story arc this season.

  6. I am still on season 2 of Downton Abbey, but I don't like suspenseful situations, and since the war brought so much tension to the plot, I had to read the spoilers. I don't regret it, but I am trying to not read much about season 3 yet until I get there. However, I liked reading your thoughts, and it didn't give too much away.

    So far, I can't stand Thomas, and can't imagine ever liking him. I was hoping he would be gone after season one because he just makes me so angry. So does Edith - I hate that she is the forgotten sister so far, but at the same time she has been such a jerk. I have not forgiven her for writing that letter to the Turkish Embassy in season one, so my view is pretty jaded. Maybe, as we continue into season 2, my thoughts on her will change.

    So far, season 1 and season 2 are so extremely different (which makes sense - war changes everything) that I don't know how I feel about the show. I am eager to see how it changes from 2 to 3. I don't know if I like that the show is constantly changing with history, or if I (reluctantly admit to)prefer cheesy, feel good, non-realistic plots.

  7. I agree about Downton being a bit 'eh' this season. Matthew and Mary's problems are so upper brow I can't take them seriously. At least Granny Violet is still amazing. :)

    1. Granny V is the best. She's always a scene stealer. I really hope she never leaves the show!!

    2. Me either! I was so glad to read a week or so ago that Maggie Smith signed on for Downton's fourth season!

  8. Oh my goodness I can't believe it has taken me SO LONG to comment on this post. Are you calling my blog "cerebral"?? Do you know another Ruth??? :) In all seriousness, you rock Natalie, and thank you from the bottom of my Downton and OUAT-loving heart for the shout-out.

    Every single time I see Branson now I'm going to be thinking about his CRAZY EXCLAMATION POINT EYES! "!!!" Best thing ever.

    I'm really enjoying this season...but whether it is tightly scripted or insanely nutty, this show is a dearly loved guilty pleasure o'mine.

    I rather think you're onto something here with your assessment of Thomas and the impact the war had on his life. In fact, it is SO interesting and timely that you are talking about the lack of a war impact on Downton -- because I just finished reading "The Passing Bells" by Phillip Rock. It was SO Downton-esque, but as it was originally published in 1978 (recently reissued), it was Downton BEFORE Downton was cool.

    To make a loooonnnnngggg story short(er), I am SO IN LOVE WITH THAT BOOK. It has the cinematic quality of a first-rate Masterpiece production, the historical depth of a textbook, without being heavy-handed, and characters! Oh, the characters are to die for I love them all so much. I would LOVE to talk about this book with you sometime in the near future. :)