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Downton Abbey - S2, E1 and E2 (2011)


Finally, finally the long-awaited return of Downton Abbey is back on our American screens. Once promotional material started showing up for the second series of this highly acclaimed Emmy-award winning series, it didn’t take an astute observation to recognize that this series would take an altogether darker approach. Logic suggests this is because of a war but it also might have something to do with the changes the characters are asked to traverse and the lessons that have brought them this far.
Be aware, many fond ramblings are ahead. 

The date is November 1916 and the world is locked in a horrible World War that is changing the lives of those caught in it – and not a soul is unscathed. Lives at the stately country house Downton Abbey are already affected. Heir apparent to the estate and title, Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) is fighting with the rest of his fellow countryman and it leaves the woman whose heart he holds in a conflicted state. Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) wouldn’t have ever suspected that she’d fall so hopelessly in love with cousin Matthew – the man she loathed for barging into their lives years prior with a claim to the estate. After rejecting his marriage proposal, she had her feelings crushed when she realized that Matthew wasn’t going to wait for her change of heart. Now, after months of not seeing one another, the relationship between them is strained… and Mary has hopes of moving on. Current master of Downton, Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonnville) isn’t happy in his latest role. He wants to be out fighting right next to the men on the front lines but has instead been given a courtesy title as a colonel without the actual duties on the battle field. Youngest daughter Sybil (Jessica Brown-Findlay) feels as if her world is shattered as she continues to receive news that all of the young men of her acquaintance are dying in the war. Being the spit-fire of a girl she is, she begins to question her purpose and with the help of cousin Isobel (Penelope Wilton), she inquires about a nursing position which places her American mother Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) in a position that forces her to realize her girls are not only independent but growing up.

Life continues on in a similar vein until some months later while home on leave, Matthew visits with his fiancée Lavinia (Zoe Boyle) in tow – an engagement that is more whirlwind romance than love. Meanwhile William (Thomas Howes) is not allowed to join the fighting because his father forbids it – and the matriarch of Downton, the Countess (Maggie Smith) has played a part in William’s rejection that no one realizes. Also returning from an absence is Bates (Brendan Coyle) who had leave in London following his mother’s death. His tender reunion with head housemaid Anna (Joanne Froggatt) is short-lived when Bates has an unexpected visitor in the form of his wife Vera (Maria Doyle-Kennedy). Having come into some money with an inheritance left to him by his mother, she arrives with thoughts of money on her mind – and she brings with her the threat of blackmail to the Crawley household.

Having read so much about this series leading up to its airing on PBS, I was somewhat surprised by what a beautiful start the second series got off too. There are far too many beautiful scenes and memories from the first hour to recount, so we’ll just jump right in, shall we? First things first – the characters are instrumental to the success of this series. Flawed or no, they are some of the most engaging cast ever! And, creator Julian Fellowes created each of them with a great deal of thought while the actors who bring them to life seem to understand them on a very personal level. Probably the two things that are integral in this hour or two (the second series premiere covered two episodes) is the series starting off with an agonizing reunion that the audience most likely awaited with much longing, and secondly was the adorable relationship between Bates and Anna. Mary and Matthew’s reunion is much less confrontational than one would have possibly guessed. They are civil to one another and even seem to become friends during one of the most touching train station good-byes captured on film. Mary was something of a horrid, selfish girl in series one but while she still maintains her regal bearing and proud demeanor; she has definitely come a long way since then. Her character is so much softer and less judgmental – and I’ve a feeling that will only continue to become more of a reality during the ensuing episodes. Watching the lovely Anna and stalwart Bates talk of their dreams made me happier than I can say. Having rooted for their love in prior episodes, I couldn’t have been more thrilled by the writers putting them together – only mind you, it is temporary, at least for now.

Never fear if you missed your favorite character in my synopsis because also returning to the halls of Downton is Mr. Carson, Mrs. Hughes and Daisy, and Lady Edith played by Laura Carmichael. (And, yes, even the wicked Thomas is still around. Although how anyone could like him, I haven’t a clue! *shudders*) Although she is learning how to drive, it wouldn’t be a typical installment of Downton Abbey if Edith and Mary weren’t still at each other’s throats – and believe me, they are! And then if all of that weren’t enough, there is the evil Vera Bates. Say what you will about her (believe me, I am not her biggest fan) but whatever the case, Maria is an excellent actress who makes detesting her wonderful fun. What is best about this series is, not just the merit its characters have but also each of their individual stories. I have come to love how effortlessly they blend together until they are like dear friends. Apart from the revolving plots that sometimes seem as if they will never see completion, I find myself curious about Sir. Richard (Iain Glen), Mary’s new love interest (got a feeling that will not go down well) who we meet in the latter half, and laughing hysterically at the antics of the new maid Ethel. All of the little things that combine to “make” Downton Abbey just prove why it is still being nominated for awards. And this wouldn’t be a proper review if I didn’t at least mention the costuming! Oh. My. Goodness. Is it ever lovely – designers are at the top of their game with this production and find the perfect, most flattering styles for each actor. By the time the “next time” preview ran and credits rolled, I didn’t feel as if we were overwhelmed with new information. Rather, writers built easily off of what was still lingering from the finale the previous year. As much as I had already been charmed by my visits to Downton, I was a little bit more so this time around. The show doesn’t relay on cheap gimmicks (for the most part) to better itself but rather the tenderness of a mother’s pride or the beauty that comes with a love realized. And that, my friends is Downton Abbey’s crowning achievement.

As most of you probably know, generally, I wait and review the series as a whole but the start to series two was so good, I couldn’t resist reviewing episode one. So, readers, I am asking you all: which would you prefer – rambling episodic reviews or a series two review in its entirety, which I could probably have for you late next week…? Fill up the comments with your first impressions of series two and anything else that may be on your mind. 
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Rissi
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5 comments:

  1. Personally I think rambling about Downton Abbey is a lot of fun. :)

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  2. I LOVED it! I think it's going to be just as good as last season, if not better!

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  3. Maria really is a wonderful actress -- she isn't used very much this season (unfortunately) but she does make a delicious villain! Even so, my liking for the actress made it hard for me to hate Mrs. Bates, particularly considering Bates gets himself into these messes in the first place by being such a pushover! ;)

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  4. Rambling about it is amazing.....that is what friends of mine and I are doing on Facebook =) Even though we are watching it a second time. LOL

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  5. Ruth - well, from one fellow "Downton" rambler to another let's keep up the loving rambling, then, shall we!? LOL. ;D

    Natalie - me, too! So far, it is just as I'd have hoped. Hopefully I'll get more of an idea if I am going to be disappointed in it or not when I see E3 tonight; so excited!!

    Charity - so far, I don't mind Maria... as a villain, mind you. Her character is not likable but I think the actress makes it a lot of fun to detest her.

    Bates is trying to do the upstanding thing and protect the people who mean the most to him, so thus far, I am not placing the blame on him (other than the fact that he should't have ever married her in the first place).

    Ella - well, if anything deserves this much credit and praise, it is Downton Abbey. It is a beautiful production. My mother loves it. I love it, and I am thinking one of these days I need to loan S1 to my aunt who still hasn't seen it - she doesn't know what she's been missing. =)

    Watching it a second time is still fun. I just re-watched S1 in December and had to ask myself: what took 'me' so long!? =D

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