(Reblogged at the Austin Chronicle Screens blog)
The second half of Sunday’s Downton Abbey premiere was actually episode two for the season, but ties up and/or carries through many of the plot lines from the first episode. Picking up where the first half left off, seemingly the morning after Cora shit-canned Nanny West for abusing Sybbie. Cora praises Thomas in front of LG for alerting her to his concerns about the Nanny. (Which we all know was not coming from a place of good intentions because Thomas.) “I just had a hunch that she wasn’t quite all Sir Garnet,” he smirks smugly. We’ll come to realize that now that he’s got Cora’s ear, shenanigans will ensue.
The bulk of the episode centers on Mary’s post-Matthew life. Clad in an elegant mauve dress, she arrives at the tenants’ luncheon, where Branson gives up his seat so that she may take her rightful place at the table, which becomes a through-line for this episode’s plot. A box arrives from Matthew’s office, including a letter he had written before their holiday trip to Scotland. The letter states that he intends Mary to be his sole heiress and that he will have a will drawn up before the baby is born.
Now the question is to whether the letter is legally binding. In the meantime, Mary expresses an interest in taking on a more involved role in managing the estate and LG very obnoxiously smacks her down — at dinner, no less — attempting to put the ignorant little lady in her place. Violet correctly assumes, and says as much, that LG hopes that the letter isn’t valid because heaven forfend he have to share control of the estate with a woman.
Violet suggests to Branson and Mary that the former instruct Mary in the daily running of the estate, necessarily behind curmudgeonly LG’s back. This turns out to be a good plan, as word comes back that Matthew’s letter is legally binding and Mary owns half the estate. Let’s all brace ourselves for a protracted power struggle between Mary and LG, especially over how to pay the death duties. As Branson astutely puts it, “You won’t keep her quiet, not now that the bit’s between her teeth.” Ah, the woman-as-horse metaphor. Gotta love it.
Edith: Clad in a hideous red and black dress (she seems committed to deviating from the purple color palette of Downton Abbey when she’s in London), Edith reckons Mr. Gregson needs to meet the family, the rationale being that he’s “nearly German and nearly divorced.” Before catching the 3:00 train, she invites Mr. Gregson to an upcoming house party, and also finds it increasingly difficult to decline his invitations to “stay a little longer,” if you know what I mean. (She later arrives late for dinner, which makes me wonder whether she actually did stay for a little afternoon delight with Mr. Gregson.)
The Edna Problem: Anna spies Edna and Thomas chatting in the hall and advises the former to keep her distance from Edna. Honey Badger Edna don’t give a dang. Edna ruins a blouse of Cora’s, and Thomas helps her out by cooking up a story that Anna was the culprit and was bullying Edna out of jealousy because she’d been hired into a more senior position. Ugh, why are they basically making Edna’s character into O’Brien 2.0? That’s not interesting.
The Charlies: Carson is still not interested in having anything to do with Charlie Grigg, who is still under Isobel’s care. Isobel manages to get Mr. Grigg a position as a stage door keeper at the opera house in Belfast. Turns out that Carson had been in love with a woman named Alice who broke his heart. Mrs. Hughes, who found out that Alice had left Carson for Mr. Grigg, reckons Carson should make his peace with Mr. Grigg so that he’s not walking around with an open wound. This must have hit home, because Carson arrives at the train station to see off Mr. Grigg, who informs Carson that Alice is five-years dead, but had professed her preference for Carson and had been a fool to leave him. The Charlies part as friends.
Poor Molesley: Anna spots Poor Molesley working as a blacktopper. He confesses that he owes money all over town, to the tune of 15 to 20 pounds. This upsets Anna deeply, and she says as much to Mr. Bates. Bates approaches Violet and asks her for money for Poor Molesley, then forges Poor Molesley’s signature onto a fake promissory note. At tea later that evening, Mr. Bates “repays” a befuddled Poor Molesley 30 pounds, which pleases Anna but also confuses her.
Cousin Oliver Lady Rose: Lady Rose wants to go to a thé dansant in York and asks Anna to accompany her. They go, Rose pretends to be a housemaid and attracts the attention of Sam, an under-gardener from a nearby estate. Ugh. Boring. We get it, Rose is a rulebreaker, y’all.
Dowager Countess Zinger Count: 3. To LG: “When you talk like that, I’m tempted to ring for Nanny and have you put to bed with no supper!” To Bates, when he refers to Poor Molesley as Mr. Molesley the Younger: “You make him sound like a Greek philosopher.” To Mary and Branson, when she’s told that she still must refer to Branson as Tom: “I see I’m beaten, but oh how I sympathize with King Canute.”