Downton Abbey, Season 2

Why I Turned Against Branson
Talking television.
Jan. 23 2012 12:00 PM

Downton Abbey, Season 2

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Why I turned against Branson.

Lady Edith, Lady Mary and Lady Sybil
Lady Edith, Lady Mary, and Lady Sybil

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Dan Kois Dan Kois

Dan Kois is Slate's culture editor, co-host of Mom and Dad Are Fighting, and a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine.

Abbeys of Steel,

June, I too noticed that Matthew looked skinny upon his grand arrival in that heart-catching scene at the end of the episode. Maybe he can stop at the soup kitchen that was once his house for some hearty beef stew. That should plump him right up! I didn’t notice that Edith stopped playing, but perhaps she just noticed her sister had gasped and stopped singing. Granted, that would be asking a lot of solipsistic Edith, but she made great strides this week in paying attention to anyone besides herself. Her decision to tell Mary about Matthew’s mysterious disappearance—her snitchin’, that is—was an extraordinarily nice act, and the first moment of tenderness I think I’ve ever seen between those two.

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It was a deft touch to have Anna find Mary just afterward, for Anna is the anti-Edith, the ne plus ultra of nice at Downton. She’s also, not coincidentally, the character who just wrecks me the way Thomas does June and Mary does Seth. The quick hug Bates gave Anna earlier in the episode mirrored nicely the surprising way Mary took up Matthew’s hand when wishing him well—a moment that seemed to discomfit Matthew in a way Matthary partisans had to find cheering. (Also cheering, and hilarious: That it never once dawned on anyone at Downton to let Lavinia know her fiancé had gone missing.)

I thought this episode was directed quite interestingly by Brian Kelly. It started with a long, showy tracking shot through the officers’ quarters and onto the grand staircase. Kelly used a surprising, and well-chosen, handheld camera as Edith told Mary the bad news. And he frequently employed reflections to show characters struggling with themselves—Mary staring at herself in the mirror after a difficult discussion with her parents about Matthew; Branson and Sibyl reflected in the car’s windshield during their argument. If it seemed a tad overdone, I was still glad to see a little auteurist flair in a series that is more commonly shot in a boilerplate style I’d call Merchant-Ivory Lite.

As for Branson and Sibyl, I’m afraid I turned against the Irish firecracker last night when he dismissed his beloved’s work as “bringing hot drinks to a lot of randy officers.” Branson! You drive a car for a living, so shut the hell up.

If I am not appreciated here, I will seek some other place where I will make a difference, I mean it,

Dan

Note: Out of consideration for viewers in the U.S., please do not post Season 2 spoilers in the comments.