Downton Abbey, Season 2

The Dowager Countess Is Julian Fellowes’ Proxy
Talking television.
Jan. 23 2012 4:48 PM

Downton Abbey, Season 2

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

Mary and the Dowager Countess have an unsatisfying heart-to-heart.

Dame Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess.
Dame Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess

Photograph courtesy Carnival Film & Television.

See our Magnum Photos gallery on the English countryside.

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

What did you chaps make of the conversation between Lady Mary and her grandmother? We haven’t talked much about Violet in our little chats—Dame Maggie Smith is so magnificent, it’s hard to know what to say beyond, “Isn’t she awesome?” and “Can you believe she said that?” The Dowager Countess is often used for comic effect—since she represents the old ways in their purest form, and, I think, acts as a proxy for Julian Fellowes’ view of the world, she tends to get the best lines.

Advertisement

Mary and Violet’s chats are usually smart, tart, and great fun, but this week’s discussion of Mary’s future with Sir Richard Carlisle was rather dispiriting. When Violet suggests that Richard’s treatment of Lavinia was harsh—he got her to tattle on her uncle (more snitching!) in exchange for Carlisle settling her father’s debts—Mary defends him by saying that “he lives in a tough world.” It’s a world that Violet doesn’t want her granddaughter to join him in.

Mary sticks up for Carlisle by citing his power and his ever-increasing wealth—traits that normally appeal to Violet. But when Mary tells her grandmother about his plans to buy a country estate after the war when the market will be flooded, Violet is appalled. “You can dance on the grave of a fallen family,” she spits. Mary’s response is a perfect encapsulation of her “I didn’t make the rules, I’m just trying to be smart about how I respond to them” attitude: “They will fall, lots of them. Some won’t, but I don’t intend to be among them.”

I can’t decide: Is Mary just being realistic about what the loss of so many sons of the aristocracy will mean to country life, or is her callous attitude meant to show what a horrible influence Carlisle has already had on our favorite English rose?

Ah, fickle womanhood. One minute I’m hating on Mary for her calculating ways, and then another scene wins me over. I loved the bit at the piano as she and Lady Edith were rehearsing for the concert. “I wish we had a man,” Edith sighed, hoping for a baritone to anchor her sister’s rather thin soprano. “Amen,” responded Mary, with that one word expressing much more earthly desires.

I’m off to do some invisible mending,

June

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

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Gaming
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 PM Should You Freeze Your Eggs? An egg freezing party is not a great place to find answers to this or other questions.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.