Downton Abbey, Season 2

The Saddest Episode of Downton Abbey Yet
Talking television.
Jan. 29 2012 10:01 PM

Downton Abbey, Season 2

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Daisy! Do the right thing!

Downton Abbey.
Daisy and Mrs. Patmore with Lady Sybil

Photograph courtesy Carnival Film & Television Limited.

See our Magnum Photos gallery on the English countryside.

Dan Kois Dan Kois

Dan Kois is Slate's culture editor and a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine.

Hello my dears,

Well, that one packed a wallop.

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Let it be known that at the 46:30 mark of this very fine, very sad episode of Downton Abbey, my wife and I simultaneously shouted at the screen some variation of the phrase, “Jesus Christ, Daisy, just marry the poor bastard!” Indeed, for much of the episode, sweet, prim Daisy—torn by the false promise she made to William before he went off to his doom—couldn’t bear to give him the one thing he wanted before he died. In the end, it was the established social order of the house—Mrs. Hughes handing her flowers, Carson offering his arm—that pushed her into doing the right thing. But for several moments I really thought she wouldn’t listen to the wisdom of Lori Gottlieb and would flee into the night, returning only when William was gone, with regrets haunting her the rest of her life.

She will be haunted, of course, but at least she was brave. This episode offered a great deal of courage—upper lips were stiff even as lower lips quivered with oncoming sobs. There was William, bravely pushing Matthew aside as a shell fell near them in Amiens. (And I guess now we know why all the other war scenes looked so shitty—they blew their budget on this one, to excellent effect.) There was paralyzed Matthew, bravely sending Lavinia away, doing what he thought was best even though it was as cruel as could be. (Hell, in 1918 it apparently took a great deal of courage even to allude to the marital act in private conversation with your fiancee.) Mrs. Hughes faced up to the dastardly major in passing along Ethel’s letter. And there was Mary, perhaps the bravest of all, confessing her shame to Sir Richard and, with clear eyes, asking for his help in stamping out Mrs. Bates’ plans to ruin the Crawleys.

That scene, I thought, was exceptionally well-written, as were Sir Richard’s two encounters with the awful Mrs. Bates. They made me simultaneously respect the man for how straightforward he is with Mary, and fear what he might do should the Crawleys ever cross him. Which it seems they would have to, should the Mattharys ever get what they so desperately desire.

Up until now, Sir Richard brooding menace has mostly been coiled, but I’m waiting for his rage to be unleashed. We know from Game of Thrones that Iain Glen (who plays Ser Jorah Mormont) can wield a mean sword. I sure hope that Sir Richard doesn’t lay waste to the Crawleys like Ser Jorah sliced through Dothraki.

June, did this episode set off the waterworks? Did you think the wedding scene was overdone? And how much did you love the Dowager Countess talking on the phone? Did she really call her nephew “Shrimpy”?

I’ll die if I can’t be with you,

Dan

Editor’s note: For the benefit of American readers who haven’t yet seen Season 2 of Downton Abbey, please do your best to avoid spoilers when commenting.

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