Downton Abbey, Season 2

Mrs. Bates has turned into the Wicked Witch
Talking television.
Jan. 30 2012 12:12 PM

Downton Abbey, Season 2

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Mrs. Bates has transformed into the Wicked Witch of the West.

Downton Abbey, Season Two: Episode Four.
Daisy and William

Photograph courtesy Carnival Film & Television Limited 2011 for MASTERPIECE.

See our Magnum Photos gallery on the English countryside.

Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

Fellow mourners,

I think Daisy learned an important lesson in Season 1, when she allowed herself to get pushed around by Thomas and O'Brien. At the end of that escapade, she vowed she'd forever remain true to her own bearings. It’s understandable that she’d resist when along came Mrs. Patmore, pushing her around again. But I think the moment William died was the moment she realized she actually loved the poor bloke.

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As for what lumped my throat? It was Matthew seeing his mother for the first time after his injury, recognizing the twinned sadness and relief on her face, and at last letting the dam on his emotions crumble. A close second: watching Mary lose it as she walked away from Matthew's cot, after remaining strong in his presence.

What a contrast to watch Mary with Matthew and then with Sir Richard. Her meetings with the granite-souled mogul are all pragmatic negotiation. With Matthew, she is heart, not head. We got a glimpse of Sir Dick's true character when Mary told him the tale of the Turk. First Sir Richard taunted Mary for succumbing to passion. Then he quickly calculated that this revelation might set him on equal terms with her—balancing her checkered past against his unpolished upbringing. Never did he express any sympathy for the fact that her first lover died suddenly in her bed. And have we yet seen him say anything sweet about Mary the person? (Not Mary the potential partner in domination, or Mary the strategic asset.)

Mrs. Bates has transformed into the Wicked Witch of the West. She is nothing but an instrument of pointless evil and destruction. Why, once she's got her blackmail money and then some, would she still care if she brought down the Crawleys? Can she possibly begrudge Bates a sliver of happiness out of sheer spite? Her character, as scripted, makes little sense to me.

Meanwhile, war has brought out the absolute best in the dowager countess. At last she has a mission beyond growing prize-winning roses. And it turns out her driving instincts are wholly compassionate and wholly blind to class division. Brava, you magnificent warship of a woman.

I earlier noted that Downton is a family saga with two families—one upstairs and one downstairs. Rarely has that been more clear than when the assembled Crawleys faced the servant clan from opposite sides of a doorway, each with a family member suspended in grave peril. And how fitting that Carson gave away Daisy as though he were her father.

I guess I'll be the one to ask an indelicate question at a delicate time. If Matthew is to have no heir, what might we expect will happen to Downton? Who is next in line after he dies? I need a copy of the entail and a team of estate lawyers, on the double.

I'm not much good at hanging back, I'm afraid,

Seth

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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