Downton Abbey, Season 2
Has Lord Grantham gotten his groove back?
Nick Briggs/Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2011 for MASTERPIECE.
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Seth, I love the idea of Jane as a manic pixie dream maid. The quick love connection between her and Lord Grantham says very little about Jane and quite a bit about Lord G. (Of course, that’s the entire purpose of Jane as a character: To say quite a bit about Lord G.) But I do think that Julian Fellowes set up convincingly the idea of a Robert Crawley who’s feeling lost at sea—unwanted by the army, ignored by his wife, puttering around a big old house while soldiers who made the penultimate sacrifice for queen and country suffer in the next room. “Before the war I believed my life had value,” he says gloomily. “I should like to feel that way again.” Affairs—or almost-affairs, like this one—are, the old wisdom goes, more about the cheater than the object of his affections; it’s not surprising that Lord Grantham would be attracted to being of use to someone, even if it’s just getting her son into Ripon Grammar.
Poor Hugh Bonneville’s been in the same situation as Lord G this season—at a loss, left with nothing to do. (I worried he’d start eyeing some tarty sitcom.) But this episode let him cut loose at last. Whether snogging Jane in his dressing room (and hiding her behind the door when Bates intruded), raging against Sybil and Branson’s plans, or attending his gravely ill wife at her bedside, Bonneville did the acting of 10 men this week. I’m glad—Downton is a better show when Hugh Bonneville isn’t just sitting around brushing his epaulets. But despite the rapprochement with Cora, are things really better for m’lord? “I have no right to be unhappy,” he says when Jane wishes him happiness, “which is almost the same.” Don’t be defeatist, Robert! It’s so middle-class.
Now that Branson’s a journalist I certainly hope he’ll get a job writing about the Irish situation for Sir Richard’s tabloids. Nevertheless, I can’t say this episode turned me around on the Celtic tiger, who despite his piercing blue eyes and scarf-worthy mien still seems like a big jerk. (I will say I was pleased with his dignified yet appropriately outraged response at Lord Grantham’s attempt to bribe him out of his love.)
Oh June, Thomas and O’Brien as evil twins? Evil twins? The very idea is making me very, very excited for Season 3. There’s certainly some connection there, and their loyalty to each other is the most endearing thing about either of them. The only reason I worry that there really is no explanation is that it wouldn’t be like Downton to withhold even a hint of their (presumably) shared past; Julian Fellowes is as bad at playing things close to the vest as his gasping, eye-rolling, Very-Serious-Look-giving characters.
If you’re turning American on me, I'm going downstairs,
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 for next week’s finale when commenting.
Dan Kois is a senior editor at Slate and a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine.