Downton Abbey, Season 2
Daisy the maid is Downton’s Dobby the house-elf.
Courtesy © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2011 for MASTERPIECE.
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I agree, Seth. Fabulous episode. It was a two-tissuer for me: one for tears, and one for tears of laughter. When Thomas, about to waltz with the dowager countess, asked her ladyship, “What about the black bottom?” and she replied, “Just keep me upright, and we’ll try to avoid it,” I shrieked so loudly I woke the cat.
Matthew’s getting down on one knee as that cotton-wool snow floated down and the strains of the orchestra wafted through the French windows was lovely, but there’s no way Julian Fellowes will let Mary and Matthew settle down. There are 10 or 15 obstacles sure to crop up on their path to happiness. Otherwise, the show is sunk. If Season 3 begins with Matthary’s marriage and ends with the birth of an heir, what exciting plot turns will be left? Missing dogs and an off-stage death I stopped caring about two episodes ago? If so, hand me the remote.
Seth, you’re right to mock our editorial supremo’s media-magnate solidarity with Sir Richard Carlisle, but to be fair to Plotz, he was talking about the man we knew until this week—smart, self-made, and admirable. Back in Week 1, I also dubbed Mary and Sir Richard “well-matched.” This episode, Carlisle suddenly became a cartoon bad guy, all jealous and shouty, the kind of man who would complain that the Granthams molly-coddle their servants and raise his voice to Mary when other people were around. Of course, his nastiness made it far easier to ditch him—as Matthew said, “It isn’t worth buying off a month of scandal with a lifetime of misery.” But what if the alternative had been something more palatable than a lifetime of misery?
Daisy has always reminded me of Dobby the house elf from the Harry Potter books—dim but loyal, hard-working, and with a streak of integrity that complicates life. Or perhaps it’s just the broad forehead. This week, her struggle to name her feelings—she insists she didn’t love William, though everyone from her father-in-law to the dowager countess is quite certain that she did—really paid off. Mr. Mason helped her realize that though she may think she’s never been special to anyone—and what a sad thought that is—she was special to William, and now she’s special to him. That doesn’t just mean tea and scones and a ride back to Downton in his carriage but also advice that pays off: Stop listening to Miss Shore, he tells her, and ask Mrs. Patmore for a promotion. Our Daisy is growing up.
I loved the show’s sly use of the Ouija board. In the years after World War I and the Spanish flu epidemic, when millions of people were grieving, there was a tremendous interest in spiritualism. At first, the board was a source of mean but in-character japes, as when Thomas made it say “TOO FAT” when Mrs. Patmore was lurking nearby; or for clever characters to outwit innocents, as when Mrs. P used it to get Daisy to visit Mr. Mason. But then at the end, when pure-hearted Anna and Daisy were holding the planchette, it spookily spelled out, “May they be happy. With my love.” Was it a message from Lavinia? From the real Patrick Gordon? From Mr. Pamuk?
Sometimes during the slow bits—you know, when they’re off in the woods looking for a dog or something—I entertain myself by wondering what these characters would do today. The dowager countess would be a diplomat, Thomas would have a show on Bravo, and Carson would be a kick-ass copy editor. But clearly, O’Brien would be a wicked agony aunt. (“Bad advice for evil bitches.”) When Thomas wondered how he could win over Lord Grantham, O’Brien didn’t even have to pause before she offered him a brilliant solution: “Make him grateful. Do a good turn. Hide something he loves and find it and give it back.” Of course, he almost managed to Thomas it up, when the village children found Isis before he could, but Thomas’ incompetence doesn’t diminish O’Brien’s brilliance.
I’m Tess of the d’Urbervilles to your Angel Clare,
Dan Kois, Seth Stevenson, and June Thomas will be chatting with readers about the Downton Abbey finale and all of the highs and lows of the show’s second season. Join them on Facebook at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 21 to take part in the chat.
June Thomas is a Slate culture critic. Follow her on Twitter.