Downton Abbey, Season 2

Downton’s Loveliest Two Scenes of the Year
Talking television.
Feb. 21 2012 4:08 PM

Downton Abbey, Season 2

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The two scenes that remind us why Downton is sometimes just plain great, even without suds.

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Mary and Matthew have the Talk

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.

My dear partners in Abbeygabbery,

I’m not going to venture a guess as to what might happen in Season 3. Our shrewd commenters have already noted that I don’t know a dinner jacket from a tailcoat or a colonel from a major, so they’re unlikely to appreciate my predictions that in the 1920s, all Downton will be transfixed by the moon landing and Lady Edith will be disinherited for her love of lambada—the Forbidden Dance. And I have no better suggestions for TV shows that might ease Downton withdrawal than June’s, or our readers’.

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I prefer, in this final dispatch of the TV Club (until next year!), to focus on the season gone by. It’s been a season with its fair share of missteps–P. Gordon being the biggest, and clumsiest, of them–but still an immensely satisfying one. And I think that for all my love of the soapy, silly, ridiculous machinations of this show, I haven’t given Sir Julian enough credit for the things he really does quite well. Two scenes in this week’s episode, both featuring Lady Mary, reminded me that beyond the plot twists and dowager quips Fellowes can write a lovely, heartwarming conversation between two hurting people as well as anyone.

The scene in which Crawley sits down with Lady Mary and reveals that he knows about the Turkish gentleman could have easily become bathetic or embarrassingly cloying. But Fellowes expertly portrays both Mary’s shame and Robert’s firm belief that his daughter deserves happiness. The journey of this well-constructed conversation is Mary’s, as she comes to realize that her father has already moved through disappointment and outrage into acceptance of her mistake–there’s relief in Mary that she won’t have to face those stages, but real regret that she’s put her father through them. In the end, though, while they’re both emotional people, they’re also both tacticians, and watching them work together through the probable consequences of their plan is thrilling–a reminder that these two characters, different though they may be, are still of the same blood, and on the same side.

Mary’s admission about Mr. Pamuk to Matthew later in the episode is even more fraught, and follows a different course. Here she must endure his traveling from confusion to disbelief to disappointment, all before her eyes. She must not belittle his absurd question of whether she loved Pamuk, and she must respect his anger when he responds badly to her joke about Tess of the d’Urbervilles. For his part, Matthew shows himself to be as strong as we might hope him to be, when he short-circuits his own reaction in order to focus on the matter he views, correctly, as more crucial: convincing Mary not to wed Sir Richard. “It isn’t worth buying off a month of scandal with a lifetime of misery,” he says as they walk the lawn. Perhaps Mary’s already made her decision by now, but simply treasures Matthew’s support. Or perhaps she doesn’t make her decision until this conversation helps her see that the scandal, bad as it may be, will not be the end of her life. She’s a storm-braver. So, on the evidence of this season, is Downton Abbey.

See you next year, milord, milady, when we’ll pick apart Season 3 with just as much delight, I hope.

I never would–I never could despise you,

Dan

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