Downton Abbey, Season 2

A Wrestling Match Between Two Men in Dinner Jackets
Talking television.
Feb. 20 2012 1:07 PM

Downton Abbey, Season 2

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An honest-to-God wrestling match between two men in dinner jackets!

Still from Downton Abbey.
Penguin fight!

Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2011 for MASTERPIECE.

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.

Dear Abbeys, dear Abbeys,

Was I satisfied by this finale? To misappropriate the words of poor Lady Rosamund: “Please forgive me, but damn.” That was a hell of a conclusion, I thought, full of drama, romance, suspense, and an honest-to-God wrestling match between men in dinner jackets. I think my favorite thing about it was that it, well, concluded this season—offering resolution to any number of plot points and leaving very few of its characters dangling off cliffs. We saw Mary dump Sir Richard, Matthew propose to Mary, Daisy come to terms with William’s ghost, Thomas become valet, Isis return safely home. Bates remains in prison, but at least the finale didn’t leave him with the noose around his neck waiting for news of a reprieve from London’s most incompetent attorney.

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Speaking of Mr. Murray! I have to assume that in the England of 1920 it was totally normal for defense attorneys to go to trial without ever having seen the statements the accused made in custody? Because that’s the only way to explain the fact that every single Downton resident who came up to the stand was caught completely off-guard and ended up incriminating Bates. (And how did, for example, anyone know about Mrs. Hughes overhearing that conversation? Ah, better to just let it go, I think.)

“Don’t make yourself ridiculous!” Rosamund’s nefarious maid snapped at poor bankrupt Lord Hepworth when they’re exposed as the world’s most inept fortune-hunters. I’d urge Julian Fellowes and everyone else behind Downton Abbey never to listen to such advice. If they did, we’d never witness such wondrous scenes as Thomas stumbling through the woods with Isis on a rope, or Matthew downing a whiskey in preparation for his dance with O’Brien. (But why, oh why, did we not get to see Sir Richard giving clues at "the game"?) And what could be more wonderfully ridiculous than the Ouija board delivering the words of poor dead Lavinia Swire at the very moment of Matthew’s proposal? Of course it was Lavinia, June; didn’t you hear how her message—“May they be happy”—was opportunistically echoed by Matthew just before he went down on one knee? (Were it Mr. Pamuk’s spirit, I like to imagine the message would be “I REGRET NOTHING!”) I only wish the shade of Patrick Crawley had come to Downton as well, to remind everyone that he’s actually dead and not a conveniently burned Canadian.

As for Sir Richard, of course we’re meant to think him a boorish clod, but leaving that aside, did no one besides me feel he had a point? Mary is as slow as a glacier in setting a wedding date; she does seem to despise spending time with her fiancé; Matthew does seize every opportunity to spend time with her. It’s the last that rankled, a bit; Mary couldn’t have an argument with Sir Richard without Matthew barging in. Mary’s a capable young woman, and I’d have liked to see her have a chance to take on Sir Richard all on her own without Matthew riding to the rescue. And it didn’t even help! Of course Matthew showing up in Mary’s defense just made Sir Dick madder! It demonstrated that he was exactly right. Hence: Penguin fight.

That thoughtful final scene between Lady Mary and Sir Richard allowed the newsman to retain a bit of his dignity, and decency, and leaves open the possibility that perhaps he won’t expose the various Crawley family follies to which he’s become privy. I imagine the restraint at which he hints will evaporate the instant he hears that Mary and Matthew got engaged like a week later.

Find a cowboy in the Middle West and bring him back to shake us up a bit,

Dan

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.

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