Binge-Watching on the Small Screen

If you’ve not ventured out to the Cineplex lately for larger than life spectacles, you’re not alone. And that’s what Steven Spielberg is worried about. The small screen is taking over: streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Crave… are keeping movie goers at home. What more, these services are making their own productions; memory of last year’s Netflix original movie, multiple Oscar winner Roma may still be fresh.

If binge-watching is the new urban phenom, then binge-racing has to be the newest spectator sport on the couch. Binge-racing, a term not in the OED yet, just means watching a whole Season of episodes all within the first 24 hrs. of their release. That could amount to 12 hrs. of binge-viewing.

In recent months I too have discovered the joy of small-screen bingeing. I declare though, I’m not a racer; as the title of this blog implies, I’m a ripple rider when it comes to small screen viewing. So for a while I’ve been catching up with some interesting titles and I must admit, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the activity.

No, this is not a debate about which is better, watching big Hollywood productions in the theatre vs. streaming on your TV screen or just on your 6″ handheld device; it’s about accessing interesting human stories to watch in a continuous and user friendly mode, as you can pause to take care of more urgent needs that may arise, like heading to the snack counter, without missing a beat or having to wait for the next commercial break.

The following are some titles I’ve binge-watched in the past year or so. By ‘binge’ I just mean watching all the episodes in a Season in one sitting, or two. Some are mini-series, so it’s just like watching a slightly longer movie than you would in a theatre.

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The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime Video)

The-Marvellous-Mrs-Maisel

This is probably the best period series I’ve watched in recent years. 1950’s NYC, Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan), wife, mother of two young children, devoted daughter of a Jewish family living in the Upper West Side, decides to choose a different path.

Inciting incident is when her husband Joel (Michal Zegen) one day packs up and leaves. Happy families can be turned into unhappy in the blink of an eye, for various reasons. One time at the Gaslight Café in Greenwich Village, Midge rants about her domestic blues during open mike and is discovered, or rather, she hears her true calling, and that’s being a stand-up comedienne.

This must be kept a secret from her Columbia U. professor father Abe Weissman (Tony Shalhoub) and her mother Rose (Marin Hinkle), a deep-rooted figure in the community. Midge hides her double life successfully at first, and her resolve to strike out on her own is strong. First she finds a day job at B. Altman Department Store, unheard of in her social circle, and at night does stand-up gigs as a comedienne, even more far-fetched. She lies low with her new persona, why, her newly acquired language is too foul for her family and friends, but foul is fair for Mrs. Maisel’s career. 

Period events and personalities add to the authentic build up of the story: Lenny Bruce is Mrs. Maisel’s supporter, Jane Jacob hangs around the Village, emergent artists perform at the Gaslight Café, albeit some are the deadpan material of the comedy. For the larger picture, the Cold War, secrets and spies, the Kennedys form the backdrop.

Very well written comedy, beautiful set design and period costumes, superbly performed by the wonderful cast. Rachel Brosnahan won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a TV series, Musical or Comedy (2019); the show won a GG for Best TV series, Musical or Comedy in 2018, and for 2019, it has snatched SAG Awards, Prime Time Emmy, AFI Award for TV Program of the Year. Enough said.

Mozart in the Jungle (Amazon Prime Video)

Mozart in the Jungle.jpg

No matter which classy name you put in, Bach, Beethoven, Schubert… it’s still a jungle. The series doesn’t just showcase the music of the fictional New York Symphony but probe their private, and not so private, life as well. In the jungle, you’d expect that’s where the wild things are. Their softball team is aptly named Wolf Gang (no doubt a playful pun on Mozart’s name). The Golden Globe and Emmy Award winner for Best TV series, Musical or Comedy, does have some inspiring musical scores and thoughtful lines.

To add some real-life flare, classical music figures Lang Lang, Emanuel Ax and Joshua Bell had made personal appearances. What more, while the regular cast members had to fake their instrument-playing, Dermot Mulroney (My Best Friend’s Wedding, 1997) didn’t need to. In one episode as a guest star, he’d shown himself to be an impressive cello virtuoso.

Coincidentally, I’ve recently finished Jamie Bernstein’s memoir Famous Father Girl: A Memoir of Growing up Bernstein. With her book, she had successfully destroyed the image of my American idol during my youthful days, Leonard Bernstein. Fact is stranger, or wilder, than fiction indeed. The classical music realm isn’t a ‘holier than thou’ kind of high-brow milieu. It’s occupied by humans after all.

 

Killing Eve (Crave)

Killing Eve

I don’t have Crave (HBO), so this one I watched on DVD, after a long wait for holds at the public library. Sandra Oh won a Best Actress Golden Globe for a TV series with her portrayal of MI5 agent Eve Polastri, obsessed with tracking down the psychotic killer Villanelle (Jodie Comer). Comer is good too, like a female version of Hannibal Lecter. Only difference is, she’s more humane than Lecter in that she’d rather put a fast bullet in her victim’s head than slowly eat the grey matter inside. Exactly, this is not for everyone, but for the thrill seekers and Oh fans. Slick and fast-paced, engaging performance and suspenseful storylines sprinkled with humor every now and then.

Collateral (Netflix)

Carey Mulligan in Collateral

I’ll watch anything that stars Carey Mulligan. The David Hare written, 4-Episode TV mini-series stands out, for it features a 7-month pregnant Mulligan as a London detective solving a street shooting. Exactly, why can’t a woman with a baby bump be a detective and fight crime, and along the way, exposes issues within the government about immigration policies and some dark secrets? Kudos to BBC, director S. J. Clarkson, and Carey Mulligan for taking on the challenge.

The Crown (Netflix)

The Crown.jpg

The series deserves all the accolades it has garnered. Claire Foy is superb as a younger Queen Elizabeth and the whole cast is notable. I’m eagerly waiting for the new Season with Olivia Colman as the Queen, continuing with the relay. QE is the longest reigning monarch in England’s history, so we’ll have many more Seasons to come(?) Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret would make one lively addition in the upcoming Season.

The Kominsky Method (Netflix)

A dynamic acting duo, Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin exude good chemistry. Douglas is Sandy Kominsky, an acting coach transforming young actors with his own Kominsky Method. Arkin plays his long-time friend and agent Norman who recently lost his wife to cancer. Confusion and insecurities abound in this stage of their life. What better companion they have than each other to ride into the sunset. The well-written script and nuanced performance from both make this series an enjoyable and inspiring character study.

Z: The Beginning of Everything (Amazon Prime Video)

Based on the book Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler, who produced  the TV series and wrote the screenplays of several episodes. Beautiful set design, costume and makeup. Fowler’s book and the adaptation is framed from Zelda’s point-of-view, a writer in her own right and a tragic heroine when it comes to her marriage. Zelda (Christina Ricci) is an unhappy wife overshadowed by an alcoholic, egoistic writer. Only one Season so far has been produced and the biopic stops in midlife. I hope the production will eventually pick up to the end. It’s an image-questioning look at F. Scott Fitzgerald who’d given us some of America’s best loved novels.

The Highwaymen (Netflix)

A Bonnie and Clyde remake but this time from the the point-of-view of two Texas Rangers who come out of retirement to take down the notorious outlaw couple. No, it’s not a comedy but yes, lightweight. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway are replaced by Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson, who join hands to offer a non-glamorous take on the capture. Directed by John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, 2009). A Netflix original movie.

**

What are you binge-watching these days?

Downton Abbey Season 6 Finale: Goodbye to All That

With the Finale of Downton’s last Season wrapping up the six-year serial, we’ve come to the end of an era. Ok, maybe not an era, but definitely the end of a saga. What exactly are we saying goodbye to? That’s a worthy subject to discuss.

The Finale on Sunday night (March 6, 2016: A date to remember) is the epitome of what Downton is all about.

Downton-Abbey-season-6

 

We’re saying goodbye to:

Multiple characters with multiple storylines told in equal appeal. Depending on your favourites, some of course are more appealing than others. Scribe Julian’s forte is in telling many tales at the same time. How did he do that? With the stopwatch on my iPhone, I notice that many of these fast-paced scenes are no more than one minute in length. More important scenes run longer. Take e.g. the one with Bertie and Edith at the Ritz’s surprised dinner, secretly arranged by a repentant Mary, lasted three minutes. Yes, only three minutes.

The old-fashioned goodness, kindness, honesty, courage, and even altruistic chivalry, are presented in a favourable light and not as acerbic laughing stock or shrouded with sarcasm. The value of overcoming evil with good is the prevalent virtue throughout. Why, even the once in-house villain, Thomas Barrow, can be turned around by the kindness of everyone; not only that, he can even replace Mr. Carson as the butler of Downton.

The retirement of Carson means we’re saying goodbye to an era of unquestionable loyalty. Think of the butler Mr. Stevens (Anthony Hopkins) in the film adaptation of Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day (1993), where nothing interrupts his sacred duties as a butler, not even his own father’s death, needless to say, unrequited love from Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson). While scribe Julian captures the hearts of viewers by gratifying us with the union of Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes, the surprised retirement of Mr. Carson in the last episode in a way is an end of that total devotion of a servant to his master. I’m sure Barrow won’t be as die-hard a Crawley loyalist as Carson is.

Even trite dialogues, when delivered by an expert actor, can be effective and even inspiring. Why, something like: “Make peace with your sister, then make peace with yourself” doesn’t sound like a contrived word of wisdom from a Kung Fu Master to Grasshopper, but from Maggie Smith’s mouth, becomes a genuine, heartfelt advice from a loving grandmother to a wayward granddaughter. That line is from the second last episode, setting the stage for Edith’s reconciliation with Bertie in the Finale. And the world is made peaceful as a result, with the rival sisters at peace with each other.

Grand mansions and castles as the setting for a TV series. I’m not saying there won’t be any more Highclere’s out there waiting to be used as filming location, but such an opportunity of using a classy, old mansion in situ sure doesn’t come by often. The Grand Finale shows us even that there are grander estates than Highclere. In a reversal of fortune, Edith gets to live in an even more magnificent property than Mary. Yes, Edith sure has found her Mr. Darcy and Pemberley. And I’m happy for her.

Old status quo being taken for granted. Downton is not about the maintenance of aristocracy, but the torrential changes that bombard traditions and social structure. The very first episode of Season 1 is a significant symbol. The thought-to-be unsinkable Titanic came to a tragic end; later, with WWI comes the break down of social status and yes, even the aristocrats suffered casualties. All men are equal in the face of death and destruction. In real life, that Highclere Castle was used as a convalescent home was an exemplar of how the war had brought about changes.

Are we also saying goodbye’s to traditional TV productions,  or the conventional platforms of broadcasting? The blurring of the line between movies and TV productions could mean  new kind of shows in the future. While the methods may be different, let’s hope the quality and values can be maintained no matter what change may come.

What’s your take on the last Season Finale of Downton Abbey?

***

Previously on Downton Abbey Season 6:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

 

Downton Abbey S6 Episode 5

First off, congrats to the whole Downton cast for winning the 2016 Screen Actors Guild’s Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series last Saturday night (Jan. 30).  What a wonderful farewell gift. They’ve won this category four times in the past five years. A nice wrap indeed.

Now, to Sunday’s Downton episode. Scribe Julian of this mild and pleasant final Season has dropped a shock bomb so sudden that the surprise element is no less than Matthew’s car accident at the end of Season 3.  This time it’s even more graphic. You haven’t seen so much blood gushing out of a person, not even in the WWI battle scenes in Season 2.

That’s what happens if your ulcer bursts. Among the horror and chaos, kudos to Robert that he can utter the endearing last words to Cora, “if this is it, just know that I’ve loved you very, very much,” which Cora firmly repudiated, “This isn’t it, darling.”

So we take her words for it and not worry too much. Just a ploy our scribe Julian uses to make sure we haven’t fallen asleep in this mild and uneventful episode. I mean, what we’ve been looking at, so far, is Mr. Mason moving into Yew Tree Farm, Mrs. Patmore preparing food baskets, Mary watching her first car racing, Edith going on a date, and yes, Neville Chamberlain, yes, that Neville Chamberlain, brought into the battle of the local hospital and then the shocking scene happens.

Neville Chamberlain

Let me just recap these mundane events of the evening, albeit I must say, I love the change of scenery for them all. First to Yew Tree Farm. So the Landlord Duo Mary and Tom come to inspect and declare Mr. Mason too old for pig farming. Good Andy comes to the rescue. He’s not only willing to help out but wants to change his career path to become a pig farmer. Daisy is looking at what her future will be like with this ambitious young man and the aging Mr. Mason. Looks like Yew Tree Farm will be handed over to the young soon. But of course, Andy has to start learning to read and write in order to raise pigs. So Mr. Barrow steps in. Is it a good thing I wonder.

Mary Crawley and Henry Talbot, those two are quite incompatible, aren’t they? One craves cars and racing; one loves pigs and property management. One ignores social gaps, why of course, the race track is on pretty level ground; the other esteems her higher position and ‘won’t marry down.’

In contrast, Edith and Bertie, ‘evenly matched’ and ‘balanced’, relating as equals. Those are all Tom’s words reminiscing on his own courtship with Lady Sybil. “Real love means giving someone the power to hurt you.” Tom tells Mary.

And now Edith. Two exemplars for Mary to emulate, or, is she too high up on the horse to see clearly. I’m sure Henry Talbot has his ways. Why, the motor car is the perfect vehicle invented for modern romance, seating two side by side. Look, he’s much more relaxed now than in previous episodes.

So glad to see Edith finally enjoying herself and being genuinely happy. A cozy and elegant London apartment she has, mostly Michael Greyson’s taste. No matter, it’s a place she can call her own now that Downton is Queen Mary’s dominion. A new editor found to manage the magazine, everything under control… except her secret about Marigold. Would Mary her dear sister sabotage that hard-to-come-by peace in her life?

Miss Baxter’s brave move of coming out to be the witness for the prosecution reaps great results as the accused changes his plea upon hearing her name on the witness list. No trial is needed, what a relief. Don’t we hate to go through another Downton trial to see justice done, or undone? Wait a minute, maybe yes, there should be a trial, this time for Miss Denker for defamation and uttering threats.

What I like about this episode is the variation of sceneries and setting. The park where Edith and Bertie take a stroll, the race track, the Yew Tree Farm, and the new home of the Carsons. Yes, even the messing up of the elegant dining table and everyone’s formal attire with splattered blood. Some alternatives for the eyes.

Your take on this episode?

***

Previously on Downton Abbey Season 6:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

 

Downton Abbey S6 Episode 4

Downton S6 E4.jpg

Scribe Julian sure knows viewers’ heart. In the farewell Season, what better way to end than throwing in some pleasant surprises of reunion. Last week we had Tom and Sybbie back for good. This week, albeit just for a visit, a long forgotten figure, former housemaid Gwen is reintroduced. Nobody recognizes her except her former roommate Anna, and of course, Mr. Barrow, green with jealousy. Indeed, Gwen has reinvented herself. Now Mrs. John Harding and an advocate for women’s education. Isobel Crawley has aptly put it, “a 20th Century story.”

Gwen is an important symbol whose path Daisy would love to follow, leaving service to pursue other opportunities. It all started with Lady Sybil of course, as she’d taken the initiative to open doors for her housemaid. The grateful beneficiary’s dining table reminiscence of Lady Sybil is very moving, a tribute so powerful that even Mary feels ‘chastened’.

Just as Mary allows herself to some much needed self-reflection, she gets a chance to redeem herself right away. As I said in previous recaps, this is a Season of instant conflict resolutions. So to London she brings Anna for Dr. Ryder to hopefully stop another miscarriage. Tom the family driver is always there to help, before as it is now. What would we do if you’d stayed in Boston, Tom? While in London, scribe Julian delivers another quick fix. Now we can all be cautiously optimistic about Anna’s pregnancy.

Gwen’s reappearance not only brings existential reflection to Mary but to our in-house villain Thomas. Now he is mulling over his own raison d’être. This ego trip of being the butler of Downton while Mr. Carson is on honeymoon doesn’t pan out to be much fun after all. What’s the reason for living if you’re constantly in a bowl of cherry pits? But of course, it’s all a way of looking. Robert’s advice to Barrow is: Be kind. You just might see things differently. Now, find another employment.

Miss Baxter has to face some internal conflicts too as she prepares to deal with the devil of her past, not metaphorically, but actually going to trial as a witness for the prosecution regarding Peter Coyle, the man who’d brought numerous young women to their ruins. Now I can see it’s going to be a tortuous ordeal. But with Mr. Molesley’s support, I’m sure she can handle it.

And honesty, going back to the source of all these reflective mulling: Gwen Harding (née: Dawson); can Daisy ever tread her path? Seems like Daisy needs to take an anger management course alongside her academic upgrading. Pounding her potatoes into pulp may be a good way to transfer her anger which originates from her own misconception that Cora promising Yew Tree Farm to her father-in-law Mr. Mason. So now we do see Mr. Mason can actually lease the place, finding a resting ground looking ahead, and Daisy’s dedication to him ever strengthening, the Yew Tree Farm may just be a natural next step for her if she ever decides to let the potatoes go.

So the Dowager Countess Violet has recruited an ally in her friend Lady Shackleton to help her fight to keep control of the village hospital. At the dinner table discussing the issue, we see how each deal with the task at hand:

Lady Shackleton: How can I present myself as an expert when I don’t know the facts?

Violet: It’s never stopped me!

But that’s only the side show. The main attraction is this mystery nephew Lady Shackleton brings along. And I thought it was Ernest, who maybe had just come in from the cold of Antartica. But no, it’s Henry Talbot, the aloof but alluring race car enthusiast, a Goode choice to cast. He’d stopped by Downton once at the end of Season 5 with his fine motor. Mary brightens up and exclaims “Golly!” One word says it all.

Mary, O you’re such a country girl. Allow Henry to take you out on the town. Don’t worry about your shabby attire. Aunt Rosamund’s dress will do. For once, don’t act as the centre of attraction but just lose yourself in this mesmerizing surrounding, The Royal Automobile Club. Yes, there are many places you’ve never been before.

And the happy newlyweds are to be called Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes, saving the day for many. Really? Is it so hard to change the name calling her Mrs. Carson? Anyway, what’s in a name. After all, whatever name she takes up now is immaterial. I’m afraid she’s not going to be that Mrs. Hughes again as she herself had predicted when she was planning for her wedding reception.

So the welcome back party for the newlyweds is going to be held in the kitchen. People, just kindly make your way downstairs to join in the celebration.

One small step for one woman, one giant leap for the times. As we hear this my favourite quip of the night:

Violet: I haven’t been into the kitchens for, O, at least twenty years.

Isobel: Have you got your passport?

Keep your passport with you at all times, Violet. This is the 20th Century.

***

Previously on Downton Abbey:

Season 6 Episode 3 

Season 6 Episode 2

Season 6 Episode 1

***

Downton Abbey S6 Episode 3

The language of leave-taking is always gentle, pleasant, accommodating. Looks like this whole season is an extended farewell. While it is what we all want to see, characters we’ve befriended over five years are now coming together for one last time to happy resolutions, it is also sad to see this is their last efforts to entertain us.

And entertained we are, however placidly here in S6 E3. A long awaited middle-aged wedding finally takes place and I’m glad the reception is held in a school house as the bride desires and not in the grandeur of the great hall at Downton. No, I don’t think Cora is being a snob. Mary is unreasonable to accuse her mother as such only to further her own plan to have Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes hold their reception right there in the grand mansion. If Cora is being snobbish, then Mary is downright patronizing.

What’s the greatest farewell gift for us all? Here’s the foreshadowing: “Last night I dreamt I went to Downton again…” Julian Fellowes’s version of Rebecca, equally moving in Tom Branson’s letter.

A pleasant surprise indeed. Tom realizes where home really is, even though he has to go all the way to Boston to find out. The best scenario is always to have someone leave for a short while so that he can come back for good willingly. What more can a viewer ask? Sadly, even the great scribe Julian can’t bring back Sybil and Matthew; he can at least do us this favour with Tom and little Sybbie. Look at how George welcomes his little cousin back, embracing her and softly uttering this endearing word, “Sybbie.” Awww… Even Marigold gives a rare, spontaneous smile.

Next, Rose? I doubt it, since she’s almost everywhere lately, busy living her multiple personas as Cinderella, Natasha in War and Peace, and soon Elizabeth Bennet confronting zombies.

Another gratifying storyline is Edith’s. She’s the Anna upstairs. Something good is finally coming her way that warrants our congrats: Living on her own in London when she’s in town, firing the obnoxious editor Skinner, taking his place and beating the deadline to get a new issue out with some incredible teamwork from Bertie Pelham. Of course, Mary can smell that team miles away, but so what. Edith, go for it, both magazine and team, and the new you.

Edith in S6.jpg

In the slightly darker side, Miss Denker has a major role to play as the necessary nuisance to stir up some ripples in the calm waters of Downton’s final Season. Denke is a more animated stand-in for Mrs. O’Brien, still remember her? But she’s not the leave-in-the middle-of-the-night kind; looks like she’s going to hang on as long as Violet wants her. Violet seems to be fine with her own in-house Punch and Judy sideshow with Spratt and Denker.

After all, Violet Crawley is just too preoccupied with her own Punch and Judy show with Isobel. Now the line-ups are Isobel, Cora, Lord Merton, with Dr. Clarkson shifting ground. How can Violet step down gracefully without losing face, I wonder. Hope this is not as violent a show as Punch and Judy.

And Cora, never thought she can be so angry, scolding a bride on the night before her wedding? Definitely out of character. But the resolution is quick, again, now that’s more like Cora; since we don’t have much time left, so… apology accepted. Mrs. Hughes deserves not just a fancy piece of clothing but her total respect.

Finally, Anna has some good news. But hush, we won’t say more. Having been dealt bad cards all her married life, can this be a real, winning hand? It’s the farewell Season. I trust the handling will continue to be gentle and pleasant.

***

Previously on Downton Abbey Season 6:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Downton Abbey rings in the New Year one last time

What will we do without Downton in 2017? Will our biological clock even recognize it’s a new year?

But at the moment, let’s just celebrate this monumental achievement for one last time. If Sunday’s Episode 1 of this last Season signifies anything, it’s: tis the Season to be jolly.

This intro Episode has well prepared us for some neatly resolved, long due conclusions, and rightly so. For how can we live with an unsettled ending for any of its characters? They all deserve a good life, don’t they, including Mr. Barrow, the in-house villain? Well yes, but maybe not for a thief and blackmailer like Ms. Bevan.

Thanks to Ms. Bevan though, Mary’s secret is finally made known to Robert. Charlie Sheen had thought of it first: if the secret is out, no one can blackmail you anymore. Simple. But of course, Mary has her point. Tony Gilliangham is just not good enough for her. And the best line of the Episode belongs to our inimitable heroine:

“I’d rather be alone than with the wrong man.”

With that line, Robert knows his daughter can run the kingdom, let alone Downton Abbey.

Talking about good lines, looks like our scribe Julian Fellowes wants to leave us with more indelible ones just as parting mementos.

With this episode, we finally see that Mrs. Patmore has talents other than the culinary. Why, acting as a go-between to sort out marriage expectations sounds as nasty a mission as Ethan Hunt of the Impossible Missions Force would choose to accept. Well, what are friends for. And we applaud her (ugh… awkward) effort.

Yes, Mr. Carson will take Mrs. Hughes, wrinkles, warts and all, with the lights turned off or on. A gratifying, redeeming scenario in an alternate universe far from Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Days.

DA S6 E1

And at long last, Mr. and Mrs. Bates are proven to be innocent of any and all crimes. Mr. Green apparently had more enemies than anyone would have thought. But while the Bates escape the miscarriage of the law, will Anna be safe from the literal, biological kind? Of course we all wish them well in giving Downton some more little ones, upstairs or down, since little Sybil will move to America with her Daddy and Marigold to London with her Mommy, and especially when they have an in-house piggy backer with Mr. Barrow.

Speaking of moving away from the aristocratic nest, I’m glad to see Edith find a place in London that she can be both a mother and a career woman. Although she soon finds being a woman boss is more challenging. But I’m sure she won’t be complaining much as she enjoys the benefits of mixing with the Bloomsbury group and meeting Virginia Woolf.

“I feel I have been given one little bit of happiness and that will have to do,” Edith’s line of self-sufficiency, one that can match her indomitable sister’s willingness to be alone than with the wrong man.

Looks like Downton embracing modernity is the theme this Season and I’m sure Daisy will one day make one devoted and effective Suffragette. Too bad the film has been made or else she’d be one fine comrade fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with Carey Mulligan.

Embracing or being enveloped by modernity, Isobel and Violet represent the two camps, the ready and the reluctant. Again, here sparks fly regarding the control of the village hospital. Violet will hold on to her principle, in whatever aspects of life: “Sometimes it’s good to rule by fear.” While Isobel does not flinch, it’s definitely effective for her servants, especially Miss Denker.

Last but not least, Robert brings Cora down to the kitchen, takes cold chicken out from the refrigerator all by himself, and eats a drumstick with his fingers? Do we need any more obvious signs of embracing modernity?

I trust Season 6 will be a delicious treat.

***

What are your favourite scenes?

Another Year, Another Downton: Season 5 Finale

For the past five years, Downton Abbey kicks off the new year for us North American viewers. For nine Sunday evenings in January and February, I’ve been prodded to get back home in time, or simply stay home so not to miss a Downton episode. Now that I can record the series on my HDTV, I can freely watch The Oscars without dilemma.

Last night’s Finale “A Moorland Holiday” has finally picked up rhythm and grabbed my attention for a too short 1.5 hours.

The time is Autumn of 1924. Rose’s father-in-law, Lord Sinderby, has rented the beautiful Brancaster Castle in Northumberland and invited the Crawley family to a grouse shooting party, a marvellous setting to end the Season. But why would the grumpy and disagreeable in-law want to do that? Probably because every Finale ends with an outing, the best setting for turns in the road, and we’re treated to an exciting ride. It is also the annual Christmas episode for the UK viewers, so we can see how that blessed Festival can join hearts in the Finale.

Last night’s extended Episode has once again confirmed why this annual major TV event is worth all the wait and staying in on Sunday evenings. Why don’t I just buy the DVD’s so not be constrained? No, watching Downton one week at a time together with all the millions of PBS viewers makes this Finale all the more gratifying.

This Episode has redeemed itself from a relatively uneventful Season, which begs the question, why didn’t Mr. Fellowes unleash his ingenuity more often instead of having us wait eight weeks to arrive at this gratifying end? No matter, we are a patient lot. Let’s face it, the Finale is well worth the wait; it rewards us with justifiable twists and turns, ties up all loose ends and gives us a major surprise. It has once again recharged my enthusiasm for the show and even moved me to tears at the rare spot.

If every episode this Season was as rich and juicy as the Finale, Downton could have easily doubled its weekly viewers.

Downton S5 Finale

Kudos to director Minkie Spiro who has brought to life Julian Fellowes’ dense and captivating script. She has woven multiple story lines simultaneously, delivered the tensions, characters and conflicts at a flowing pace seamlessly without missing a beat. Both Fellowes and Spiro understand so well our collective psyche, that we in our hearts yearn for poetic justice: embarrassing the nasty, rewarding the good, reconciling the distant, and uniting the lovers… and I’m not just saying Rose and Atticus.

The father-daughter heart-to-heart in which Robert acknowledges Marigold, Edith’s child out of wedlock with Michael Gregson, is most endearing. How often do you hear a father utter these words: “I’m sure I need your forgiveness as much as you need mine.” And yes, he does have his secret of which even Cora is unaware.

Fellowes also ingeniously puts the skills and instincts of Downton’s trademark schemer, their very own Thomas Barrows to good use by letting him meet his equal in Stowell, and let them loose to wrestle and butt heads and finally to have Barrows come up on top, scoring for the visitors. The satisfying gesture is that he is winning the game for his employers and for Tom Branson, a worthy gentleman indeed, giving him his long due respect. Fellowes once again has proven that he is a master of tension at the formal dining table.

As for Anna and Bates, how many more trials and tribulations can a couple go through without having their marriage totally ruined? Fellowes knows when to stop; he is the ultimate puppeteer in the fates of the wrongly accused, but we thank him for leading them through thick and thin and bringing them out unharmed. And we enjoy the vicarious ride.

Rose too has redeemed herself. Looking back to her manipulative scheme in her earlier days, the fling on the town with jazz singer Jack Ross in Season 4 just to spite her mother, to Season 5 helping out the Russian refugees to finding and giving true love. We have seen Rose mature and proven herself considerate, trustworthy and resourceful, gaining favour from a very harsh father-in-law Lord Sinderby. BTW, recognize the man? He’s Uncle Geoffrey in Bridget Jones’s Diary.

And Atticus, don’t you just love that name? He is a good match with the totally transformed Rose. But with their move to America, we are sending them off with this Finale.

The ultimate union though belongs to Carson and Mrs. Hughes, Julian Fellowes once again knows what his viewers want and generously give them what their hearts desire. And Mrs. Hughes, being utterly surprised and most kind to demand Carson do it properly as Matthew and Atticus had done, kneel down and propose. Now that would have been a total shocker.

What falls short is the courtship between Isobel Crawley and Lord Merton, and that’s a shame, for they’d make a lovely pair. Violet Crawley can rest assure that her companion is still around to sharpen the iron in her, for it is not easy to find an equal like Isobel who is ever so ready to counteract her views. The reappearance of Prince Kuragin in her life turns out to be just a fleeting romantic interlude, gratifying still for an octogenarian.

Matthew Goode as Henry Talbot is an excellent prospect for Mary Crawley, why, they get to know each other by confrontations, however mildly put, not unlike Mary’s first encounters with Matthew. Hopefully this introduction would usher in Goode’s full-time presence in the upcoming Season, for here’s one that can make a worthy suitor for Mary. But what’s uncanny is, he’s into cars. And we all know what that passion can lead a man to, as Matthew’s tragic end is still vivid in our collective memory. I’m sure in Mary’s as well.

The heartbreaking event of course is Tom moving from Downton and England with young Sybbie to Massachusetts to help his brother with his auto-business. Again, the automobile seems to be the invention that brings mixed blessings. The most moving scene is the joining of hands of Tom, Mary, and finally Edith, to remember Sybil for a short moment, and Tom soaking in his last presence, storing memory of the room, or is it Fellowes’ way to let us do that, imprinting Allen Leech in our collective memory.

“We’re the three who should have grown old with her… and who knows when we’ll be together again.” I admit, this really hit me, the value of growing up and growing old together, the treasure of one’s peers. I’m not one who easily succumb to emotion, but this scene did it, not just for missing Tom in the future Season, but for all the family to miss seeing little Sybbie grow up.

Tom and Sibey

And now, another year’s wait… You know, Julian, we don’t mind waiting. Let’s have a few more.

***

Downton Abbey Season 4 Episode 8: The London Season

This final two-hour ending reminds me of the beginning two-hour opener of Season 4, fast paced, short scenes, too busy to dwell deep. But here we have a plethora of characters and grander moments, the Prince of Wales with his parents King George V and Queen Mary joining the cast? A bit surreal I feel.

Rose meets King & Queen

Interesting too that despite the spectacular scenes, these final two hours are relatively uneventful, not many threads leading to new story ideas. Mary will keep on being pursued. Now that she has found out Charles Blake is a much more eligible bachelor than she first thought, will that make a difference to her? That heart-to-heart talk between Mary and Tony, with her hand gently placed on his arm, welcoming whatever future life might bring is one of my favourite moments.

And Rose, after her débutante ball, will pursue even more.

Bates’s status quo will remain the same too. He won’t be investigated further as far as Mary is concerned. Mrs. Hughes has already released him. Bates’ loyalty to The Crawley family has exchanged a pardon from Mary, whereby she burns the train ticket, evidence proving his presence in London on the day Green was accidentally killed. So far of course. All things are in the hands of the powerful Julian Fellowes, who BTW, has thrown us a case of debatable ethics.

Bates has proven himself to be more resourceful than we first thought. Why am I not surprised? Now… that makes me think of Michael Gregson winning back all the poker money from Sampson in one night. Sampson should have learned his lesson by now. The Crawley household is his nemesis, even their guests and servants .

Eight months after Edith has gone to Switzerland and come home more tired than ever, she begins to have second thoughts. Having given birth to a baby girl and weaning her, she has put her up for adoption in Geneva with the Schroeders upon the persuasion of Aunt Rosamund. Back home, Edith misses her daughter and revives her initial idea of asking the tenant farmer Mr. Drewe to raise the baby incognito, to which Drewe agrees. But why would he agree though, and to keep it a secret just between the two of them? Now this could be the beginning of a dramatic storyline in Season 5.

Michael Gregson is still nowhere to be found, although we know what has taken place before his disappearance. And that just makes me tip my hat and raise a little respect for him. Although in Rosamund’s eyes, he’s just plain stupid. Why, to ‘take exception’ to what some men are saying, men wearing ‘brown shirts’? If he had known they were, exactly, ‘The Brownshirts’ (Sturmabteilung), Nazi goons, would he have shown his opposition so readily? But I say, kudos to him. Another case of debatable ethics thrown to us by Julian Fellowes.

Sarah Bunting turns out to be much more annoying. Her insistence to visit the Crawley home in their absence and going upstairs is more than a little imprudent. She sure has made a huge leap from Elizabeth Bennet in terms of social courtesy. Remember how uncomfortable Lizzy is in visiting Pemberley in the absence of its host. I sure hope Tom can stand his ground with this gal. Her seemingly innocent and assertive demeanour just may hide a more malicious intent. After all, Downton represents the aristocracy that she loathes.

London Season

The main attraction of this finale is of course Martha Levinson and his son Harold sailing the ocean blue to Downton Abbey. I first had high expectations for Paul Giamatti. MacLaine we had seen her in Season 3, so she keeps the critical face towards the British aristocracy, that’s consistent. Hers and Violet’s harsh and honest exchanges against each other add colours to the gentility that has prevailed the night of the ball.  

But I must say, Giamatti’s constipated (can’t think of another word) performance is a surprise and disappointment. I had expected a much more animated screen presence. Even Daisy saying: ‘I’m never excited’ is funnier. BTW, that’s got to be one of my favourite lines in this episode. Back to Harold, he and his initial qualm with Madeleine Asslop is fine, having many fathers ‘shoving their daughters’ at him. But falling for her right after? Julian Fellowes is a master matchmaker, but we all hope to see compatibility, at least just in appearance.

Like, ah… Isobel and Lord Merton. Isobel is not interested, at this stage. When he asks her to dance and she says “I’m really not much of a dancer,” I like his prompt reply: “O all right. So we’re a perfect match.”

The most cinematic scene has to be the seaside relaxation for the staff. There are very few scenes in all Downton Seasons that are just composed of the downstairs characters alone in the great outdoor. Here by the seaside, mood changes. We love to see them enjoy themselves for a change, like Mrs. Patmore buying an ice cream cone, Molesley playing football, Anna and Bates finally taking a relaxing stroll (love their hats), and Baxter becoming brave. Daisy is sweet even when she turns down Levinson (ok, Ethan Slade); Ivy is excited to have the chance to go to America. But the final scene belongs to Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson:

“We can afford to live a little.”

At the seaside

Season 5: Something to look forward to. Just another year, that’s all.

***

Downton Abbey Season 4 Recaps:

Episode 7

Episode 6

Episode 5

Episode 4

Episode 3

Episode 2

Opening 2-hour Special

***

Downton Abbey Season 4: Episode 7 (PBS)

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this captivating episode. All its conflicts seem to have derived from the notion of ‘truth’: truth telling, truth hiding, truth seeking. I’m beginning to sense that Julian Fellowes is telling us that, Happiness is … not having had to hide any secrets and having no reasons to. But then, where’s the drama?

But first, the race to Mary’s heart is clearly a tight one between two rivals, Tony Gillingham and Charles Blake, the pig expert. You can add in Napier, standing afar and looking aloof, only sending out helpless vibes. Bravo to Mary for being true to her feelings, at least for now, as she declares in no obscure terms: ‘I’m not on the market, Tony. I’m not free.’ And later to Charles with a similar message in the bazaar. Didn’t you hear, guys? Sure, but they are not the type to give up easily, ‘not without a fight’.

I like the changed man Molesley has become. He’s not afraid to show his fondness for Baxter, who remains aloof and full of secret past and present agendas. But Molesley is, well, Molesley, oblivious, self-deprecating, ‘felt fragile his whole life’, but true. In response to Baxter declining his offer of a cup of coffee, his reply is one of the lines that made me LOL in this episode:

“It’s just coffee. You won’t have to surrender any of your independence.”

Molesley could well pull Baxter out of Thomas’s grasp: “I wish you’d give us credits for making our own minds about you.” Well done.

Serendipity is the word for Tom and Sarah Bunting with their accidental encounters. So now he finds out she’s a school teacher, and, quite a progressive and opinionated woman too, definitely not a fan of the aristocracy. But Tom revealing his past life as a chauffeur and now fixing her stranded car on a country road add a lot of credits, a true spokesman for the Crawleys. And for a line like this one, you have to give the man extra kudos, speaking like a fine political candidate: ‘I don’t believe in types. I believe in people.’ Will they be a good match? That fully depends on matchmaker Julian Fellowes.

Rosamund is so supportive of Edith. Is this even within her nature? Going to Switzerland to learn French as a guise, bringing Edith with her for a few months so she can give the baby up for adoption after its birth. Violet is always on top of things. Even she has to agree with Rosamund this time, giving her approval after finding out the plan.

Julian Fellowes is busy with another prospective match-making, and that’s Isobel and Lord Merton. I’m most amused by Violet’s surprised glances back and forth following the fond conversations between the two. They take a stroll after the luncheon. Conversation goes well until Lord Merton asks about Matthew unaware. Now that only gives him opportunity to send flowers the next day to amend his ‘tactlessness’.

And then there’s the mirage of Rose and Ross, about to set an engagement date. Mary aptly steps in to stop a ‘guess-who’s-coming-to-dinner’ prank Rose has intended maliciously on her mother. So this is not so much about equality or free love, but using the race card for one’s private end. Jack Ross’s mother suspects her motive too. She apparently has raised a good son, who for consideration of Rose, decides to end the relationship. However, ‘in a better world’, the card Rose plays just might be a joker, with no face value… in a better world. Maybe it’s Rose who needs to go to Switzerland to learn French, or about herself, anything.

The Daisy-Ivy-Alfred conflict comes to a very moving conclusion. Kudos to Julian Fellowes. Alfred proposes to Ivy, who courteously declines. Daisy comes to realization upon the wise counsel of Mr. Mason, good man, and brings a basket of gift to Alfred to say goodbye and wish him well. They part as ‘friends forever’. One reason I’m drawn to Downton is that it seeks to portray something that might have slowly become archaic nowadays, but definitely needs to preserve: True friendship without romantic mash-up. Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson in a previous episode, and now Daisy and Alfred. I don’t know what the future holds, but for now, they are perfect as they are.

A touching reunion copy 1I love these Downton outdoor events, the tea party, cricket game, and now the bazaar. Cora can manage full well in Robert’s absence. It is a success and fun to watch. Important events take place, such as Robert and Thomas’ unannounced return, a huge surprise and delight, and a most touching reunion of Robert and Cora, thanks to the timely cue of the warm Downton music.

The most important twist is Tony Gillingham coming to the bazaar to tell Mary of the news that his valet Green has died in a traffic accident in Piccadilly, just one day after Mary asks him to sack Green. Accident? or Bates’s revenge? Again, we’re kept in the dark, knowing only that Bates has taken a day’s leave ‘to York’ while Anna goes to London with Mary. Can’t read any clue from his face either, unlike his stabbing look at Green in Episode 6. His answer to Anna’s query is both puzzling and chilling: ‘You know me, when I do a thing, I like to have a very good reason for doing it.’ Again, the suspense lies in the fact that we don’t know the truth, at least, not yet.

But that sharp stare from the last episode is replaced by three curious and fond gazes here in Episode 7. In the last scene, Isobel, Edith, and Rose together lean forward to watch Mary walk away with her two suitors Tony and Charles. Well synchronized, girls. What a fun closing shot.

As we come near to the end of another Season, I eagerly want to find out the final resolutions of the story lines, yet at the same time, I’m beginning to feel a parting sadness. You too?

***

PREVIOUSLY ON DOWNTON ABBEY Season 4:

Episode 6

Episode 5

Episode 4

Episode 3

Episode 2

Opening Special

***

Downton Abbey Season 4 Episode 6 (PBS)

The opening reminds me of the very first scene of Season 1 Episode 1, where the Western Union telegraph machine rhythmically tapping, leading us into this whole new world called Downton Abbey, and the rest is history. That first telegram was news about the Titanic sinking. Now Lord Grantham sets off to America in response to a telegram from Cora’s mother Martha (we all remember Shirley MacLaine’s American entry into Downton) just to help her son look good in front of a Senate Committee.

Robert may well be doing this more for Cora’s bidding than Martha’s. A sweet farewell follows. Crossing the raging seas, leaving the comfort of Downton on such a short notice, Lord Grantham would have wished he could just do a video conferencing. That would be more futuristic than the science fiction of his time, considering the telephone was just introduced to the household not too long ago.

Come to think of it, going to America just to help out a brother-in-law? Or was it to take time off to shoot The Monuments Men? Or, a subtle promo of the next best thing, The Gilded Age Julian Fellowes will be writing for NBC after Downton? Just thinking…

Downton S4E6 Robert goes to America

So now the secret is out, to Mary at least, and to the suspicion of several others. They would want to find out why Thomas is going to America with Lord Grantham and not Mr. Bates. Baxter is commissioned to hand in a report on exactly that when Thomas returns.

The pig farming business is off to a blossoming start… romantically that is. Getting dirty to save the pigs looks quite contrived a scene. Blake has to do much more than getting his white shirt and tux muddy to win me over. I’m not as easy as Mary. Or, is she just trying to prove she’s not so aloof after all. So they both enjoy their ‘night of discovery’. Why, Mary Crawley can make scrambled eggs. How marvellous!

Tom also seems to have met a potential companion in a political lecture in Ripon. Will this revive an idealistic young heart he once possessed?

Violet falls ill and Isobel nurses her back to health. Even in her delirious state Violet still takes a swing at Isobel, this ‘mad woman’, have her replaced, for she ‘talks too much, like a drunken vicar.’ Whatever we can’t say out loud in our right mind can be said in our delirium. How convenient.

Alfred’s brief return rousing further animosity between Ivy and Daisy. Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore come up with the flu as a reason to keep him off, and Mr. Carson is willing to go along even to the point of paying for a hotel stay. That sounds a bit far-fetching. A little jealous bickering adds spice of life downstairs. No need to avoid that like the plague.

A storyline that has far greater consequence is Edith going to London to have an abortion. Her secret is out as she breaks down when Lady Rosamund mentions about Michael Gregson. Aunt Rosamund looks an unlikely sympathizer, reassuring her “I will support you whatever you decide, just as Cora will—and Robert.” Edith doubts her sincerity and says “That sounds like a speech from The Second Mrs. Tanqueray”, alluding to the 1893 play by Arthur Wing Pinero about ‘a woman with a past’. Rosamund shows her support by accompanying her to the clinic. At the last minute, Edith changes her mind and chooses to keep the baby. I’m glad to see that a humane storyline branching out from there.

While in London with Edith, Rose runs her errand. Yes, that means meeting up secretly with the Jazz singer Jack Ross. Rose just wants some temporal fun, while Ross looks a bit hesitant but is fast convinced by her enthusiasm.

The most gripping scene again belongs to Bates and Anna. Lord Gillingham is back (but why?) and with him comes his valet Green, a blow to Anna as she steps into the servants’ dining room and sees her attacker. She composes herself quickly, but not before the reporter Baxter notices. Mrs. Hughes doesn’t lose any time to give him a severe warning, “If you value your life, I should stop playing the joker and keep to the shadows.”

At the dining table Green is as sociable as ever, greeting everyone, talking naturally. Baxter mentions how much she admires Nellie Melba, the opera singer, obviously with an agenda. Green says he can’t stand the ‘screaming and screeching’. The Sherlock in Baxter then asks, “So what did you do?” Green takes the bait, “So I came down here for some peace and quiet.” The look Bates pins on Green after that should send chills up your spine. And there, the episode ends. Baxter has more than a report to write, that’s a lead into a juicy story, Stephen King style.

***

PREVIOUSLY ON DOWNTON ABBEY SEASON 4:

Episode 5

Episode 4

Episode 3

Episode 2

Opening Special

***

Downton Abbey Season 4 Episode 5 (PBS)

A relatively light-hearted episode, but the cheeriness depends on your point of view, quite like the Super Bowl, celebratory depends on which side you’re rooting for. But overall, a delightful and engrossing hour.

First off, a little surprise, Alfred is leaving. I thought the foursome is going to have some more entanglement. Alfred is accepted to the training course after all at the Ritz Hotel, London. That’s a significant leap from the servants’ hall in Downton, deserving celebration, but only depends on which side you’re on. Daisy is heartbroken. Eventually she’s sweet to make peace with Alfred and herself, wishing him luck as he leaves.

Violet and Isobel’s battles resume, evidence that Isobel has recovered from her mourning. She’s a social activist fighting for justice, and Violet, the established aristocracy, therefore legitimate target of her indignation. When Violet wrongly accuses and fires young Pegg for stealing her things, yes, things, Isobel rediscovers her calling. Things are what Violet cares about, so materialistic, so unjust. The ivory curio is soon found, misplaced.

Some interesting dialogues ensue…

Isobel: “Aren’t you going to say you’re sorry?”

Violet: “Certainly not.”

Isobel: “How you hate to be wrong.”

Violet: “I wouldn’t know. I’m not familiar with the sensation.”

The Sherlock in Isobel does some personal digging and recovers the valuable missing letter opener. What develops is like a parable. Isobel makes the same mistake of which she accuses Violet when she misjudges Pegg too soon and unwilling to face up to her wrongs, not knowing Violet after discovering her own mistake has already apologized to young Pegg, asked for his forgiveness, and rehired him back. Nobody monopolizes justice after all.

Napier and Blake turn out to be unwelcome guests. Not that I’m not sympathetic to farmers or food production, but these two men just prove they are the entitled ones, especially Blake, biting the hand that feeds him. Why, which guest would sit beside his host and call her “a sentimentalist who cannot face the truth.” Now where does that come from?

Rose has proven to be quite an event planner. Lord Grantham’s birthday party is a success, the secret is a big surprise, as she has intended. Jack Ross has done the unprecedented, bringing a night club jazz band into Downton, and he himself can go down history as the first black person to set foot in that aristocratic estate. Time has changed, or at least started to. Despite his shock, Mr. Carson is quick to point out that “we led the world in the fight against slavery,” but not before embarrassing himself by asking Ross: “Have you never thought of visiting Africa?”

While everyone is having some light-hearted turns, the heavy news or lack thereof falls like lead on Edith. She found out she’s pregnant, and Michael Gregson has “vanished into thin air.” At this stage, she doesn’t suspect anything except to worry about him. But this just may prove to be another dark chapter in her failed romantic narratives.

A date in the shadowBates and Anna’s seemingly reconciled relationship is another dark shadow in an otherwise bright episode. I like these contrasts as far as plot is concerned, light and shadow. The intriguing development is with Cora overhearing their conversation in the hotel dining room, and later, Baxter overhearing Cora talk with Mary about her concern. Even though she’s warned not to leak out what she has heard, Baxter has her assignment, the ‘condition’ as Thomas reminds her.

That hotel dining scene is oh so gratifying. Anna has phoned earlier to make a reservation. When actually there, the Maître d’ takes a top-to-bottom glance at their attire, decides there’s no reservation under the name of Bates. Julian Fellowes’ another social justice moment. Lady Grantham, Cora, comes to the rescue, ever so graciously. Isobel would have made a scene.

As for the Maître d’, a perfect casting would be Rowan Atkinson, aka Mr. Bean. Just a thought.

But my favourite scene is when Isobel, Mary, and Tom are in a room waiting to see the little ones being brought in by their nanny. These three are all widowed, survivors of tragedies when their loved ones were unexpectedly taken away from them. Mary is honest with her feelings: “I’m just not quite ready to be happy.” Then, Isobel starts sharing and reminisces on her engagement with her husband Reginald; Tom joins in with his love for Sybil; Mary recalls Matthew’s proposal to her while standing in the snow, not feeling a bit cold. Each recharged by the memory of love. Isobel cheerfully concludes at the end: “Well, aren’t we the lucky ones.”

Your favourite scene?

***

Previously on Downton Abbey Season 4:

Episode 4

Episode 3

Episode 2

2 Hour Opening Special

***

Downton Abbey Season 4: Episode 4 (PBS)

What a gripping episode. But before the most important storyline comes to a resolve, there are some interesting development.

Who’s this Baxter, new lady’s maid to Cora Grantham? Nothing is explained how she’s friends with Thomas. When Bates asks Anna’s opinion of her, and what Baxter sees in Thomas, Anna replies:

“You know the old saying: there’s nowt so queer as folk”

Layered with meaning. First for Baxter, her inexplicable (so far) relationship with Thomas; then for Anna’s own situation, the tragic and most unwanted event had turned her into a totally different person to her husband. It could also refer to Green, her attacker, although I would not venture to use that saying on him. Just too kind a comment for such an evil man.

“The world moves on and we must move with it.” Wisely says Mary. I’m glad she has finally come out of her loss and mourning and immerses in new responsibilities. But who knows moving on involves a dilemma: the tension between legal and moral rights, the rational and the heart. The Crawleys have all the legal rights to foreclose on the son of an estate where an elderly tenant just passed away, leaving debts unpaid. Robert shows his colours in letting Tim Drewe stay and farm the land. Tom waves his socialist flag and stands on the side of the farmer, leaving Mary, surprised, on her own. But she is not difficult to win over when it’s kindness that dominates.

In the mean time, upon Mr. Clarkson’s urging, Isobel tries to find a position for a village young man John Pegg. She corrects him when he calls her ‘your ladyship’, just ‘Mrs. Crawley,’ she says. Julian Fellowes can always find her the right words:

“He’s going to be so disappointed to find out how ordinary I really am.”

Edith waits in vain for news from Michael Gregson. At the mean time, she goes to London and visits a Dr. Goldman. Again, I haven’t seen any future episodes, but this doesn’t look good. I mean, we still remember Sir Anthony Strallan.

Napier is back, on business passing by. Now, why is Mary so excited to see him? She literally glows. And why does Napier look so reserved and serious? Why does he come anyway?

Iron Chef Downton version does not go well with Alfred, albeit the preparation work looks delicious. Now Daisy is grinning from ear to ear. Alfred is not going to the Ritz Hotel in London any time soon.

Bates and Anna embrace

But the pivotal story belongs to Bates and Anna. Bates goes to Mrs. Hughes after overhearing her talk with Anna. Threatening resignation, he gets the truth, but not the whole truth. Mrs. Hughes swears on her mother’s grave that the attacker is an outsider and not Green.

The scene belongs to Bates. We have seen Anna’s tragic attack in Episode 2, we now see a belated, yet vicarious reaction from Bates, just as heart-wrenching. We see him leave Mrs. Hughes’ room, stunned, holding his rage with much restraint, but soon, break down in tears.

And yet we are gratified to see, finally, the secret is out and a cathartic end to Bates and Anna’s silent ordeal. There’s no shame, he assures her:

“You are not spoiled. You’re made higher to me and holier because of the suffering you’ve been put through. You are my wife and I could never be prouder or love you more than I do at this moment.”

This will likely go down as one of the all time love quotes.

But not too soon, Bates’s last words send chills up Mrs. Hughes’s spine. You can see her nuanced reaction as she hears him utter, also with much restraint:

“Nothing is over and done with, Mrs. Hughes… Be aware, nothing is over, and nothing is done with.”

Here ignites a new storyline: The Revenge of Bates.

***

Season 4 Episode 3

Season 4 Episode 2

Season 4 Opening Special

***