Watching Downton Abbey gives me the odd feeling of watching a time warp to our own present. Sometimes I find myself, mid-episode wondering how things turned out and then I realize that I already know. That in itself is the magic of Downton. Holding time in a prism of Then while ever moving subtly forward to Now.
Ever Changing Times
In previous seasons, change at Downton has mostly been represented by technology and fashion with a few major historical events thrown in for good measure. We've gone from corsets and petticoats over form fitting dresses to more forgiving drop waist frocks. From horses and carriages to bicycles and automobiles. Oil lamps to electric lights. Manual labor to labor saving devices such as mixers and vacuum cleaners.
Last season we heard a great deal how economics have changed since the war and the fight the large estates are having to hold on to their elite way of life. Now we're seeing how the not-so-elite have changed as well. The villagers are no longer over-awed by the people of the Abbey. They feel quite comfortable badgering His Lordship into giving up his Quidditch Pitch- beg pardon- his cricket field, for use as War Memorial Garden. Lord Grantham isn't keen on giving up his cricket field, even though it is only used once a year. To his credit, he does seem to feel that the War Memorial belongs in the center of the town, rather than further afield. Especially if that field is his cricket field.
It's not really Lord Grantham's opinions the villagers care about. They ask Carson to head the memorial committee, putting His Lordship's nose out of joint.
Would a village delegation have arrived in my grandfather's day to ask his butler to head an appeal?
We learn that the Butler, Mr. Carson, is given nearly as high a regard to the villagers as His Lordship - possibly more-so because he knows more of the men who died in the war personally. However even Mr. Carson isn't above being told how the common woman takes her tea. Indeed.
The Servant Problem
Once upon a time, people decided that working 12 hour days, six days a week, in a shop, factory or mill was sheer liberty as compared to utter subservience to the rich and titled. This left the rich and titled without people who no longer found dignity in working for a pittance and board in exchange for the honor of being attached to a "Great House." This was called “The Servant Problem.
Downton is finding that having to pay people a real wage means that ready cash doesn't stretch as far as it used to. Servants leave and they are decidedly not being replaced, leaving more work for the main characters left behind. Goodbye Ivy. Hope you're happy in America and thanks for leaving Daisy all the extra kitchen work. Goodbye other nameless footman and maids running about. There will be far less of you than we're used to seeing, leaving Barrow and Mosley griping.
Mr. Bates and Anna. The footman and under-butler having a racy conversation about women and *gasp* men, by default due to Barrows orientation. Carson's subtle but open crush on Downton's ever patient housekeeper, Mrs. Hughes. An understated sexual revolution of sorts is taking place at Downton and we can barely keep the lid on this boiling pot.
The Dowager herself is reduced to matchmaking once she realizes that Lord Merton's attentions to Mrs. Crowley could result in her Downton BFF attaining greater status than herself as a married Countess, not a widowed one. Oh hell no. Call Lady Shackleton, an untitled Doctor and the snobby butler. We need an intervention luncheon immediately.
Lady Mary, belying her outward Ice Queen demeanor, has always been the most sexually progressive of all the Downton women. In keeping with this theme Lady Mary, ahem, wants to make sure that she is "as happy with her second husband as she was with her first."
Oh snap. Matthew must have rocked her world even more than Pamuk. Lady Mary wants to put the Merry in the phrase Merry Widow and she is not about to, pardon the expression, buy a pig in a poke. She wants to make sure that she and her future husband are compatible in, ahem, every way.
Lady Mary to Anna:
“Even now we must decide whether to share our lives with someone without ever spending any real time with them. Let alone... you know. Of course, these days, some women...do."
Pass me the smelling salts honey.
Lady Mary is back to herself this season. Her grief at bay, she's back to baiting Edith with the occasional insult and she looks like a young girl fresh from her coming out ball. All of the ladies head off to dinner in drop waist, hip-hugging dresses that do their bums justice and would knock any man's garters off (or are we up to elastic socks now?).
Daisy's got a secret. Jimmy the footman has a secret. Lady's maid Baxter still has a secret that Thomas Barrow has been holding over her head since last season, beg pardon, I mean series. Mosley, usually the mild comic relief in this show, is given a more serious purpose than dying his hair, as Baxter's staunch friend and supporter. He gives Baxter the best advice anyone's given anyone in four seasons at Downton: Tell your own secret to Lady Grantham before Barrow does, as quickly after dinner as possible.
Cora is the only person at Downton who doesn't raise her voice when she is most moved or angered (besides the Dowager who would never condescend to shout at anyone). Cora's voice descends to a shocked ladylike whisper that is even more effective. Baxter's confession leaves Cora whispering with disbelief and the rest of us just plain shocked. However remember the "Servant Problem?" Baxter's future may hang in the balance, but where on Earth will Cora find another qualified Lady's maid, if at all? I think Baxter's future is safe although Lady Grantham says she will decide her fate at a future time.
Lady Edith's secret is just dying to be let out of the bag. Sweet Lady Edith on a boneshaker, is she really foolish enough to ride her bi-cycle down to the village to get a glimpse of her out-of-wedlock baby?
Sadly, she doesn't stop at just a glimpse. Lady Edith steps right into the humble cottage, making so much over her long lost baby, she simply doesn't notice how uncomfortable the couple are that Lady Edith of Downton has inserted herself into their lives so fully. The wife's suspicions that Edith is after her husband are quickly put to rest only because she realizes that it's only the baby Edith is stalking. Oh Edith, why are you doing this to yourself and these kind people who've agreed to take your baby?
Thomas Barrow, conniving footman and all around sexually-frustrated jerk should learn a lesson. Whenever he connives to save his own skin, it always backfires. Whenever he contrives to help others, he always comes out the hero. I really hope he finds someone soon or his lack of a sex life is going to get him fired.
He kept an eye on Lady Sybil’s daughter out of his kind feeling the mother and exposed the terrible Nanny West. And in helping his fellow footman he saves Lay Edith, the Abbey and the most precious part of Downton's future - the grandchildren.
The final report from the fireman: "No damage done outside of Lady's Edith's bedroom." An apt way to sum up this episode.
I wasn't sure how I'd feel about returning to Downton Abbey this season. Anna's rape in Series/ Season Four shocked and traumatized me to the point where I stopped watching the series for a good bit. I even gave up recaps and reviews for the last few episodes, I was so overwhelmed.
However, it's a new day at Downton and my hope for a lighter touch on the series seems to have been fulfilled if this first episode is any indication. It's a charmingly predictable opener, but I don't consider that a bad thing. There were a few things from last season that needed to be wrapped up before moving on and this episode achieves that nicely.