Tuesday, January 22, 2013

SRPS TV Night - Downton Abbey: No Way Back

I've heard a couple of complaints that Season 3 of Downton Abbey is more "soap opera-y" than Seasons 1 and 2. That hasn't really been my experience. If anything, it's the same level of drama, with extra doses of "times are a'changing."

Mayhaps the writers recognize that their viewership is predominantly women interested in seeing the differences and similarities between modern life and life for women in the early-1920s. This week's episode is chock full of slut-shaming, votes for women, and figuring out how to navigate the changing roles of women in public life.

Also, is it just me, or is Mary the least interesting sister this season? I'd much rather see more about Edith and Sybil, and their doings. Mary seems happy to have things stay the same, while Edith is curious about the future, and Sybil has jumped right in.

Edith as Suffragette
I hate to admit it, but I'm starting to like Edith. Remember when she was so nasty and horrid in Season 1? That feels like ages ago. It's not that I feel sorry for her after she was jilted at the alter. In fact, I think that was the right decision for Sir Anthony. It was clear that Edith was looking forward to being his nurse-wife, because she needed a project. No self-respecting man wants to be someone's project-husband.

Now that she seems to be settling into her role of eccentric spinster aunt quite easily -- breakfast with the men, handling arrangements for dinner, and writing letters to the editor regarding female suffrage -- I'm starting to like her more. I hope she continues on this vein. It's kind of like what I had expected for Lady Sybil when she was going to those meetings back in Season 2.

And speaking of Sybil...

Sybil loves a ... Catholic, and a revolutionary
It continues to be a point of pain to Lord Grantham that his youngest daughter married the chauffeur. Not only that, but he turns out to be a revolutionary, involving her in dangerous activities. And she defends him and many of this actions. Although I suspect even she wasn't aware of the depth of his involvement. Her support begins to fade when she learns that he attended meetings planning attacks on Anglo-Irish -- people like her family, people like her.
"You never told me you went to those meetings."
"I never told you I didn't."
"And what else haven't you told me?"

I really wanted to see more of Sybil in this episode. And I really wanted her to have more of an argument with Thomas about his involvement in the Irish rebellion. Although, I'm happy to see her putting her foot down on returning to Ireland. It's clear she truly loves Tom and wants to build a life with him. I just wish we had more time with her this season. In a way, it feels like she's left Downton and they're only going to show her new life in relation to the family. What her life is like outside of the house is a mystery.

The road to ruin
We all knew that the moment Mrs. Crawley learned about Ethel, she was going to try to rescue her.  I cannot imagine how difficult Ethel's life has become since she was turned out. I imagine she's had encounters with people more like Mrs. Bird, than like Mrs. Crawley. It's really not hard to imagine that she was effectively forced into a life of prostitution to feed her son. She's a fallen woman, and as such there is no place for her in proper society.

But Mrs. Hughes, font of kindness, readily agrees to help Mrs. Crawley reach out to Ethel, and even speaks kindly of her in the meeting between Ethel and the Bryants. And, then, when Ethel has kissed her son goodbye, she offers her some words of comfort.

"You've done a hard thing today, Ethel. The hardest thing of all."
"You don't agree, do you?"
"I don't want to make you doubt, now that it's happened."
"You've done the right thing for the boy, Ethel, whatever Mrs. Crawley may say, begging your pardon ma'am."
"Perhaps you're right."
"I am. Until we live in a very different world than this one."
With more scenes like this, Mrs. Hughes is becoming my most favorite character. Her compassion and understanding of the underlying societal forces makes her one of the most compelling characters. She's the voice of reason in the house and the larger community. And she clearly knows that the treatment Ethel is receiving is terribly unfair, but she also knows that it's not in her ability to change it.
"What chance is there for a woman like her? She's taken the road to ruin. There's no way back."
She's not saying that Ethel is beyond saving, but that there's no way society, as it is now, will let her come back. But you can see Mrs. Crawley's wheels turning already. You just know she's going to try and fix this too.

Everyone else
And there's some stuff about Thomas (as my friend Cat's husband says, "We hate him!), and Mrs. O'Brien. And loads about Daisy and the new footman. All that will have to wait for another post, I'm afraid. This nasty cold and my homework are conspiring to keep my blog posts short.

I'll just leave you with this, my favorite Dowager Countess line from this show, when they learn of the burning of the castle in Ireland by revolutionaries:

"That house was hideous."


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