The first season of Downton Abbey ended very well, with lots of issues brought up and even a few resolved. But there were a few cliffhangers, too, as the First World War had the nerve to break out and spoil the sumptuous garden party. The party was pretty to look at, but beneath the lovely white linen clothes there was plenty of drama to go around, with characters having hopes raised and then horribly dashed. Just another day in the life of the Earl of Grantham and his family in 1914 England ...
Lord and Lady Grantham (Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern)
If you missed any of this excellent program, from Academy Award winning Gosford Park writer Julian Fellowes, or want to re-immerse yourself in its large cast of characters, it can still be viewed online. All of the acting is top-drawer, with one of the highlights Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess, the Earl's mother. She can be impossibly stuffy "One can't go to pieces at the death of every foreigner. We'd all be in a constant state of collapse whenever we opened a newspaper," or out-of-touch "I couldn't have electricity in the house, I wouldn't sleep a wink. All those vapors floating about," or just plain vinegary, "No one wants to kiss a girl in black." Even when you can see her coming, she manages to be unexpected. And delightful.
So much happened in this episode. The terrible first footman Thomas and his sidekick, lady's maid O'Brien, tried to weave a web to entrap valet Mr. Bates, using poor besotted-with-Thomas kitchen maid Daisy as their accomplice. We found out a little more about Bates's character, which was intriguing, but what was truly interesting was the conspirators—when faced with a crisis, Thomas stayed true to his nasty self, Daisy finally worked out who was nice and who wasn't, and O'Brien thought better of her scheming ways, although unfortunately a little too late. She will have to live with, and looks to be shattered by, the results of her misplaced and malicious actions.
The Earl's two eldest daughters, Mary and Edith, could teach modern mean girls a thing or two as they played a dangerous one-upmanship game which threatened Mary's reputation and Edith's chances for a happy marriage. We'll just have to wait until the new season to see if the two are still at each other's throats. Things look so socially black for both of them at the end of this series that the only reputation- and sisterhood-saving choice would be for the girls to call a truce and both admit to telling terrible lies about each other. But as they are "ladies" that probably won't be allowed. Their appalling behavior is a definite result of their having too much idle time on their hands. They need a hobby. They are surprisingly young for their age. No matter how badly they behave it's hard not to feel sorry for both of them, as their stupid choices also lead to their own heartbreak as well as their rival's.