Blogging the Abbey: Season premiere


Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.

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34 Responses

  1. Avatar Rose Woodhouse says:

    It just occurred to me and a cold dread that there might be planned a romance between Mary and Branson. Noooooo-oooo-ooooo!Report

    • Noooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!

      Also, I love “vacuous dancing cousin.” It wouldn’t break my heart if she accidentally danced herself down a well.Report

    • Avatar Patrick in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

      It “just” occurred to you?Report

    • Avatar Maribou in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

      I also fear this possibility.

      Although, it also doesn’t bother me so much about Branson. He cares so greatly for Sybbie that I could see him becoming a chameleon to protect her; and then a) the rebelliousness still shows through in how he got Mary back on the horse, and b) when he explained that they certainly wouldn’t try to take over that piece of land, because the tenants were doing such a good job – I think on some level… we’re past 1916 now, yes? So a lot of Irish rebels gave up after those terrible days, and saw Ireland’s freedom as a lost cause. I could see him coming to believe that *now*, well, the Yorkshire tenant farmers aren’t too different from the people he grew up with, and his position allows him to protect their interests in a way he’d never have the chance to do back home.

      He’s come to terms with having sold out.Report

  2. Is anyone else tired of the Moseley subplot already?Report

  3. Avatar Tod Kelly says:


    I guess I need to start watching Downtown Abbey now.


  4. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    I’ve never seen it, and knew only that it’s a British period thingy. So I looked it up on Wiki, and found:

    The series depicts the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants in the post-Edwardian era—with the great events in history having an effect on their lives and on the British social hierarchy.

    Which leaves me with a couple questions:

    1. Is there anybody on it as pretty as Lesley-Anne Down was?
    2. Why isn’t it called Uptown, Downtown?Report

    • I have no idea who Lesley-Anne Down was, but Dan Stevens is exceptionally pretty.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        She was kind of like the Keira Knightley of the 1970s.Report

      • Gotcha.

        Sadly, while I’m no expert on lady-prettiness, I think the boys on the show are generally prettier than the girls. In addition to the aforementioned Dan Stevens and th man who plays Branson (mentioned in the OP), the guy who plays Thomas is pretty handsome (despite his character being a soulless vacuum of amoral cold) and the guy who plays his unrequited love interest from last season (the character’s name escapes me) is super dreamy.

        The women who play(ed) Ladies Sibyl and Mary are quite beautiful, and Elizabeth McGovern remains so. The problem is that many of the female characters are servants and thus are styled rather severely. YMMV… if you start watching. Which you should.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Russell Saunders says:


        The actress who plays Lady Edith is also stunning. Only in TV does that count for plain.Report

      • @newdealer They have styled her in such an unflattering way for much of the series. But I agree, now that they’re decided on “Let Lady Edith be happy” as a plotline (for now, at least), they’re also letting her look as beautiful as she really is.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        I always thought Mary looked quite severe as well, actually, which is also a function of the costuming and makeup (and hair). I was stunned by the Sibyl character from jump, though.

        And yes, Edith is beautiful as well, but if we’re going to go down the road of “She’s only not extraordinarily pretty for TV” then there’s no point to this discussion, really. Also, isn’t it a reality that a sister in a group of very attractive sisters can feel, for some period in her life, like the ugly duckling even when she’s very beautiful? So it’s not really just a figment of TV that a girl who looks like Edith might come to see herself as having inferior beauty. It’s in that kind of context that she ends up being coded as “the unattractive sister,” but in reality I don’t think the show itself actually posits in any way that she’s not beautiful even in the context of the show. Not judging by the way men have acted around her ever sense she started to come out of her shell of resentment over her sisters’ perceived greater beauty and favor.Report

      • Avatar Rose Woodhouse in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        I’m less swayed by Branson’s charms than the good doctor. Thomas is handsome, but would do well do look a bit less like a corpse.

        Views from a straight male: just asked my husband. My husband is quite fond of Lady Mary and Anna. Daisy and Cora will do in a pinch. He was mysteriously not fond of Lady Sybil. Thinks Lady Edith far more attractive than Sybil.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        It was definitely the less mature parts of myself which found Sibyl attractive. Even so, I occasionally found the character impossibly girlish. I can definitely see where a person who has refined down some of his more juvenile impulses would find Edith’s character vastly more attractive overall. She was certainly always the far more interesting character.Report

      • I agree with Rose’s husband that Anna is quite lovely. And Mary’s sternness never made her less attractive to me.

        The eye candy of both genders is plentiful, IMO. Though I think I lean a little more toward the distaff side of the equation, Sibyl’s loss definitely balances things out more than a bit.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        The actress who plays Anna is obviously pretty, yes.Report

  5. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    I haven’t watched it yet. I think I’m still traumatized by last season. Did Lady Cybil’s death have to be that gruesome? Did Matthew and Mary have to arrive at a place of such sublime happiness before…? Edith grew on me greatly last season, but these were the characters (besides the Earl, whom I find bumblingly appealing, and Bates who you can’t not root for) whom I was most invested in through three seasons. I’m finding it hard to want to re-enter this world, knowing what’s missing from it now.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

      Sibyl. I always get that wrong.Report

    • Avatar Rose Woodhouse in reply to Michael Drew says:

      Mary and Matthew’s romance was always the most appealing aspect of the show to me. So I found it hard to watch this season, too, and I’m certainly less engaged than I was. But the era is so appealing, and we still have the Earl and Mary (of whom I’m fond).Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Rose Woodhouse says:

        I actually found them very unappealing a the start – each separately and together. But after each of their ordeals – the war & injury and the misbegotten engagement – I became much more engaged with the two characters.Report

  6. Avatar Patrick says:

    Cora’s response to the Scandal of the Ruined Mystery Garment (What the hell was that, anyway? And maliciously-destroyed clothing is another plot point that need not be recycled again.) cancelled out a lot of the pleasure of watching her sack Nanny McSatan. It beggars credulity that she would really believe Anna would behave the way Thomas implied, or that she would have had the Earl speak to Bates about it instead of going to Mrs. Hughes or Carson first. I didn’t buy it, and also wish it weren’t the preamble to yet another “Thomas Schemes with the Lady’s Maid” plotline.

    Given her supposed fish-out-of-water status as the not-raised-in-the-genteel-environment, I’ve found Cora’s credulity at the staff and her complete lack of awareness at the machinations that go on in the Servant’s Section of the household to be really weird. She had it with O’Brien, too. And with Thomas… well, he’s hardly a scion of reliability when it comes to the transfer of accurate information.

    She’s an American, for chrissake. She might be a wealthy American, but she likely didn’t have a lady’s maid growing up, and she should be more aware of these people as people instead of just hands behind a curtain, incapable of telling falsehoods to milord. Or milady.

    I was hoping that Lord Grantham could perhaps reclaim a tad bit of the character competency he appeared to have in the first season instead of falling farther down the Fred Flinstone crevasse of ineptitude, but they seem dead set on using, “Lord Grantham is being an idiot again!” as a major plot point this season.

    C’mon, dude, I get that you’re landed gentry and all but you’ve had too many moments that seemed to bring you to a moment of humility to not progress a little. Your sole contribution in the “not a complete screwup” pile is your loyalty to Bates, hiring him, and keeping him on in the first season. Since then you’ve been an obstacle in every way.

    Give the guy something constructive to do, once in a while.

    Always nice to see Maggie back, doing her WWTDDD? routine.Report

    • Avatar Rose Woodhouse in reply to Patrick says:

      Wealthy Americans had lady’s maids.

      I wonder if the show will ever address that she might be Jewish? Isn’t her maiden name Levinson?Report

    • Avatar Maribou in reply to Patrick says:

      I get frustrated at Lord Grantham. But then on the other side of things, it seems rather important that SOMEONE should act in the way most people in those upper-class positions would’ve acted. We’re still talking about a time and class where women *were* meant to be shielded. And I think to some degree his asininity wasn’t just the selfishness that he was accused of, but also a reaction to his own unresolved grief over Matthew’s death. A side effect of all that stiff-upper-lip-keeping.Report

  7. I was going to predict that Edith’s love interest (I forget his name) would become a German citizen just in time for the hyperinflation, but Rose beat me to it. I would guess that in reality, any wealthy Britisher who’s made his fortune in publishing and who takes on German citizenship would be wise enough to keep at least a sizeable number of assets in Britain and not transfer it all to a country that had just lost a world war, but I would also guess that the writers of “Downton” would decline to take that into account.

    I agree with the complaints about Thomas. Even if it weren’t his gayness that was so often in the background when he pursues his dastardly deeds, his badness is almost entirely so one-note and his character is so flat–bordering on the psychopathic, in my opinion, which is not where I think the Downton writers (or the audience) really want the story to go–with so little development, that I don’t like the Downton uses him.

    True, there are some times when we see Thomas in a more sympathetic light and we see a more complicated personality. I personally don’t blame him for injuring himself to get out of the war, although the gist of the story is that his actions are blameworthy while William’s, for example, is supposed to have a noble (for a commoner) heroism. Also, there’s that scene in a past season where Thomas is almost exposed and possibly arrested for being gay, and he makes a heartfelt, if anachronistic, statement about how he has nothing to be ashamed of. (I’m not suggesting so much that the sentiment is anachronistic, but that someone at his time wouldn’t have expressed that sentiment in the way the character did).

    Many of the characters, in fact, are too flat. The good ones are too good, and too consistently good, and the bad ones are too bad, and too consistently bad.

    Still, my wife and I really like the show, and we plan to keep watching this season. I just see a lot of lost opportunities for the show to be truly great.Report

  8. Avatar Kolohe says:

    It didn’t occur to me while watching, but I agree that Branson’s taking to his new life like a duck to water without Matthew’s ongoing tutelage (and occasional necessary intervention and topcover) is the most far fetched thing about this episode and diminishes the character.

    I disagree about vacuous dancing cousin. There is a lot of room for growth there, more than any other existing character, and the perfect vessel (aside from Daisy) to illustrate the passage from Edwardian to Elizabethan England. (as Edith is, as you say, finally a fully formed character, but seems destined to be in the epicenter of the apocalypse that was mid-20th century central Europe).

    I kinda like the fact that Thomas being gay and Thomas being a total jerkwad are independent attributes of each other. That’s one thing this show has handled consistently well. And I also like that his scheming paid off through sheer luck, in terms of Nanny Mcnasty being so obviously nasty. Regression to old habits to me makes perfect sense, and this time he rolled the hard six (vice his war call up and the black market fiasco)

    What is started to get really old to me (besides Wooby Mosely, as mentioned above), is the love quadrilateral between Ivy, Daisy and the two other downstairs dudes. Somebody needs to get together, and somebody else needs to find a mate in the village or elsewhere.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Kolohe says:

      I could kind of feel Branson starting to learn to walk like a duck toward the end of last season – and to his surprise, liking it. He obviously truly loved Sibyl, and he knows that his daughter(?) is their family as well. I sort of felt that he was beginning to accept the place that that made for him in that world last year, not least because it’s so much more comfortable and secure to raise a child in that environment, with all that help. I still haven’t watched, but I’m not at all surprised to hear that’s how things develop, and I don’t find it out of character. And, as to ability, I don’t find it surprising that, given the opportunity, me would be able to rise to it and learn the various aspects of the business(es) quickly. Again, especially as a single parent. Who knows, maybe we’ll see him studying law & business before the series is over.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Michael Drew says:

        “Who knows, maybe we’ll see him studying law & business before the series is over.”

        Why though, he already knows it. 🙂

        That’s my point, even given raw intelligence, a diligent work ethic, and natural leadership skills, he’s still being asked to be the CEO of a firm that has been run with mediocrity over most of the previous two decades in an industry that is undergoing a rapid change – and with a Chairman that’s not really on board with any changes. And all this with experience that amounts to a one year internship in the previous Chairman’s office.

        It would be like asking a 28 year old with only a bachelor’s in political science and an internship at Bentonville to be named CEO of JCPenny’s tomorrow and be asked to revive that company’s ailing fortunes. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but that new person should be running scared even if under a calm confident exterior.

        In other words, I have no doubt of Branson’s determination and will, but the man had, until a year ago or so, zero management (as distinguished from leadership) experience of any kind. And this is exactly the era where the modern bureaucracy of the industrial age (both government and other) is starting to bloom and make it impossible to just juggle all the various pieces and parts of business dealings in your head (and /or by instinct)

        (and that’s putting aside the specific politics and prejudices of the era – I well imagine most of the tenant farmers and other business associates take as dim a view of an up-jumped Irishman as the nanny did. To be able to succeed in ‘transformation’, as the MBA’s would call it, in those circumstances would be herculean)Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

        would be like asking a 28 year old with only a bachelor’s in political science and an internship at Bentonville to be named CEO of JCPenny’s tomorrow

        I mean, not really. It’s not a multinational corporation. It’s one estate, one which he has significant experience working in the operations thereof, and about which, keeping his eyes and ears open, he could have learned a great deal before even coming under the tutelage of Master Crawley. Then he had that apprenticeship. And now he’s having some success running things himself. I don’t find it implausible in the least, though, after having some success, I can see him hitting a point where he might reach a limit to what his knowledge can do, and find further development to be of use. At which point I bet he would be able to get Lord Grantham to let him bring on an understudy to help him manage the day to day, and to finance his studies. Dude’s got it made. No wonder he’s splashing around like a duck in a shallow lagoon.Report

  9. Avatar Maribou says:

    I was incredibly impatient with the whole “bring Mary back to life” storyline until the very end… and then I found myself weeping copiously. Dammit, show.Report