down·ton·abbey·ism

[down-tuhn-ab-bee-is-um]

noun Pathology
Chronic disorder caused by repeated and excessive subjection to Downton Abbey, a shamelessly melodramatic British period drama. Characterized by long, knowing glances, obsessive-compulsive dressing routines, and the irritating sound of incessant bell-ringing in one’s ears.

Yes, we’re back with the Crawleys and their dutiful collection of scullery slaves for another sweeping season of Downton Abbey — possibly TV’s biggest pop culture, period-piece sensation since Mad Men. Sunday’s premiere was an action-packed two hours that covered everything from the horrors of war to the tragedy of unrequited love, Machiavellian backroom scheming, and floral arranging. As such, we’ve split this recap into two parts. Today we’ll cover the first hour, which we’ve unofficially dubbed:

“MATTHEW COMES HOME FROM THE WAR, THEN GOES BACK TO THE WAR”

We begin on the front lines of the Great War, with Dr. Matthew dodging artillery fire to scamper into a remarkably well-stocked foxhole (never know when you might need to hurl some Dijon gas at an unruly German). “When I think of life at Downton, it seems like another world,” Matthew says. And so we’re off, with the now-iconic shot of a dog’s furry butt heading up to the manor. So exciting!

Back at Downton, second-footman William is given a lesson in proper epaulette buttoning by Lord Grantham, who uses the opportunity to rattle off some exposition about how he was found unsuitable to fight on the front lines. Instead, he’ll be Lord Lieutenant, a military figurehead position requiring him to oversee the army in the county as the war rages on. So the most dangerous thing Grantham might face is a projectile scone. Grantham complains to Carson the butler that he misses his valet Mr. Bates, a man who may have been hampered by a bum leg, but who at least knew how to button a bloody epaulette properly. I mean for bloody heaven’s sake, man!

In the ever-chaotic kitchen, William complains to Mrs. Patmore the chef that he isn’t yet allowed to fight in the war. As Isobel, Matthew’s mom, busies herself with her flower show hospital fundraiser, the grande dame of Downton, The Rt Hon Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, makes her grand entrance with one of her insane pronouncements (“War makes early risers of us all!”) before she offers to pitch in with the effort by pruning stems and adding baby’s breath where appropriate. Yes she can!

Isobel sits down the Granthams to tell them Matthew is on his way back to the village on leave, and he’s coming with… a ladyfriend. More than a ladyfriend, a fiancee! But Lady Mary is arriving on the very same day! She’ll be destroyed, seeing as she spent all of Season 1 leading him on shamelessly only to realize in the final episode that she might actually be a decent human being with feelings for this cute doctor. (Ugh, I know! He has a job, but no one is perfect.) “Goodie!” thinks perpetual middle-sister-syndrome-sufferer Jan Brady Edith.

A devastated Sybil receives news that a friend died on the lines, and decides, in her Sybil way, that she wants to do something more than collect tickets at Ye Olde Shrubbery and Rose Bouquet War Drive. Isobel tells her there’s a training class in Yorkshire for nurse’s aides, and she could help Sybil get into it. Of course, since Sybil has since infancy had a staff of dozens to feed her, clothe her, and pat her bottom with a lace doily, Isobel suggests Sybil start working with the staff to learn some functional, real-world skills. (Upstairs has come downstairs! Literally anything goes in Bizarro Downton Abbey.)

The scheming O’Brien takes Lady Grantham aside and warns her that Sybil is about to interact with some seriously injured soldiers. It could ruin a proper lady for life.

At the hospital fundraiser, Matthew arrives, looking a lot less dirty, with his fiancee on his arm. Mary has the worst poker face in history.

Meanwhile, sick of Ethel — the uppity new maid who demands crepes suzettes — O’Brien sends her upstairs to thank Lady Grantham for complimenting the fabulous job she’s doing. Ethel falls for it, and goodness does she make herself the fool in the drawing room. You could almost hear the twitters of disdain under the faint sound of people munching on tea cakes. Pandemonium, I tell you!

Mary later meets Matthew at the train station as he goes back to war, offering him her good luck charm. It’s a little stuffed animal that, we can only assume, was not under Mary’s pillow during her midnight rendezvous with the ill-fated Turkish diplomat, Mr. Pamuk.

Speaking of Pamuk, Bates’ conniving first wife Vera Bates arrives on the scene, and things get soapy. Vera refuses Bates a divorce and demands money, saying she’ll reveal everything about the Pamuk scandal unless he leaves Downton, and, of course, his new fiancee, Anna. That dastardly woman! (But Mrs. Hughes hears the entire conversation. Aha.) As that mess unfolds, William and Daisy finally kiss. It has all the heat of two 7-year-olds stealing a peck on a playground, but romance springs anew for the scullerywag (I think I just made that word up?) and her lovelorn footman.

Branson, the dreamy Irish chauffeur with political aspirations, takes Sybil aside to tell her their future is fated together, and that all will be different after the war. The world will finally accept limo driver/pampered debutante unions once and for all! (Actually, they still don’t. But let’s not tell Branson and Sybil just yet.)

Come back tomorrow for Part 2… including Thomas’s gimp-handed return!

Violet’s Best Lines:

“Oh good. I hate Greek drama, when all the action takes place off stage.”

“Well, that’s Mary’s replacement. I suppose looks aren’t everything.”

(On Matthew’s fiancee being the daughter of a lawyer:) “You’re very well placed if you’re ever on the wrong side of the law.”

Questions thus far:

… Now that William and Daisy have finally played a round of tonsil polo, do you think their love will blossom? Is he dating beneath him? Daisy is pretty daft.

… How did Vera learn about Mr. Pamuk? Is it just a widespread rumor all over town? If so, why hasn’t it trickled back to Mary’s father yet?

… Why is Edith so insufferable? Can’t we just find her a nice man and be done with it already? It’s getting hard to take.

… Who is your favorite servant? I’m actually leaning toward Mrs. Patmore after this episode, specifically because she tossed the crepes to the dog in front of Ethel’s face. Nicely played, Patmore. Nicely played indeed.

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