Last night I read again another newspaper article in which a Dowton Abbey cast member said that the second season strayed away from the focus on the family that it had in the first season, and wasn’t as good as the first. Other outside critics had said the same. Were these people watching the same series I was? I’m beginning to wonder.
It would really be very difficult to end season one with a message that WW One had started, without treating it in the second season. Please believe me…Britain (and its colonial troops) lost many, many more troops than any other country. They slogged about in the trenches (more horrible than even DA could make them look) dying of disease as well as being cannon fodder, for almost three years before America entered the war and got troops “over there”. So, here’s my take on the family thing, and a few others.
War affects all families in all the countries it touches, but let’s just stick with the Granthams and their household. Matthew is the FAMILY heir, and he is seriously wounded. Mary, Edith, and Sybil (FAMILY) all become part of the war effort on the home front. As Matthew hovers between a life in a wheelchair, unable to sire children, and life with Lavinia, the FAMILY is deeply affected. And, in one of the most touching scenes ever, when Isabel Crawley arrives at the hospital in the village and Matthew sees her for the first time since his injury, it’s all about FAMILY. It still takes my breath away to watch it.
As for the servants (they qualify as a FAMILY) we have both William and Thomas serving in the army. Thomas has already been at it as a medic for two years when William arrives, as an aide to Matthew, a job which is supposed to make him safe. There is a well done moment when Matthew shares tea (the British always seem to have time for that) with Thomas in a dug out room oin the trench line, and what do they talk of? FAMILY! The one at Downton, both upstairs and downstairs. Get it?
Thomas survives and William doesn’t, but only after Thomas decides that even the possibility of losing his hand would be preferable to his dying in a ditch in France. When William is married to Daisy on his death bed, who surrounds him? Not only his downstairs FAMILY and his father, but also his upstairs FAMILY, for Lady Edith and The DC are there also, and if your remember, the DC has a “cold”. (The DC has, of course, attempted to keep William out of the war, and then when he is wounded she calls on her cousin “Shrimpy” to help her get him moved to Downton so he can be nearer his father, and his Downton FAMILY.)
Have I mentioned FAMILY enough? I could go on and on. However, might I add that the acting in this second season is probably superior to the one from the first season, if only for the fact that Michelle Dockery plays Lady Mary to the hilt, controlled on the outside, emotional on the inside, resigned to the man she loves marrying another and to her own marriage to as smarmy a man as ever was. Mary matures into a women, leaving behind the shallow girl who once wondered if the family would have to wear black to mourn a relative lost on the Titanic, to as woman helping her altered family and its world through a war that finally ends and the ensuing epidemic which follows.
It is the war that altered every Britain’s FAMILY, and one family’s collective reaction/action to it, that sets this second season apart from the first, and which, in turn, lays the groundwork for the third season. The Grantham’s reunite at the end as a family, bloodied but unbowed by war and pestilence, just in time for the 1920’s. It will be wonderful to see how the FAMILY, both upstairs and downstairs, will weather the era of flappers, the Charleston, and the excessive speculation that could eventually lead to season four.