Friday, January 11, 2013

The Downton dish

Today is the debut of the interactive, content-focused "Daedalus Books Forum," which will consider a new area of interest every few months. As Season 3 progresses, we'll be adding new features on our first topic, Downton Abbey and related items, so check back often!

Reactions to last Sunday's lengthy first episode of Downton Abbey, Season 3: Agree or disagree?
Writer Julian Fellowes seems to be taking cheap shots at Americans. Why did he give Shirley MacLaine such stinko dialogue? Not that Violet's was appreciably better. The interactions between them were done hamfistedly, to put it bluntly.
MRS LEVINSON
Ha. Nothing ever alters for you people, does it? Revolutions erupt and monarchies crash to the ground, and the groom still cannot see the bride before the wedding.
VIOLET
You Americans never understand the importance of tradition.
MRS LEVINSON
Yes, we do. We just don't give it power over us. History and tradition took Europe into a world war. Maybe you should think about letting go of its hand.
The Huffington Post's Maureen Ryan observed that Fellowes believes "Americans must always refer to their American ways and must be somewhat uncouth, if not intolerable." Here's June Thomas from Slate: I wish Martha's conversations with Violet had amounted to more than just: "The future!" "No, the past!" Thomas also has a query about Anna's visits to Bates: "It always makes me question how Anna gets so much time off and how she can afford all that travel back and forth to the prison and down to London—Downton Abbey spends a lot of time reminding us what a hard grind the servants’ life was, then it has a lady’s maid buzzing around Britain like an upper-middle-class housewife." Fellowes does craft some of his best lines for the adorable, true-blue Anna (Mrs John Bates): "Bates: Do you never doubt? For just one minute? I wouldn't blame you." Anna: "No. And I don't doubt that the sun will rise in the east, either." Or how about this line: "I'd rather work to get you free than dine with the king at Buckingham Palace."
The Three Graces? (Do vote for your favorite Lady in our poll—the results are surprisingly balanced. [Oops; now not so much! Lady Mary feels the love.)
Poor Edith—seemingly the designated spinster—gets the wrong end of the stick once again, as her pa tries to put the kibbosh on marrying Sir Anthony. The scene in the car ("I say, have you done something jolly with your hair?") was an excruciating exhibition of clenched British teeth in full grimace. The lengths a poor middle sister has to go to around Downton to snag her man! Now look at the picture below and tell me, who is the hottest?? Vindication! 
One reader of my last Downton post queried what made the series worth watching. Seth Stevenson answered this nicely in Slate: "For me, the show’s true appeal—in addition to my personal fantasy of wooing Lady Mary and making a life with her in an enormous manor house—lies in its Jane Austen construction. Daughters of marriageable age, in mild economic peril, seeking suitable husbands. That’s a proven recipe for narrative success. But now we’ve safely delivered Sybil and Mary into matrimony. (Or so I assume. I suppose some soapy intervention could ruin Matthary’s nuptials.) So we’re left with Edith’s struggle, or with one of the existing husbands suddenly dying or turning into a fiend."
More media reactions to the episode
"Mary is to Downton Abbey as Scarlett O’Hara is to Tara, and she will do everything in her power to secure the future of the house. That includes buttering up her American grandmother and throwing the most hilariously disastrous dinner party ever."—Wall Street Journal
"O’Brien and Thomas have a classic O’Brien and Thomas conversation in the hallway. For some reason, O’Brien really wants her nephew to do well and climb the servants' ladder at Downton. If this were a reality show, this is the part where Thomas would tell the camera, 'I’m not here to make friends!'"—Sarah O'Holla, xojane
Lingering questions
Does Matthew truly have just one set of wearable tails? Why can't he don the old one his ma is later seen fixing up for Branson instead of fussing about sending the one Thomas ravaged (by proxy) to London?
Will it be revealed that the spaced out Countess of Grantham takes drugs supplied by her Mickey-spiking relative? She does slur her words considerably.... One wouldn't blame her, coping with that crowd!
Favorite moment
"Smithers did it. Like all ladies maids, she lives for intrigue." Violet says this of the handwriting on the note she sent to Sybil, sending her the money to come to her own sister's wedding (Lord G was too hidebound to fork it over). Of course Smithers, with her louche American ways, threw herself at the new giant footman, Alfred.
Incidentally, I questioned the use of "have gun will travel" in this episode as anachronistic, but Eric Partridge, in A Dictionary of Catch Phrases, says the following: "its C18—early C19 period very often, and occ. earlier, the phrase was used playfully or joc., with a light ironic touch. have gun, will travel is taken from the personal advertisement column ('the agony column') of The Times, where, of course, it was entirely serious; something comic about it ensured its promotion to the status of a c.p., dating, I suspect, since c.1900, certainly from as early as c 1920, although I have to admit I didn't hear it often before WW2.... Something of a vogue phrase, it generated such frivolities as 'have pen will write.'"
Finally, don't miss Daedalus's own homegrown video tribute to Season 3, available now for preorder! See you next Monday for dish on Episode 2.

1 comment:

  1. Love the modern photo of the "Abby Sisters". Edith definitely looks the best in that pic! Or I guess I should say the actress that plays Edith. LOL

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