Downton Abbey Review: From Great Tragedy

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After last week's less than stellar episode, I went into this installment with low expectations. While it could have been my attitude, I think it more likely that viewers everywhere felt as I did. From great tragedy we found overwhelming compassion and the icy hearts of formerly black souls coming to life.

This was award-winning television. Stepping back from the day-to-day issues of the convalescent facility, leaving Cora to her work, losing the petty trivialities that bore through some of season two, we were graced with the good spirits of those who live in and care for Downton Abbey.

O'Brien in the Bedroom

I don't know if we have game-changing episodes of Downton Abbey, but if there were to be one, this might just be what it looked like. When Matthew and William were lost behind enemy lines, there was anxiety, but nothing like the immediate reaction of family and staff alike when they were wounded on the front.

I wondered when both Mary and Daisy felt someone walk over their graves if they were truly close enough to Matthew and William, respectively, to have such deep rooted feelings as their friends were injured, but the tapestry of their lives are so deeply woven I don't think even they know how they truly feel about those who have gone off to war.

Their wounds were dire. Matthew suffered a sever spinal cord injury and William a mortal wound to his lungs. Everyone sprung into action. Violet found her wit was far reaching and impossible to ignore as she first requested and then demanded that William spend his last days at Downton Abbey. She had tried to keep him from conscription and failed, but at this she would succeed. Indeed, he ended his days in a private Abbey bedroom, something even the heir to Abbey didn't do.

I looked outside my window, thinking perhaps Hell had frozen over when Mrs. O'Brien and Thomas discussed their wishes to go back in time and undo what they had already set in motion. When faced with the impending death of a friend, suddenly the idea of calling Mr. Bates' wife seemed small and worthless. Thomas even admitted as the son of the working class he was tired of seeing only officers treated with respect after their service, and wished William the best; he wanted to shake his hand before he left this earth.

When Thomas and Mrs. O'Brien are infighting about their misdeeds, you really understand the impact tragedy can have on every soul.

Despite Daisy's fear of leading on William, especially as he lie dying, she agreed to marry him. I think it was fear that kept her from giving her heart to him in the first place. Unfortunately, she was right to be afraid; she had given of it freely she would not have been as composed as she was for him when he needed her most.

Matthew must live with the knowledge that he may never be with a woman again, and in fact decided he would never ask a woman to settle with him knowing his true fate. That Mary went to Mr. Carlisle for help against Mrs. Bates and that their engagement was announced was trivial. There is little room for another man in her world. Somewhere in this story, Matthew has become her life. When Isobel finally made it home, even she noticed the change in Mary, although their connection was quite brief.

Other household news:

  • It was ironic that the house took on a maid with a baby when Ethel had given birth and was without work. The new maid had the good fortune to be a stranger to the house.
  • Branson, who once thought they would never shoot the Czar and his family, was telling Sybil that sometimes a hard sacrifice sometimes had to be made for a greater future. I'm not sure I like him as Sybil's future.
  • I fear Mrs. Bates will continue to cause great pain for Anna and Mr. Bates. A divorce hardly seems on the near horizon.
  • When Lavinia said she couldn't live without Matthew, I got quite worried she might take her own life. Did anyone else get that impression?

I was emotionally tousled about during the hour, and met with tears more than once. The break in Abbey routine was as welcome as it was unsettling, and if they can continue to deliver this type of storytelling, I'll be watching for as long as the series is produced.


Editor Rating: 4.8 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.5 / 5.0 (67 Votes)

Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter and on Google+.


The only reason William suffered a mortal wound to his lung is that he forgot take his man friends bdsm toy off his dick. A blowjob with that much force requires proper safety percautions.


And what was that Violet called the well-connected nephew to arrange William's transfer to Downton? Shrimpy? Delicious.


@Woland - Probably because the only British channel available for a decade on U.S. cable has been BBC. Also, for decades that was the logo most people saw on their public television station preceding the most popular Masterpiece productions. Several generations of PBS viewers have associated "Masterpiece" with "Alastair Cooke," "commercial-free," "BBC," and "PBS." Oh, and also, BBC news is aired every night on PBS stations nationwide. It's an inevitable association.


Why do so many Americans get this wrong again and again. Downton Abbey, like Upstairs Downstairs classic, was broadcast by ITV NOT THE BBC.


My affirmation of the writing (in terms of the dialogues - not necessarily the plot lines) and acting of Downton notwithstanding, I cannot help but notice the old Tory bias of Julian Fellows - that the people upstairs are noble in their upbringing/hearts and deeds and whatever conniving comes from either the self-made type or those of lower class. (Even Edith redeemed herself well.) Sure, this is only drama and sure, there is no shortage of dignity and selflessness among the staff. There is something wanting.


@MrWriteSF - The convalescent home is for officers to rest from their injuries, and also to go while on leave from the front. Obviously, at least a year has elapsed between last week's episode and this Sunday's. That's based on the age of that rather large baby. I think it was mentioned in the dialogue that the Major was visiting his officer friends. He left Downton Abbey after his fling w/Ethel & is just back visiting in this episode. Fabulous episode! Sybil, Sybil - why are your good instincts failing you where Branson is concerned? The boy is a hothead without an ounce of common sense or intelligence. I think I dislike Branson more than anyone else at this point in the series, including O'Brien and Thomas.


ooo...speaking of the timeline (thanks for the cue Beverly [grin]), I'm puzzled by something. Laurence Ringo should stop reading since it involves a plotline from last week's episode. :-) Ethel was dismissed for spending a LITTLE too much time with the convalescing Major. In this ep, apparently enough time elapsed for Ethel to have had her baby and the Major to be over his injuries. Soooooo why is he still at Downton Abbey? The ambiance? The cuisine? ;-)


I love this show. The actors/actress all have been great. The storyline is so different from most tv shows because of the time line. Keep up the good work BBC.


Hi,guys!Wow! I cannot tell you how much I love Downton Abbey!!(By the way,I missed last week's episode[Football!],so I need someone to send me a review of that episode).Can too much be said about the incomparable Maggie Smith? Simply put,!!! Thanks!


Didn't get the line completely right; it's in the "Quotes" section but it's worth repeating. "Finally, I would point out, your living is in Lord Grantham's gift. Your living is on Lord Grantham's land and the very flowers in your church are from Lord Grantham's garden. I hope it's not vulgar in me to suggest that you find some way to overcome your scruples."

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Downton Abbey Season 2 Episode 4 Quotes

It always happens. When you give these little people power, it goes to their head like strong drink.


Dr. Clarkson, I am no Jacobson revolutionary nor do I seek to overthrow the civilized world. We just need one bed for a young man from this village.