Catching up with Downton Abbey, Season 2: Scandal
We resume our recaps with Season 2, wherein… well, we won’t spoil it for you in the opener! Click through to read what happens when Downton goes to war. Note that in the UK, the “season finale” aired as a Christmas special—a TV phenomenon observed with great passion across the pond and less so stateside. We cover that episode in a separate, blissfully snow-kissed post.
Post penned by guest blog author Amie Simon.
Season 2 opens during World War I in 1916, starting with Matthew Crawley, who’s now an Officer on the front. The war casts a dark shadow over Downton and blurs the lines between the family and the staff.
Everyone has a new role as the war continues: Sybil gets cooking lessons from Mrs. Patmore and then heads off to nursing school so she can “be of some use;" Edith learns how to drive and starts assisting a local farmer with his tractor … and his something else. And Thomas is now a Sergeant* in the army, albeit a cowardly one who gets injured on purpose in order to be sent home.
After a tragedy occurs at the small country hospital due to not enough room for all the recovering officers, Lady Grantham is approached by Isobel Crawley and Dr. Clarkson about turning Downton Abbey into a convalescent home. Cora is initially resistant, but the entire family is persuaded to help any way they can, and offering their home seems to be the best solution.
This shakes up the roles of both family and staff—something the Dowager Countess and Lord Grantham are NOT pleased about—and starts a (just slightly) smaller war between Cora and Isobel over who is running things now that the hospital is in place. Oh, and Thomas somehow ends up managing the day-to-day hospital duties thanks to sly suggestions from O’Brien.
And of course the most dramatic revelation is that Matthew is now engaged to a young woman named Lavinia Swire, which prompts Mary to reveal that she’s still in love with him … which prompts everyone to tell Mary that she needs to fess up, but the poor girl gets foiled at every turn by bad timing.
Upon Bates return from his mother’s funeral, he reveals to Anna that he may be able to pay off his wife with his inheritance, in order to get her to agree to a divorce! But their happiness at being able to marry doesn’t last long, as Vera Bates arrives at the house and threatens to take down the Granthams by confirming the scandalous rumor about Lady Mary and the late Pamuk.
Ever loyal, Mr. Bates sacrifices everything to save his best friend and employer’s reputation by agreeing to leave with Vera and continue to be her husband. But Anna is stubborn, and enlists Lord Grantham to help her to get Bates back into Downton. Unfortunately, Mrs. Bates has the last and final word, by committing suicide and leaving clues that frame her husband for her murder!
Following Lady Edith’s fumbling lead in the romance department (it’s really not wise to set your sights on someone who’s already married), Lady Mary hooks up with Sir Richard Carlisle: a ruthless newspaper magnate who proposes—although it seems like more of a business proposition than a romance. Especially when he offers to cover up her indiscretion. And Sybil finds herself falling for chauffer Tom Branson, which is not at all befitting a lady of her status.
Lord Grantham’s not happy about any of those developments, but his anger is directed at Sybil, who must naturally be disowned for being in love with someone so far below her.
In the midst of all the drama at home, Matthew and William are injured together at war and Matthew suffers a back injury that means he will likely never walk (or perform, shall we say, husbandly duties) again! He tries to do the honorable thing and break his engagement, but Lavinia stays by his side. When Matthew recovers, even though he’s sure he loves Mary, he stays with Lavinia because of her loyalty. Unfortunately, Lavinia overhears him confessing his love for Mary seconds before succumbing to a deadly Spanish flu that threatens to take down several beloved characters.
Throw in a mysterious stranger with a badly burned face that claims he’s a member of the Crawley family, a headstrong maid who gets herself in trouble with an officer, a serious indiscretion on Lord Grantham’s part, and plenty of other staff trouble—and you’re left with a heck of a heartbreaking, nail-biting ending to the season in 1919.
Really the only good news we receive this season is that the war is over.
Season two highlights:
Best line from the Dowager Countess: "So, that's Mary's replacement? Well, I suppose looks aren't everything."
Most scandalous moment: There are so many this season, but Lady Edith making out with Farmer Drake in plain view of his wife is so out of character it seems to be the most shocking.
Most romantic scene: Anna & Bates' first kiss! Followed up by Anna & Bates planning their future! The cute factor is almost overwhelming.
Most devastating betrayal: Vera Bates sticking it her ex-husband by framing him for her own murder. WHAT.
Most ridiculous bit of soapy melodrama: Matthew’s “miraculous” recovery … which we ALL saw coming, but still. Geez.
*edited - thank you, sharp-eyed readers!