Downton Abbey: Season 2 Midpoint Review

A different outfit

Matthew, and others, have different outfits in season 2

When I tell people that I watch Grey’s Anatomy, or Awkward., or The Vampire Diaries, I have to defend my reasons for watching. For Grey’s, well, I’ve been watching it for 6+ years and I’m not likely to stop until it’s over. Awkward. is adorable. The Vampire Diaries is much better than its title, subject matter, and initial episodes. One show that I don’t need to make excuses for is Downton Abbey. Sure, on the surface it’s got an Upstairs/Downstairs British soap coating to it, but that’s not what makes me love it. More after the break, including some general spoilers on season 2, but I’ll try to avoid anything specific.

Note: I’m watching on the British schedule, and this season won’t air on American channels for a while.

The first season of Downton opened with the sinking of the Titanic. That propelled the season forward, bringing one of the show’s major characters into the action. The historical backdrop that the writers chose is more than just a plot point that pushes the main story forward. I don’t know about you, but I don’t really have a lot of TV-watching experience when it comes to people losing their heirs on large boats that sank. Getting to see how this one death affects an entire family, and a large cohort of servants, is unique to Downton.

One of the best parts about the class-related drama is that it’s not limited to the obvious lower-upper class line. There’s a lot of conflict between the various levels of the upper and lower classes, as seen through Matthew Crawley and his mother, and the way different levels of servants feel about each other.

Downton also is not afraid of change. A ton of stuff happens over the course of each season, from technology to war to characters maturing and changing. The bits with technology are often played for comedy–there’s a scene with the Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith) and a telephone in season 2 that is laugh-out-loud funny–but it is endlessly intriguing to me to see people react to technology that is nearly obsolete or at least taken for granted by people nowadays.

(Another great example of this type of storytelling, that is, introducing technology that’s new to characters but old to us, is the story of Tom Nuttall and his bicycle in season 2 of Deadwood.)

New look for Downton

New look for Downton

Downton wasn’t content to sit on its laurels in season 2, which begins literally with a bang in the early goings of World War One. Even more so than season one’s Titanic-related plot, WW1 drives a great deal of the action, to great effect. Some of the more memorable and emotional storylines revolve around the following: (I’ll do my best to be vague and not give away entire stories, but if you want to remain pristine, don’t read the bullet points.)

  • The idea of how best to support men going off to war, and the war effort in general, for various classes of people, and in various ways
  • The breakdown of class barriers, though slow, in times of war
  • Societal changes in wartime, and differences in expectations about what will happen when the war is over

I’m looking forward to the last few episodes, and I hope that if you’re not already a fan, that I might convince you to become one.

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