Sunday, January 10, 2016

Wigs on the Green

Emotions rule - really rule - in the second episode of Downton Abbey's final season. We are stuck, apparently, with the somewhat tiresome tussle between Violet and Isobel that risks embroiling the rest of the Crawleys and other local luminaries. Not that there isn't a real issue in the battle over the village hospital's future - whether to stay small and backward or move ahead with the times at the cost of amalgamation and modernity's bureaucratic alienation. But the endless sparring between Violet and Isobel is really all just part of the series' large leitmotif of a society being forced into change. In this episode, however, it does introduce us to a wonderful Britishism I had never heard before - "wigs on the green" - referring to the consequences of disagreement getting out of control!

Daisy too remains out of control. Her emotional outburst in episode 1 did her father-in-law no good, but she continues to try to interfere. Thomas Barrow, as we already all know, has always been a barely corked, seething cauldron of emotions. His hurt feelings at young Andy's unresponsiveness to his overtures and his accumulated resentments have persuaded him to start looking for work elsewhere. It remains to be seen whether these two partially lit fuses will just blow up, or whether the series still may have a happier ending in store for either or both of them.

Speaking of happy endings, will Anna finally get pregnant, now that the formidable Lady Mary has connected her with good medical help? But why does Anna still refuse to trust her husband? Why can't she confide in  him? It seems secrecy has seldom served anyone well at Downton. Yet it remains the path of choice for Anna - and others.

Among them, of course, is Lady Edith! The result has been the complete upending of the Drew family, who must now look elsewhere for a new tenancy, since Mrs. Drew's emotional attachment to Marigold cannot be turned off. As the long-suffering Mr. Drew admitted to Lord Grantham, the plan he and Edith had hatched was a good one, but they forgot to factor in the power of emotion.

And then there is Mr. Carson's emotional attachment to and enduring bond with Lady Mary that threatens his and Mrs. Hughes' wedding plans!

Of course, emotion has always ruled in human affairs. But a major point of the old regime now unravelling before our eyes in 1925 was to keep emotion in check, to keep it from overpowering judgment and reason and order, to prevent "wigs on the green." The trajectory of 20th-century cultural change has been to forget - or ignore - that lesson of history and human nature.

And it will only get worse as the century progresses - from World War II to what Tony Judt in Postwar called "the self-congratulatory, iconoclastic impulse" of the 1960s!

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