Monday, February 1, 2016

Bad Harvest! Bad Harvest!

When Bates told his wife how happy he was, Anna said, "Bad harvest! Bad harvest!" That, she explained, was how when the harvest looked good farmers would try to trick the gods, so that they wouldn't get jealous of humans' good fortune and destroy them. What a wonderful illustration of the tragic view of life, the idea that the deck is always stacked against us poor mortals! And, if anyone has good reason to think that way, it is Anna and Bates, after all they have been through!

So far, with the season half over, Anna is still pregnant and nothing terrible has happened to them. Dare we hope the sadistic scriptwriters will spare them this time after all? Actually, for several characters, things seems to be going surprisingly well. Septimus Sprat came to the aid of Denker, saving her job for her after her presumptuous class-defying involvement in her betters' business threatened to cost her her job. And Baxter did the right thing but was spared exposure, when the criminal she was to testify against changed his plea to guilty. 

Meanwhile on the other side of the class divide, Edith had a very good week indeed, hiring a female editor her own age ("Victorian babies grown into modern women"), then boldly inviting Bertie over for a drink and getting rewarded with a kiss. Mary is clearly taken with henry Talbot, but doesn't care for his car-racing. Apparently, that has less to do with her memory of what happened to Matthew and has more to do with class snobbery. ("I don't want to marry down.") As is his role, Tom, whose life-story crosses class boundaries, talks sense to both Mary and Talbot. He has the outsider's advantage of being able to see - and say - what insiders won't.

The Daisy and Mr. Mason subplot gets complicated when Daisy realizes others (especially Mrs. Patmore and Andy) want to befriend Mr. Mason, now that he lives on the estate. Andy - improbably enough - wants to learn to be a pig farmer. But this odd sub-plot gives Barrow a chance to break through Andy's homophobia and befriend him, because thomas has figured out that andy can't read and is willing to teach him.

But the most memorable drama of all came upstairs, when the silly conflict over the local hospital causes the Dowager to invite Neville Chamberlain (the future PM, but then Minister of Health) to dinner at Downton, only to have Lord Grantham, who has been getting noticeably sicker with each scene, suddenly start spitting up blood all over the elegant dining room table. That had to be one of the most dramatic - and scary - scenes in the whole series. And it inspired two wonderfully memorable lines. From Lord Grantham to Cora: "If this is it, jut know that I have loved you very much." And from Carson: "Life is short, death is sure." It all sure puts the whole sill spat about the hospital in some perspective!

Lord Grantham doesn't die, however, at least not yet. Surgery saves him, but Lady Mary (who is now also beginning to wake up to the real truth about Marigold) is now positioning herself to take over completely. "Long live our own Queen Mary,!" Branson responds.

So, as if we needed to be warned, with or without Anna's fatalism, not every downton story is going to have a happy ending. Will Violet experience her first real defeat? Will Mary's ascendancy force Edith to strike out completely on her own? And will it be with Bertie? Will Mary "marry down" with Talbot? Will Evelyn Napier continue to pine hopelessly for her? Will Bates and Anna really get to start a family? I am still hoping for a bunch of end-of-series weddings - Mary, Edith, Tom upstairs and, who knows, maybe Molesley and Baxter, and Andy and Daisy downstairs. And really, why not Mr. Mason and Mrs. Patmore. At least we know Mr. Mason would get to eat better than Carson!

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