Hello, People of America. If you've been on the internet at all in the last year, you've probably read multiple mentions of Downton Abbey, ITV's WWI-era costume drama which has captured the fascination of people on both sides of the pond. Masterpiece Theatre on PBS is set to air the second season of the award-winning show beginning this Sunday, and for those of you who don't resort to nefarious means to procure your foreign television like most of us heredo and are therefore watching Season Two for the first time . . . well, get ready, children. You're in for a bumpy ride.
But maybe you haven't watched Downton Abbey before and are wondering if you can dive right in! Maybe you just forgot what happened last season, since it aired almost a year ago! Maybe you've killed your brain cells with alcohol and can't remember your own name. Don't worry. We're here to help. (Obviously there will be Season One spoilers below.)
Everything you need to know about Downton Abbey but were too lazy to ask:
1) The Inheritance Is In Question
Man, what is up with land and titles only being entailed on the male line, am I right? Though I shouldn't complain: that plot point forms the impetus for fully 60% of my favorite books.
In this case, the title of Lord Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) and the house and land of Downton Abbey, sustained by his American wife, Lady Cora's (Elizabeth McGovern), money can only be passed down to men. They, of course, only have daughters.
The plan was to pass the land to Lord Crawley's cousin, but unfortunately he drowns in the Titanic, presumably after dining with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. This throws the house in upheaval, and the Crawleys must search for a suitable male heir. They find this dude:
2) Matthew Crawley Is Your Future Fictional Boyfriend
Matthew (Dan Stevens), third cousin to Lord Crawley and, of all things, a lawyer, has no idea how to be a Gentleman. He's unintentionally rude to his new valet. He thinks that running a village is something he can do on the weekends (prompting the hilarious Maggie Smith's flustered reply of "What is a weekend?"). He has yet to punch his godawful mother in the face, despite having lived with her for twenty-plus years.
However, he is swoony and charming, and totally besotted with this lady:
3) Lady Mary Crawley, Eldest Daughter, Has the Most Powerful Vagina in All The Land
Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) is rude, impetuous and spoiled. She can be cruel or kind to her family and her servants on a moment's whim. She never does what she's told, toys with the affections of Matthew until she realizes that she's in love with him, and the only person who actually likes her is the butler.
She also fucks a Turk to death. Seriously. The very power of her blow job skills and maybe also the strong muscles in her vagina cause the death of a young, healthy Turkish diplomat named Mr Pamuk. If you did not watch Season One, you will think that this random occurrence is a bit of low-brow humor in order to appeal to the Hollyoaks crowd and that it will not be mentioned again. You would be wrong. This storyline crops up like a stubborn rash for which a medicinal cream has yet to be invented. It will not go away. Apparently, fucking a Turk to death was a big deal in the early 1900s.
Lady Mary has two younger sisters. They are:
4) Lady Edith Is My Hero And I Will Hear Nothing Against Her.
Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael, left) is a classic middle child with classic middle-child syndrome. She's needy and ignored and will throw herself at the first person who pays any amount of attention to her. I adore her. This is not sarcasm. If you talk smack about Lady Edith to me, I WILL CUT YOU.
At the end of the season, Lady Edith is proposed to by a very nice, if sort of middle-aged, gentleman on a neighboring section of land. Lady Mary ruins this proposal out of spite (because Lady Edith tattled to the Turkish Ambassador that his attache was the unfortunate victim of Lady Mary's killer labia), because Lady Mary is the WORST.
Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay, center) is the youngest of the family. She is interested in politics, feminism, Making A Difference and really awful pants. Were this show set fifty years in the future, Lady Sybil would have a plotline about experimenting with lesbianism in high school and I would volunteer to be her best friend who comes over for sleepovers, cause Sybil is HOT.
Lady Sybil is the only Crawley who gives a toss about anyone below her station: she helps one of the housemaids, Gwen, get a job as a secretary, and she engages in honest political debate with the Crawley's chauffeur, Branson the Irish Socialist. Branson is, of course, completely in love with Sybil, but she doesn't see it because she's too busy thinking about how in fifty years, we're going to make out.
But the coolest member of the family is:
5) Maggie Smith Is The Greatest Grandmother You'll Never Have
Biting, acerbic and brutally frank, every scene is elevated when Maggie Smith is around. As Robert Crawley's mother, she spends most of her days sailing in unannounced, clashing with Matthew's awful mother Isobel, and telling Mary not to be such a stupid fuckhead all of the time. Her comedic timing is perfect.
The Dowager Countess isn't always right, though. For instance, she's suspicious about:
6) Mr Bates Wants To Sacrifice Himself For You. In Bed.
Mr Bates (Brendan Coyle) is the new valet. Wounded in a war that he fought alongside Lord Crawley, he walks with a limp and his valet skills are constantly called into question.
Anna (Joanne Froggatt), the girls' ladymaid, is totally butt-crazy in love with Bates (and who isn't! He is HOT.), but their relationship is complicated by the fact that he feels that he's too old for her. And the fact that he was in jail for larceny. And the fact that the reason he was in jail for larceny was because he took the fall of the awful, scheming, alcoholic, just-die-already Mrs. Bates. Who is his wife.
Much of the staff mistrusts Mr Bates, none moreso than these two hideous creatures:
7) Thomas, the Smarmy Thief, and Mrs O'Brien, One Of Those Ladies Who Falls For Gay Men
Thomas (Rob James-Collier) is the head footman in the house and really wanted the Valet position before being passed over for Mr Bates. This makes Thomas angry, and you wouldn't like Thomas when he's angry. You wouldn't like him when he's happy, either, because Thomas is THE VERY WORST. When he isn't scamming on his lovers or hitting on the soon-to-be-fucked-to-death Pamuk, he's stealing from Lord Robert and planting the evidence on Bates. He is detestable in every sense of the word, and what he can't accomplish, he goads Mrs O'Brien into doing.
Mrs O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran) likes to spend time telling everyone how important she is, being Her Ladyship's personal maid. She spends the rest of the time bitching that Her Ladyship treats her, you know, like a servant.
NO ONE likes Thomas, except for Mrs O'Brien and this girl:
8) Daisy Is So Stupid, I Just Can't Even
Daisy (Sophie McShera) is the chambermaid in the house, supervised by the awesome (and secretly poor-sighted) Mrs Pattmore. She has very big ears and very bad hair. She insists on entertaining a crush on THE VERY OBVIOUSLY GAY Thomas and ignores sweet William, the second footman. Daisy is an idiot.
This whole motley crew is supervised by:
9) Mr Carson and Mrs Hughes Should Come Run My Household
Mr Carson (Jim Carter) is the Butler of Downton Abbey and Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) is the Head Housekeeper. Nothing escapes their notice, except for all the things that escape their notice.
Mr Carson is particularly concerned with maintaining propriety at all times, and refuses to allow anything to besmirch the dignity of Downton Abbey. Yet for some reason he hasn't drowned Lady Mary in a pond. For reasons which escape me, he seems to like her best of all.
All that's good, of course, but where did we leave off?
10) Soap is Slick; Everyone Dies
In the last episode of Season One, we learn that Lady Cora has become pregnant! Unlike modern society where everyone is all, "I don't care what we have, as long as it's healthy" blah blah blah bullshit, everyone in the family is actively hoping for a boy so that they can keep their land and money. Lady Mary, who had been proposed to by Matthew and was going to give him an answer "after the Season" (aka, "just so I can make sure nothing better comes along") is counselled by her awful Aunt Rosalind to make Matthew wait until the baby is born. That way Mary can break the engagement if it's a boy! This makes Mary conflicted, because she's pretty sure she For Richer loves Matthew, but isn't quite sure she For Poorer loves Matthew.
Of course, Matthew is not about to be led around like a plaything when he has more important places to be (like my bedroom), and so dumps Lady Mary. HA! TAKE THAT, MARY!
But it all gets very sad, actually, because O'Brien, spurred by jealousy in thinking that Lady Cora means to fire her (when in actuality Cora is just trying to help Maggie Smith find a new lady's maid, and if O'Brien would just ASK QUESTIONS WITH HER BRAIN instead of being A SUPER BITCH, she would know this!) , places a bar of soap on the ground next to Lady Cora's bathtub and then Cora slips and falls and miscarries the baby, and I cry and cry and scream at the tv and call O'Brien a CHILD MURDERING TWATBOX, even though I don't actually think that fetuses are children, but whatever. Such is the power of Downton Abbey.
And! Then this Archduke named Ferdinand that no one's ever heard of gets taken out and people get angry and England decides to solve it all by entering into WWI, thinking they'll have this thing dusted up in a month or two. I wonder how that will shake out!
YOU CAN FIND OUT IN JUST A FEW DAYS!
We here at FYA adore Downton Abbey, and we have planned a variety of LadyNerd posts designed to help you become a true Downton Abbey LadyNerd! So in the next few weeks, you'll learn how to make a traditional turn-of-the-century alcoholic beverage, how to brew a proper cup of tea (thanks to our resident British Ambassador), how to paint your own teacups and make your own hair fascinators, and much more! Our LadyNerd series will begin next week and run for four weeks, and we hope that you enjoy it!
Also! Join me and Badass Digest's Meredith for weekly "TV Talk" recaps of Downton Abbey over at out brother site, Badass Digest! I've already seen Season Two and she'll be watching it for the first time, so I plan to lord my knowledge of how it all ends over her for the next few weeks! Plus bore her with talk about machine gun technology! So please join us every week for those recaps!