SUPPORTING GREAT TELEVISION

Masterpiece’s Downton Abbey: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow

In Recaps on January 31, 2011 at 10:00 pm

Robert and Matthew (Hugh Bonneville, Dan Stevens) took a stroll on last night’s “Downton Abbey.” (Screen cap)

Misdeeds abounded on Downton Abbey, the Edwardian era miniseries that PBS’s Masterpiece aired this month, but in last night’s conclusion, the biggest crime happened off-screen.

Earlier, I wrote about how producers cut 35 minutes from the seven-hour British saga – but now I wonder if the job was outsourced to the corner butcher.

Each week, I watched both versions of the show – yes, I’m a true Downton devotee – and until last night, the differences were mostly subtle: PBS viewers missed a line here, a scene there.

But on the show’s final night, entire subplots and several insightful scenes were slashed; so were some choice lines from Violet, the droll dowager countess played to perfection by Dame Maggie Smith.

(Sample: “My poor niece never uses one word when twenty will do.”)

PBS viewers who want to see the whole story should buy the show on DVD, Blu-ray or iTunes, where they’ll find the original, unedited episodes.

Until then:

Last night’s broadcast found Robert Crawley, earl of Grantham, unnerved by the political awakening of youngest daughter Sybill (Jessica Brown-Findlay), who secretly ventured into town to attend an election-related event.

The crowd turned ugly and Sybill was knocked unconscious, but dashing cousin Matthew (Dan Stephens) and chauffer Branson (Allen Leech) rescued her.

When a bruised Sybill returned home, Robert was furious and threatened to fire Branson, whom he blamed for influencing Sybill, but she insisted the chauffer wasn’t to blame.

“If you punish Branson, I’ll never speak to you again – never!”

Older sister Mary (Michelle Dockery) thanked Matthew for his gallantry by having the servants make them sandwiches, which they shared alone in the dining room.

The distant cousins finally acknowledged their mutual attraction, and afterward Mary visited the bedroom of mother Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) with big news: Matthew proposed.

“I think I may have loved him for much longer than I knew,” Mary confided.

Elsewhere, Violet received a letter from her niece, who told her about the rumors in London about Mary and the late Kemal Pamuk.

When confronted with the note, Cora confessed the rumor was true, horrifying Violet.

“If you expect me to disown my daughter, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed,” Cora warned.

Violet was thrilled when Cora told her about Matthew’s proposal to Mary, although Cora said Mary planned to tell Matthew the truth about her dalliance with Pamuk.

Violet thought this was a bad idea.

“She reads too many novels,” the countess declared. “One way or another, everyone goes down the aisle with half the story hidden.”

But the episode’s biggest surprise was yet to come: Cora was pregnant.

This delighted Robert but left Matthew in a quandary: If Cora gave birth to a son, Matthew would no longer inherit Robert’s title and Downton Abbey.

Robert began preparing for this possibility, assuring Matthew that Matthew and his mother Isobel (Penelope Wilton) could have their home, Crawley House, “for life.”

The pregnancy also unsettled Mary; her aunt Rosamund (Samantha Bond) urged her to accept Matthew’s proposal only if Cora had another daughter.

“Be sensible,” Rosamund said. “Can you really see yourself dawdling your life away as the wife of a country solicitor?”

Mary delayed giving Matthew an answer, angering Isobel, who took out her ire on Violet.

“Don’t pretend Mary’s sudden reluctance can’t be traced back to you,” Isobel fumed.

“I shall pretend it!” Violet snapped. “I told her to take him. Your quarrel is with my daughter Rosamund, not me. So put that in your pipe and smoke it!”

Yes, Violet really said that – and it was hilarious.

Mary also learned the source of the rumors about her virginity: sister Edith (Laura Carmichael), who confessed she wrote to the Turkish ambassador to tell him the truth about Pamuk’s demise.

Sniffed Edith: “He had a right to know how his countryman died – in the arms of a slut!”

Over in Servant World, scheming footman Thomas (Rob James-Collier) recruited lovesick maid Daisy (Sophie McShera) to accuse valet Bates (Brendan Coyle) of stealing wine, but guilt-ridden Daisy recanted her story – much to the relief of butler Carson (Jim Carter), who didn’t believe it anyway.

Daisy’s confession didn’t relieve Bates, who finally confessed his secret to Carson, housekeeper Hughes (Phyllis Logan) and maid Anna (Joanne Froggatt): Before coming to Downton, Bates was a drunkard who was jailed for theft.

Bates wanted to resign, but Carson persuaded him to wait until Carson discussed the matter with Robert.

When Anna accompanied soon-to-be-blind-cook Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nichol) to London for eye surgery – arranged and paid for by Robert – Anna did some sleuthing and learned Bates only served time in jail to cover for his thieving ex-wife.

Anna returned to Downton with the news, delighting Robert, who rejected Bates’s resignation.

But Robert also experienced a devastating loss: Cora suffered a miscarriage after nasty maid O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran) sneakily left soap on the floor near the tub where Cora was bathing, causing her to slip and fall.

Robert sobbed over the miscarriage, telling Bates the unborn child was a boy.

The final scenes took place at a lavish garden party, where Sybill told Gwen (Rose Leslie) she finally got the maid a job as a secretary; Thomas informed Carson that he was leaving Downton to join the Army medical corps; and Mary sabotaged plans by Sir Anthony Strallen (Robert Bathurst) to propose to Edith.

Mary also got some bad news: Matthew told her he was returning to Manchester.

“You’ve shown me I’ve been living in a dream and it’s time to return to real life,” he said. “Wish me luck, Mary. God knows I wish the best for you.”

In the final moments, Carson brought a telegram to Robert, who read it and then stopped the party and called for everyone’s attention.

“I very much regret to announce that we are at war with Germany,” Robert said grimly.

The screen went black and these words appeared: “A second season of Downton Abbey is in production.”

Hooray!

Now go watch the unedited episodes to see what you missed.

Robert (Hugh Bonneville) announced Britain’s war with Germany on last night’s in “Downton Abbey.” (Screen cap)

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