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Man Without a Star (1955)
A Western that builds in emotion.
This Western drama at first seems to be more about slice of life moments on the open range until Kirk Douglas's big moment where he reveals his reason for hating barbed wire. Douglas is first seen stowing away on a freight train, mentoring the sweetly dim bulb William Campbell, and sticking around with Campbell when they get jobs working for lady rancher Jeanne Crain, an early version of "The Big Valley's" Victoria Barkley. She's disgusted by him at first but when she witnesses him beating up the man she's invited to dinner (seemingly to just rile him), offers him a job as foreman. He thanks her with a steamy kiss, but it's going to be a tempestuous working relationship that often ends with a slap.
Certainly, Douglas's reason for hating barbed wire is justified, but as the wild west becomes less open and more ranchers arrive, something is going to be needed to mark property lines. Maybe not the strongest story, but one with a point to make of how time was marching on and nothing could be done to stop what those there first objected to.
Two strong supporting performances come from Jay C. Flippen as Crain's business manager and the Oscar winning Claire Trevor as the local tavern proprietor who obviously has a side business going on involving her saloon girls. She gets great lines in what few scenes she has, but she's basically a stereotype of every dolled up older dame who ever entered a bar. Douglas gets to sing, show off his gun twirling and fast shooting, but his best scenes are when he reveals his inner torment. It's colorful, action filled, but no different than dozens of other A list color westerns from the same era.
The Indian Fighter (1955)
The outdoor color photography is the star.
This A Western starring Kirk Douglas at his most macho is fun for its action, the gorgeous majestic scenery and the frenetic battles between a wagon train trying to get through Sioux territory while Douglas attempts to keep peace. But thanks to two nasty white men traders (a young Walter Matthau and veteran horror star Lon Chaney Jr., attempts at a peaceful journey is instantly diminished. It doesn't help that Douglas makes a violent pass at Sioux maiden Elsa Martinelli who seemingly loves him, but it's more the antics of Matthau (rather deceptive in his persona) and Chaney, much more blatant.
Then there's Kirk's real life wife (at the time), Diana Douglas (Michael's mother), playing a feisty widow who pulls Kirk out on the fort grounds for a dance, encouraging him to be more aggressive with her, indicating that she wants him as her next husband. Michael Winkelman plays her hero worshiping son who obviously wouldn't mind calling Kirk "dad".
What makes this Western a little bit more than just Indian battles and scalpings is Douglas's belief in right over wrong irregardless of what side he's supposed to be on, and he's willing to hand over Chaney and Matthau to Indian chief Eduard Franz. Douglas is excellent in a scene where he tells Chief red cloud what to expect if they keep the battle of revenge going. Walter Abel, Frank Cady, Elisha Cook Jr. and Alan Hale Jr. are among the other familiar faces. I'm sure this look glorious on a big screen, and in widescreen, it will look just as glorious on your TV.
The Juggler (1953)
Just a small toss below perfection.
Yes, Kirk Douglas's non-German vocals are a distraction from the realism of the otherwise compelling post war drama about post-traumatic stress syndrome. Kirk is indeed excellent as a famous juggler, and the sympathy is definitely with him as a survivor of the Holocaust who finds himself traveling to Israel as a refugee, trying to hide the fact that he was in a concentration camp yet exposing it every time he lifts his arm up and the number is exposed. Douglas, suffering greatly from fear of authority, attacks an Israeli police officer only seeking to see his papers, and the authorities are on his trail to determine the motive for the attacks and get him the help he desperately needs. It's obvious that nobody is the bad guy, but the psychological ramifications of Nazi cruelty has affected Douglas deeply.
An excellent, touching performance are given by Joseph Walsh as a teen war orphan who desperately wants to become Douglas's traveling companion, having suffered from the loss of his parents and facing the illness that is now referred to as arrested development. Douglas at one point plans to leave with just a simple goodbye, and it's apparent that Walsh's heart is on the verge of breaking. Walsh decides that he wants to be a great juggler too, and is actually quite eat it. Douglas becomes enamored with the pretty Milly Vitale who works at a local border camp aiding refugees through the mine covered countryside, one bomb nearly killing Walsh.
It's obvious that there's only one way out for Douglas that doesn't involve violence, but can Paul Stewart, as the police officer determined to get Douglas treatment and justice he needs, but when the brain is filled with the memories Douglas has, the results could be tragic. Douglas's changing from jovial entertainer to paranoid victim is indeed a gripping performance although I don't quite believe him as German. The photography is superb and the use of traditional Hebrew traditions and cultural ceremonies makes this educational as well as intense entertainment. Producer Stanley Kramer and director Edward Dmytryk deserve additional credit for making this near classic an emotional journey for Douglas, Walsh and that viewer.
Un acte d'amour (1953)
Touching and engaging up until the last reel.
While I enjoyed a good majority of this new wave post-war film, I found that it petered out in the last 15 minutes and that prevented me from reading it as a good film. That does not mean that it is not worth watching, but it loses interest as the plot ones down. as usual, Kirk Douglas creates a very complex characterization as an American returning to France after the war and recalling his days there as a soldier. He has taking up residence in what is basically a French bed and breakfast and finds himself falling in love with the sweet Dany Robin, a seemingly innocent young lady out of her element among what is obviously women of the street. it is obvious that if she has turned to the world's oldest profession, it is because she has been forced to because she is surrounded by amoral people who are exploiting the visiting military personnel and will use any means to get their money.
In his first scene, Douglas flashes back to the various people he encountered during his time there during the war. They include obvious madam Gabrielle Dorziat and the aggressive Barbara Laage through whom he meets the seemingly naive Robin. At first, it seems he just considers her another fun distraction, but as they begin to spend time together, it is obvious that they are falling in love and Douglas asks her to marry him. But when there is a sweep of girls on the street and she claims to be married, she ends up arrested, and threw a long and detailed narration, we learn the history of the prison where she is held, where Marie Antoinette at one time was kept prior to her execution. It's an interesting look at the social history of France at the time, and I found it a very well done montage.
it's obvious that these two star-crossed lovers are not meant to be together, and this has the potential to be a great romantic tragedy. Some people might find the English speaking French accents a little difficult to tolerate for a long period of time, and some of the attitudes of the French peasants towards the visiting English speaking soldiers is not at all positive even though that they are trying to help France fight for its freedom. I enjoyed a good majority of this, but it seems to fall flat as it begins to wrap up, and even under the direction of veteran Anatole Litvak, it sort of just laid there as it attempted to satisfactorily resolved a plot that the audience already knew what was going to happen. Veteran American characterrrier actor Robert Strauss stands out in a scene with Douglas and is one of the highlights of the film.
The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)
The rise and downfall of Hollywood royalty, producer, director, leading lady.
How many times has this story been told? How many times has it been told yet nobody learns from these tales of the desire to rise to the top of the industry, and the fall that occurs after? This isn't just "A Star is Born" over again, any version, it's a warning that one must be prepared for the chances that rarely come but when they do, come with a price. After all, the original version of "A Star is Born" wasn't called "What price Hollywood" for nothing. Every character here (and there are a lot of them) has major problems, whether it be the determination to stay where they are no matter how ruthless they have to be, insecurities that destroys before the rise has even begun, and the hatreds that grow as careers rise and fall, along with the lives of those lucky enough to get game which they find out eventually that they cannot handle.
Kirk Douglas once again proves that he is the champion in playing amoral characters, cast as a B producer lucky enough to rise to the A list and pretty much making everybody hates him as his luck changes. He works for studio head Walter Pidgeon, playing a character named Harry (no relation to Cohn or Warner) and isn't afraid of telling the boss to shut up when he wants to get his way. His way includes beautiful ingenue Lana Turner in one of her greatest performances as the frightened daughter of a deceased mogul who wants to make it in the business but loses her soul in the process. She's basically playing a later version of the characters who played in "Ziegfeld Girl", and it's obvious in the past decade, her talent has increased.
There's also Barry Sullivan as Douglas's partner, Gilbert Roland as a playboy actor, Dick Powell as a screenwriter, Elaine Stewart as the dragon lady jealous of Lana, and Gloria Grahame in her Oscar winning role as Powell's flighty wife. It's ironic that as this was being filmed, MGM was undergoing a change in its regime with Louis B. Mayer forced out and the darker type of films that he hated being made under his nose. Vincent Minnelli, best known for his musicals, give this an elegant feel certainly was MGM's top non-musical of the year. Kathleen Freeman, teaching elocution lessons in the same year's "Singin" in the Rain", has a bit part as the director's assistant.
With all that talent, it's Douglas and Turner whom you will remember, Douglas for his vicious rants and Turner for her breakdown after Douglas humiliates her. It is near perfection, even with its episodic nature, skipping from character to character as they reminisce about their life surrounding the ruthless Douglas. No expense was spared in the details surrounding the oppuoent setting, and it really the stuff that dreams are made of, complete with a warning of the dangers of success in a bad and beautiful industry.
Designing Women: Reese's Friend (1987)
Compost has never been so beautiful.
Soap veteran Lisa Peluso, former stage child (Angela Lansbury's "Gypsy" on Broadway) went from searching for tomorrow for searching for a dashing daddy in this classic "Designing Women" episode. unfortunately, she lays her sights on the wrong man, in this case, Julia sugarbakers boyfriend, Reese Watson (Hal Holbrook), and this makes her ripe for terminating. Reese ends up on Julia's bad side when he ends up canceling several dates, taking depositions with the beautiful Shannon, his new (and very young) legal partner. There's a reason why all of Peluso's daytime characters were compared to a young Erica Kane, and here, she's twice the vixen and twice as daring as Erica could ever hope to be, especially taking on Julia.
The terrific thing about the character of Shannon is that she is blatantly honest with Julia, and that turns out to be her downfall, letting Reese know in uncertain terms that she wants to have an affair with him and then telling Julia that she plans to date Reese without subterfuge and hopes that they can be friends. Is this possible with Julia sugarbaker? Absolutely not! Julia gives her the biggest take down any other character, even The beauty Queen in an earlier season 1 episode of God, and she proves her class and elegance while doing it. It is obvious that Shannon will come out of this learning something, and she's gracious enough to admit defeat. That makes this episode picture perfect, one of the best episodes of the entire series.
This gift horse isn't worth its weight in bail money.
Charlene's thinkin' again, too much, about the men in her life, in this case a man with a rap sheet as big as Chicago where he ends up being arrested. He has a warehouse filled with items from a supposed estate sale which Julia writes out a check willingly for $10,000. But these items from a sheik's palace are as hot as the Mohave desert so the four ladies end up in general. Anthony shows up to rescue them, pretending to be Reese, but this is just before the real Reese (unseen) shows up, creating an amusing scene with the matron whom Julia has just "terminated". The audience knows as soon as the girls are arrested that everything will be wrapped up neatly so there is no element of surprise, yet those antiques are glorious to look at. Not a classic episode, but still worth seeing for individual moments.
Designing Women: New Year's Daze (1987)
A shadow is cast over the ladies first new year.
With Reese away stuck in New York, Suzanne stuck with a date older than dirt, Mary Jo dealing with the fact that J.D.'s ex-wife won't leave him alone and Charlene inviting a convict to join her for New Year's Eve, it's going to be an interesting night. Gussied up and looking glamorous, the ladies each get to read their resolutions to each other, some funnier than others. Charlene's naiveite is endearing, Suzanne's greed amusing, Julia's ranting at Reese a bit over the top, and Mary Jo's loyalty touching. It's not one of my favorite episodes, but there are many fine moments that keeps this from being one of the duds.
Designing Women: Monette (1987)
No, Charlene. Monette is not a man.
Suzanne interrupts Charlene's hillbilly bulletin for an equally pointless story in this classic episode that reunites Charlene with old friend Monette ("Monica") Marlin (Bobbie Ferguson) whom she was a cheerleader with in high school. It turns out that Monette, who wants the ladies to redecorate her big old southern mansion but is revealed to be working in the world's oldest profession, and I don't mean carpentry. As Julia tries to explain to Charlene why they can't take the job, Charlene becomes more befuddled and must reach into her soul not to judge Monette.
This would be the first of three appearances for Bobbi Ferguson who also played a nurse when Charlene had her baby. I didn't quite agree with all of Julia's arguments against doing the job, and her claim that Monette is planning to get out of the business is proven false by Monette's future appearances. Still, the script has some very memorable lines and there are some valid points made in this light-hearted but important episodes.
"I just want to know which one of you "witches" is Mary Jo Shively."
It's easy to figure out who the real "witch" is (although that's not the word that Janet Shackelford, J.D.'s nasty ex-wife uses) from the moment that Julie Cobb uses. It's a play on the tagline from the popular TV miniseries "Lace" and sets up potentially great conflict, a humorous soap opera like plot that will have to make Mary Jo become stronger. Then there's the secondary plot that has Anthony involved with gamblers and in major trouble with a high rolling gangster.
This episode has Charlene going off on one of her wacky endless thoughts over the dumbest things, and only an actress like Jean Smart can get away with not making it annoying. Charlene has a major plot involving being checked out for cancer so this gives pretty much everyone something to do. Suzanne has a great rant about being forced to have lunch with some homosexuals, and only because it's Suzanne that it doesn't come off as homophobic. That's future "Evening Shade" actor and Tony award winner for "Grand Hotel" Michael Jeter as the messy "Calvin Klein". For so much going on with the plot, this is an easy plot to get into, often quite touching.
Suzanne's curse gives the ladies an opportunity to bond.
For the first time in Designing Women history, the women utilize The Twilight Zone theme every time something weird happens, and this episode is filled with weird situations. It seems that Suzanne's made, Consuela, has put a curse on Suzanne and has told her that she's going to die viciously at midnight. They decide to have a slumber party at Mary Jo's house and share various secrets, give constructive criticism towards each other and realize how much they all admire the others. A funny episode if somewhat eerie and creepy, this shows the four women acting goofy and childlike and Mary Jo's daughter Claudia acting like the mother and telling them to knock it off. Nothing really significant happens here other than the four women revealing the truth about how they feel and Julia playing the protective older sister towards Suzanne once again. It's another night where literally the lights do go out in Georgia.
Designing Women: The IT Men (1986)
Getting rid of Mason, a heavy job for anyone.
Probably one of the worst episodes of the series, the third show of the series that introduced the one-off character of Mason is one episode that I skip right through. This episode has Mason off in Tokyo and Charlene dating another man (Madison Mason) whom Julia and Mary Jo discover is married to a client. Charlene confronts him with Mary Jo present, and Mary Jo, getting intoxicated on an empty stomach, becomes increasingly blunt. That part is funny, but the Mason references are just a reminder of how bad that particular episode was. The only point of this episode is to write Mason out for good and never again to be mentioned.
Designing Women: I Do, I Don't (1986)
Let's hear it for Hal!
The fabulous Hal Holbrook joins in a recurring role as Reese Watson, Julia's boyfriend who promises a surprise for Julia and literally gives her the bird. She was expecting an engagement ring and literally molests her food in trying to find it. The real life married couple of Dixie Carter and Hal Holbrook have spectacular chemistry and the plot twist has them eloping while intoxicated and instantly realizing that they've made a mistake.
The sight of the canary in a small clear case is truly disturbing to look at. It's probably the only time that the show did something un-p.c., and I wouldn't be surprised if Peta didn't make a complaint. It's funny though that Julia wants an instant annulment and is afraid of hurting Reese then is disturbed when Reese arrives carrying the papers, already having planned to ask for an annulment. unfortunately, Reese and Julia would not make it down to the altar for real, and when the Thompsons created a part for Hal on "Evening Shade", Reese was sadly killed off.
Designing Women: Perky's Visit (1986)
What does that mean? Someone left the cake out in the rain.
That classic line sets up the delightful recurring character of Bernice Clifton, played by the wonderful Alice Ghostley. While this is her only appearance in season 1, fan mail for her character made the writers bring her back and eventually she was pretty much a regular. Here, she attends Thanksgiving dinner with Julia and Suzanne's mother, played by Louise Latham, her only appearance on the show. The setup has the girls suspecting Anthony of having murdered an obnoxious client, utilizing the theme of judgment to make a point.
There has been some debate as to why Perky only made one appearance but other than the fact that she's upstaged by Ghostley. There's a touching scene where she reveals her frustration over being treated like an old person. It's probably the first time that there's a tear-jerking moment on the show, followed by Bernice's witty words of advice
"You've been so sweet to me I'd like to give you a little piece of advice that hass held me in good stead through the years. When the sun has gone behind the clouds, when everything has lost its silver lining, when things looked at it's absolute darkest, cover your head with your coat."
Designing Women: Design House (1986)
Is Suzanne just a bimbo front person for Sugarbaker's?
Depressed over not being taken seriously as a partner in the firm, Suzanne insists on attempting to decorate a room in "design house", a prestigious project that could bring in a ton of business. Julia's certain that Suzanne will get bored and turn the project back over to the other women, but Suzanne surprises them with her determination which leads to a hysterectomy funny catastrophe.
This episode also Meshach Taylor as Anthony Bouvier (no relation to Jacqueline), the new delivery man who happens to be an ex-con hired by Julia as part of her liberal goal to give him a second chance. Stephen Tobolowsky is very funny as a rival decorator who visits Sugarbaker's to admire "the eight finest breasts in Atlanta". It's obvious that there's something special between Delta Burke and Meshach Taylor that will be a highlight of the show for the next five seasons.
Careful who you tell off in public.
That's a lesson Julia learns when she is audited by the IRS and discovers that her auditor is none other than Ray Don Simpson, the man who intruded in the ladies evening out in the first episode. Julia doesn't recognize him at first until Charlene reminds her with a word-by-word replay of exactly what she said, and Jean Smart is hysterical in doing this. She is even funnier than Dixie Carter was when that scene first occurred.
This episode also introduces the recurring role of J.D. Shackelford (Richard Gilland) whom Mary Jo is instantly attracted to in spite of her insistence that she's not interested in dating a divorced man. Their first scene is very funny with J.D. walking in on her performing a little seductive song but his attempts to seduce her right off is out of character for a true gentleman that we will see down the road. Still, this is a good episode that has many funny moments and is a marked improvement over the previous two.
Boy does Isabel know Lady Violet!
"It's a nutcracker, To crack your nuts!", Mrs. Crawley tells Lady Grantham when she presents her with her Christmas present. For two years, she's put up with Lady Violet's acid tongue, and now she's had the opportunity to pay her back deliciously. It's a sad Christmas however as Bates is in prison for the supposed murder of his nasty ex-wife who haunts him from the grave just after he's shared his honeymoon bed with his loving new wife Anna. There's still joy over the holidays as both the family and the staff play games (separately of course), and the shadow of the past isn't as dark as the presence of Aunt Rosamund and Richard Carlisle, a fiancee that Mary needs to dump any way she can. Somehow Thomas has managed to worm his way back on staff (surprise surprise), and he's anchoring for the position of Robert's personal valet. There's also Rosamund's ladies maid (Marigold) who has a dark presence, but not as dark as O'Brien who along with Thomas engages the downstairs staff with a Ouija board. Anna is determined to stand by her new husband no matter what it takes, and this will not end well when he goes on trial.
Then there's the introduction of Sir Anthony Strallan who will be the next man Edith will fall for, an aging aristocrat injured in the war, but all poor Edith wants is her man alive and breathing. That's not an attack on Edith's character. She's put up with ill treatment from older sister Mary all of her life so her self esteem is very low yet she's retained a sense of kindness and a lack of snobbery, something that Mary could learn a little bit about even though she is completely loyal to Anna and treats her nearly as an equal. As New Year's 1920 arrives ("Downton Abbey" 100 years ago!), Lady Grantham reflects on the past decade and wonders what it will bring. The previous episode ended with her telling Robert that in spite of his past, Tom Branson had promise, and with any luck, they'll be able to reshape his future. News of Sybil's pregnancy arrives although Sybil and Tom do not make an appearance. Daisy is visited by her father-in-law who has come to think of her as a daughter, but Daisy still feels not right for not having really loved William. This episode has a lot of dramatic twists, but it also shows a lot of hope as the world strives for peace but faces other obstacles.
Downton Abbey: Episode #2.8 (2011)
It's finally the young lovers turn to shine.
The family is gathered together for an announcement by Sybil and Tom, bluntly breaking the news of their love and intentions to move to Dublin and get married. The older members are of course shocked although granny isn't as horrified as predicted by Edith and Mary. In fact, the usually down to earth Robert is the most angered, threatening to cut Sybil off, and obviously she doesn't care, intending to stay around long enough for Matthew and Livinia's wedding. But the Spanish flu epidemic breaks out, and there will be a ton of heartbreak.
"If you're trying to go American on me, I'll go downstairs", Robert tells Cora who has reminded him of their own differences. I guess it's ok for the papa but not for his sweetheart of a daughter, perhaps a nod to Tevye and Chava from "Fiddler on the Roof". He doesn't have long to be mad at Cora, as along with Livinia, Carson and supposedly Mosely, she becomes bedridden because of the Spanish flu.
Other situations includes Thomas's manipulation to get his job at Downton back, something that Carson is determined to prevent. The presence of a phonograph introduces the hit new showtune "Look For the Silver Lining", but it's another contraption that scares Lady Violet. For Robert and Jane, the maid, their attraction is torture, and as Cora becomes sicker, the loyalty of the prickly O'Brien shows another side to her, showing a big heart hidden underneath her icy torture, mainly due to her guilt which is one of O'Brien's finest moments onscreen. Thomas uses the situation to pitch in to change Carson and Mrs. Hughes' mind, and with her mother ill, Sybil puts off leaving. Livinia, who seems to be getting better, takes a turn, and her final scenes in this arch are very sad.
Then there's Ethel meeting with her baby's paternal grandparents with the grandfather still cold and authoritive and the grandmother dominated and desperate to love her in spite of her husband's cruelty. It's obvious that this couple see the situation completely. There's little going on in the way of the Anna/Bates story, but that's about to take a turn which will dominate a good majority of season three.
Downton Abbey: Episode #2.7 (2011)
If I had a nickel for every time that O'Brien and Thomas whispered conspiracies, I could buy Downton Abbey!
Anna and Bates get rid of one schemer in Vera and gain another in Richard Carlisle who tries to pay Anna to spy on her. Of course when she refuses, he asks her to keep silent, and her look indicates that she's onto the potential troubles down the road. As for Carson, he's torn on whether or not to leave Downton because of his loyalty to Lady Mary which Mrs. Hughes does not understand and he explains their closeness and his understanding of Mary beneath the surface. Mrs. Hughes tries to aide Ethel further by approaching her babies grandparents. It's a mixed reaction and of course the paternal grandmother is the one more anxious to accept the truth.
As for those schemers O'Brien and Thomas, they are more than willing to see Bates go down, but Thomas is breaking the law himself by running a black market ring. When Robert impulsively kisses Jane, the new maid, his temptation shocks himself. The main story is the explosion much needed in Sybil and Tom's romance, and she agrees to run away and marry him. Happiness comes in the form of Matthew regaining the use of his legs which creates the announcement of his intention to marry Livinia. But Lady Violet has a plan, and it's a speech that only Maggie Smith can deliver in her intimidable way.
Downton Abbey: Episode #2.6 (2011)
Guess who's returning to Downton.
Imposter or the real deal? Will the family believe or not believe? A wounded and badly scarred officer convaleses at the Abbey engages Edith in a conversation and claims to be Patrick Crawley, the supposedly late heir to Downton Abbey and one time fiancee to Mary. Supposedly having drowned on the Titanic, he claims to have been suffering from amnesia and only regained his memory recently. Edith believes it to be true, having once loved him, but then again, what man has Edith not loved? Mary is cruel to Edith simply for believing Patrick's words, and that explains the long building animosity between the sisters, a bit of one sided verbal abuse. Meanwhile, Richard offers Carson a job as butler as a way of pushing Mary towards accepting his marriage proposal. With the war announced to be ending, new challenges will face the family, as long as Ladies Violet and Cora can find Isabel something else to do as they strive to end the hospice.
Robert finds herself becoming friendly with a new maid which could lead to all sorts of trouble. The Bates saga continues with the announcement that Vera is dropping her divorce dispute, simply to be vicious and keep him and Anna from finding happiness. This sets O'Brien's scheming nature in motion and the shocking conclusion will bring on more drama that will be felt into the next season. Livinia returns at Richard's urging and is determined to get Matthew to reconsider breaking up. The celebrating of the war ending has several repurcussions with Richard revealing himself to be rather tyrannical in his intentions and Edith once again heartbroken over yet another disappointment in her battle against her uppity older sister who obviously has resentments for not being the only child.
Downton Abbey: Episode #2.5 (2011)
War takes a tragic turn.
If the sight of the dowager countess having a fight with that new fangled contraption known as the telephone doesn't have you laughing with tears, try out the actual tears from sadness in this episode that has Matthew wounded and William on the verge of death. This brings Isabel back, a bit less aggressive and concentrating on her son, and Daisy torn over a serious ethical issue. Vera Bates returns for another chance at extortion, and even O'Brien and Thomas are shocked by how low she will go. Lavinia returns as Matthew's fiancee, and the two women who love him bond together for support. Will Matthew be able to walk again, let alone sire children?
As for Mrs. Hughes, she's out to aide Ethel who has given birth to a wounded officer's child, feeling guilty over having sacked her. For her sternness, Mrs. Hughes is quite good hearted, and Ethel will be a trial for her. When the father returns, he's rather cold, adding to Ethel's heartbreak. Emotions are strong for the badly injured William and for the dainty Daisy, not in love with him but torn over breaking his heart and her own. Mary turns to Richard Carlisle over the blackmail and finds him to be rather cold towards her predicament, using it against her in their pending engagement. His visit with Vera Bates is chilling for both amoral charaxters. News of the czar's assassination gives more historical timeliness towards the end of the war.
The makeup on the ailing Matthew is downright scary, making him look nearly dead with its ghastly paleness. The family must rally around Daisy and William as he faces the grim reality of his death, and Daisy must lie to him so he can die in peace. The sadness of the family in seeing this profound moment even has the dowager countess touched. This is one of the most profound moments in the series history, and certainly a highlights for the supporting but core character of Daisy.
Downton Abbey: Episode #2.4 (2011)
Hurricane Isabel blows over Downton.
The fabulous Penelope Wilton shows the aggressive side of Isabel, seemingly written out, but don't let disappearances fool you. Another confrontation between Isabel and Cora results in Isabel giving her notice and not being begged to stay as she thought. The angst of her son being involved in wartime could be behind her seeming personality change, or perhaps the frustration of being an intelligent woman who doesn't believe that she's getting her due. Irregardless, it almost feels like a loss with her presumed departure, even by her frustrated servants now not really having anything to do. Mrs. Byrd and Spratt decide to get involved by turning the absent Mrs. Crawley's home into a soup kitchen.
With war, there are going to be victims, and in a world war, those numbers are going to be astronomically larger. Daisy is worried when William doesn't show up on leave and is declared as M.I.A. When Mrs. Hughes finds Ethel in bed with one of the officers, it's an instant sack from the sack. Mary and Edith briefly make nice by performing together in a concert for the convalesing soldiers and officers, a light-hearted moment in an otherwise serious episode.
The frustrations over Mr. Bates leaving so suddenly continue to fluster the upstairs and downstairs, and thanks to Anna, Robert learns where he is. The warmth and trust between Robert and Bates will take its toll coming up, so their warm reunion here is very touching, something that won't be said for Thomas and Bates. (Check out Mrs. Hughes' grin towards Bates' retort towards Thomas and a later jab at O'Brien from Bates.) Not much of Maggie Smith in this episode, but the twists in all the other stories make up for that.
Downton Abbey: Episode #2.3 (2011)
Thomas in charge? Not if Carson and Mrs. Hughes have their way!
History marches on as the war comes to Downton, turning it into a convalescent home and news of the Russian Czar and his family reaches England. At the suggestion of the continuously scheming O'Brien, Thomas is made manager and this upsets Isabel who expected to be in charge and puts him at odds with Carson and Mrs. Hughes who can't forget Thomas's previous actions. Pretty much the entire family participates, and it's up to Cora to keep Isabel in line. To be honest, Isabel does go a bit far, humorously for the audience and irritatingly so for the Crawley's.
Anna discovers that Bates is in the area and learns that the attempted reconciliation with Vera has been nothing but disaster. Tom discovers that he has been rejected by the army for a heart murmur. Mrs. Hughes worries about Ethel who dotes too much on a wounded officer. Mrs. Pathmore gives Daisy what for after finding out that Daisy wants to let William know she doesn't love him, giving us a hints of the tragedy to come.
Mary learns the truth about Lavinia, and makes a rare noble gesture which disturbs Granny and Aunt Rosamund's plans. Anna desperately tries to stop Branson from making a horrible mistake when she finds a note he dropped for Lady Subil. It's not what she or the rest of staff thinks though, yet a bit gross. War goes on, and so does the soap opera. Mary isn't too pleased by the general's announcement of who the unsung hero of Downton Abbey is, giving me a big hurrah at the end! Team Edith here, and always nice to see uppity Mary getting shot down even though her facade of nobility has both Carson and Anna fooled with her inner viciousness.
Downton Abbey: Episode #2.2 (2011)
The darkness of Downton returns.
With Thomas back in town working at the hospital, it's only a matter of time before he's back scheming with the princess of darkness, Miss O'Brien. Of course, their reunion isn't quite an affectionate one, but O'Brien shows rare compassion when the new valet (Cal MacAninch, in the first of a two episode arc) shows signs of shell shock, something her favorite brother suffered with. It's a surprising switch in her personality. Thomas's love for a wounded soldier also reveals a side of him only seen briefly in season one and helps explain his bitterness. His giving of hope really makes a difference even though that situation ends in tragedy and leaves the usually dour Thomas in tears.
With Matthew engaged to Lavinia , Mary begins to see wealthy publisher Richard Carlisle (newcomer Iain Glen) which has grandmama and Aunt Rosamund plotting to get Lavinia away from Matthew. Meanwhile, Edith begins helping out on a local farm and finds a friendship with the farmer (Fergus O'Donnell) which brings out the jealousy and reverse snobbery of his unemotional, distant wife (Cathy Sara) who seems to dislike Edith instantaneously.
With the local hospital becoming over-crowded, Downton Abbey becomes an expanded hospital which creates potential more chaos thanks to Isabel and the dowager countess's interference, giving Cora the chance to claim control in one of Elizabeth McGovern's best scenes of the series. Daisy, giving comfort to the enlisting William, is unaware of his growing feelings for her With Bates gone, Mr. Mosely tries to romance Anna, but she politely declines his well intentioned attention. Mrs. Pathemore finds out bad news about her nephew from Lord Grantham which will pop up in episodes down the road. These plot devices all work, but it's those surprising light moments with O'Brien and Thomas that stand out.
Downton Abbey: Episode #2.1 (2011)
War is hell...for soldiers, lovers and estates.
Don't let the horrors of war hide the fact that this episode is still entertaining in spite of the themes. Yes, it gets very serious at times, but even with changes at the estate, there's a lot of humor among the war effort in spite of the fact that Matthew is now engaged to another woman (Livinia, played by Zoe Boyle) and Bates' cold hearted wife Vera (Maria Doyle Kennedy) has turned up at his mother's funeral. Edith is having fun at sister Mary's expense because of Matthew's announcement, while Sybil is hoping to become more seriously interested in the war effort to provide services and practically turns the kitchen upside down with her efforts to learn how to cook. O'Brien goes after new house maid Ethel (Amy Nuttall) who is instantly snide with her, but as usual, O'Brien ends up with nothing but "Curses, Curses, foiled again!" She'd find her match in Vera, Bates bitter wife who blackmails him into returning to her and leaving Downton.
Despite a few setbacks, Sybil's efforts in the kitchen impress mother Cora whose down to earth personality in herself she recognizes in her youngest. Sybil longs to go to work at the hospital as a volunteer. As for Thomas, unseen until the end, he attempted to be heroic in battle in spite of being petrified and runs into Matthew. Cowardice beats him in the end, and that situation won't settle well with all of Downton Abbey. There's the usual amount of snark from the Dowager Countess (stealing every scene she's in irregardless of not really having a part in the story other than observer), chuckling at a vicious prank pulled on Ethel which nearly gets her the sack. The war scenes only occur at the beginning (prior to the opening credits) and the end, with Robert James-Collier showing a combination of fear and cowardice as he makes his attempt to end his front line involvement in the most desperate of ways. It is impressive and realistic even though it's just another act that proves that Thomas is one of the most self-centered characters on the series.