Review: ‘Downton Abbey’ Season 2

*Spoiler alert!* This review contains some spoilers about plot details from the second season of “Downton Abbey.”

“Downton Abbey” Season 2 came to satisfying, though somewhat bittersweet, conclusion with an hour and a half season finale that aired Sunday night on PBS. Though there were a few cliffhangers that will likely continue on into Season 3, several major plot lines were wrapped up that will likely please avid fans of the show.

Since the first season premiered in the United States in 2011, the British period drama has become a cultural phenomenon. The show doubled PBS’ average number of prime-time viewers, and it has drawn all ages and types of viewers, even some who may not seem to be the typical audience for period dramas.

I fell in love with “Downton Abbey” after watching the first season on Netflix last year, and it since has become one of my favorite TV shows. The first season follows the rich Earl and Countess of Grantham (Robert and Cora Crawley) and their daughters (Mary, Edith and Sybil), who occupy an elaborate estate in England called Downton Abbey. The Earl’s daughters will not be able to inherit their family’s money or estate (it must pass to a male heir), and the Earl’s oldest daughter, Mary, is pushed to marry the heir, the Earl’s young cousin Matthew Crawley. The show also follows the lives of the servants employed by the Crawleys, who have their own heartbreaks and struggles.

The second season is more serious at times and a little less light-hearted than the first, though there are still plenty of witty verbal barbs from fan favorite the Dowager Countess, played by the great Maggie Smith. In this season, Downton Abbey is deeply impacted by World War I, and the grand house is even turned into a convalescent hospital for recovering soldiers. The Crawleys and their servants must struggle through changes brought by the war and the gradual breakdown of barriers between social classes. There are some very happy moments in this season, but there are some very sad moments as well, including the unexpected and tragic deaths of several characters.

I think the reason “Downton Abbey” has become so popular is that we come to truly care about the lives of the characters, both “upstairs” and “downstairs.” They aren’t perfect, and they don’t always make the right choices, but we can relate to their struggles, which really aren’t that different than the ones we have today.

Lady Mary has become one of my favorite characters in the show, though she didn’t quite start out that way. A lot of credit goes to actress Michelle Dockery, who takes a character that on paper isn’t very likable and turns her into one of the most emotionally complex and heart-breaking characters on the show. Mary starts off the first season as a very spoiled and conceited character, and we’re frustrated by her rejection of the kind-hearted Matthew (played by a very charming Dan Stevens). Yet even though Mary always keeps a stiff upper lip, Dockery lets little moments of Mary’s humanity slip through, and we catch glimpses of the pain behind that well-polished exterior. She grows up a lot in the second season, and when she realizes she finally does love Matthew, fans can’t help rooting for the two of them to get together.

Other elements I liked about the second season included the relationship between housemaid Anna Smith and Lord Grantham’s valet Mr. Bates (their relationship in the first season was a favorite plot line of fans). Although they — finally! — tie the knot in the second season, their dedication to each other must withstand many trials. Anna never gives up on Mr. Bates, even though he tries to let her go because he thinks she’d be better off without him.

Also interesting was the blossoming relationship between Lady Sybil and the family’s chauffeur, Tom Branson. Their romance highlights the barriers between classes at that time (a romance between a girl from a wealthy family of noble blood and a servant would not have been encouraged). However, Sybil and Branson’s relationship also shows how those barriers were slowly beginning to break down in the early 1900s, and it foreshadows how class will become less and less of a definer in the modern world.

Overall, I very much enjoyed the second season, and I’m eagerly awaiting the third season. Even though several major plot lines have now been tied up, I suspect the third season will feature Matthew and Lady Mary’s wedding, a possible love interest for Lady Edith (we may be seeing more of the character Sir Anthony Strallan, Edith’s former suitor), and the continuing effort to clear Mr. Bates’ name after he is falsely accused of murder. I also hope the show continues to follow Lady Sybil’s story, even though she’s now left Downton Abbey, married Branson and is living in Dublin.

For more information about Downton Abbey, visit http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/downtonabbey.

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2 thoughts on “Review: ‘Downton Abbey’ Season 2

  1. Great review! I enjoyed your thoughts on Lady Mary, who’s actually been my favorite character since about halfway through the series premiere. I agree that a lot of credit must go to Michelle Dockery, who has really made the role her own. We’ll see if it’s enough to garner her an Emmy nomination.

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