February 9, 2013
The Mysteries of Downton Abbey: Part One

I recently came across one of those popular article inserts asking Who are you in Downton Abbey?   I’m sure everyone rushed to their local water cooler to declare themselves “a Mrs. Patmore” or that sweaty looking wanna-be valet with the bad comb over last seen working at Mrs. Crawley’s.  I’m having a t-shirt made right at this moment that reads “I’m an O’Brien,”  as I  pull back my hair, leaving only two tiny cocktail weenie curls, symmetrically located on my sour little face (Question:  Is it by accident or design that O’Brien and Jan Brady have the exact same forehead hair and sense of social injustice?  Discuss.)  Before I leave this paragraph entirely, I have no idea what the wanna-be valet actually does at Downton.  He isn’t a footman.  He isn’t a valet (as we know).  I’ve never seen him cooking or polishing silver…come to think of it, I only see him at mealtime, seated somewhere between Anna and Alfred, reminiscent of the groupies “eating all the steak” backstage in Almost Famous.

The Almost Famous valet is only one of the many characters that I no longer understand in this season’s Downton Abbey.  Let’s begin downstairs, shall we?

Daisy and The Footmen

While Daisy and the Footmen, sounds like a cross between a Victorian novel by Anonymous and an independent film produced in the San Fernando Valley, circa 1978, it’s really more of an historical Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice.  To recap:  Daisy likes Alfred who is the first footman.  He likes the new rouge-wearing kitchen maid, who in turn has eyes for the second footman, Jimmy, who is appears to like Daisy, who likes Alfred, and so on.  But wait!  Is that the pizza delivery guy at the door, natty in his valet’s uniform, all roving eyes and hands, directing innuendos at the uncomfortable Jimmy?  Hullooo Thomas!

Hot Tramp, I Love You So, or Ethel

I realize that the comical value of any given name often depends upon one’s generation.  It doesn’t help that almost every single one hundred year old girl’s name has come back into style—except Ethel.  Ethel is pretty much the exact mathematical opposite of erotic (the other opposite of erotic at Downton is Lady Edith).  Or that the only Ethel many of us ever knew was Ethel Mertz, Lucy and Desi’s homebound tenant who had clearly married a man old enough to be her grandfather, thus establishing the accepted generational span for most Los Angeles marriages.  That Ethel Mertz traded her youth for a one bedroom apartment and a pair of landlords who were home often enough to constantly be on you to “turn the music down” is almost as sad as the story of Downton’s Ethel, a young women with what can only be described as a spectacular case of cooties.

Bates

Aurally, the Bate’s narrative is comparable to the difficulty of the accents in Trainspotting.  Though I couldn’t always catch what was being said in that film, I could at least hear them.  I am so taxed trying to understand Bates and his roommate and the prison guard and the friendly inmate that I now have a deep furrow between my eyebrows from squinting with effort.  Why?  Since my ears didn’t seem to be adequate to the task, I had to enlist the help of my eyes, as if all my senses are just some kind of massive power source of comprehension.  Worse, I’m filling in so much of the storyline that I am one professional contract and two postage stamps away from charging Julian Fellowes with my writing services.

Why is Bates being framed? Why, since he’s already convicted of murder, does anyone want to plant that large cigar in his bunk, the one that he hid between the bricks of his cell before transferring it to his cellmate’s bunk?  Who stands to gain from Bates remaining in prison? When did Bates become such an Important Person in the English prison system?  

All I know is that Bates has a cellmate who is in cahoots with a guard, and both of them are working overtime to make sure that Bates never gets out.   They remind me of the boy on the grade school playground who keeps harassing his female classmate because he “likes her.”  Downton, am I close?

Additionally, Bates keeps periodically grabbing his cellmate by the shirt and ramming him up against a wall:  In their shared cell, and in the prison passage way.  Last week Bates yanked him from their queue in the exercise yard, forcing him up against yet another wall in a secluded niche, this time with a small knife to the throat.  Let me see if I’m using the term correctly:  Is this what is meant by rough trade?