For Christmas, I bought my mom the first season of MASTERPIECE Classic's Downton Abbey and then forced her to open it on Christmas Eve. For the next two days, all my family did was drink cocktails and get completely enmeshed in the post-Titanic, pre-World War I goings on of the upstairs and downstairs factions of the best British estate ever to be imagined on television (I'm looking at you Upstairs, Downstairs-get over yourself). Of course, I'd already watched the whole thing, but that didn't stop me from yelling at the screen when Matthew and Mary kept not getting engaged or loudly hoping that Thomas would unexpectedly fall down a well or at least be partially poisoned by some Daisy-related cooking accident.
Of course I was overjoyed, then, when I got back to my office at KQED after Christmas and the Downton Abbey Season Two preview DVDs had arrived for the higher-ups. I did a bit of fancy footwork, sad eyes and cajoling and ended up with two copies (I gave one to a colleague, another Downton-ite, don't worry). After work, I went directly home (I thought about calling in sick, but that's sort of challenging from inside your cubicle) and watched as much of it as I could before my eyes closed. Then I got up early and watched the rest.
Let me tell you this now friends, Season Two (airing Sundays at 9pm, January 8 to February 19, 2012 on KQED 9) does not disappoint. I was worried, I'm not going to lie, from the whole ending-Season-1-with-the-declaration-of-war-with-Germany thing and the fact that a few important cast members are dressed in full military garb in the main promo photo, that Season Two was going to be a lot bloodier than Season 1. And that all the deaths were going to be of real characters, unlike in Season 1 when they all happened off-stage to people we'd never met, on the farm, on the Titanic or in Cora's womb. And I was right to worry; in Season Two the dying is onscreen and messy. At least one person you like is going to end up fully dead. But Season Two is so much more than a blood bath! It ratchets up the body count, sure, but it takes the drama (and okay, let's be honest, melodrama) to the next level, too.
Without spoiling too much, here are a few things you should tune in for in Season Two:
1. Maggie Smith killing it as the dowager countess. So many furs, so many hats. And the writers clearly have given her all the best lines, most of which are epic, backhanded takedowns of Cora and Cousin Isabelle, like when she wants to help arrange flowers for a benefit concert at Downton, her reason being her daughter-in-law can't do it because... "Cora's flowers always look more suited to a first communion...in Southern Italy." Oh snap. Violet Crawley is back.
2. The trenches. What is the opposite of clean, well-manicured, lovely Downton? Trench warfare. My whole body itched watching Matthew and Thomas dodge bombs in what seems like the muddiest, most disgusting and least effective war hiding place ever invented.
3. Sublimated love between Matthew and Mary. It's like Ross and Rachel only with full-length gloves and cigars after dinner.
Daisy, Mrs. Patmore, Lady Sybil
4. Some awesome new villains. I'll give you one: starts with a "B" and ends with "ates' wife." Now that Thomas is sort of occupied with staying alive and O'Brien seems to be toning it down after her soap-on-the-floor baby murder at the end of Season 1, the field is wide open for a real, full-on bad guy. Maria Doyle Kennedy as Vera Bates makes O'Brien and Thomas seem like puppies as she tries to destroy everything she can, in the shortest amount of time possible. But she is definitely not the only new character who will make you chew your crumpets nervously as you hope the whole building doesn't go up in flames. Who are these new maids? And what's the deal with Mary's mysterious newspaper man?
5. A lot of heavily veiled talk about the functioning of Matthew's genitalia. It comes late in the series. That's all I'll say.
6. Speaking of... more scenes with people partially dressed in compromising situations!
Mr. Bates and Anna
7. Which sort of relates to... more of the best romance in the series, the one between Bates and Anna, obviously. My main beef with Downton is how bloodless some of the love affairs are, even though I know they sort of have to be, given the whole historical situation and the fact they that happen on PBS. But still, there is a distressing lack of chemistry between some of the couples (see Sybil and the chauffeur, whose romance is about as exciting as a dance party between two rocks in the winter). That's why Anna and Bates are so great, even when they are just walking past each other in the hall; Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggatt just know how to sell it, and you can't help rooting for their characters who cannot seem to catch a break.
8. AMNESIA! Straight out of Days of our Lives.
9. A little redemption for Edith, who I felt so sorry for in Season 1, even when she was conniving and tricky. She isn't really that un-cute, right? And it seems unfair that we were supposed to hate her, just because she told everyone that a Turkish diplomat's son died in Mary's bed. I mean, Mary DID let the Turk into her bed like a common harlot!
10. Common harlots! Oh wait, see number 6. I already covered that. But it's true and wonderful, so I guess it bears repeating.
I haven't seen the conclusion of the series yet (the preview DVDs were cruelly missing the last two episodes) but if you loved Season 1, I can't see any way you won't also love Season Two. This might seem like a conflict of interest, since I just admitted to working for the station that is actually airing this program, but trust me, I don't bring this endorsement to just any show (or to any other show ever, for that matter). So get out your best tea service, make sure you have appropriate flower arrangements, and go back to Downton Abbey. Also make sure you tell your mom to watch it. Your mom will definitely love the whole thing.
Season Two of Downton Abbey airs at 9pm, Sundays, January 8 to February 19, 2012 on all PBS stations (including KQED 9 in the Bay Area). For more information visit KQED's Masterpiece Classic schedule page.