Sunday, January 8, 2012

Downton Abbey Primer: Downstairs

Yesterday we met the 1%, now it's time to get acquainted with the other 99. Julian Fellowes's Gosford Park is committed to demolishing the classist fiction that the separation between the super-rich and those who serve them is absolute. Whereas GP made that argument graphically and spectacularly through a murder, Downton Abbey has the time to play out the myriad ways inter-class physical and emotional contact shapes both sides of the economic and social divide. So may I introduce you to the other members of the Crawley family.

At Downton Abbey:

Mr. Charles Carson. Downton's butler who takes his job very seriously. Has a bit of a colorful past as one half of the vaudeville act "The Cheerful Charlies." Is especially fond of Lady Mary.

Mrs. Elsie Hughes. Head housekeeper. Check out those impressive keys! Mrs. Hughes is stern but kind, and turned down a proposal (twice!) from a kind farmer to work at Downton. Has excellent rapport with Carson.

Mr. John Bates, aka the avatar of honor. Utterly swoon-worthy valet for Lord Grantham who carries a flame for head housemaid Anna. Pictured with his cane (he has a lingering war wound from serving as Robert's batman in the Boer War) and traveling case because he is constantly on the verge of leaving Downton. First, his physical disability was a point of contention amongst the staff, particularly Thomas the Snake who was after his job. Second, he was accused of theft, and because of his unswerving devotion to duty and honesty, he admitted to upstairs and downstairs both that he had a dissolute past in which he was a drunkard imprisoned for stealing regimental silver. Anna discovers that he was in fact covering for his wife, who, as of the end of season 1, remains MIA.

Sarah O'Brien. Odious maid for Lady Grantham, who remains loyal to her. She is clearly in Thomas the Snake's thrall, and constantly schemes with him to undermine and discredit Mr. Bates.

Thomas Barrow, aka Thomas the Snake. Footman and nemesis of Mr. Bates. Thomas is the absolute inverse of Batesie. He is good looking and knows it, and even more dangerously, is wickedly smart and knows it. He is equal parts cruel and appealing. Though his homosexuality is an open secret amongst the staff, he flirts with women, including O'Brien and Daisy, when it suits his purposes--his true erotic orientation is for power. Thomas's crafty ambition leads him at the end of season 1 to volunteer for the Army medical corps, therefore avoiding being sacked for stealing. Watch this one. He is basically Milton's Satan in white gloves.

William Mason. Footman. Sweet-hearted and Thomas's punching bag . . . until he straight-up cold-cocked him at the end of season 1 for insulting his grief over his dead mother. Good with horses and infatuated with Daisy, even when she insists on being besotted with Thomas.

Anna Smith. Head housemaid. Strong and capable, her worth is proven by, among other things, her crush on Mr. Bates and her ability to keep secrets. She finds out the truth about Bates's past and exonerates him to Lord Grantham at the conclusion of season 1.

Gwen Dawson. Housemaid. The end of season 1 finds her typing correspondence course paying off, as, with Lady Sybil's help, she secures a position as a secretary. Thoroughly Modern Gwen!

Tom Branson. Cheeky Irish chauffeur and socialist. Object of my affection. His political engagement compliments that of Lady Sybil, though he would rather keep her safe than let her hang out at a riotous political rally. Though Mrs. Hughes warns him against falling for her at the end of season 1, I don't think he's going to be taking her advice.

Mrs. Patmore. Cook. Lots of sass. Spent most of season 1 going blind from cataracts, but they were corrected with surgery. Let's take a moment to pause and consider what cataract surgery was like in 1914. Yikes. In an uneasy alliance with Mrs. Bird, who was called in from Crawley House to take up the slack during her absence.

Daisy Robinson. Kitchen maid. Sweet, but hopeless. By the end of the season, seems to be getting over her cringe-inducing crush on Thomas and seeing that William is where it's at.

Awesome cat who hangs out in the kitchen, and reaps the benefits of Mrs. Patmore's cataract-induced clumsiness.

At Crawley House:

Joseph Molesey. Butler/valet to Matthew Crawley. Dignified and capable, he teaches Matthew a valuable lesson about how to treat the servants early in the season. Towards the end, seems to have a bit of an itch for Anna. I wonder if we'll like Mr. Bates when he's jealous . . . 

Mrs. Bird. Substitute cook at Downton. Equals Mrs. Patmore in the sass department.

And I think that's all the major players! As season 2 commences, and World War I rages, I suspect the distinction between upstairs and downstairs is going to become even more blurred and fluid. My hopes are high for tonight's premiere! Cheers!

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