Apparently the Downton Abbey Christmas special was quite divisive among fans. Apparently Julian Fellowes experienced a Steven Moffat level of grief for doing the things he did to his characters over the course of Season 2. Apparently some people had problems with the pacing and the sudsiness and the oh-so-convenient Spanish Flu. Well, phooey on all you naysayers! Did you or did you not spend multiple hours in the company of Michelle Dockery’s face? Answer: Yes. So hush now. Hush and repent and weep openly with me, for we won’t see Lady Mary again until 2013.
It’s Christmas! William is dead (sniffle); Lavinia is dead (her?); Sybil has really run off to Ireland to marry Branson; Jane is no longer employed as a maid/hooker; and Ethel and her giant baby are nowhere to be seen. Which means we can concentrate on the things that make this show worth watching: The relationships between the Granthams and their staff, Marry and Matthew doing their looks, and the Dowager Countess saying all the perfect things. Oh, and the constant apocalypse that is John Bates’ life.
Let’s start there. Bates has been in prison for quite a while now, and despite Sir Richard’s displeasure, everyone’s number one feeling at Downton Abbey is the impending murder trial. They can talk of nothing else. In fact, Ms. Hughes, Ms. O’Brien, and Lord Grantham are all being called to testify at his trial. Unfortunately for poor Bates, it is opposite day when his trial happens, and his archenemies (a lowly lady’s maid) gives the most helpful testimony while his biggest supporter all these years (an earl) pretty much damns him to be hged. On the witness stand, he’s like, “Bates has always been a hard worker and a loyal companion. Why, I remember this one time when he helped pick out my cuff links even though he was so tired from a long, hard day of murdering his ex-wife.” Verdict: Guilty. Sentence: Death.
But the whole “You’ll be hanged at dawn!” thing was just a fake out. Bates really only gets life in prison. He makes Anna promise to make friends and not pine away endlessly for him for all eternity and she agrees that even though she’ll never find a martyr as determined to nail his own self to the cross as Bates, she is several levels hotter than him and will probably be OK.
Also smokin’ hot is Thomas and his return to his footman duds. And by “smokin’” I mean, literally every time he is on screen, he is engulfed in a veil of cigarette smoke. It’s like he floats around on a cloud nicotine vapor or something. After losing all his money on his black market sheneanigans, he returns to the service of Downton. Remember how in the pilot episod, all he wanted was to be the first footman? Well, six years and one world war later, all he wants is to be the first footman. This week’s scheme is his most sinister one yet: He steals Lord Grantham’s dog and locks him in a shed in the middle of the woods so he can find him and be a hero. My roommate and I paused this scene to shout at each other for fifteen minutes about how Thomas was beyond redemption if he killed Isis. But then, by the end of the episode, when he showed up all disheveled from crawling through the woods on his hands and knees, through brambles and over briers, because he really was worried about the dog — well, we forgave all his previous transgressions. And his smile when he realized Isis was OK! His actual smile! I don’t think we’d ever even seen it before!