Downton Abbey Season 2 Review

  • Series Title: Downton Abbey
  • Season: 2
  • Episodes:  8, plus “Christmas at Downton Abbey” special
  • Discs:  3 (and special features disc for set)
  • Network:  ITV
  • Cast:  Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Laura Carmichael, Jessica Brown Findlay, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Dan Stevens, Jim Carter, Phyllis Logan, Joanne Froggatt, Brendan Coyle, Sophie Mcshera, Lesley Nicol, Robert James-Collier, Allen Leech, Siobhan Finneran, Amy Nuttall, Iain Glen, Zoe Boyle, Samantha Bond
  • DVD: Widescreen DVD (R1, NTSC) (set is seasons 1-3)

Season 2 of Downton Abbey covers 1914 to 1920 and is mostly concerned with World War I and the Spanish Flu epidemic that followed. However, rather than focus on the events on the war both at home and abroad, much of season 2 of Downton Abbey revolves around the loves and losses of the people at Downton as well as the changes that war brings to everyone. Lady Mary and Matthew have formerly split up. Matthew becomes a captain, serving in France, and also falls in love and becomes engaged to Lavinia Swire. Lady Mary is engaged to Sir Richard Carlisle, a newspaper owner, and businessman. At first, Lady Mary likes his unconventional nature, but over time he shows himself to be a bit of brute – treating her with profound disrespect and even threatening violence. Mary, however, stays with him because he knows the entire story of her “encounter” with Mr. Pamuk – the Turkish diplomat gentleman who died in her bed the previous season. Matthew is joined by William, the footman, as his batman. They are lost and reported Missing in Action once, are found, and are later blown-up in battle. Both are severely injured and sent to the local hospital in Downton and then to Downton Abbey itself, which by this time has become a convalescent hospital. William dies from his injuries, but not before marrying his sweetheart, the kitchen maid, Daisy. Matthew looks to be paralyzed permanently, but he recovers the use of his legs.

The youngest daughter, Lady Sybil, immediately takes a course and becomes a volunteer nurse at the local hospital. Tom Branson, the chauffeur, pursues her. They had formed a friendship last season, and that becomes love in season 2. The two plan on eloping but are stopped by Lady Mary and Lady Edith. Lord Grantham hits the roof when he finds out, but when Lady Sybil indicates she plans on moving to Ireland with or without her father’s blessing, he eventually gives in. We are told Tom has a job on a paper in Dublin and Sybil plans on getting a job as a nurse. Later, Countess Grantham (Cora) gets a letter from her daughter saying she is pregnant. Cora insists she wants to see her grandchild.

Lady Edith learns to drive from Tom Branson and helps one of the local farming families by driving their tractor and helping out around the farm. When Downton becomes a convalescent hospital, Edith takes charge of the non-medical needs of the soldiers in their care. She gets books, picks up the mail, reads letters to blinded soldiers, writes letters for soldiers who have lost their hands, etc. Lady Edith is quite good at this and also good at organizing things at Downton to help the soldiers.

Anna and John Bates are openly in love, and John tries to get a divorce from his wife. He gets evidence proving she was unfaithful and offers her money from his inheritance from his dead mother. However, somehow Vera Bates is able to reverse the divorce decree, stopping the marriage between John Bates and Anna. When Vera is found dead, at first assumed to be a suicide, Bates is finally free and he and Anna marry at the registry office (an inexpensive option, similar to getting married by a Justice of the Peace or at a courthouse in the US). However, even dead, Vera messes up when a letter she wrote to a friend shows up in which she claims she was “in fear of her life” from her husband. She had also asked John to buy rat poison for her months ago. Bates is put on trial and found guilty. Lord Grantham finds out that Bates had taken action to prevent Vera from going to the papers with the story of Lady Mary and Mr. Pamuk. Lord Grantham takes up Bates’ cause and gets his lawyer involved to save Bates. They get as far as having the automatic death sentence commuted to life in prison, and plan on trying to prove his innocence.

After the war ends, at a disastrous dinner party, several people take ill – both servants and lords and ladies, including Cora, Carson, and Lavinia. Everyone recovers but Lavinia – who conveniently dies. Lady Mary also reveals to her father and to Matthew just what Sir Richard is holding over her to force her to marry him. Everyone decides she must not marry him and Mary breaks off her engagement. She plans on riding out the storm with relatives in New York when she and the newly-free Matthew have a moment – or several. In the end, he proposes and she accepts.

Much of season 2 of Downton Abbey is devoted to romantic games, but they end more successfully than the previous season. The other theme is of the aristocratic women trying to make themselves useful during the war. Lady Sybil starts this by becoming a nurse, but she had shown sympathies with others outside her class before, so it’s no surprise. Lady Edith also tries to become useful and shows herself to be rather good at it – both doing farm labor and organizing help for the soldiers at Downton doing little but kind and thoughtful things. Cora also ends up running Downton’s hospital, organizing schedules, planning meals, etc. This means that Matthew’s mother, Isobel is pushed out a bit. She eventually travels to France to help with the office that takes inquires into the missing. She quickly returns when Matthew is injured. Cora and Violet (the Dowager Countess) give her another project, working to help refugees.

Overall, Downton Abbey is an enjoyable series. At times it can be a bit of a soap opera, but the characters are consistent, interesting, and fun to watch. I recommend it.

Read my Review of Season 1 of Downton Abbey.