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'Downton Abbey' recap: It was LUST, Matthew!

February 20, 2012 |  7:30 am

Michelle Dockery in Downton Abbey

By the time the two-hour grand finale of "Downton Abbey" Season 2 is over, the only one who doesn't know about the dead Turk in Lady Mary's bed is the yellow Lab Isis. And that's because she was too busy being dognapped to get the news.

The secret slips out because Lady Mary is so darn miserable with Sir Richard. He's so serious! And controlling! "The awful truth is," she tells Matthew, "he's starting to get on my nerves." Hint: if your serious, controlling fiance is bugging you, don't go talking to your ex about it -- the fiance won't take it well.

Lord Grantham nobly asks his wife why Lady Mary is sticking with Sir Richard if he's so un-fun, and Lady Grantham spills the dead-lover beans. Luckily, we don't have to hear the story over and over again: Instead, we see that the news is being passed along.

PHOTOS: Highclere Castle, the real Downton Abbey

Lord Grantham confronts Lady Mary, and she is both relieved and ashamed. This gives Michelle Dockery a chance to do what she does really well, which is act two conflicting emotions all but simultaneously. It gives Lord Grantham a chance to say what may be the best line of the night. They'll deal with the scandal, he says, and she should go visit her grandmother in America, maybe meet a man who truly loves her: "Find a cowboy!" (OK, maybe that's not quite a good a line as "It was lust, Matthew!" More about that after the jump).

All in all, Lord Grantham takes the news of Mary's dead lover cover-up way better than the fact that chaste Sybil wanted to marry the chauffeur. Go figure.

We hear, by the way, that Sybil and Tom have gotten married in Ireland. And she's pregnant! Lady Grantham is happy; Lord Grantham says, "So that's it then. No return. She's crossed the Rubicon." His wife interrupts to remind him that all happened when they got married, while also deftly sparing him from piling on another tired cliche.

This is the thing about "Downton Abbey": Sometimes it is just not good. Sometimes the lines are limp; some of the roles are miscast (Sorry, chauffeur Tom); sometimes the plot veers, in classic soap-opera style, from the obvious to the ridiculous. And yet: it's still hard to give up, and easy to forgive. Look at that lovely house! Those lovely dresses! Maggie Smith! And Lady Mary and Matthew -- will they ever get together? 

Can we understand its flaws and love it anyway? Could this be, perhaps, the theme of this very episode?

The Crawley family and guests do country-estate holiday things: play charades, go on a hunt, hold a servants' ball. The servants are in less high spirits, because Mr. Bates has been found guilty of murder.

It's not that the people upstairs don't care -- they're very concerned, and are even attending the proceedings. Matthew helps explain how it all works. Mary and Lord Grantham watch. Anna is both weepy and stoic (you are not surprised). Mrs. O'Brien and Mrs. Hughes are called to testify for the prosecution and make things look worse for Bates. Lord Grantham declares, "Then it is down to me to convince them that this crime is not in Bates' character." The ego! And it backfires, with Lord Grantham putting Bates in an even worse position than before.

Bates is found guilty! He is sentenced to be hanged!

Anna goes to visit him in prison. With the guard deliberately looking away, Bates asks for "A kiss to take with me." Oh! it is a lovely kiss.

Upstairs, Cousin Rosamund has come for the holidays. She brings with her a handsome, older suitor with a gift for flattery. The Dowager Countess does not trust him because he's totally broke and admits this is more agreement than love. Rosamund doesn't mind -- it's enough for her that he's upper class, breathing and willing, and has two legs and two arms.

Poor Lady Edith doesn't even need that. She chases down the older, dull gentleman caller who taught her to drive -- the one Lady Mary drove away with a cruel lie. He served in the war and has lost the use of an arm. But Lady Edith is OK with that! Because he is nice to her, and really, no-one else is, so much. But he tells her she's too young for him and sends her off.

Although Bates' defense admits there is "not a good chance" of getting his sentence reversed, they're going to try.

In the kitchen, Daisy finds a Ouija board, and the servants seem to be playing it every chance they get. Mrs. Padmore uses it to push Daisy to visit William's dad. Daisy scrunches up her face, and then relaxes a little, and seems to have come to a peace about her relationship with William and his family. Maybe she'll stop with the face scrunching! She even gets needled by Rosamund's pretty maid into wanting to be better valued in the kitchen.

Did I mention that Rosamund's maid is pretty? And that her beau is gifted at flattery? Jump to your own conclusions.

O'Brien advises evil servant Thomas, who is angling to be Lord Grantham's valet now that Bates may be hanged (classy), to hide something Lord Grantham values and then "find" it, to work his way into his graces. Like an idiot, Thomas takes the Labrador Isis, and locks her up in a shed in the woods. Dude, not a living thing! Everyone is upset about the missing dog, Thomas fails to rescue her -- someone else does -- but his plan gets him what he wanted, into the good graces of Lord Grantham.

Matthew is being told by everyone, even his mom, that he should get over whatever Lavinia hang-ups he has, plus, maybe he should try noticing that Lady Mary is still in love with him. Lady Mary wrestles with the fact that she must tell him about the dead Turk. She does; Matthew asks if it was love. "It was lust, Matthew!" Mary replies, adding that maybe it was also excitement and whatnot. Matthew considers -- maybe having a lustful lady in love with you is not the worst thing?

Meanwhile, Sir Richard is on the constant watch. Every time Matthew and Mary talk, it seems, he's right there, or looking at them from across the room -- and he's glowering. Finally, Mary tells him that she's not going to marry him, and he's furious. He will ruin her, he will stop suppressing the Bates scandal, he will bring shame down upon her house. They're in the library, and Matthew interrupts. "Is she not to be trusted even to get rid of me without your help?" Sir Richard asks, exasperated. Then he starts talking about Lavinia, and before you know it Matthew socks him! In the face! And Sir Richard hits back!

As the two tussle and a vase shatters, Lord Grantham appears. "I assume you will be leaving in the morning, Sir Richard," he says. Mary's engagement is off.

Merry Christmas! Actually, by now it's the New Year, 1920. The news comes that Bates has been given a reprieve; he will spend life in prison. Or at least, not be hanged right away, so they can try to get him free. That's good. There is a servants' ball -- that's good. Mrs. Padmore agrees that they can try to get Daisy a promotion, if she acts like a grown-up -- that's good.

And Lady Mary and Matthew find themselves outside in a picturesque snow -- I hope it's a visual effect they did in post, because Lady Mary is wearing a sleeveless dress so diaphanous she's bound to catch her death of cold. I hope not -- because Matthew asks her instead of retreating to America to stay at Downton, with him. "We've been on the edge of this so many times, Matthew," she says. "Please don't take me there again unless you're sure." And -- with a little encouragement -- Matthew drops to his knee and asks Lady Mary to be his wife.

She says yes. They kiss. Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!

Now, Lady Mary, please go put on a coat. We need you healthy for Season 3, so we can see you interact with your American grandmother, the recently-announced Shirley MacLaine.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary in Downton Abbey. Credit: PBS

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