I am obsessed. I admit it. Downton Abbey Season Two premieres in the U.S. tonight! But before the new storylines whisk us away to WWI England, I want to share one last thought from Season One.
This picture captures a moment in last season’s Downton Abbey that I can’t seem to get out of my head. The young, forward-thinking Matthew Crawley, so sure that every social convention of the old world is useless, dismisses the need for a valet*.
It is all fine and dandy that Mister Crawley wants to be independent and dress himself. We share his confusion and disdain that members of the aristocracy cannot do for themselves what most of us learned to do at age 4. At every opportunity, Crawley both shows and tells his valet, Joseph Molesley, that he can tie his own tie, pour his own tea and in no way needs the services of a valet.
The rub is this: Molesley is proud of his job. He has learned it well and wants only the opportunity to perform it well. Matthew Crawley is oblivious that his self-righteous, condescending comments strip Moseley of his dignity. We see it clearly in the valet’s fallen face as each offer of assistance is pooh-poohed.
Matthew Crawley’s eyes are finally opened by Lord Grantham, who could easily be drawn as the old-line character stuck in the past. Instead, it is Grantham who schools Mister Crawley in the dignity of each job and the interdependence of each of the servants at Downton. Without saying it directly, Lord Grantham points out that Matthew Crawley has been so focused on being the champion of egalitarianism, that he has forgotten the dignity of the individual person.
Though it is a small storyline, I think it shows so well the depth of the writing on Downton Abbey. There is an optimism that bubbles just under the surface. Oh, there is still plenty of dark stuff, just like real life, but the writing gently reminds us that there is always a chance for someone to choose good. Even the most wicked has redeeming qualities that give us hope for something better.
So, if you are a fellow obsessive, I’d love to hear your favorite scenes/characters from Season One!
*For those of us not living in a Jane Austen novel, a valet (rhymes with pallet) was something like a personal assistant to a member of the aristocracy. A valet would oversee the wardrobe, deal with household issues and otherwise help smooth out the daily process of being appropriately dressed. (N.B. I am in desperate need of a valet).