Previously on Upstairs Downstairs: Hallam knew that appeasement was a really, really bad policy, but his bosses were a bit slower to realize that. Agnes recovered slowly from the difficult birth of her second child, managed her difficult aunt-in-law, and got the household servants to stop hazing Pritchard for having been a conscientious objector during the first world war. Look how she’s stepping up!
Agnes is being examined by the doctor, who tells her she’s in good shape, all things considered, but it’s time to “close up shop.” There will be no more babies in the Holland household. I’m sure Hallam won’t be too happy to hear that. Agnes looks fairly devastated by the news. The doctor tells her she should tell her husband, whom he’s sure will take care of everything. What’s that supposed to mean?
As luck (and the BBC and Masterpiece programmers) would have it, series two of Downton Abbey took its bows in the US the very same night series two of Upstairs Downstairs premiered in the UK. Now, I made my thoughts on the firstseries of Upstairs Downstairs quite clear when it aired over here last spring, and after recent rumors of a desperate-sounding lesbian storyline, I wasn’t expecting much. I tracked down episode one, fully expecting to let my snark flag fly. There was just one problem:
It didn’t suck. Not at all. I was actually more satisfied with this episode than I was with most episodes of my beloved Downton. Is there hope? Could Upstairs Downstairs actually bust the sophomore slump and turn out to be good, even without Eileen Atkins? We’ll just have to see.
Previously on Upstairs Downstairs: Hallam tumbled fast and probably irretrievably down the douchebag rabbithole by jumping into bed with his sister-in-law, who seems to be a Nazi spy, in addition to an all-around gross human being. Pritchard got a crush, which was then, well, crushed when his lady love realized he didn’t fight in the last war, and Spargo and Beryl decided it was about time to hit the road and head to America.
A bell rings belowstairs, where the detritus from the previous night’s party are laid out on the table. Said detritus includes, oddly, a shoe. What were they all up to after that party? Spargo gently wakes Beryl, who’s asleep in his bed, and gives her some OJ. Aww.
Previously on Upstairs Downstairs: Everyone and their Aunt Blanche told Hallam his inexplicable douchery was ruining his marriage. Equally inexplicably, he chose to ignore them all and start hooking up with Persie, who’s hanging around being as useless as ever. Oh, and Spargo finally managed to score with Beryl by beating the crap out of some guy in the boxing ring. Apparently, to her, that’s social progress.
Pritchard’s at the movies, alone, watching something I feel I should recognize, but I don’t. I think it’s a Katherine Hepburn movie, but that’s all I got.
Oh, ugh, God. Hallam and Persie are actually now doing it. Or post-doing it, and acting all gross and post-coital, like this is supposed to be the cutest thing ever, when it’s adultery that makes NO SENSE WHATSOEVER. This is actually turning my stomach. Persie tells Hallam she wants to go out for a good old fashioned tea, and he gets playful with her. I go throw up.
Previously on Upstairs Downstairs: Persie had an illegal abortion and Hallam held her hand through it. Agnes met and charmed a rather charming American businessman named Landry.
Jaunty music plays as nearly identically dressed ladies sit in an office typing up letters requiring young men to present themselves for training. At 165, everyone’s wishing Johnny a happy birthday as he opens his own letter. Pritchard soberly realizes what this means but the other servants are idiots and think it’s all a big laugh. Guys, he’s being called up for military training. And things aren’t looking too good on the Continent. Don’t any of you read newspapers around this house? I know you’re all doing the jobs of eight servants (except for Thack, who seems to have plenty of time to make macaroons for that family we never saw or heard from again), but you live with a government minister who’s clearly very disturbed by what’s happening. Can you not read the mood?
Previously on Upstairs Downstairs: Mrs. Thackeray made a thrilling escape to Pimlico, while Hallam helped Persie escape from Munich once things got a bit rough. Amanjit and Blanche worked to get some kids evacuated from Europe, and Agnes charmed a rich American.
An alarm clock—and not Daisy, sadly—wakes Eunice at 6 a.m. so she can go get tea ready. Also up early is Hallam, who’s suddenly taken up riding every morning.
Not a moment after walking through the front door, Hallam’s intercepted by his mother, who bitches about his and Agnes’s plan to name the baby Hector, if it’s a boy, instead of after Hallam’s father. If it’s a girl, she naturally expects the baby to be named after her. Oh, yeah, I’m sure Agnes would be delighted with that. Name speculation is rife throughout the house; even the servants are putting their two cents in.
In other child news, Rachel’s daughter, Lotte, is being looked after by the staff; we see her sitting on the outside steps leading down to the kitchen entrance, looking bored, while Ivy jumps rope and teaches her some alphabet rhyme. She stops and scolds the poor kid for failing to realize she was supposed to jump in when Ivy got to “L”. The fun’s interrupted by the arrival of Pritchard, who pointedly tells Ivy that some cakes have gone missing. Ivy claims they were for Lotte, and since the kid’s apparently not talking, she doesn’t argue this. Pritchard glares at Ivy for a moment before going inside.
Previously on Upstairs Downstairs: The Hollands moved into 165 Eaton Place, hired a staff that included former housemaid Rose, and were joined by eccentric and annoying relatives.
Rose comes rushing down the stairs to the kitchen, bitching about the paper being late, which means there’ll be no time to iron it. She snippily asks why breakfast hasn’t gone up yet and hears it’s because Agnes’s maraschino cherry-topped graperfruit is holding up the show. Really? Come on, folks.
Upstairs, the grapefruit has been deposited in front of Agnes, and Maude offers up this gem of a line, regarding the monkey: “he’s doing it again. He’s caressing that cherry with his eyes.” I honestly don’t know whether to be grossed out by that, or to crack up entirely. Agnes is not amused, but she hands the cherry over to the monkey.
Just for fun, I’ve decided to institute a ratings system here on the Armchair Anglophile, awarding points to actors and actresses based on the number of costume dramas they’ve been in. For the ladies, we’ll call it a Corset Rating (CR) and the gentlemen, a Top Hat Rating (THR). Let’s see how the cast of the new Upstairs, Downstairs does, shall we?
We open on a ship, where Keeley Hawes (who has a CR of at least 9; more if you count Ashes to Ashes as a period piece, which is quite respectable for someone her age) grabs a large bouquet and looks out the porthole for a moment.
Soon after, she’s walking through the ship’s richly appointed saloon, making her way toward a young man who’s waiting for her in the midst of the disembarking crowd. She apologizes for keeping him waiting, explaining she had to go back for her flowers, which were a gift from the Foreign Secretary.