Laura Linney starts off telling us all about how the deaths of so many men in the First World War left lots of women with nobody to marry (as one would imagine), and the author of the novel this is based on was one such woman. Write what you know.
As a man gallops a horse along a beach and through the countryside, a young woman in bright red sits on a train, smoking and writing in a journal. She hops off the train at a station and hauls ass to wherever she’s going, leaping onto a moving bus and everything. Meanwhile, the horseman dismounts (presumably at home) and Isobel Crawley calls ladies in to an interview. Red Dress finally arrives at the interview spot, and soon our unnamed horseman arrives as well. Isobel (that’s what I’m calling her until she gets a real name) ribs him for arriving just in time for the finish.
Red Dress (and I must ask—is a scarlet red dress really appropriate attire for a job interview? As a schoolteacher?) is in for her interview with a panel of mostly men, plus Isobel. One of them notes her empire experience—she taught in the Transvaal before going to London. Isobel informs her that this isn’t a fancy school, like they have in London, and Red Dress (oh, hell, her name’s Sarah Burton) counters that if one has high expectations, the girls will rise to meet them. Some will. Isobel’s not sure Sarah knows what she’s in for, in this far northern town, but Sarah zings them all by saying she does, actually, because she grew up nearby. Horseman doesn’t seen so keen on her, so now we know they’re totally going to hook up by the end of this. We’ve all seen this situation before. He’s totally the Mr. Darcy of this film.
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.
Previously on Mildred Pierce: Mildred opened a chain of restaurants but was still unable to please the dreadful Veda, who finally took one step too far when she wound up blackmailing some poor sap. So, Mildred kicked her out of the house, and Veda became a singing star.
Mildred intercepts Mr. Treviso as he’s leaving the music school and introduces herself as Veda’s mother. That immediately puts the man on his guard. Mildred fails to notice and plows on, telling him she’d like him to start forwarding Veda’s bills directly to her. Treviso tells her no way and excuses himself. Mildred gapes for a bit and follows him outside to protest. Treviso speaks for the audience when he asks Mildred why she wants this girl back so badly anyway. He continues to be awesome by going on to say that Veda’s a really talented coloratura, but a spectacularly awful human being, and he’s not interested in pissing her off. Plus, Veda warned him that, after she was on the radio, her pathetic mother would probably come around and start trying to pay for the lessons, and if that was the case, he was to send her packing. Wow, does Veda have her mother pegged or what? How does she know Mildred so well and Mildred knows Veda so little?
Previously on Mildred Pierce: Mildred opened her first restaurant, to great acclaim, and started raking in enough cash to keep Veda somewhat satisfied. She also allowed Monty to start a seriously inapproprate relationship with her young daughter, and when she finally wakes up to that (and to how totally insufferable he’s making her kid), Mildred breaks up with him.
Jaunty music brings us to the coast, where waves crash, seagulls wheel, and Mildred and Lucy arrive at a large clapboard house to scope it out as the next outpost of Mildred’s fast-growing waffle house empire. Lucy approves, even though she wonders if Mildred’s stretching herself a bit thin, financially, having already opened a second place in Beverly Hills, run by Ida. Mildred wants Lucy to run the new beachfront place, and after some persuading, Lucy agrees, as long as they don’t do chicken. She knows people don’t come to the shore for chicken, so they’ll come for surf ‘n turf instead, which Lucy apparently invents right then and there. I’ve never really understood the great appeal of surf ‘n turf. I’ve never looked down at a plate and thought “you know what this lobster really needs? A steak!” I mean, how much saturated fat and cholesterol do you really need in one dish?
Previously on Mildred Pierce: Mildred kicked her husband to the curb, got a job as a waitress to pay the bills, and was forced to open a restaurant to win the approval of her dreadful daughter, Veda. She also met and started sleeping with Monty Beragon, and then her younger daughter died.
The camera sloooooowly pans over Mildred’s bare feet, up her body, to her arm, still cuddling Veda as they lay in bed together, spooned up, asleep, apparently the day after Rae’s death. Mildred wakes, takes a second to look over at the empty bed next to Vedas, and holds Veda a little closer.
Later, downstairs, Bert’s sitting at the table, looking like he just got sucker punched, which he did, in a sense. Lucy’s there too. She offers Bert a drink but he gently refuses and then goes and stands in front of the window and stares out. Lucy hustles out to scare up a black dress for Mildred, and Bert turns around, looking lost, and tells Mildred that Rae’s in heaven, because she was sweet and wonderful and deserves to be. Mildred agrees and goes and hugs him.
Welcome back to the wonderful world of Mildred Pierce. We rejoin our leading lady loading up pie plates with rocks in her bedroom so she can practice carrying multiple laden dishes. Smart. The lyrics to the no doubt carefully chosen song are “I’m always chasing rainbows, watching clouds passing by,” for those who are interested in such things.
Mildred’s practice is interrupted by the sound of the front door closing and the kids squealing happily. She goes downstairs and finds Bert, who explains he stopped by to pick up a few things he left in his desk. Mildred smiles and invites him to put his feet up for a while. The girls happily fill him in on their doings, and then Vita asks him if he’d like a Scotch, in that very hoity-toity proper way of hers. Bert seems surprised there’s Scotch to be had, considering it’s illegal and all, but he says he’s cool with a drink, so Mildred, her smile getting tight, goes to fetch it.
Now that they’ve conquered the 1920’s with Boardwalk Empire, HBO’s decided to move on to the ‘30’s, and they made the rather gutsy decision to do Mildred Pierce, a novel that already has a classic movie version starring Joan Crawford, who won an Academy Award for the role. HBO countered that by bringing their own Oscar winner—Kate Winslet, and stuffing the rest of the cast with other highly respected actors (including recent winner Melissa Leo, who plays one of my favorite characters). It’s early days yet, so it’s hard to tell if this version treats the source material better than the 1945 film. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Moody music plays against an art-deco background that looks a bit like stylized sunbeams. Interestingly, the supporting players are all introduced before Winslet and the title. They come at the very end of the credits, in big, bold letters.
Dear PBS: Fire the person who was responsible for editing the original British version of Downton Abbey into the 90-minute episodes that aired here. That person is an idiot. I was annoyed with some of the scene switching that went on in earlier episodes, but tonight’s episode was a total hack job. Scenes never showed up (which made some later scenes confusing), we had at least one scene that started with a character in mid-sentence yet again, and a whole subplot got dropped. All so we could get this thing done with plenty of time for yet another annoying, overlong commercial for Antiques Roadshow. Thanks, PBS, you did a great job here. You’re on notice.
Anyway, for anyone who was confused, seek out the original version of the show. I’ll try to explain things as well as I can.
Is anyone else starting to find these intros by Laura Linney to be strange and kind of pointless? The one tonight was bizarre—she started out talking about bras and clothing and then finished up with a line that made no sense whatsoever. Just me? Ok, then.
It’s a bright sunny May day in the village of Downton, and workmen scurry about setting up a fair as Mary watches. Bates, Anna, and Gwen are strolling through the setup, talking about getting up a group to go a’fairing. Anna spots Mary and sends the others ahead so she can have a chat about the Dead Body Affair.
I must have been insane when I decided to recap this. Yes, of course, it fits perfectly with this site and is a totally obvious choice, but the number of characters alone is slightly mind boggling, and trying to keep all the (similarly dressed) servants in order is likely to drive me slightly batty. Maybe a chart would help. I mentioned in the Gosford Park recap that GP and Downton Abbey have a few things in common, and this is one of them. You know how many times I had to watch GP before I could readily identify everyone? And to be honest, I still can’t remember the actual name of Lady Lavinia Meredith’s maid. I promise, everyone, I’ll try my best, but if I slip up, I do apologize. Please be kind in your comments.
We start with a close up on a wireless being tapped frantically, then move right to a steam train rolling through some beautiful countryside. The camera lingers lovingly on the train that probably cost them a fortune to rent and run for this one little scene, and eventually it comes to rest on a window, where a man with a round face, probably in his early to mid-forties, sits, looking out. The wireless chimes in again, and I was briefly tempted to really outdo myself and try to translate what was being said via the wireless, but admittedly, I don’t have the energy, and it was probably gibberish anyway. We learn what’s being said soon enough.