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Downton Abbey: Casualties of War

by Ethan Alter January 30, 2012 6:00 am
<i>Downton Abbey</i>: Casualties of War

Although the residents of Downton Abbey have witnessed the ravages of war courtesy of the steady stream of wounded soldiers that have passed through the sizeable manor, their own personal casualties have been limited... that is, until last night. In the opening sequence, Matthew and William go over the top for one more big charge and run straight into an explosion that leaves them bloodied and battered in a muddy pit. While both men are retrieved from the battlefield still alive, they arrive back at Downton considerably worse for the wear. By the end of the hour, one will die, while the other may find himself wishing he had. But they aren't the only people left wounded by the war. Here's our picks for last night's five biggest wartime casualties:

Matthew
Obviously, you have to start with Downton's heir presumptive, who returned with a severe spinal injury that Doctor Clarkson says will keep him from ever walking again. "He will in all likelihood regain his health," the good doctor hastens to add, which comes as only a small comfort to Matthew's relatives and fiancée. Matthew himself is obviously deeply upset by the diagnosis, even though he tries to keep his upper lip appropriately stiff. Aside from significantly altering his own life, his injury is significant because of the collateral damage it causes for...

Downton's Future
In addition to being paralyzed from the waist down, Matthew's injury has robbed him of the ability to attend to his, uh, husbandly duties with regards to Lavinia. Their inability to spawn another generation of Crawleys means that Downton's chain of succession will be thrown into disarray once again. In full self-pity mode, he insists that Lavinia break off the engagement, saying that he couldn't be responsible for "stealing" her life. "Think of me as dead; remember me as I was," he adds. (Good thing he was talking to shirking violet Lavinia, there. When he tries to pull the same stunt on Mary later, she refuses to indulge him. Yet another reason why they're perfect for each other.) To her credit, Lavinia decides to stand by her man, but their renewed commitment won't change the fact that the Earl may have to look for someone else to inherit his estate. Maybe that "chimney sweep from Surrey Hill" that the Dowager Countess joked about last episode.

William
While everyone frets over Matthew, his stalwart servant William, who took the brunt of the shell blast, is facing an even worse fate. As the doctor explains to Edith and the Dowager Countess -- who has taken an exceptional interest in the fate of the former second footman -- "His body sustained too much damage, he cannot recover. The force of the blast fatally injured his lungs." Basically, he's being brought back to Downton to die in a familiar place surrounded by familiar faces, chief among them his darling Daisy. He desperately wants to marry the kitchen maid before he kicks the bucket, but having already misled him so far, she's not sure she can continue the illusion and tie the knot, even when he explains that their marriage will ensure that she receives benefits following his death, including a war widow stipend. With William's grip on the world fading by the hour, Daisy finally acquiesces and the two marry as the staff (and the Dowager Countess) looks on tearfully. Not long after, William peacefully passes away while his new bride sits by his bedside.

Tom's Idealism
Back in the second episode, the rebellious Irish chauffeur praised the recent revolution in Russia and denied that Lenin's disciples would ever dream of harming the country's ex-royal family. But when Sybil went to see him in the garage last night, she found Tom hunched over a newspaper, stunned at the news that the newly installed Communist government had shot the czar and his family. "I'm sorry, I'll not deny it," he says, in a rare moment of sorrow. But then he snaps back to the party line, adding "Sometimes the future needs terrible sacrifices." Still, he doesn't seem to espouse those beliefs with the same conviction.

Ethel
After her expulsion from Downton for fooling around with the dashing Major Bryant, the ex-housemaid has given birth to a bouncing baby boy. While she's tried to get in touch with her baby's daddy -- who has since recovered and returned to active duty -- through numerous letters, he's refused to acknowledge her (or the child's) existence. So when Mrs. Hughes, who has been keeping Ethel supplied with food and other necessities, catches word that Bryant is going to be dropping by for a visit with his old war buddies, she conspires to put a letter from his spurned mistress right into his hands. Once again though, he ducks his parental responsibilities and flees back to the front, leaving Ethel a kind of war widow, one without any of the benefits that Daisy will enjoy.

Watch Downton fans, and TWoP vloggers, Beth & Val as they predict the inevitable American remake of the show:

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