'Downton Abbey' Brings the Tragedies of War Home

downton abbeyI usually cry when I watch Downton Abbey -- mostly because of the Dowager Countess' one-liners -- but this week's episode hit a deeper emotional nerve with viewers, including me. It opened with a dramatic war scene and then unfolded with the aftermath. I think one fan on Twitter pretty much summed it up for the rest of us: "WTF Downton Abbey I'm Crying?!?" 

Episode 4 takes place 100 years ago, but it brought us right back to the present day with the horrors of war and the unfathomable sacrifices individuals and families make. Spoilers ahead -- so if you haven't seen this episode yet, don't read after the jump!

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That opening war scene is just terrifying, almost more so for the tension that builds up before the combat begins. As the men build up their courage to attack, you know it's going to go badly. But out they go anyway. The air explodes and men fall like stones, crying out. It's a mercifully short scene. But of course, we're just getting started with the pain.

And then -- we lose William! I guess I saw this coming. I felt like the writers sort of set him up for it, since he was the most eager and idealistic characters to leave for the front. I'm glad at least he made it back home to draw his last few breaths at Downton Abbey, with family and loved ones surrounding him -- and married to Daisy! Knowing Daisy, she will feel guilty accepting her widow's pension, but I don't think she gives herself credit for how happy she made William's last few hours. I can't help thinking she matures a decade in the hours she spends at William's bedside.

Meanwhile, not only is Matthew paralyzed from the waist down, he's also rendered impotent. It almost seems like Mary takes that last bit of news harder than innocent Lavinia, who would take Matthew in any shape. Mary, thanks to Mr. Pamuk, at least has an inkling of what Matthew is now missing. It's not just the heir Matthew will never have. It's also the bond he'll never make with his wife (whoever that would have been), and that part of him that makes him feel like a man -- gone. How English, then for Mary to sit upright and say, "Would you like some tea?" Keep calm and carry on, as the Queen would say generations later.

Maybe I'm just showing my age, but Matthew's story pained me less when I saw him with Mary and Lavinia than when his mother finally arrived at the end. To see this happen to your son! She seemed grateful to see him alive.

Were you shocked by what happened to William and Matthew, or did you think something like this would happen this season?

 

Image via PBS.org

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