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The American Invasion
For two seasons, the Downton audience has been enthralled by Violet, the Dowager Countess. Her style, adherence to tradition, and razor sharp tongue have charmed us while keeping the people of Downton on their toes. Cousin Isabel, Matthew's mother, provided a foil for Violet, but Isabel paled in comparison to Violet's counterpart in the family, Martha Levinson, Cora's extremely American mother.
Shirley MacLaine was brilliantly cast as the brash, forward-thinking, very rich grandmother. Within minutes of her arrival, she managed to zing Cora, Robert, her three granddaughters, Mrs. Hughes, and Carson, repeatedly stating her belief that American ways are far superior to British ways. How much do you think everyone was hating her arrival?
The moment everyone was waiting for came that evening at dinner – the moment when Martha and Violet came face to face. The zingers started flying immediately! Martha greeted Violet with the observation that the war had made old women of them both, and Violet zinged back that she doesn’t agree, because she always keeps out of the sun. They spar about the reverence to history and tradition that England embodies, but Martha wins the battle after pointing out that that is what got England and Europe into the war, so perhaps it’s time to let go. Let’s enjoy the rare glimpse of our beloved Violet post-zing.
While Martha and Violet manage to play nice at dinner that night, they do test each other at the wedding, with Martha having the last word. Again. They do look amazing while doing it – have you noticed that Martha’s hats all have feathers on them?
After Mary and Violet hatch a scheme to convince Martha to give more money to Downton to save the house which involves throwing a huge traditional dinner. Their hope is that the show of pomp and manners will move Martha to abandon all of her progressive thoughts to save the large house. I don’t really think they’ve thought that part out. After all of her talk about the need for things to change, they think she’s going to be moved by a historical display?
Luckily for the viewers, the dinner party does not go as planned, with Robert and Matthew’s dinner jackets not available (quelle horreur!), then the stove not working. I love the expressions on Mary’s and Violet’s faces when they receive the news about the stove.
Not to worry, as plucky American ingenuity saves the day. Martha immediately decides they should have a picnic with food from the larder and starts barking orders at Carson. Let’s enjoy the look on Robert’s face while that is happening.
Martha also decides that they need music, and enlists someone to play the piano so that everyone can stand around with their food, eating wherever they want (to Carson’s horror) and sing along to “Let Me Call You Sweetheart”.
The song ended with Martha sitting next to Violet (who had dozed off) and singing to her. Here is a screenshot of Violet’s reaction to being serenaded with a love song by Martha.
Martha had the gall to take Violet’s hand and kiss it after finishing singing. I am so sorry that it was shot from across the room because I would have loved to post a photo of that!
After Martha’s invention of the buffet and her happiness with the evening, Mary and Violet thought they had Martha in the bag to save Downton. However, when they spoke to her about it, she revealed that her late husband had written his will so that Downton wouldn’t receive any more large amounts of money. He felt that he had given enough to Downton through Cora’s dowry. Martha informed them of this situation none to gently, but later that evening, as she and Robert had a drink, she told him how sorry she was that she couldn’t help. She also said it was time for her to go home, so that probably made Robert’s day, seeing as how she’d been there for over a month.
I don’t think Martha will make another appearance this season (I could be wrong), and I hate that. Martha’s encounters with Violet were so entertaining. They were perfect foils for the other, and I did find myself looking at Downton in a different light during the episode. Surely the fan response will get her back at some point!
Only a few more days until the next episode, it’ll be here before you know it!