‘Downton Abbey’: This Week’s Winners and Losers

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Time to brew the tea and pop the popcorn — Britain’s beloved Downton Abbey is back! Last night’s supersized Season 2 premiere picked up two years after the last series left off, smack in the middle of World War I. The men (well, except for the rich ones) are fighting, the women are pining (and becoming independent), and much of the show’s relentless intra-Downtown intrigue has given way to the human drama of life during wartime. But that doesn’t mean that everyone’s pulling together for the common good. So, in the spirit of class-conscious competition and self-interested jockeying for position, we’re kick off a new weekly feature, in which we declare winners and losers for each episode of Downton Abbey. See where your favorite characters stand after the jump.

WINNERS

Dowager Countess Violet: She may have been foiled by Isobel Crawley in her plot to keep her staff out of the war, but we’re going to be honest — unless she drops dead, Maggie Smith will always be on our “winners” list. This week, she managed to make both Lavinia and Sir Richard feel entirely unwelcome at Downton, which by her standards certainly counts as a success.

Countess Cora: The countess didn’t really have her own story line this week, but she cried tears of pure, maternal relief when she saw Sybil learning to cook. Plus, she manages to get Thomas back to Downton and even stands up to her mother-in-law, who is positively livid at the idea of the Crawleys housing convalescent soldiers.

Isobel: Matthew’s mom is more useful than ever, running a hospital that’s packed with wounded soliders. She also discovers that Violet’s gotten some servants released from fighting in the war and sets about righting her cousin’s wrongs.

Lady Edith: Well, well, well! This independent woman has seemingly put her sisterly jealousy aside and found fulfillment in driving — and found herself a married, country-boy lover. But will she ever see him again?

Lady Sybil: Oh, yes, she refuses the advances of Branson, who we’re pretty sure she adores. But that’s a minor setback in comparison with what Sybil accomplishes in this episode. Eschewing her idle-rich lifestyle, she becomes a nurse at Isobel’s hospital and enlists the kitchen staff to teach the life skills she’ll need to survive without servants. It’s never too late to learn how to fill a tea kettle…

Matthew: The earl’s (comparatively) poor relation begins the episode at the front. But he’s also gotten himself engaged to a fellow commoner named Lavinia, which really burns Lady Mary’s crumpets. Matthew also scores a cushy promotion to Captain and a stint back in England.

O’Brien: With Thomas gone for most of the episode, all serious scheming is on hold. But O’Brien does manage to get in a few laughs at the expense of new maid Ethel, and she talks the countess into using her influence to get Thomas a spot at Isobel’s hospital.

Thomas: Having learned that war is no egalitarian picnic — and missing Downton like crazy — Thomas gets himself shot in the hand. Sure, he’s in awful pain for a while, but accomplishes his goal, wangles himself that coveted hospital gig, and reunites with his old crony, O’Brien. Now, if only his wounded love interest hadn’t slashed his own wrists…

William: Although the footman had originally allowed the Dowager Countess to get him out of serving in the war, her deception is revealed and he’s called up to fight. You’d think this would be kind of a bummer, but William is actually excited about becoming a soldier. Plus, he thinks he has a girlfriend in Daisy. (Unfortunately, Daisy doesn’t agree.)

LOSERS

Anna: Well, that hurt. Bates asks her to marry him, the head housemaid is happier than she’s ever been… and then, suddenly, his estranged wife appears to blackmail him, he disappears, and the proposal is off the table. By the end of the episode, Anna has rebuffed Molesley and decided she’ll never love again.

Bates: See above, cry a solitary tear.

Branson: The Crawleys’ radical chauffeur confesses his love to Lady Sybil. She shoots him down but doesn’t get him fired.

Carson: Well, it wasn’t a heart attack… but it sure wasn’t a good sign, either.

Daisy: Doesn’t love William, is going to have to suck it up because he’s going to war.

Ethel: This dreamy maid, who was apparently spoiled in her last house, gets put in her place quickly enough. And seems to take a liking to Thomas. Oof.

Lady Mary: Oh boy. First she finds out that Matthew is engaged. Then, we meet her big romantic prospect — the decidedly unromantic newspaper mogul Sir Richard, who presents her with history’s least inspiring marriage proposal. And just when she’s about to tell Matthew she’s in love with him, she finds out that Lavinia would kill her damn self if she ever lost him and decides to keep her feelings to herself.

Molesley: Matthew’s valet may have kept himself out of the army, but he’s not getting any love from Anna.

Mrs. Patmore: After begging the earl to look into the mysterious case of her nephew, who the military says is missing and presumed dead, the cook learns that he was shot for cowardice. Ouch.

Robert, Earl of Grantham: The poor earl is having a pretty rotten time of it. He learns that he’s been named a colonel, then realizes that his title is pure PR, and he’ll never see the front. Some aristocrats might be thrilled by this, but decent, old Crawley feels downright unmanned. He also loses his old friend and trusted valet, Bates, which shakes him up quite a bit.