'Downton Abbey': The House's Biggest Feuds

Ethan Alter
Television Without Pity

The second episode of Season 2 of "Downton Abbey" literally brought the war home, as the Crawley clan began sharing their opulent house with a legion of wounded soldiers in desperate need of a peaceful place to convalesce. But with all the tensions running through Downton at the moment, those poor guys might find more relaxation back in the trenches. Here are the biggest feuds that are currently making life in the house difficult.

1. Cora vs. Isobel
The Countess has generally proven herself to be a person of sweet disposition and even temperament. But her claws came out -- in a restrained way, of course -- as cousin Isobel asserts control over her house, claiming numerous rooms for the wounded and carving up the private Crawley territory into smaller and smaller slices. Her husband, Robert, isn't thrilled about the new living arrangements, either, and puts his foot down when Isobel floats the idea of sharing the dining room with the soldiers. Cora tries to reassert their authority in a more subtle way, requesting that footman turned corporal Thomas be put in charge of managing the house and who, because of his history with the family, is more likely to have their interests at heart. (Actually, this arrangement was O'Brien's idea, but Cora happily takes the credit.) "If someone's to manage things, let it be our creature," Violet remarks, approvingly. The snippy disagreements between Cora and Isobel come to a head when Mrs. Crawley takes it upon herself to "arrange the household duties" herself to make sure there was no overlap with the nursing staff, leading to a charged confrontation in the Earl's study. Still, they manage to be all smiles when an important visitor drops by to tour their new convalescent home, war hero Sir Herbert Strutt. In the end, it's decided that they'll share the responsibility of being in charge of Downton. Which means that all this was likely just the first in a 12-round battle of the heavyweights.

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2. Carson vs. Thomas
After the events of last season, there's no love lost between Downton's head butler and the duplicitous ex-footman. And Carson himself certainly isn't thrilled at the prospect of Thomas acting as his "boss." When they first meet again, you could cut the tension with one of Mrs. Patmore's butcher knives. But at the moment, anyway, Carson has bigger problems than Thomas and his underhanded schemes. The new valet, Mr. Lang, is clearly unfit for his duties, still in shock over his traumatic experiences on the battlefield. In fact, when it comes time for Sir Herbert to depart, Lang becomes convinced that they'll be taking him back to the front and has a full-on nervous breakdown in front of the Earl. At the episode's end, Carson gives the poor man his walking papers but also informs him that he'll receive a recommendation when he's ready to start working again. At least that's one less loose cannon wandering about the house.

3. Rosamund and Violet vs. Lavinia and Mary
After Rosamund observed Lavinia engaged in a heated private conversation with newspaper tycoon Richard Carlisle in last week's episode, she went out of her way to learn what they were talking about. According to her sources, Lavinia stole secrets from her uncle, a prominent politician, and sold them to Carlisle so he could shift more papers. Rosamund and Violet are horrified at the betrayal, but Mary stands up for her rival for Matthew's affections, crediting her with exposing corruption. Mary also believes Lavinia's insistence that she and Richard were never lovers, despite what the London rumor mill has implied. Even as Rosamund and Violet encourage her to out Lavinia's crimes to Matthew, Mary holds firm. It may not make her happy, but at least she'll be able to sleep at night knowing that she hasn't thrown an innocent woman under the bus... uh, make that a Model-T.

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4. Tom vs. The British Army
After receiving his draft notice, the prideful Irish chauffeur (and admirer of Lenin) has a foolproof plan for embarrassing the British military industrial complex. His intentions are to report for duty and while parading with the rest of his regiment, he'll step forward and publicly proclaim himself a conscientious objector. This grand idea evaporates when his medical exam indicates that he has a heart defect that makes him ineligible for service. So he comes up with a backup scheme that involves volunteering to serve as a footman during Sir Herbert's big dinner and then dump a soup tureen filled with "oil and ink and a bit of a cowpat all mixed with sour milk" over the war hero. Fortunately for Strutt's uniform, Anna discovers a confessional note that Tom had written to Sybil and gets the staff to intercept him just in time. Good luck being let out of the garage again after that stunt, Tom.

5. Daisy vs. William and Mrs. Patmore
Poor William doesn't even realize he's in the midst of a feud between Downton's cook and her chief kitchen maid. All he knows is that Daisy has agreed to be his wife, a promise that will give him a reason to stay alive as he heads off to the trenches. In actuality though, Daisy has no desire to be Mrs. Mason and was essentially forced into accepting Will's proposal by Mrs. Patmore, who couldn't bear the thought of losing another young man to the war on the heels of her nephew's death (for cowardice). And now that Robert is using his influence to see that William is made Matthew's servant -- thus potentially offering him a certain modicum of protection -- Daisy might actually have to make good on her promise. That's going to make the kitchen a tense place to be.

"Downton Abbey" airs Sundays at 9pm (check local listings) on PBS.

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