Apr 21 2012 4:00pm

Julian Fellowes’ Titanic Miniseries, Episode 2: Cutting Corners and Cheating the System

Jim Maloney slogs through water in TitanicThe second part to Julian Fellowes’s Titanic miniseries is full of surprises...or, to be honest, just one. But it’s a doozy. It opens up in Belfast rather than Southampton and the ship is still moored at the dock. As political tensions rise, a group of protesters assemble to shout atrocities at men walking into the Harland and Wolff shipyards to work on the Titanic. The year is still 1912, but the ship is in the final hours of construction. And, unlike the first installment, the second part is more anticipation, less yawning. Why? Well, because viewers finally get to see something that James Cameron’s version never showed—the actual planning and shortcuts that were implemented!

One of the more exciting aspects of Titanic Part 2 is that Fellowes’s storytelling finally begins making sense. Viewers finally get to learn more about two of the upper servers and some of the other passengers, not just the upper crust. The first part was quick and uneventful (even with the bloody ship going down less than three quarters of the way), but the second episode highlights the aspects that make Downton Abbey so delicious—all the social mores and class struggles often associated with that time period. And brazen American actresses and “new money ladies” aside, the redheaded Irish Catholic families are the ones lugging around some heavy baggage in episode two!

Jim and Mary MaloneyHere’s a play-by-play account:

Thomas Andrews and Lord Pirrie, chairman of Harland and Wolff, walk in to observe all the construction that’s underway. Lord Pirrie notices a fit looking gentleman installing lighting and makes unsavory remarks about him being Irish. But rest assured he’s not racist in any way because he hires Catholics all the time...all the time! Poor Mr. Andrews simply sighs and checks his watch.

The electrician, named Jim Maloney, is working on fixing up the Titanic’s persisting problems. He’s clearly more capable than his mere position allow. Nevertheless, because he’s Catholic he isn’t allowed to show off his skills. Clearly, there’s not just a rich versus poor clash on the show, but a religious as well. I like this character straight away because he doesn’t shy away from tough situations. For, example, when Mr. Andrews asks him to hurry things along he tells him point blank, ’Yo dude. Your company needs to recruit better workers. These punks are total tortoises.’ In turn for his truthfulness and help, Andrews rewards Maloney…with a trip on a ship destined to sink! (Team Maloney FTW...?) Andrews excitedly delivers the so-called wonderful news, “Maloney, I have a proposition to make. If I empower you to take over the completion of the wiring, you may recruit whom you like. You also travel with your family to New York on Titanic’s maiden voyage so your savings will give you a start when you get there.” Upon noticing Maloney’s grimace when he tells him he’d be traveling steerage, Andrews acts flabbergasted, “Heaven’s sake, man! It’s five days of a little discomfort. Is that a big price to pay for a new life in a new country?” (Ha! Good one, Andrews.)

Maloney presents his wife Mary with the steerage tickets and she’s a good sport about it, even though you can tell it’s not an ideal situation. Maloney wants to go to NYC because Belfast is no place for a Catholic to establish a career. “I have survived on scraps from Protestants’ table,” Maloney he whine to Mary. In all fairness, instead of damning him to hell with his impromptu plan to move the whole family to a foreign country, she remains supportive of his decision.

Fast forward to a meeting between Lord Pirrie, White Star Line chairman Bruce Andrews Ismay, and Mr. Andrews, who are discussing the ship’s faults. Andrews shines as the true hero in Fellowes’s version of the ship’s fated journey. He’s troubled that the company is cutting corners. There’s not only a lack of lifeboats, but they are also are using iron rivets (which are weaker than steel) from random makers with no record with the company. Moreover, he’s deeply disturbed by the company’s unwillingness to extend the watertight bulkheads to the top of the ship. Their excuse? It doesn’t save them money but it does shrink the size of the first class cabins and heaven forbid that rich folks have to suffer with an extra inch of wall. Unfortunately for Andrews, Ismay isn’t on his side and basically tells him to shut his trap-hole.

Titanic’s senior officersThe officers are meeting with Captain Smith and talking about limited storage space. One of them — Officer Murdoch — asks if they are taking any measures against the anarchists during these dangerous times. Smith responds, “Gentlemen, all White Star ships carry guns. And I don’t believe a bomb would do sufficient damage to take us down. That is all I can say to reassure.” Um, no, but an iceberg sure can...

I’m not going to lie, I’m nodding off a bit at this point because there’s yet another pre-sailing meeting. One would wrongfully assume that with so many meetings they could have avoided the disaster altogether, but it seems the officers simply like to gather to hear their own posh voices mutter gibberish rather than taking action. The “all-powerful” officers of the White Star Line strategize the Titanic’s maiden voyage.  Smith reassigns responsibilities — an officer named Wilde has just been promoted to chief, Officer Lightoller has been bumped down a notch, and Office named Blair gets removed from the roster altogether. Blair looks pretty bummed. I don’t feel bad for him at all considering that he just escaped the icy touch of death’s grip!

Maloney’s wife Mary is bustling with her flock of red-headed babies. Along the way, she loses her itty bitty son Sean right before boarding.  Luckily, one of those ‘morally corrupt’ immigrant vagabonds – a strapping, muscular fellow named Peter – finds the kid and returns him safe and sound. Darn those handsome foreigners, constantly saving lives and lowering maternal stress levels.

The cherub-cheeked cabin stewardess Annie Desmond is the Titanic’s very own Mary Poppins. With her crisp accent and cheery disposition, she knows the ropes of the ship even more so than the captain himself. She can steer passengers in the right direction, whip out a needle and thread to tailor a server’s way-too-big jacket, and fold bedding quickly and accurately. Moreover, everyone loves her — especially the cheeky Italian waiter Paolo Sandrini who’s instantly smitten by her fresh-faced beauty. Pip pip!

Maloney is such a punk. I take back what I said about liking his character. He not only sneaks his family into a cabin that’s not theirs but then has the audacity to complain that they have to set sail with the “sweepings of the streets of the city." (I honestly don’t know why he thinks he’s above everyone else in steerage — he’s pretty much a grump and a thief.) To make matters worse? Upon being called out by a steward who kindly tells him that he and his family are in the wrong cabin, Maloney uses his own child to (unsuccessfully) change the conversation. Luckily for Maloney, the passengers who paid for their tickets didn’t complain at all about their cabin being seized by his family.

Peter Lubov is a  helluva guy. He finds missing children, catches roll-away thimbles and happens to be a church-going man. Hallelujah! And it appears that Maloney’s wife – who’s had about enough with her husband’s wily ways aka sneaking his family into steerage – is falling for his brawn and charm!

There’s a lot of casual flirting taking place on board! The Italian waiter Sandrini (who’s been winking at wealthy broads all night) makes time for darling Annie. The two chat on the promenade even though a conversation between unmarried individuals from different nationalities would be considered a ’scandal’ in those times. In the meantime, Jim is chilling with Peter over a pint of beer and Peter and Jim’s wife Mary somehow end up having a sexy ’moment.’ (Hey! A long, lingering stare was second base back then!) It suddenly gets really hot and  a flustered Mary bustles out of the room.

Sunday is the Lord’s Day and, despite having embarked on a maritime adventure, all the passengers from the ship assemble for the Protestant services. Despite her Catholic upbringing, Mary Maloney is there. Peter spots her and sits smacks next to her. He then leans over and whispers something in her ear. Viewers don’t hear what he says but judging by the fact that she gets up and moves away from him, I can only suspect it’s a pick-up line of the saucy variety! Meanwhile, while Peter is taking on the role of Casanova, all the damn first class passengers are complaining about having to pray to God alongside the modestly-dressed riff-raff. (Perhaps they should have directed more of their energy towards actual worship and prayer...)

The BatleysMuriel Batley stills hates the snobbish Countess of Manton — that certainly hasn’t changed. But instead of being depicted as a jealous bitch, she’s allowed a graceful moment of humanity. Viewers get to witness a truly touching conversation between her and her lawyer husband John.  She went through his legal papers and discovered that the Earl of Manton has a bastard daughter stashed away in Dulwich. Instead of getting embroiled in an argument, the duo shares an intimate moment: He apologizes for not providing her with a child all these years and she gets teary-eyed She gets in touch with her inner Virginia Woolf and confesses, “Why is it so hard for you to understand that I want to feel just once—just once that my life is worth is living, that it matters that I was born and departed—[that] a tiny speck of my existence has tiny infinitely small value?” Her husband in turn consoles her and reassures her that it matters…at least to him, that is.

Mary Maloney is out on the deck staring out at the ocean because she “felt like a breath of air.” Her husband finds her and reassures her that their family is just six people vying for a new life and they’ll have plenty of air to breathe in NY. (Poor chap, so naive.) He then informs her that the children are waiting for their mom to take them to tea. Ooo — fancy!

Just when I think the episode is getting good, I get a whiff of the cliched, stifled first class passengers. This time around, Mrs. R is harassing Officer Lightoller about why Madame Aubart is permitted in first class at all. When he tells her that she paid the ticket, she switches gear and mutters some nonsense about Molly Brown. What a crazy lady! At one point one of the first class passengers breathes deeply and sighs…which is precisely how I’m feeling while the ship slowly chugs towards its horrific demise. On with the sinking, I feel like yelling!

Ol’ Smith is possibly the worst sea captain ever.  He doesn’t heed warnings from other ships (and shocking Bruce Ismay himself) and suggests that the ship quicken its pace late at night. Moreover, he’s an arrogant fool which he demonstrated during the Titanic’s final development stages when he uttered, “Life is a risk every day that passes. The truth is man might sink us even if nature can’t.”  Despite his rash tendencies, he is rather sociable and considerate towards the passengers, particularly John Batley near the end of the episode. While John is crying his dear little sorrow out and staring out at the vast Atlantic water, Captain Smith approaches him and asks him how tea was and he tells him it was a hoot and a half. They exchange a few formalities and they kindly bid each other adieu. Suddenly though, John notices the formidable, looming iceberg overhead and recognizes that danger is at hand. Ay yi yi!

That’s when the action truly starts picking up. The boiler rooms are buzzing with yells and fast-paced coal shoveling. All five compartments have filled up with water which, according to Mr. Andrews, means that the Titanic cannot remain afloat for much longer – he gives the humongous liner two and a half hours tops! You’d think that all the stokers (including Sandrini’s much bulkier brother) would sprint the hell on out of there but there just stand there, waist-deep in water like deer in headlights. Makes perfect sense, right? Yup.

While all the first and second class passengers are being petty and flocking to the purser’s office to claim their precious jewels (no heart of the ocean in sight), the poor steerage passengers are begging for their lives belowdecks. They are not being allowed through. But what about the women and children, yo?! Peter and Maloney, thinking fast on their feet, cause a scene to allow his wife and clan of wee red-heads to run past the gates right before the officers lock them.

As frigid water seeps through the massive ship, much mayhem ensues...and a heck of a lot of confusion! Annie and Sandrini team up to play hero to the panicked passengers. Some discriminatory comments about who gets to sail away on the lifeboats are made by a dimwitted steward who doesn’t know how to deal with prevalent danger. Dorothy (I honestly have no idea who she is) is begging her mom to join her on the lifeboats. Officer Lightoller convinces Mrs. Gibson (the beautiful actress from part one) to slip on a life vest. Right after talking her into it, he hands Dorothy a bottle of brandy telling her that they’ll need it out there in the harsh, cold night. She looks mega shocked but we know she really wants to say, ’Bottoms up. Cheers, mate!’

John and Murel Batley search for a lifeboatBut then episode two gets good again! One of the most heartbreaking scenes is when John and Muriel (with a semi-broken hand) are searching for a boat to no avail. Suddenly, they unleash years of woes and agree to put all their regrets in the past and die in peace with one another. John reveals that marrying her was the only exciting thing he’s ever done and he doesn’t regret it at all. “C’mon. If we’re going down, we should go down fighting.” And then a lone dog wanders up to Muriel and I can’t help but shed a damn tear.

The ocean suddenly rushes past the ship’s bridge and the passengers still on board realize that the ship is barely hanging by its last thread of life.

The second part was loads better than the first, but the third part does the series even more justice. It’s tough fitting in so much drama and dialogue in under an hour, but Fellowes makes an effort at least.

So, what do you think so far? Do you think including so many characters gets confusing? Were you left underwhelmed by the first two parts? Dish away in the comments!


Theodora Guliadis

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1. Theo
Ahh! "Fast forward to a meeting between Lord Pirrie, White Star Line chairman Bruce Andrews, and Mr. Andrews, who are discussing the ship’s faults." Oops. I meant *Bruce Ismay* not Bruce Andrews. My apologies, everyone!
3. Theo
@redline_ Thank you so much! :)
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