I wish I could do episode reviews for Downton Abbey that’s half as good as the ones by The Guardian, but I suppose you would just have to bear with my liking for season reviews instead.
Craig Ferguson recently commented that the latest season of Downton Abbey was like “Days of Our Lives in drag” while an appalled Tom Hanks exclaimed it’s the “greatest show ever!” (bless you, Tom). Unfortunately, I have to side with Craig on this one. You’ve somehow made the most exciting couple – Mary and Matthew Crawley – succumb to marriage-itis i.e. becoming the most boring couple ever. Why is Bates still on this show? Why did they kill off the best Crawley sister? Just what has happened to you, dear Downton?
Series 3 of Downton Abbey kicked off with the wedding of Mary and Matthew- though wasn’t the whole point of Series 1 & 2 about the will-they-won’t-they tension of them not wanting to get married? Now that they’ve hitched, it seems as though Downton Abbey is coming up with the most ridiculous problems to emerge within the household and then solved a few episodes later – Lord Grantham’s lost a substantial amount of fortune but Matthew takes his dead ex-fiance’s deceased father’s inheritance to save the household. Poor Edith gets left at the asile, but then finds potential love with her editor who harbours a Rochester-esque secret. O’ Brien nearly gets Thomas fired but then Lord Grantham has surprisingly liberal views about sexuality and Thomas stays; Mrs. Hughes finds a lump that could be cancer but then of course, it’s not cancer; Bates gets sent to jail and is then released (ugh). Oh, and Ethel comes back for to work for Isobel Crawley (or as I like to remember her – Harriet Jones, Prime Minister) and then leaves during the last episode.
My friend, another Downton Abbey fan, was absolutely right when he said – there’s so much going on but at the same time, nothing happens on this show! It has morphed from a decent period drama with interesting historical insights into a cliched family soap opera where Dame Maggie Smith gets the best lines. I mean, c’mon, for the season finale, the very last scene involves a slow-motion self-indulgent shot of the Crawley boys celebrating a win from cricket. Seriously? After an entire season filled with the promise of Thomas getting some action and Mary being reduced to a plain, devoted wife (I miss her feistiness), the audience is left with a cricket match that has an all-white dress-code? I just honestly have no idea what this show is doing anymore. I thought a post-War Downton would come with several radical shifts, but instead, build-ups are deflated instantly and I’m faced with utter dissatisfaction.
For example, I don’t understand Sybil’s death for once (which I’ve mentioned before) – was it just for shock value? Because that’s probably they only thing they achieved. What plot development did it bring besides the family accepting her Irish revolutionaire husband (which they had to eventually anyway) or for Robert to have some “row” with Cora (which again, they got over eventually anyway)? And a few episodes later, she’s already forgotten. And we’re left with unnecessary people like ex-prostitute Ethel, and the ever-so-righteous Bates. There’s a bit too many characters on the show, and just when the storylines start to spiral out of control, it returns back to the stability it originally started with (a bit like a sitcom, really). It’s utterly frustrating but the show still carries some form of terrible magnetism (also with True Blood), it’s probably the characters – I still love O’ Brien’s cunning nature and Edith had some redeeming qualities this series – we’ve been so invested in the show, it’s hard to get out.
For now, we just have the Christmas Special to wait for (which along with Doctor Who‘s, I’ll definitely be watching and possibly reviewing). The direction Downton Abbey is taking is pretty disappointing (i.e. no direction) but you have to admit, the Isis appearances, stunning location shots and impressive wardrobe style (lilac palettes are pretty) amongst other elements that make the series worthwhile…for now, at least.
My rating: **1/2
14/11 Edit: I just want to end off with an excellent quote from an article by the even-more-excellent David Mitchell that pretty much sums up what I feel about Downton Abbey:
I’ve seen every single episode. I enjoy it enormously. I’m already looking forward to the Christmas special. I also think it’s shit. Not badly acted or filmed – but appallingly scripted and structured. Utterly inept with regard to these elements of television production which I previously considered vital to a drama’s success – or certainly its enjoyability. Yet I undoubtedly do enjoy Downton Abbey, and not “because it’s so terrible”. I unironically enjoy it despite how bad it is. Is that what they call cognitive dissonance? Or is it just really liking footage of a stately home?