Downturn Abbey

So, I love Downton Abbey. Passionately. I count down the days until Sunday each week; by Sunday, I’m counting down hours. I need my cousin Violet fix; I need to see Lady Mary’s exquisite eyebrows; I need the comforting crossness of Mrs. Patmore. I breathe a sigh of contentment after each episode, happy in British television goodness, recharged for the week ahead.

And this was why yesterday’s episodes were so disappointing. Downton Abbey, you can do better than this. The show was unbelievably maudlin and sloppy; it was as if the writers, having created several story lines, suddenly realized that the end of the season was looming and they needed to tie off some loose ends.  Unfortunately, instead of doing that neatly, they overdeveloped some story lines that should never have seen the light of filming and hacked and stapled together others.

Useless story line #1: The Canadian. Wha? And it wasn’t resolved in any kind of satisfying way; ’twas like a cake made without eggs (I’ve eaten part of one before so I know what I’m talking about). (Yes, this was in an earlier episode, but that still matters to this episode, because the writers could have spent time developing other story lines that instead got short shrift.)

Useless story line #2: Lord Grantham and Jane. Again, wha? Or, to quote my verbatim response the first time Lord Grantham laid one on the maid, WHAT THE HELL?!?! It wasn’t just that such a dalliance goes completely against everything we know about Lord Grantham’s character; it was also that the two actors had less than zero chemistry. I got the sense they were both steeling themselves before each interaction, thinking, OK, the script says we kiss here, so I guess I’ve gotta do it. Wholly and entirely awful. The only redeeming quality is that they didn’t actually sleep together.

Useless story line #3: Ethel. I liked her at first (or at least I enjoyed disliking her, pretentious chit that she was), and thought she had a decent story to tell, but she’s long since overstayed her welcome. And the horrid and domineering grandfather added nothing except discomfort.

In addition to having useless story lines, this episode tied nooses around its loose plot lines and then kicked them unceremoniously off the gallows.  No graceful deaths allowed, apparently.

Noose #1: Matthew’s recovery. I know someone who recently had knee surgery. After being off ONE of her legs for just a few weeks, she can do almost nothing with it. (This is a girl who has run multiple marathons.) She certainly can’t stand on it, even if she’s also standing on her other leg. And we’re supposed to believe that Matthew, who had been wheelchair-bound for months, suddenly finds himself standing–like, WHOA, dude!–because Lavinia drops a tray? No, no, no. This story line should have been developed more; much more believable–and satisfying–would have been watching Matthew struggle nobly to gain strength, first standing on shaking legs and gradually learning to walk. I do like the way the writers covered the doctor’s mistake, though; that was believable.

Noose #2: Lavinia. OK, maybe the Spanish flu carried off its victims quickly, and maybe Lavinia did lose the will to live after seeing Matthew and Mary (whether a more believable reaction would have been hurt anger rather than instant despairing resignation is another question [is Lavinia really this incredibly good?]), but still–seeing her go from upright walking to death a few minutes or even hours later, but seeing nothing between, strains credulity. And Cora did a much better job portraying illness and discomfort in her non-death scene than Lavinia did when she met her tragic end. That she died holding Matthew’s hand is just the tacky ostrich feather in a hat Violet wouldn’t be caught dead wearing.

Then there were the general suckinesses–things that didn’t need to be seen, or could have been better.

General suckiness #1: Mr. and Mrs. Bates in their nuptial bed. Sure the sheets covered everything up to the shoulders, but did I really need to see Mr. Bates’s flabby upper arm? (Hint: NO.) (CANNOT UNSEE.) The position the two were in and the tidy arrangement of the sheets also bugged me; these two have been waiting years to get it on, people. They were entirely too calm. They might have been discussing silverware.

General suckiness #2: Cousin Isabel’s face at Lavinia’s deathbed. Actually, I don’t know if this counts as a suckiness, because it made me laugh. I don’t know that I’ve seen such over-the-top ridiculousness from an English person since Rowan Atkinson (whose Mr. Bean never fails to delight). I still collapse into giggles when I picture it in my head. I wonder if Isabel had prosthetic eyeballs; I don’t think they could have stood out more than her real ones.

General suckiness #3: Zombie Matthew. It wasn’t his acting–I think he did an OK job of portraying guilt-riddled despondency–but who was in charge of the makeup, and did they have to layer it on an inch thick? The vampires in Twilight were Oompa Loompas in comparison, and the black under Matthew’s eyes wouldn’t have been out of place on a football player. (Then, at the funeral, Matthew turns into a vampire–only without the Twilight sparklies.)

There were good parts too. Sir Richard remained deliciously scurrilous, trying to bribe Anna to spy on Mary and then sidling his way back into Downton Abbey after the flu hit. (Too bad the flu didn’t carry him off; I hope against hope that Mary doesn’t actually marry him.) Sybil and Branson did a great job–I loved the way they stood up for their principles without being completely overbearing–and I enjoyed Lord Grantham’s response to their unwelcome announcement, though I did think he was a bit over-congenial at the end. I would expect him to be forgiving but in a grudging way for a while longer.

And Thomas. Finally he gets a chance to not be utterly detestable. I felt genuinely sorry for him when he found out he had been so thoroughly cheated, and his reaction was perfect. O’Brien, too, finally seems sympathetic. Guilt + poverty = win.

And Violet. Wonderful, wonderful Violet. “Don’t be defeatist, dear, it’s very middle class.” “I do hope I’m interrupting something.” “I was watching her the other night, when you spoke of your wedding. She looked like Juliet on awakening in the tomb.” Her lines are as perfect as her hats.

So there’s just one episode left, and from the previews it looks like someone finally at least tries to give Sir Richard what’s coming to him. This is promising. I’ll be watching, Downton Abbey. Don’t turn yourself into a soap opera again.



3 thoughts on “Downturn Abbey

  1. Mr. Bates was rather fleshy, wasn’t he? I was completely grossed out. I feel guilty admitting that, because I like to consider myself a champion of the portly. Boy did they call MY bluff.

    And to your list of grievances I’d like to add this: why did Sybil run off with Branson in the first place? Don’t get me wrong, I’m very pro-Branson/Sybil, but it seems out of character for her to be so devil-may-care. It took her sisters what? Thirteen seconds to convince her to come home? I don’t care how sensible their argument was, a woman who is in the process of eloping with her fiancee needs more than 2 lines of dialogue to change her mind. I thought that scene was awkward.

    A thoroughly enjoyable review. Can’t wait for the next one!

  2. I know you are willing to wait patiently for each episode and all, but since we don’t get U.S. (or British) TV out here we end up checking them out at the Great Internet Public Library (aka It just so happens, though, that since we only recently heard about the series we just finished the Spanish Flu episode, too.

    I completely agree with everything you say here. Seriously. That Cousin Isabel face was completely out of place and really took me out of the zone for a bit there. Which was okay since that scene was a bit too relaxed and convenient. Maybe I’ll just pretend Lavinia had swallowed a week’s worth of Valium and it was just now kicking in.

  3. Randi: I thought about you when I was writing this and was actually hoping to channel some of your mad witty reviewing skillz. 🙂 And I totally agree about Sybil and Branson running away; those were yet more wasted minutes that would have been better spent elsewhere. Re: the fleshy Mr. Bates: Yeah, I felt kind of size-ist writing that, but it really was distractingly unattractive. I’ve mentally staged that scene in several different and infinitely preferable ways (Mr. Bates, upon donning his jacket, tenderly zipping up the back of Anna’s dress, for example). At the very least, Mr. Bates could have kept his arm under the covers.

    Brad: Ah, the Great Internet Public Library! I hadn’t heard of that site before. Handy info to have. 🙂 Should you need to borrow Cousin Isabel’s prosthetic eyeballs to enhance your viewing pleasure, I’m sure she would lend them to you–unless she needs them for another useless death scene.

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