Downton Abbey has upped its game, thank God. Fellowes must have been reading my blog after all, then. I’ve long suspected it. The crafty fellow(es). One wonders where else those nocturnal prowlings take him…
The latest instalment of Downton Abbey proved the age old dictum that there are no problems that can confront fictional characters, which cannot be solved with an extra length special episode. It was neat, it was smart (in places) – everything was wrapped up nicely with a pretty little ribbon tied on top. But there was still a sense that something wasn’t quite right, wasn’t there? Perhaps it was too clean. I don’t know.
Let’s start with what went right because, insignificant gripes aside, there is no doubting that the DA Christmas special was immensely superior to the smoking disaster that was the second series.
I think a major reason for the return to form was the abandonment of ridiculous and unimaginative story lines. Branson and Sybil did not feature, and were mentioned only in passing, and there was no more nonsense from Lord Grantham, although where Fellowes decides to go on that score is far from clear. Indeed even Bates and Anna did not turn my stomach as they used too, probably because their circumstances finally warranted their pathetic, simpering exchanges. I even caught myself almost feeling sorry for Bates – the poor fellow, never really a happy-go-lucky sort of guy, found guilty by evidence so circumstantial it makes the Jeremy Kyle show look fair. I suppose we can look forward to a third series dominated by a monotonous struggle for justice. But that’s tomorrow. Today I was pleasantly surprised.
In some ways it was as if the entire second season had never taken place. I cannot stress how important that is. We must all try to put the nightmare behind us, once and for all. Matthew and Mary, who for reasons beyond my comprehension could not be together when last we saw them, decided all of a sudden that they could. Buoyed by festive cheer, they threw caution to the winds and set sail across the face of the deep into each others arms. May Poseidon bless their voyage. At least there’s some good news for the future. One can’t help but feel a tad sorry for the ex-Mr. Mary to be (name escapes me). Fair enough he threatened her and all that, and he revealed himself to be something of a cad with some of his dark mutterings regarding the servants, but the poor bloke was pretty screwed over in the end. Oh and his fight with Matthew was hilarious. It could have been a scene straight out of Eastenders.
Romances aside, Miss. O’Brien continued her slow but steady trudge towards redemption and Thomas reverted to his usual capers. In general the episode had glimpses of that old Downton Abbey feel about it, but I can’t help but think that the beautiful magic of the show has been shattered, at least for me. It was good, but it was not that good. That being said, there is nothing wrong with good, and I look forward to more of the same.
One final thing to mention – the woefully unsubtle random asides, made by the characters in an uncomfortable attempt to reflect the ways of the time. ‘Curiouser and curiouser,’ Lord Grantham espouses, apparently for no reason other than to inform us that Fellowes is aware that Alice and Wonderland might have been read, and indeed quoted, by the upper class in the early C20th. Little details like that can do wonders for the weight of a historical show, but they do need to pass almost unnoticed, or else they might seem clumsy and designed, rather than organic. And that, my dears, is bad.
PS: If it felt awkward watching the family playing Charades, at least Fellowes and co had done their research. If you are interested, Charades dates back to 16th century France – a time when the French made parlour games famous. I suppose we had to let them have something after Agincourt…