Tag Archives: Sybil

Downton Abbey Series 2, Episode 7 – A review

Once there was a tingling – a fretful shivering like the onset of some orgasmic thrill. Sunday night in front of Downton Abbey – a wild ecstasy of unlimited possibility. At least that’s how things used to be. My loyal readers will recall my last post on this subject as being a rather happy affair. I am afraid this post is not in the same vein at all.

I can’t be the only one thinking it; last night’s episode was rubbish. The script, in places, was truly awful; every Branson and Sybil scene was exactly the same (although to be fair this is not that surprising, given that they have been the same since the start of the series); Matthew’s great rise was so woefully dealt with that I spent much of the remainder of the episode cowering behind the sofa, unable to watch the undignified demise of a show I once held so dear in my heart.

"I have dreamed a dream but now that dream has gone from me." Morpheus, figurehead of the resistance and an ardent Downton Abbey fan, makes known his disgust with the show's direction.

The main source of my discontent was the ridiculous exchange between Lord Grantham and that random housemaid. Although deep down we all knew it was coming, I, for one, was reluctant to believe that Fellowes would actually go through with it.  After all, I muttered to myself in the shower on Saturday night, he couldn’t be that desperate, could he? Apparently he could.

Rather disturbingly I have found several sources eulogising about the fateful kiss as if it were an outstanding move on the part of Fellowes. They described him, (translating their dialogue into my own words) as a slippery genius; a mastermind whose skill for manipulation admits to no bounds. To these people, who seem to regard surprise in itself as clever writing, I say this: surprise is a good thing, nonsensical surprise is not.

The simple fact of the matter is that, as far as I am concerned, Lord Grantham is not the kind of man to take his marital responsibilities lightly. Plot should come from character, you cannot play God with your world and pair people off at your command. Making Grantham act erroneously to himself in order to cause a surprise ruins the reality of the whole thing and turns what used to be a fine programme into nothing more than a soap, best aired at 7.30pm so that it might be watched with microwaved meal on lap, instead of at a later, more dignified, hour, with hounds at feet and large glass of red wine in hand, in front of crackling fire.

Aha! – you say – haven’t you been paying attention? Lord Grantham has not been himself lately you idiot. There’s a war on, in case you hadn’t noticed, and he’s changed. Well it is difficult to argue with this, especially when Grantham himself voices a similar view, hitting his thoroughly unsuspecting wife with this little truth: “Before the war I felt my life had value, I wish to feel that again.”

So this is what I’m supposed to take as the reason for his less than honourable antics. But wait, I’m still confused. Don’t get me wrong it is an epic line, of that there’s no doubt, but I still have no idea what on earth he is talking about. Nothing I have witnessed has happened to him in order to render that statement in any way meaningful. You tell me he has changed, and I see that, but I am still unsure of why. I thought that Grantham was the kind of man who would never do anything untoward to his wife, whatever the reason, and now you say that something so drastic has happened to him that he doesn’t give a fig for any of that anymore, but plays away from home like a drunken frat boy on Spring Break. Well, all I can say is that it’s a good thing he didn’t get to fight, because if he’s capable of slipping into an existential crisis over nothing at all, imagine what might have happened to him in the mire of the trenches!

I can see why they wanted to do something with Grantham. He was getting stale – reduced, as he was, to a few remarks clearly seen by the writers as typical of his class, e.g. ‘my dear fellow” & “my good man” – but given how carefully his character has been constructed, Fellowes really needed to take the time to deconstruct him, if his interaction with his housemaid was to be convincing. Sadly he did not and so our jaws did not drop with surprise, but rather clenched with bitter disappointment.

My girlfriend asked me whether Fellowes measures his success in terms of the amount of couples he can get together. I do not know the answer to that question, but what I do know is that he has run out of ideas. I would expect an episode of this poor quality to pop up near the end of season 12, at a time when everything else has been covered. To find it in season 2 is deeply upsetting. I hope, for Fellow’s sake, he gets out now, or else I’m afraid that all his good work might be forgotten altogether. I will watch next week’s episode, of course I will, but I shall do so with a heavy heart, for I fear now that all that was good about life at Downton has been entirely lost upon the wind.

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Downton Abbey Series 2, Episode 4 – A review

It has taken four episodes but finally the award winning Downton Abbey is back to its best. I think the overwhelming averageness of the new series’ first three instalments best goes unsaid. I don’t know where Fellowes was, but he wasn’t where he used to be, that’s for sure. It’s as if he had decided what would happen in episode 4 and didn’t really care how he got there. Well, we’re here now, at last.

I should note here before moving on that I shall not be explaining in this post the ins and outs of the show, but rather assuming in my audience a certain level of intelligence and culture. If you are an American, then, I can only apologise, because most of what I will be saying will be sadly beyond you. Easy now, that was only a joke. Seriously, if you haven’t heard of it, its a period drama about rich people and their servants set at the time of the First World War.

To business! In my mind, the problem with episodes 1-3 was that they tried to do too much. With half an hour breaks every three minutes there is not enough screen time to give everybody their due. This is something that Fellowes realised in series one, but until now, he has tried in series two to deal with far too many threads. Take Edith and her farm boy, for example. What on earth was that about?

This episode was back to basics – it focused on what really matters – i.e. the relationship between Matthew and Marry. After all that convenient leave Matthew managed to acquire in the first three episodes (and I hope that all the men in the trenches got to see as much of their loved ones as he has done) it is perhaps unsurprising that episode 4 was the first time that we really missed him. The family’s reaction to the news was heartfelt, and when he entered the room halfway through the song; well, what a surprise! Of course they ruined it with the little duet, but there we go. They were so sweet together.

What a shame he is going to die. No – you say – there is hope! I do not think that there is. The best we might have hoped for was that the series would end with Matthew missing, probably presumed dead. But they have already used that party trick! Throw in the good luck charm, referenced again in this episode and you really have your final scene – a sad, lonely, teddy being trampled into the mud amidst the blood and the screaming. William’s dead too, by the way. He’s much to naive to live. Of course I may be wrong. God knows I hope that I am.

So that was the success story of the episode. But what else happened? Aside from the general banter that has made Downton such a wonderful success,  and the scheming of Thomas – prick – and the enigmatic Ms. O’Brien, there were two other love stories at work. I do not want to talk about Anna and Bates. This is because, and I want to make my feelings quite plain here, I do not like Bates. Actually, at the risk of being misunderstood I should say that I really hate him. I am aware of the fact that this may be controversial news. I know there are several of you Bates lovers out there. But to me he is nothing but an insufferable martyr, liable to get his melodrama on at the slightest whiff of trouble. What’s that, my wife’s back? Well there’s no point in talking to anybody, like a sensible person would do. I’d better leave right now with no explanation and a few epically dreadful lines so that, when the people who quite reasonably thought I had betrayed them realise that, in actual fact, somehow I am the good guy, they feel really bad about themselves, and come crawling back. Because that is all I want. Attention. Anna you have let yourself down, girl.

The second romance involved Sybil and Branson and this was the weakest part of the episode. It is a perfect example of what I was talking about at the start of the post. Branson is supposed to be a character you can get behind. He’s young; he’s a liberal; he’s a reactionary. Yet such is the limited screen time that he has been given that he comes across a little creepy. When he tells Sybil that he loves her and that he knows that she loves him, our first thoughts are not ‘aw’, but to the contrary that he is a maniac, because, as far as we are concerned, they have seen each other on three or four occasions. They are a minor couple – this is their lot in life – but there was nothing to stop Fellows helping his audience out by referencing some long trip to London that they went on, just the two of them, or something like that, just to make us aware that they have a story that goes beyond the camera’s lens. This little alliance fails because Fellows does not have the time or the desire to make it real.

Hang on a minute – the shrewd reader might say – earlier you spoke of the need to focus on what matters, but just now you claim that Sybil and Branson – at most a sideplot – require more time. Good God speak sense sir! Surely this is a contradiction. Well – I say to that – it is about prioritising screen time but it is also about using that screen time effectively. That is what Fellows did very well in series one. Even Matthew and Mary, arguably the driving force behind the whole show, had only a handful of scenes together, but when they did, there was a real meaning and intrigue to their exchanges. Compare with Bates and Anna, if you dare, or with Sybil and Branson and you will see what I am talking about.

Branson’s mania and Bates’ general existence aside, though, it was a thoroughly encouraging episode. Here’s hoping for more of the same next Sunday!

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