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.
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.
- Downton Abbey, episode 7, review (telegraph.co.uk)
- What the devil is going on at Downton Abbey? (telegraph.co.uk)
- ‘Downton Abbey’ Criticized for Using Historically Incorrect Language (aoltv.com)