Well at least it’s over. For now. Amongst all the descriptions playing in my head one stands out in particular – ‘what the hell’. I think that just about sums it up.
A comment on the Downton Abbey facebook page (which I am still subscribed to, being, deep down, an optimistic soul) opens with this rather unwise remark: ‘Missed last night’s final episode? The Dowager Countess will not be impressed.’ Well, say I, the Dowager Countess won’t be the only person who is not impressed. There is nothing quite as embarassing as when a show misses the point and this series of Downton Abbey has blasted straight past it. With an episode as bad as yesterday’s there is so much to say. Lest this post begin to resemble vomit on a page, with the bits and pieces of my disgust slightly curdling in the light at random points along the way, I will focus my energy on the most irritating part of the grand finale – Lord Grantham, who last night completed his magnificent fall from grace.
The first series Lord Grantham was a major reason behind my interest in the show. He struck me to be a no nonsense sort of character, who loved his wife, his daughters, his dog and his house and valued them above everything. His relationship with Cora offered stability amidst the chaos between Matthew and Mary. Also, while he was never exactly a reactionary, he did not quite conform with the stereotype of an upper class snob either. Rather he seemed to be slightly eccentric in some of his decisions and appointments (e.g. Branson) and it is fair to say that if any of the older members of the family were going to take to this whole change thing that seems to have been the theme of the second series it would be him. His firm friendship with Matthew evinced the fact that, when it came down to it, he valued integrity and not position.
Skip forward a few years and what do we have? A crazed middle-aged man, voice low and crackling, groaning to his floozy – “I want you with every fibre of my being” (or something similar) and an audience wondering where on earth it all went wrong.
I don’t even want to talk about the housemaid. As far as I’m concerned she can go to hell, and good riddance. Okay, maybe that was a bit harsh. After all, everybody makes mistakes; Fellowes did in writing the initial scene in which Grantham decides to go against everything he used to be and play away from home, and, dancing from reality to fantasy, Grantham made a mistake in actually doing it. I could probably tolerate it if it was a one off, and the tension was then about about whether or not Cora or anybody else found out. Fellowes could have just about got away with that. But it wasn’t a one off; Fellowes decided to continue down what was clearly a bad road, and in doing so he ruined the show for me.
It has been suggested to me via a comment made on a previous post that the reason I am so lairy about the developments at Downton is entirely my fault. Instead of feeling sick because of bad writing, the commenter alleged, I likely felt sick because what I was seeing was not something I wanted to see, regardless of how deftly Fellowes was going about it.
I respect this opinion, but to me it is a hollow defence. I accept that Fellowes has been building up a sense of resentment within the breast of Grantham for some time now, but it has never been something we have been able to understand. Indeed, although I can just about see that he is pretty pissed off about something, I have no idea why.
In any case the point is moot, because, given the kind of man Grantham was so skilfully presented to be, there is almost nothing short of divine intervention that would make him stray from his family. So how have we got the position where, not only has he cheated on his wife (for some reason that we are not aware of) but also that he has repeated the act and now wants another woman with every fibre of his being?
And, in a further shocking development, it seems that he can no longer be happy without the girl he has shared three scenes with, for when she decides it’s probably best she leaves (well done madam, take a bow), she asks him – ridiculously – whether he can be happy without her and he replies: “I’ve no right to be unhappy, which is almost the same.” What. The. Hell.
It’s awful, just awful. And that wasn’t his only disgrace last evening. I’m forced to say that the man I once admired is actually a dick; the way he treated Branson (thinking he could buy him off) was so hypocritical given his own situation. He has gone from being a figure of honour to a hapless fool, standing firm against the turning tide and embodying the worst of upper class mores. Even his own mother – the irrepressible Dowager Countess – has shown greater understanding of the need to evolve.
Even without the ludicrous Grantham/housemaid storyline, I think this episode was the worst of the lot because even Matthew and Mary, who had somehow in my mind remained untouched by the ruins of the show falling around them, started showing signs that they were not immune.
Now the key to Downton Abbey was always Matthew and Mary. They have loved each other since the beginning and this is something we’ve known, but somewhere along the way it’s all become a little confused. It’s down to Lavinia, and the unclear role that she has to play. From the day she was introduced it seemed obvious that Matthew loved her. But given that we know he loves Mary we wonder what exactly this means. Come on Matthew, don’t leave us in the dark here, what do you want?
Well he’s a capricious one alright, just like his once intended father-in-law. One minute it seems that he regards his feelings towards Lavinia as obligatory – that he is marrying her out of duty and not out of love (even though originally he was going to marry her out of love). The next he says there’s no point in living without her, claiming ‘I can’t be happy without you’. Um, yes you can.
I suppose you can argue that he felt he probably should say that, with her being on her (convenient) death bed and all, but the fact remains that Matthew has become an enigma, and not a good one, of the kind that a willing reader loves to crack. No. He has become enigmatic because the writing of his character has slipped dramatically from the standard at which it used to be. He loves Lavinia here because it serves the plot for him to do so (i.e. in those scenes where Mary might be thinking of rekindling something) and he loves Mary where it serves the plot elsewhere. It has never struck me that the man is genuinely torn between two competing love interests. I’m not even sure if this is what Fellowes intended, that’s how bad he’s gone about it if it is.
On top of all I’ve said already, the script, which has been terrible lately, entered a new low last night until it reached the point where every single line had me moaning softly in my little corner. ‘She died of a broken heart and we killed her’ says Matthew to Mary after the (convenient) death of his fiance. Come on! What he is even saying there? That they can’t be together because otherwise there would be no 3rd Series? Probably. What a dreadfully contrived development. “We’re cursed, you and I.” Oh be quiet Matthew. Circumstances have not – as before – conspired against you. Nothing remotely intelligent is taking place. You are being an idiot. That is all.
When a show like Downton doesn’t get it right the result is really quite terrible. You have the music in the background (that ‘dung ding, dung ding’) telling you either that you should be sad, or that you should be loving Bates and Anna, but all you want to do is laugh / throw up your spaghetti bolognese all over the television. It has forgotten what it is supposed to be and the consequences are dire.
Don’t let me get started about the ending – Bates led through the ranks like an unconquered hero – Maximus, first a general, then a gladiator, always lord of all he surveys. A dismal sight to finish a dismal series of what used to be a beautiful show.