I’m really behind on my reviewing. So behind that I gave serious consideration to leaving my review of Downton until I’d also seen the Christmas Special. But I realised if I did that there was a chance that I wouldn’t be able to go off on my planned rant, because there’s the possibility that the writers may actually use the Christmas episode to develop some plot, because god knows, they didn’t bother with anything so petty for the rest of the season!
The early seasons packed massive amounts of content in, taking huge chronological jumps and dispensing with weddings, deaths, scandals, traumas and joy at breakneck speed. Between the hurtling pace and the Sunday night scheduling you never really get a chance to stop and think about the insanity until you’re heading to bed and already thinking about opening your inbox at work the next morning. Season 3 was the first indication of decline, because they somehow managed to combine both the hail storm of events with a general sense of wallowing which was impressively contradictory. But season 4 has dispensed with the plots and firmly settled in for a long extended wallow. When the announcer interrupted the end titles to tell us that we’d just watched the last episode of the season, I gave an audible, and impolite indication of my disbelief. How can it possibly be the end of the season when NOTHING HAS HAPPENED!?
The only thing that really happened all season felt less like a plot and more like a combination of an extended award submission clip reel and a massive PR engine. The rape of the ever-saccharine Anna was a moment of brutality that, like Sybil’s death last year, seemed completely incongruous with the rest of the series. While I’m in no doubt that this kind of horrible attack was uncommon at the time, I just felt that in the less-than-subtle hands of the Downton writers it was more about generating press for an otherwise pedestrian show than it was about highlighting elements of history that go uncommented on. Particularly by the time it got turned into being more about Bates’ anger than it was about Anna’s strength (just like last year they made Mrs Hughes cancer all-clear more about Carson than about her).
What else happened? Edith finally found a man that would marry her, then rather carelessly misplaced him in Nazi Germany, but not before falling predictably pregnant. Mary on the other hand was besieged with indistinguishable suitors like she was some combination of Helen of Troy from the Iliad and Penelope from the Odyssey (I have a proper classical education don’t’cha know). Which is frankly befuddling because she is neither a great beauty, she has absolutely no money of her own and is a “frightful bore”. Her only redeeming features this year appeared to be that she was able to scramble an egg and was willing to get a bit muddy.
There were plenty of minor twittery stories floating around, but nothing actually significant or unifying. New girl Rose came, fluttered about, fell in love with a black man, and then got her heart broken – and no one cared. O’Brien departed mysteriously – and no one cared. Kitchen maids got all in a fluster for various gangly footmen, Thomas schemed with the new lady’s maid whose name I never even registered, Tom sat next to a woman at a political meeting, Carson’s old friend came by, the dowager countess got sick then got better, Mrs Crowley got a gardener a job… it was all so tedious even Lord Grantham got sick of it and swanned off to America to avoid a couple of episodes.
I mean, it’s all still entertaining I guess. Settle in with a mug of something, a blanket to snuggle under and a crossword puzzle and you’ll be sufficiently entertained to transition you from your weekend towards an early night before going back to work, but that’s hardly the pinnacle of entertainment is it? It’s got the budget, it’s got the cast, it’s got the support… I just wish they’d do something with that!