Monday, February 18, 2013

Downton Abbey: My Take

If I could sum up Downton Abbey’s third season in one word, it would be whiplash. From week to week, one never knew which Mary Crawley would show up: the loving wife or the woman who picks Edith apart. During this season, Lord Grantham went from caring husband and concerned father to the embodiment of I’m a Little Teapot, "short and stout, when he gets all steamed up, then he shouts…" And he shouted a lot. Thomas, our bad boy, became a weepy girl lying in bed hoping to get some attention from the man he loves. Daisy,  the clueless, but sweet scullery maid, became the nasty assistant cook. And O’Brien? Good grief! She wasn’t happy just getting even with Thomas; she wanted him utterly destroyed! So much for a spiritual renewal following the “soap” incident.

Good points: 
Stellar acting. Considering the scripts they had to work with, the cast did everything they could to pull it off. Kudos to Maggie Smith (Dowager Grantham), Hugh Bonneville for making us not hate Lord Grantham, Jessica Findlay Brown (Sybil) for making the most of an undeveloped character, ditto for Allen Leech (Tom Branson). When Elizabeth McGovern was allowed to act, she was an excellent Lady Grantham.

The below-stairs cast is really fantastic, especially Carson, Mrs. Hughes, and Mrs. Patmore. Although I do not think Thomas would have behaved the way he did when James visited him in his room, the acting was first rate.

High production values, beautiful settings, and exquisite costumes.

Bad points:
Weak scripts: The imprisoned Bates; Thomas, who could go to prison for being a homosexual, kisses a man who has given him no encouragement; Isobel and the reformed prostitute whose first attempt at cooking was a souffle; Edith falling for a man with a wife in an asylum. (Ugh! The crazy wife has already been done. Thank you Charlotte Bronte.) 

Dropping characters into the plot: An example from last year was the supposed Downton heir showing up in bandages; this year we got Rose. Why should we care about her embarrassing herself and the family when we don’t even know her? It’s a lot to ask of an audience. Don’t care about her parents either. Ditto on the maid flirting with Branson.

The Shrimpy and Susan Show. Why make Susan so evil? At any minute, I expected her to turn into the evil queen from Snow White.

The finale: Yes, Dan Stevens wanted out, and so he had to go. But blood running down his cheek! Did we really need to see that? Was it necessary to couple that scene with the blessed arrival of his son?

In my opinion, there are too many story lines. Julian Fellowes thinks he must have something for everyone to do, and so he writes ridiculous tangents. For example, must Edith’s happiness depend on a man? She is quite capable of turning into a stellar newspaperwoman. Let her do that. But, no, she’s in love with a man who cannot, by law, divorce his insane wife. Another was Branson's shenanigans in Ireland. One week of the rebel firebrand, and then he's off to running Downton.

I know that if I lived in England at that time, I would have been a maid, trudging up the stairs to bring the married women their breakfasts. Although the ladies of the house had little to do, and I would have had a great deal of work and a long day ahead of me, it was the way things were. However, I would have loved to see Lady Grantham and Mary actually get up out of bed and have breakfast with their husbands! That would have been something.


  1. Definitely this season was not enough to make me like Julian Fellowes. Yes, Dan Stevens wanted out, but Fellowes could have written a happier season finale; then he could open the next season perhaps 10-20 years down the line, and have a character mention that Dan Stevens had died in an accident a while back. Seriously, what was Fellowes thinking!

    1. I've since read that Fellowes was hoping that Stevens would agree to stay on for an episode or two, but he really, really wanted out. Considering the scripts he was given, I don't blame him.

  2. I watch season 1. Started on season 2. I missed a few and decided to wait and watch on Netflix. I never got around to watching it, so I didn't start on season 3! doesn't sound like it was that great of a season though.

    I have been watching Ripper Street. :)

  3. Season 1 was good, but then the "tricks" one usually associates with a show that has run its course came into play. It's really a high-class soap opera.

  4. Maggie Smith and Hugh Bonneville make everything better - even this. I think I'm the only person in the world that doesn't care much for Dan Stevens. He's too much of a milquetoast for me. I thought he was a weak Edward Ferras (and that's saying something), and I never really got why Mary fell for him.

    Haven't seen the last episode yet, but you would have to be living in a tunnel not to know what happened. Supposedly, PBS is running season 4 concurrently like BBCAmerica does with Doctor Who. The good news is that new Doctor Who starts next month, and new Sherlocks are filming as we speak!

    1. Dan Stevens was given such horrible plot lines, it's amazing he didn't roll his eyes when delivering his lines. I preferred Hugh Grant, bumbling and all, as Edward Ferrars. The scripts for this season were just awful. I don't understand why Matt fell for Mary! I could go on and on b/c I'm disappointed that such talent was so badly used.