Downton Abbey: Unlikely Turns of Events

Posted on January 14, 2013

Oh dear. That didn’t take long.

We’re afraid this episode represents pretty much everything that’s bad about the writing on Downton Abbey and all of Julian Fellowes’ worst instincts as a writer. The man has absolutely no sense of pacing and thinks plotting consists of one unlikely thing happening after another, over and over again, until he gets bored with it. Then, he wraps it up or resolves it quickly, in one scene, or sometimes in no scenes.

Mrs. Hughes might have cancer! Oh, no! Wait a minute, no she doesn’t! We think. All that hand-wringing only to have the reveal that she was healthy handled in such an obtuse way that we thought for a couple of minutes she was lying to relieve Carson’s fretting. We’re still not entirely sure if Mrs. Patmore was telling the truth, but she and Mrs. Hughes acted like they were happy, so we guess she’s cancer-free.

The Crawleys are going to lose Downton Abbey! Oh no! Wait a minute, no they won’t! Why? Because Lavinia Swire’s father left his entire fortune to Matthew after he broke his daughter’s heart and probably hastened her death. Uh… really? On what planet do people act like this? The only thing this silly subplot managed to do was to make literally every single person involved look terrible. Robert looks like an ass for losing all the family’s money. Mr. Swire sounds like an idiot. Mary comes off looking insanely materialistic and money-hungry, and Matthew comes off looking ridiculously stubborn, going so far as to obliquely accuse Mary of forging the letter. What awful people these are. And why on earth would Lavinia, on her deathbed, write a letter to her father to tell her that her wedding was off, but that Matthew is still a wonderful man? No one acts this way. Even worse, none of these subplots, which did actually have some meat to them, were given time to breathe. They were introduced last week and then resolved this week. Granted, we hate it when subplots drag out for too long, but it would have been nice to see them developed a bit more.

Edith’s getting married! No she’s not! This one, we didn’t mind so much. It made a certain amount of sense and it gives Edith some meat to her character. She truly is the Jan Brady of this family and our hearts went out to her when she ordered her two married sisters out of her bedroom, in shame and sorrow. Of course, even this part of the story makes little sense to us, given the time and place. It wasn’t at all unheard of for women of Edith’s station to marry men much older than themselves, so the family’s constant smirking and fretting over this marriage made no sense to us. Especially since Sir Anthony was floated as a husband for Mary not too many years ago. Edith made a good point last week when she noted how many of the men from her generation were killed in the war, but what we really wanted her to say was “What? He’s fine for Mary but I can’t have him? Go screw yourselves.” And why was Violet so opposed to it, when her own daughter was apparently widowed at a fairly young age and seems to be doing quite well for herself? And considering the embarassment that Sybil’s marriage caused them all, you’d think they’d be happy to see a daughter marry a titled man with a house, something that neither of the other Crawley girls managed. In many respects, Sir Anthony Strallan made a better husband than either Matthew or Tom.

Granted, the family has always treated Edith terribly, and you could argue that their attitudes here were more of the same, but inside the story, they made very little sense.

In other news, Bates is still in prison, walking around in circles (in more ways than one) and the long-suffering Anna is all over London, trying to find outzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Oh, god. Please end this subplot now. It’s more than played out.

Julian Fellowes seems to want to give these people character flaws, but then he never makes the effort to develop them further or to explore the ramifications of those flaws. Robert is foolish, Mary is materialistic, Matthew is stubborn, Bates is saintly, and everyone treats Edith like shit. And that’s all there is to it.

No, we can’t say we loved this episode, but just to end this review on an up note – and to try and stave off all the people who’ll call us big meanies, here are the things we liked:

  • Edith’s gown, which was much more fabulous than Mary’s. Score one for the so-called “ugly” sister.
  • Cora’s very touching promise to Mrs. Hughes to take care of her, no matter what.
  • Carson’s non-romantic, yet still very deeply held love for the woman who shares his life and his concerns, Mrs. Hughes. 
  • The Thomas vs. O’Brien War. Delicious. If we were Thomas, we’d be careful around bathtubs and bars of soap for a while. 

 

[Stills: tomandlorenzo.com]

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