Okay, Julian Fellowes. You are back in our good graces again. If only we could rely on you to write every episode of Downton Abbey the way you write the final episodes of each season. It seems a typical Downton season can be broken down into three parts, in succession: first, table-setting; then, wheel-spinning; and finally, in the last couple of hours of the season… a story suddenly springs up. We’ve said it before but it bears repeating: of all the writing problems on this show, pacing definitely leads the pack.
The Barrows-O’Brien war has been a simmering kettle all season, even if the reasons for it seemed somewhat obscure or out of left field. Bear in mind this all started because she wanted to ensure her nephew did well as a footman and got promoted to valet, something Thomas refused to help her with. Sure, he made matters MUCH worse after manipulating things to get Cora to believe she was leaving Downton, but neither Thomas nor O’Brien seemed to have a very compelling reason to want to declare war on the other. Fellowes landed on a good idea but did very little to set it up.
Still, we won’t complain about that now because this storyline turned out to be one of the best of the third season. Or at least, the culmination of it did. We had a hard time believing that a man in Thomas’ position at that time would have been so reckless, but the script did a fairly good job of showing just how deviously manipulative O’Brien is and how she played on Thomas’ vanity and desperate need for connection. The famous bar of soap was the most evil thing she ever did, but this little plot of hers was the coldest.
Our only real issue with this storyline was how it ended. It strains belief that not only would everyone at Downton accept the homosexual in their midst, but that he would be promoted after attempting to molest another man. Even when Fellowes attempted to be truthful to the period by having Carson express disgust at Thomas’ “revolting” condition, he still shoved early 21st Century sentiments in his mouth by having him claim understanding that Thomas was born this way and can’t help himself. Didn’t scan, Fellowes. And these two homos got taken right out of the story by the unlikelihood of it all. Sure, it’s wonderful to see Mrs. Hughes be the loving, maternal figure, but a woman of her background would never have been so accepting of homosexuality. The only accepting comment that rang true with us was Robert’s: “If I screamed blue murder every time someone tried to kiss me at Eton, I’d have gone hoarse in a month.” THAT’s how you deal with the topic in this setting. It felt true and it felt right for the character.
And oh yes, we’re near the end of the season, so Robert has to be pulled out of the muck of mid-season writing and elevated to heroic status again; the Lord of the Manor comes in at the last second and solves the big problem by being morally forthright. He is easily the least consistent character in the cast now.
In other Downton news:
- Batezzzzz is free again and goes right back to being the ridiculously saintly character that always bored us. There was no good reason for him to stick his neck out like that for Thomas.
- More credit to Fellowes: That moment when we realized that Thomas knew about the soap was electrifying. Like everyone else, our eyes got wide and we turned to each other and said “The SOAP. HE KNOWS ABOUT THE SOAP.” Only first-class soap opera writing can get an audience to do that.
- Although it’s a bit lame that Anna and Bates have no idea what the significance of the soap is.
- Also: Tom sure took to the Manor Life like a fish to water, didn’t he?
- We don’t care if her name’s Rose. She’ll always be Cousin Oliver to us. And she’s irritating.
- So Edith meets an adorable man with dimples who’s obviously crazy about her and her sassy new wardrobe. Let’s all wait for Fellowes to pull the rug out from und– A CRAZY WIFE? OH, COME ON!
- Batezzzz is out of prison so of course he suddenly needs a cane to walk again, even though he walked around that jailyard for hours in a circle without so much as a limp.
- More credit to Fellowes: He wrung as much story as humanly possible out of a maid with an out-of-wedlock child. We’re happy for Ethel and we’re even happier to see her exit the story. Hers is played out.
- We didn’t think we’d see the inside of a jazz club on Downton Abbey. It’s hilarious that all the characters thought it was an appalling hellhole of vice – as they would, after all. Even Edith is a bit old to be catching the Jazz Baby bug.
- Jimmy? He ain’t ALL that. Now Mr. Pamuk, THAT we could understand, Thomas.
- Alfred is a dim bulb.
- “Oooooh, get back in the knife box, Miss Sharp!” O’Brien can throw shade with the best of the drag queens.