Downton Abbey: Get Down, You Cat!

Posted on February 23, 2015

Downton-Abbey-Season-5-Episode-Eight-Television-Review-Tom-LOrenzo-Site-TLOHugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern in “Downton Abbey,” on PBS.


Julian Fellowes opened up this episode with yet another fashion show as Rose models her trousseau for her clapping aunts and cousins. It’s a lovely, genteel scene, but we suspect there’s a part of Fellowes that would rather the entire season be nothing but scenes of Rose and Mary modeling clothes while Edith cries.

Wait. That already is the season.

Anyway, Rose gets married to the adorable Atticus “Jewish” Aldridge. There is much talk of the wedding not going off and even of various parents attempting to stop the wedding from happening. Atticus is photographed with a tart leaving his room. Rose cries about it and several j’accuses are thrown. Then the wedding happens and everyone is happy. That’s how Fellowes does conflict this season.

Here’s how he does narrative tension: A cop comes to Downton every day and harasses the Bateses for months until he arrests one of them on the most ridiculously flimsy case.

Here’s how Fellowes does melodrama:

“I won’t let you take her!” says Bates. Then he watches them take her.

“Daisy’s leaving us forever!”  “No I’m not!” “Yay!”

“Atticus, how could you do this to me?” “Nevermind, Atticus, I will love you forever!”

“Father, how could you do this to me?” “I didn’t.” “Oh. Okay.”

In fact, Lord Sinderby himself served as a sort of perfect summation of Fellowes’ approach to dramatic conflict and resolution: “Well, the thing is done,” he said, sweeping multiple arguments and moments of unpleasantness under the rug with one sentence. He declared divorce an abomination, found out the Flintshires are getting divorced and … nothing. The thing is done. That’s been the major theme of this entire season. The thing is done. Edith had a baby out of wedlock, behaved pretty appallingly for a year and a half, and now gets to raise her baby more or less openly, in front of her parents. The thing is done. Mary has a weeklong shagfest with a man she’s not married to and then sends him into the arms of her clone. The thing is done. Baxter has the kind of criminal record that should automatically preclude her from working in a great house. Cora finds out. Nothing happens. The thing is done. Susan tries to cause the marriage not to happen not once, but twice, and in the most public and humiliating ways possible. In response, Rose says something just a little frosty to her. The thing is done.

We think we preferred the days when people were dropping dead left and right in that house. Now they just move from room to room fretting over “problems” that turn out not to be problems at all. It’s why we have the hardest time getting worked up over the prospect of Tom leaving, even though Alan Leech is probably champing at the bit to do so.

And when he’s not constantly waving away dramatic resolutions to conflicts, Fellowes is bizarrely obsessing over storylines that seem to meander forever and have meaning only to him. Mrs. Patmore weeps ALL SEASON LONG for a nephew we never saw and talks about how pleased her never-seen sister will be now that she’s gotten resolution. She is completely and 100 percent alone in these feelings. Neither the audience nor the other characters in the story have any connection to it whatsoever. We all just stand back respectfully and watch her weep for the 15th time over this unseen nephew who died years before. Mr. Mason winds up patting her on the back and saying “Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to GO LOOK AT MY DEAD SON’S NAME ON THE MEMORIAL, WHICH I WAS INTERRUPTED FROM DOING BECAUSE OH JESUS THE COOK AT DOWNTON ABBEY IS HAVING A BAD DAY EVERYONE STOP AND PAY ATTENTION FOR CHRIST’S SAKE” Or maybe that was just in our heads. Our point is, Mrs. Patmore’s non-story, Daisy’s literacy and the Bateses ongoing legal problems seem to eat up so much story time without being remotely satisfying or interesting to the viewer. And it hasn’t escaped our notice that it’s almost always the downstairs characters that get saddled with these endless non-stories. In fact, sometimes we wonder if Fellowes is being a little cheeky, having Daisy go from barely literate to a liberal firebrand after just a few months of self-taught primary school education. It’s a ludicrous transition on its own, but when you have her spout Labour talking points and class resentment constantly, it does tend to make one wonder if there’s a point.

Also: Carson and Hughes have a conversation about the need to hire a temporary footman for the wedding, which naturally leads into a conversation about how Times Are Changing. Honestly, we’re starting to think it’s part of the house daily schedule. “There’s the mid-afternoon gong. Time to talk about change again.”

Meanwhile Everyone Hates Denker. Honestly, we’re not entirely sure why. You’d think she molested that poor footman, the way everyone was acting, when all she did was use him to score some free drinks and he wound up gambling his earnings away. What an odd little storyline. It seemed to want to go somewhere seedy than pulled back at the last moment.

In other news, Count Chocula throws propriety to the wind asks Violet to be his …Companion? Lover? Whatever it is, she’s thrown for a loop. In yet another instance of Fellowes being far too repetitiive as a storyteller, both Violet and Isobel are fielding offers at the moment. Now, if he knew how to bring things to some sort of satisfying conclusion as well as to generate new and interesting forms of drama, he would have one of these offers pan out and the other go south. But that would require an enormous change in the status quo of the show. Either Isobel becomes an aristocrat or Violet does something fairly scandalous. These remain (aside from Rose’s courtship and wedding, which kind of fizzled out) the only interesting storylines or developments this season. And we have no reason whatsoever to think they’re going to resolve in a satisfying way. Fellowes is all setup – and to be fair, the questions hanging over Isobel and Violet make for a pretty delicious setup – but is infamously bad at the follow-through.



[Photo Credit: Courtesy of (C) Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2014 for MASTERPIECE]

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