In this, for all intents and purposes, the final episode of season 5 of Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes wraps up this strangely uneventful season in a perfectly “Julian Fellowes writing Downton Abbey” kind of way. That is to say, by having the story move in jerks and fits while ostensibly putting a capper on the whole “Anna gets raped, her rapist gets killed, she thinks her husband killed him, the police harrass her for a year, then she gets arrested for the murder, then her husband confesses and goes on the run, then she gets released, then Molesley proves he had lunch and so he’s released” storyline – by having it fizzle out completely. And thank goodness for that, right? We just couldn’t take any more scintillating twists and turns!
We joke because we love. And also because we’ve about hit the wall on this season. But truly, it was a fun and perfectly appropriate way of ending it all. We enjoyed this hour-plus as much as any episode of Downton Abbey. As much as we rag on Fellowes for his insanely poor, repetitive and badly paced plotting, the man has always known what works best about this show. In fact (and in retrospect), it’s probably that deep understanding of his show’s charms that may have set Fellowes on the wrong path this season. It seems at some point he decided he was simply going to give the audience an endless parade of fashion shows, chi-chi hotels and restaurants, and tours of English castles and manor houses. Plotting? Eh. Whatever. Throw a Bates in jail. That worked last time. Daisy learns to read. How about that? Mrs. Patmore … uh… she’s still mourning her dead nephew! And speaking of mourning, let’s make Edith even more pathetic! And since everyone was so titillated the last time Mary took a lover, let’s give her a WEEK-LONG SHAG-FEST.
Right. We’re doing it again. That whole joking thing. Well, it’s kind of hard not to. We love and enjoy this show – even when the story gets silly or incredibly frothy, but it’s hard not to titter and smirk just a little at the silliness of it all. Fellowes also knows how and when to keep things relatively light, which he did for this finale. And why wouldn’t he? No one wants to sit down on Christmas day and watch something depressing, after all. Well, some people do, but they’re probably not in the Downton Abbey audience.
So we got treated to the Saga of Miss Denker’s Broth as well as the latest installment of The Barrow Chronicles, in which Lady Mary Crawley wields her slightly sociopathic gay Under-Butler like a weapon against people who displease her. The result being, of course, that said sociopathic gay Under-Butler pretty much detonated a hydrogen bomb in the middle of Brancaster Castle and the Sinderby marriage. But it’s Christmas and Julian Fellowes is writing, which means instead of the whole sordid thing turning into an enormous scandal that results in divorce and shame, Rose saves the day and Lord Sinderby all but converts to the Anglican Church in gratitude. And not one person utters a peep to Thomas for almost destroying a family now related by marriage to the family he works for. Then again, the list of Thomas’ crimes and indiscretions are so long at this point that he’d have to burn Brancaster Castle to the ground before Cora or Robert consider firing him. And besides, what with all the jewel thieves and murderers on their staff, Thomas’ extracurricular activities tend to look pretty mild in comparison.
And speaking of which, Anna is in jail because OF COURSE SHE IS. How else is she going to mope and be all noble? “I hope we haven’t left our manners outside the prison, Mr. Bates.” Oh, come ON. Remember the charming story of Anna, the smiling, friendly housemaid who befriended Bates, the tortured, moody valet? What was the point of turning the show’s two most charming and unassuming characters into mopes and scolds? “It breaks my heart to see her in that place, my lord, but she is strong.” No one talks like this. We almost feel like it goes without saying, but the entire Bates storyline made no sense whatsoever. Forget the year-long investigation into a man getting hit by a car; that’s crazy enough, but correct us on whatever minor points of English law we may be ignorant about, does it make even the slightest bit of sense for Bates to confess to the murder, go on the run, have Anna released from jail, have Molesley of all people establish Bates’ innocence, all so the two of them could be reunited? Did the police just decide it was too much trouble to follow up on what they considered a murder? Did it get too complicated for them? Did the Bateses just wear them out? God knows we’re worn out on them. Team Baxter/Molesley from now on.
Oh, and Team Carson/Hughes, of course. You won’t hear us utter one bitchy word of criticism about their scenes. Charming to the end. And maybe a tiny little tear or two was seen in our living room last night when she said yes to the “old booby.”
As for love among the aristocratic set, Fellowes seemed determined to make it clear that it’s only for the young. It was strange to us how he set up sexual or romantic storylines for all three of the mature women in the upstairs cast this season and had all three instances end in shame or sadness. Meanwhile, Mary’s picking out her third post-widowhood conquest and even Edith wound up making the goo-goo eyes at some unsuspecting chap at the end. Granted, it seemed likely that neither Cora’s nor Violet’s immoral proposition was going to end happily, but it bothers us that Fellowes couldn’t give Isobel that one last adventure. Her reasons for not marrying Dicky Merton are sound and perfectly in character for her – and they’re based on the show’s own history, since Lord Merton’s son Larry was established as a huge asshole years before. We can’t fault Fellowes on the writing here, but as fans, we really wanted to see her take that step.
And we can’t really complain about the men being lined up for the Crawley daughters. Matthew Goode as Mr. Talbot is so deliciously well matched to Mary that he’s essentially a male version of her. Normally we’d consider that a bad match, but Mary’s definitely someone who’d get a huge charge out of marrying herself. And they looked amazing dancing together. Meanwhile, Edith’s little friend is an affable, unassuming, aristocrat-adjacent underachiever. He’s not quite the male Edith, but he does seem particularly well-suited to her; the kind of guy who’d happily adopt Marigold and never ask why.
No, it was definitely fun and frothy, if a little nonsensical at times. And you have to give Fellowes credit for managing so many plotlines at once. In fact, this season may have broken the record, as pretty much every single character upstairs and down got at least one storyline this season – and in many cases, storylines that lasted the entire season. That’s some damn admirable juggling he’s done, even if the things he was juggling sometimes got a little ridiculous. It wasn’t the best season of the show by any stretch, but it wasn’t the worst either. It was a season of a show quite comfortable with itself and its position. A season of a show that knows it’s going to have to end the party soon, but wants to put on one more gown and do one more dance before that point comes.
Oh, and one final thing: Count Chocula’s wife turning out to be a hard-riding bitch on wheels was one of the most unexpectedly enjoyable developments of the season. We don’t know if we were supposed to, but we laughed uproariously at every single one of her line readings.
[Photo Credit: Courtesy of Nick Briggs/Carnival Films 2014 for MASTERPIECE]
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Dolce&Gabbana Fall 2015 Collection