Downton Abbey: Everyone Is Awful

Posted on February 08, 2016

 

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Of course Carson would make the villagers walk through puddles. 

 

In this latest installment of the Downton Abbey saga, everyone is a total dick! After 5-and-a-half seasons, 14 years of story time, a dozen or so character deaths, and a world war, Julian Fellowes, having fully exhausted any further story or character development, has decided to make everyone in the cast an asshole on their way out the door. Carson is a terrible husband to Mrs. Hughes and a jerk to Thomas; Violet is a terrible mother-in-law who now gets into screaming matches in front of strangers; Mary is a terrible sister, a snob, and a control freak who promises to honor Bates’ wishes about the doctor bill to his face and announces her intention to ignore his request the second his back is turned; Daisy gets more and more unpleasant with each new vocabulary word she learns. It’s like Fellowes wants to make you hate all the characters before reminding you why you loved them in the first place. The problem is, he tends to lose interest in his own plots and arcs before resolving them, which means we fear he’s never going to get around to the “reminding you why you love them” part. And that’s part of our problem with this season, enjoyable as it is. Fellowes is putting all the characters through their paces one final time, but he’s bringing things up that we fear he’ll never fully explore as much as they should be.

Tom, like the kindly maiden aunt he’s been turned into, gently reminds Mary that she’s not being kind when she attempts to go against a man’s wishes, but like all of Mary’s worst tendencies, it just gets waved off. It seems pretty likely we’re going to get an Edith vs. Mary confrontation before the end, since their sniping at each other is reaching ridiculous levels – although Edith did get a really good line off at Mary’s attempt to put Bertie down: “As opposed to your car mechanic?” But look:  their bickering is so blatant now that Bertie not only noticed it after only a few hours with the family, but seemed to find it distasteful. That, to us, is a far more interesting thing to explore than simply watching each sister attempt to get the upper hand with each other. To be honest, they’re both women in their mid-thirties and well past the point in their lives where anyone should be putting up with their rivalry. Instead of being so indulgent of their childish sniping, we should be seeing far more wrinkled noses of disgust every time someone outside the family encounters it. High born people simply do not brawl openly with each other in front of outsiders, and every time the Ladies of the Crawley family do it, someone should be there to remind them of how low-class their behavior is. Normally, that someone would be the Dowager. Unfortunately, she’s too busy screaming at Cora.

As we’ve noted many times before, the hospital storyline was practically dead on arrival. We had a moment last episode where we got a sense of the emotions running under this conflict when Cora called Violet out for overstepping her bounds in the family, but for the most part, it’s been an incredibly dull plotline punctuated with moments of shock, like Robert’s bloodspew, and outright silliness, like Denker accosting Clarkson in the street like a drunk. But the idea that Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, would storm into the Great Hall of her family home and loudly upbraid her daughter-in-law in front of guests – and low-born ones at that – is simply absurd. You might as well have written a scene where she lifts her skirts and pees in the drawing room. This is our problem. Go ahead and explore the less likeable sides of these characters, but if you’re not going to do so in a way that makes sense for them and the world they live in, why bother? And if you’re going to do so without any intention of following through on the ramifications of their less savory qualities, what’s the point? What Violet did should have caused a scandal for years, but we doubt it’ll be mentioned again.

Another example: there was a brief moment after dinner, when Tom and Mary were going to bed and he said of Bertie (who schooled them all on what a bunch of amateurs they are) “He certainly knows a lot, doesn’t he?” It had the hint of bitchy envy to it, a suspicion that was immediately backed up by Cora, who related to Robert that Tom was “jealous” of Bertie. That all sounds like a fun and interesting place to take Tom and an unexpected way for Bertie to face some family opposition. So of course it was never mentioned again, nor were there any scenes depicting said jealousy outside of Tom’s mildly peevish comment. Why even bring this up if you have no intention of following through on it? Why does Fellowes ALWAYS run away from any scenes where his characters might have a real, recognizable human emotion? Of course Tom would be jealous of Bertie! Have you seen Brancaster Castle? It makes Downton and its environs look like a hovel by comparison. He just returned to England after (presumably) failing to make it in America, is living in the seat of luxury at his dead wife’s family estate even though he was a socialist revolutionary less than a decade before, has to share his old job with Mary, and just got schooled by a far more experienced and knowledgeable estate agent. This is a perfect set up to give Tom a meaty arc. Instead, he gently reminds Mary to be kind and fusses over her romantic prospects. What a total waste.

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As for Carson and Daisy, this just strikes us as further instances of Fellowes picking up an idea but not doing a particularly good job of realizing it. Everything Carson’s doing to Mrs. Hughes makes perfect sense for him as a character, as does his enmity toward Thomas after a decade-and-a-half of dealing with his plotting and sneering. But in both instances, Fellowes is taking Carson too far. There’s a gulf separating “curmudgeonly” and “nasty,” and Fellowes had Carson sprint right through it. If Mrs. Hughes doesn’t break a plate over his head soon, we fear the audience may turn against him permanently.

And yes, it makes sense that Daisy might become less pleasant as she becomes more educated and politically aware. As Molesley noted, when people start examining the world that the Crawley family lives in, they’re inevitably going to start asking questions and possibly even getting angry about the blatant inequities of the class system. That’s all well and good. And Daisy has always, since day one, been depicted as emotionally immature. Fine. But like Carson, she’s rocketed past these mildly negative character traits and now she’s just a straight-up bitch. The way she’s treating Mrs. Patmore and Mr. Mason is unpleasant to watch and, like so many of Fellowes’ plotlines, doesn’t really have much of an explanation for it.

As for Thomas, we find the whole “Is Mr. Barrow corrupting that nice young man?” plotline to be overblown and a little unrealistic. In 1925, people like this didn’t openly wonder about gay people and their sex lives. They shunned them completely. If everyone in the house was so sure that Barrow was molesting a servant, they wouldn’t be gossiping about it, they’d be running him out of town.

But it’s not all unpleasant. We’ll never say no to a scene with Mary in a stunning gown in a stunning setting, surrounded by beautiful men (Evelyn Napier, have a little dignity, son) and spewing glittering small talk in all directions. And she and Henry sure do make a pretty couple to look at. Also, Molesley’s having his Best Week Ever. We sincerely hope that Fellowes won’t be cruel about this and allows this poor man a little victory in his life before we say goodbye to him. In other news, Dickie Merton still holds a torch for Isobel, and while we don’t trust that slippery Miss Cruikshank as far as we can throw her, we have hope that the series will end with Isobel marrying him. Because nothing will make us happier than Isobel getting a title through marriage while Mary gets her car mechanic.

 

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[Photo Credit: Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015]

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