Hmmm. I so love Downton Abbey, that it’s hard for me to criticize it. Even when it’s not at its best, it beats a lot of the fare on TV (e.g. Selfridge or almost anything on the “big” networks). This was a low ebb for Downton though. I think a lot of opportunities were missed and the main story, Anna’s rape, while true to life, was so hard to take.
When the first episodes aired, I thought Julian Fellowes was lining up his characters to present great stories. Of course, it would take time for the audience to know the new lady’s maid or Rose, to give characters like Cora or Bates a new problem, mission or angle. I was disappointed that we never got to know what secret binds the new maid to Thomas. (The fact that I don’t know the new maid’s name suggests her character remained one dimensional.) Rose has been a flibbertigibbet and that’s fine. Some people were and are airheads, but though she had the romance with the jazz singer and a bit of intrigue with the Prince of Wales (no romance, but a slight drama), it all amounted to so little because this flibbertigibbet sort of dwells in her own orbit. She hasn’t been integrated into the family so we have little idea of how she gets on with them. That’s where drama lies — in the relationships between family members or colleagues, be they friend or foe.
That’s the problem I have with Cora when her relatives appear. She’s barely in a scene with them. They are her family! She doesn’t have any business with them. Clearly, they come to see her, Mary and Edith. The mother has enough money for a hotel in London, where they’d have more fun. Yes, it’s dramatic, potentially for Cora’s mother and Violet to exchange barbs, but how about some sparks or something between Cora and her mother. Cora’s American-ness would probably surface with the Brits and her adopted British ways would chafe the Yanks, who knew her when. Cora has gotten so little story-wise since season one when she helped move the Turk’s corpse from Mary’s bedroom and when due to Sullivan’s machinations she lost the baby. Yes, have Cora host a luncheon or social event, but also give her some real problems. Make her more integral.
Now Edith did get a lot too deal with this season. I was surprised to jump from her being barely pregnant to having given birth and returned from Switzerland. I suppose that was plausible and for that era a good solution. I do think she’s made a big mistake bringing the baby back to England, but that is drama — making the audience tense when a bad decision has been made. I do think the Gregson storyline is hard to buy. His disappearance seems poorly planned. The explanation that Nazi’s beat him up seemed tacked on and implausible. Even in the ’20s I’d believe that the British were keeping tabs on the Brown Shirts and other beatings and disappearances would have been noted. It seemed contrived.
Now Bates must have killed the rapist. No one can take the stand to say he’s innocent. As horrible as rape is, we now see that Bates doesn’t trust the justice system and it makes me think he’s a thug when push comes to shove. I also now think he probably would kill his first wife. I’d have preferred Anna finally summoning the courage to report the crime and seeing how the legal channels and family would have dealt with it. Certainly, such trials were rare and the outcome probably unjust, but it would have been highly dramatic.
The story about the Prince of Wales’ scandalous letter getting stolen by the card sharp and Lord Grantham, Rose, Mary and Bates feeling responsible for stealing it back was too far fetched for me. Mary got it right when she speculated that it’s the Prince’s character and his own doing that caused the trouble and that in the end would cause him more trouble. This plotline bordered on farce.
I like that Tom fits in better at Downton and is starting to reignite his interest in politics. Early on his moping about not fitting in seemed overdone. Do something, Man! People have a lot worse problems over on the Emerald Isle. (By the way isn’t it a pity no one will invite his relatives to see their grandchild. Does he get an allowance for spending?) Yet Thomas’ storyline did improve by the end of the season.
I have still loved the clothes and am glad Fellowes didn’t immediately give Mary a suitor. I prefer Blake, the man who helped her save the pigs, but the sudden discovery that he’s rich and aristocratic again, seems contrived. Fellows seems to have lost his touch. I hope he regains it for season 5.