Category: downton abbey

Downton Abbey 6:4 Review

First things first: an observation. Downton has fallen pretty far from grace, if I can make any conclusions based on the sort of response these reviews get. Gone are the halcyon days of yore, when Downton was a major pull in pop culture. These days, there are a few stalwart fans sticking with the show, but by and large, the rest of the world has moved on. Which is sort of fitting, I suppose, considering what the theme of this last season of Downton is all about.

That said, on to the episode!

I enjoyed it, overall. Nothing really gasp-worthy, but it was a fun enough way to spend 50 minutes of my evening, and there was really only one plot that grated me too much.

  • Daisy is an idiot. Plain and simple. She’s like a bouncing Yorkshire terrier, yapping constantly about who knows what, without any real understanding of what exactly is going on. I swear. Each time she opens her mouth, I start rolling my eyes in advance. (Though she has given Mrs. Patmore the opportunity for some nice zingers: “You couldn’t be harder on those potatoes if you wanted them to confess to spying.” Zing!) I’m glad the plot is finished, and I hope it stays finished. Daisy is going to end up married to New Butler Boy, and they’ll be staying at Yew Tree Farme, where she can bake to her hearts content and never bring up politics and class warfare again. Or so we can hope.
  • The writers remembered that Mary still is single! So they bring back the guy from the end of last season, tacking him on here because he didn’t fit in elsewhere, I suppose? (There’s a reason so few Downton-ites are left, people. The show is diverting, but it isn’t compelling anymore. It’s pretty to look at, but does anyone really care what’s going to happen to these people? The same way we used to care about what would happen with Mary and Matthew? Hardly.)
  • Carson and Mrs. Carson decide to make things easy on the world and have Mrs. Carson remain Mrs. Hughes. And while the Crawleys are tremendously relieved, I’m sort of left wondering why it was a big deal?

  • Thomas has somehow turned into Eeyore at some point over the years. Evil Eeyore, but still Eeyore. “Nobody likes me. Even if I’m a big jerk to everybody, they still don’t want to hang out with me. I think I’ll go have a smoke.” Okay. So maybe not exactly Eeyore, but you get the point. Still, props to them for making me care a little smidge about Thomas for long enough for him to go stab Gwen in the back.
  • Speaking of Gwen, I completely forgot about her! And it slipped my mind that she’s Jon Snow’s Wildling from Game of Thrones. That’s right! It’s “You know nothing,” right here on Downton Abbey. That was entertaining, at least. (Have you ever been watching a show or movie, and entertained yourself by thinking about what if they switched one of the characters out with another character played by the same actor? Or is that just me? Think about it. Han Solo kicking around ancient archaeological digs? Forrest Gump trying to fix a doomed Apollo mission? How awesome would those be?
  • Lord Grantham is getting some might suspicious pains in his tummy. Pains that (Denisa pointed out) might need to be treated at a hospital. A hospital with crummy services, because Violet is being Violet. Is there an actual chance the hospital plot might actually mean something before this season is over?

  • To no one’s surprise but Anna’s, she’s keeping the baby! But hey, Mary had a chance to do something nice for a change, and we get a final litmus test for the Downton writers. If they’re human, they’re going to let Anna and Bates have the baby and be happy. If they’re child-eating monsters, they’re going to have Anna lose the baby and go all Prom Queen Carrie on everyone. Which could make for an entertaining Christmas special to round off the series, but still might not be quite satisfying. But hey! Ratings!

Anyway. That’s all I have time for today. Really, it wasn’t a bad episode. Fun times, just not enthralling. 3/5 for me. But if you’re looking for more witty repartee, check out the New York Times’ review of the episode. Way too much fun.

 

Downton Abbey 6:2 and 6:3

I lost a week from the funeral, so you get a two for one special from me today on Downton. Good thing, because 6:2 left a fair bit to be desired . . .

My main beef with 6:2 was that so many of the conflicts centered around the same problem: lack of communication. I get that it’s a common occurrence, but who wants to see it portrayed fifty different ways in a single hour? So much of the time, I just wanted to reach into the screen and throttle these people until they started behaving reasonably. Let’s give it a run down:

  • Edith not telling Mary about Marzipan (or whatever the kid’s name is). I get it. She’s worried Mary will laugh at her. And Mary likely will. But it’s not like Mary’s not already a beast to Edith, so why not make things easier on herself and just get it out in the open all at once? Instead, we have this big crisis that’s a plotline we beat to death last season. It’s like the writers thought, “Well, we had that one plot no one liked last year. I’ll bet if we devote another half hour to it, people will love it!” Then they slammed their heads in various doors, just for kicks. Yuck. (And on a side note, it’s even worse when you consider Edith spends a fair bit of the episode moaning about how she’s got this empty apartment in London, and she just can’t for the life of her decide if she should move there with Margarine or not. Meanwhile, the farmer’s family have lived in their house for over 100 years. They have nowhere else to go. But the “only solution” to the problem is to move. Ironic that Edith and Macarena are probably both going to be in London before the end of the season.
  • Anna wants a baby. We get it. Anna and Bates can’t be happy until the very last episode of the series. And so they need to concoct something for them to be sad about still. And infertility is definitely a serious problem to have, and it’s reasonable to have them have it. But the way it’s handled? “Oh no! Bates and I have tried two or three times to have a baby, and it hasn’t worked. I’m going to give up and resign myself to a lonely life for eternity.” I have a hard time feeling sorry for her after she admits she’s tried so little to get the job done.
  • Carson’s inability to talk to the Crawleys about what Mrs. Hughes wants for a wedding. Meh. I had a hard time getting into this plot as well. So much sound and fury over a whole lot of not that much, and it’s not really decided by the end. This felt like wheels spinning to me.
  • The hospital. Show of hands, people. How many of you really actually care what happens in this plot line? It seems to have been concocted to have Isobel and Violet have something to argue about, but it just feels like an afterthought. An afterthought that they end up spending tons of screen time debating, with no one actually listening to anyone. Move along, please.
  • Then again, sometimes you’ve got plots where people just won’t shut up. I’m looking at you, Daisy. The girl wouldn’t know a good idea if it tripped her in the street and jumped on her fifty times, and it doesn’t look like any amount of education is going to help with that.

It wasn’t a great episode, alas. 2/5 from yours truly, and a big letdown after last week. Which brings us to this week. 6:3. How did it fare? Much better.

  • The wedding. After all that, it went off without a hitch. People were happy. We were happy. And to make double triple EXTRA sure everyone’s happy, we get Tom back to boot. Really, all I was waiting for was for Sybil to show up and announce she wasn’t actually really dead, and to have her bring Matthew in tow, who turns out to have faked his death as well. Followed by a gigantic musical number where Anna announces she’s pregnant with quintuplets, which segues into a follow up series focused on the “Next Generation.” But hey. A little bit of fan service now and then never hurt anyone, right? Riiiiiight.
  • Cora acts like a monster to Mrs. Hughes, as does Mary. But it’s all cool, because here! Have a dress!
  • Daisy continues to wave her idiot flag proudly, misinterpreting things left and right and presenting suppositions as rock solid fact. Not sure what they’re going to do with this plot line. They might make it into “A very heartbreaking episode,” or they might continue the “Everybody wins!” mentality of the season and have the old man get the house after all.
  • Edith now has a love interest she can end up happily marrying. And she can be a successful editor to boot. (Seriously, though, it’s nice to see her do something other than mope. Give the girl a project. Wonderful idea. And get her away from Downton.)
  • Still, it seems like the show is setting us up for some not so happy twists, as Thomas sees firsthand just where all these great houses end up. Kind of tragic, but kind of inevitable too.
  • Denker vs. Spratt continues to amuse, even if it feels rather random.
  • Violet is going to die. She’s going to have a heart attack over this stupid hospital plot line, which is a shame of a way for a character to go out, but it seems like the only reason I can see for having this plot at all. Please prove me wrong, Downton.

Anyway. That’s all I have time for today. This episode was much better. 4/5. Not perfect, but much improved. What did you think?

Downton 6:1 Review

Ah, Downton. Back for one last season. I’ve stuck with you for this long. I might as well stick with you to the very end. (If you haven’t been following along over the years, I have been doing Downton responses for the last four years or so. Welcome to the final series of those.)

Last season was a mixed bag. It started out so-so, took a turn for the terrible, and then redeemed itself. (I gave the episodes the following ratings: one–2/5, two–2/5, three–1/5, four–0/5, five–1/5, six–3/5, seven–2/5, eight–4/5, nine–5/5. That’s a whole lot of slog to get through before it soared at the end.) What was my main beef? Silly storytelling. Inconsistent characters. As I put it in my review of episode 8,

What it boils down to is that the creators should realize Downton is a period drama, and it works best when it sticks to that. No need for murder plots or Nazi riots or disfigured heirs or WWII heroics. It’s just characters being characters, interacting with each other in realistic ways that are appropriate for the times they live in. The drama (and comedy) comes about naturally as a result of who they are and the everyday trials they need to overcome.

That’s what I’m looking for from an episode of Downton. That’s what it needs to do for me to give it good marks. With this being the last season, my hope was that the writers would pull out all the stops, avoid the need to pad episodes with unnecessary detours, and just give us the good stuff.

How did it go?

Wonderfully, I’m happy to say. I loved it from start to finish. It’s not going to change any lives, and it’s hardly high art, but it was a lovely episode, and so much better than I was dreading. I gave it a 5/5, and a big part of that might be just the mental sigh of relief that it wasn’t awful. Let me do a quick rundown of the plot points:

  • Lady Mary and the blackmailer–this is one where I worried things would go wrong quickly. Was this the introduction of a subplot that was going to last for episodes, with none of it really amounting to much? And it was about Gillypants to boot? NO! It was done away with in a single episode, with Lord Grantham actually doing some nice things for his daughter. I’ll take it! And may it signal the end of Gillypants, once and for all.
  • Anna and Bates–Speaking of the end of silly plot lines, the episode also got rid of that awful murder accusation. It was like a gift from heaven: the writers closing up idiotic plots that had been hanging around from last season. Sure, Anna can’t have a baby (but is it just me, or are we still thinking this too shall be resolved before the end of the series?) This is a couple who demand a happy ending, and I’ll be very surprised if that’s not exactly what they get. We couldn’t have Mary and Matthew be happy (thanks a lot, Matthew. Grrr.), so this is our consolation prize. But maybe my prediction will be off. After all, we still have
  • Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson–so much win in this plot. The conversations between Mrs. Patmore and them were hilarious. Prime example of the characters being consistent and the conflicts arising out of the setting and period. Loved it.
  • Daisy mouthing off–Someone had to pick up the torch for Tom, and it looks like that fell to Daisy this time. An interesting way to portray how these failing households affected the common folk as well, even if it was a tad heavy handed (and a bit unrealistic-feeling in how it was magically swept under the rug . . .)
  • Edith–Still not my favorite character. Still kind of boring and mopey, but perhaps there’s hope for her yet? I can’t think she’s doomed to forever be the gloomy one.
  • Violet vs. Isobel–Random things to argue about! Hospitals! Petty sniping! Everything you’ve come to expect, all in one tidy package. This is one area where the plots are wearing thin. But oh well, we’re saved because we have
  • Denker vs. Spratt!–Much more fun watching these unlikable characters face off in a battle for Who Can Be Most Irrelevant. Highly amusing, and I’m glad Denker lost this round. Too funny that Violet keeps both of them on staff, though I can’t help but wonder if it’s on purpose. She doesn’t have television, after all. Have to stay amused somehow . . .

Anyway. I’m out of time. But so nice to get a heaping helping of good Downton to start the season off. Here’s hoping the rest of it is just as much fun.

What did you think of it all?

Downton Abbey 5.9 Review: The Christmasing

It’s been an up and down season for Downton this time around. What started as pretty weak (for Downton standards) really came into its own over the last few episodes. So the question then becomes, how will it finish? With a bang or a whimper? Often the Christmas specials are the best ones (for values of Christmas specials that don’t involve bloody car wrecks at the end of them), so I had high hopes going into this finale.

They were easily met. This was by far the strongest episode of the season, and one of the best of the series. I would love for a fan to make some sort of “director’s cut” of Downton that trims out all the idiocy, leaving us with just the best stuff. (It wouldn’t be that hard for this season. Take out anything having to do with Gillypants, Art Critic, and the Anna/Bates murder trial, and then most of the Mommy Edith subplot, and you’re good to go.)

For this episode, the list of things I didn’t like is much shorter than what I did. In a nutshell, the Anna/Bates storyline is still lame. Even more lame? The fact that it was resolved so lamely. After all this wasted time and effort spent on it, all it took to solve the problem was to have Bates admit he did it, disappear for a few weeks, and then pop back up? Just plain silliness. Waste of time completely.

But other than that, we were good to go from the beginning to the end of this supersized episode:

  • Thomas got to be evil, and the others were able to show they recognized him for the conniving weasel he is. Of course, when you unleash the Thomas (thinking you can control him) you quickly realize what sort of a demon you’ve let run free. “That escalated quickly . . . “
  • But it let Rose actually have a moment to shine. Way to step up to the plate, Rose. Better yet, she had support right away from Lord Grantham and Mary. It’s almost like they’re a functional family.
  • Mrs. Hughes and Carson–Now here’s a couple I can get behind. Lovely finish to that plot, and fantastic to see them both get to be so happy. Is that so hard, Downton? Why can you let them be happy, but you create outlandish excuses for things to keep coming up between Bates and Anna?
  • Edith even got a chance to be happy, with a nice scene between her and her father. It made some of the Marigold plot worth it. Just some–not all.
  • Violet and Isobel continue to have some very nice scenes together. Fun to watch their relationship evolve and change. Makes me want to go back and see some season 1 Downton.
  • Branson is one of the best characters now, hands down. Really don’t want to see him go to America, though word on the street is that next season will be the last of Downton. Might not be a bad idea, really–they can just make it a great season from start to finish instead of trying to hold some things back for later seasons. (Especially since more word on the street is that Violet’s done after next season. Maggie Smith said something to the effect of, “How is my character even alive any more? Isn’t she something like 120 years old at this point?”)
  • Scummy butler is another example of a character type I don’t really understand on Downton: uppity butlers. I think this is more a case of me not understanding the time period, though. From what I gather, butlers were the upper crust of the lower caste, and so many of them believed they were entitled to being treated specially by the others. (See Carson wondering why Daisy could sit with him at dinner.)
  • Mary actually met a new man, and she didn’t feel the need to jump into bed with him to take him for a test drive. Better yet, he wasn’t jammed down our throats as a “NEW SUITOR” role. How refreshing.

Really too much great stuff to cover it all. I loved the episode. Thought it was one of Downton’s best. I know many have given up on the show, but the last two episodes this season really exemplify why it’s still worth our time. Fantastic.

Though I’m ready for a Downton break now. We’ll return and revisit Downton when it’s back in January. Thanks for reading!

Downton 5.8: The Season Finally Got Good

Well, it took an entire season, but the show finally had a really solid episode. Almost fantastic, really. (I’ll get to you in a minute, Anna and Bates.) I know many people have given up on the show a long time ago, and there have certainly been a few times this season when I’ve envied them. But then something like episode 8 rolls along, with (almost) everything running just as it should, and it makes me glad I muddle through the bad episodes, just so I can see the good ones. When the show is good, it’s as solid as it gets.

Now to work on that thing called “consistency” . . .

So what was so good about this episode? Why did it work when all the others didn’t? Simple. It was Downton without all the padding. It stuck to the basics, and did them well.

  • Rose’s wedding and the events leading up to it managed to make for an interesting core storyline. You have the conflict coming from characters who aren’t really being caricatures–they’re just being who they are. Rose’s mom has always been horrendous. The bit about her trying to make the fiance look like a louse is a bit far fetched, but whatever. The interactions between Rose’s parents were interesting, the outlook on divorce back then gave some nice historical perspective to the plot. Good stuff. Also, no one died. Yay.
  • Mary has settled into her role of resident she-devil who we wish could be happy. It’s a much better fit for her than resident floozy. Now to have pig man show back up and get her life back on track. I loved the scene with her and Carson–very nicely done by both actors, and great to see them interact again.
  • How insane is it that one of my favorite characters now is Branson? Kudos to the actor, for taking a guy I wanted to throttle back in the day and making him sympathetic.
  • Loved the part at the wedding where the woman came to bash on Rose’s in-laws, only to have Cora remind her that her father was Jewish. Ha!
  • Thomas vs. Denker was well done. Thomas is a weasel, but we know he’s got a soft spot for men. To have him ride in to save New Guy is consistent, and villains are always more fun when we can root for their shenanigans now and then. Nice to see Denker get taken down a few notches. Even more fun to see Denker and Spratt/Spock/Whatever His Name Is duke it out.
  • The bit about the memorial was well executed, and tied up that plot line nicely.
  • Violet and Isobel were great, as always. They’re half the reason the show’s still around, I think.

What didn’t work as well? A few things:

  • Daisy’s plot felt forced to me, mainly because when you get right down to it, Daisy’s an idiot. She’s a nice idiot, but she’s got all the brain capacity of a sea sponge. So to have her suddenly wake up and realize she’s been living a life full of slave labor . . . I had hard time buying it. A good education will do wonders for a person, but Daisy is . . . special. The plot line was saved by Mrs. Patmore being herself.
  • A bigger issue is (obviously) the hellacious train wreck of a plot we’ve seen coming since the beginning of the season. Anna and Bates are separated (again) by (another) murder accusation. It’s a good thing they were nowhere near the grassy knoll (physically or temporally), or else guess who would’ve been pinned for the murder. Seriously. This plot is atrocious, and I wish we could take it out back and shoot it to put it out of its misery. Sigh.

What it boils down to is that the creators should realize Downton is a period drama, and it works best when it sticks to that. No need for murder plots or Nazi riots or disfigured heirs or WWII heroics. It’s just characters being characters, interacting with each other in realistic ways that are appropriate for the times they live in. The drama (and comedy) comes about naturally as a result of who they are and the everyday trials they need to overcome.

Now for the Christmas special, where they can have it all fall to pieces again . . .

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