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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