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?