I have always believed that writing advertisements is the second most profitable form of writing. The first, of course, is ransom notes…” – Philip Dusenberry
PBS is delightfully clever in so many ways, but clearly no one ever sat them down and explained ransom during the training for those interminable fund drives: you don’t kill the hostages first and THEN ask for money, dears.
“Their pretensions are naked and vulnerable and for that reason, to me at least, rather charming.” ― Julian Fellowes, Snobs
Judging from social media, the entire fandom is just about ready to riot and tear Dark Lord Fellowes limb from limb, to which I say: really? I love Downton Abbey with the deep affection of pretty costumes, good actors, and clever writing, but the truth is, it’s a soap opera. A gorgeous, sumptuous soap opera in a marvelous setting with (usually) higher quality characters, but at this point I don’t think the soapiness can be denied.
Lest you think I’m being judgey and turning up my nose, never fear, I’m still sucking it down in gulps. I just find it odd (and sometimes morbidly hilarious) that story arcs, once finished are seldom referred to again – and when they are resurrected, the effect is sort of stilted. Lavinia’s father leaves Matthew a fortune, but Matthew is too guilt ridden to accept it. Until he’s miraculously not anymore. Ta da! Problem solved. Slightly more hilarious to me was Cora trying to ask Mary if she wanted any sex advice on her wedding day – lest we forget this wedding almost didn’t happen because she once took a lover. In soap operas, characters go from one crisis to the next and somehow life goes on and past dealings are forgotten – despite the fact that the disfigured man may be your cousin, you lose the use of your legs, you do battle with your siblings, you get left at the altar, your fiance blackmails you, and papa’s just lost the family fortune. Again. The disfigured possible cousin will literally vanish never to be seen of more, all the doctors will be wrong and you will walk again, you’ll still do battle with your siblings because drama is as permanent in this world as death and taxes, you’ll go on to start a column (Dear Downton Abb[e]y?), the blackmailing fiance goes the way of the cousin, and money will present itself in an improbable way.
Which means, cynically, that as ticked as I am that my favorite character was killed off, I doubt it will make much difference in the show. It’s formula is largely season contained crises with a cliffhanger at the end. It’s a successful TV model, there’s a reason soaps ran for decades, but I wonder how long it’s sustainable. Soaps are also dying, you may have noticed. But as long as the writing’s good (and Maggie Smith’s involved), I’ll feed the addiction.
With that in mind, we bring you a play by play of tonight’s episode:
“Lord Grantham dislikes medical detail.” No kidding. With dire consequences.
O’Brien, you scheming cow. Soapiness.
Thomas, keep your hands to yourself.
Ha! The proof is, literally, in the pudding! Pastry will out!
Isobel meddles so cheekily.
I still can’t tell exactly what got up the nose of Bates cellmate and the gaoler, they seem to be evil for absolutely no reason. Soapiness.
Being business like is being middle class – quelle horreur.
“I’ll get a baby out of you one way or another!” Words I hope never to hear a doctor say to me. Pompous ass.
Tom is truly a tame revolutionary now, an evening jacket at dinner? For shame, bolshevik.
Matthew wants to talk about his gentlemanly area, doesn’t have the words. Britishness.
Edith makes progress as a person, high five. Immediately smacked down by Robert who knows better than everyone, especially women and peasants. Snobbishness.
“Nobody could look at you and think that Mrs. Byrd.” *Snicker
Another love triangle in the kitchen, Daisy gets uppity. Soapiness.
“I hate to get news second hand.” First Dowager quip of the night.
And downstairs, Mrs. Patmore lays down the law. There’s only one queen bee in the kitchen, thank you very much. Soapiness.
Everyone knows that men with titles give better medical advice, you silly plebe doctor. Snobbishness.
Kidney souffle. That sounds absolutely dreadful.
“Or the footmen!” Carson the Butler, guardian of young boys’ virtue. Britishness.
The Dowager Countess is not put off by bodily functions – one wonders how her son turned out so boneheaded.
“The decision lies with the chauffeur.” This woman. I want to be her. Fabulousness.
“Isn’t a certainty stronger than a doubt?” And there we have the trouble with this particular class system summed up in one sentence.
It’s a girl!
Thomas, hands off. Soapiness.
Everyone’s happy. Brace yourself, that always means Fellowes is about to do something evil.
…And here it is.
Sir Phillip is a useless ass. Surprise.
Lavinia Swire gets a saintly death, the nicest character on the show dies horribly and much more realistically. Yep. About par for the course. Soapiness.
“But this can’t be.” Says the man who categorically refuses to look any sort of reality square in the face.
The baby cries – direct hit in the upper left quadrant of the torso.
“Is there anything we can do, Mr. Carson?”
“Carry on, Daisy.” Britishness.
Thomas is crying – good grief the evil guy is human.
Oh good, someone’s mad at Robert! We’re squarely on Team Cora here.
“Do you think we might get along a little better in the future?”
“I doubt it.” Oh Lady Mary, never change! Soapiness.
Matthew gets along with business, Mary shuts it down with a surprising amount of class given that she looks capable of ripping off her husbands face. Delicious self-restraint. Britishness.
Will I be shot for saying that I’m beyond ready for the Bates in prison storyline to wrap up?
Evil guard and evil cellmate twirls their mustachios evilly. Soapiness.
And Maggie Smith out-acts everyone by walking away from the camera slowly and suddenly looking old for the first time in the whole series. Second punch in the chest.
“What is a weekend?” – Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham
I spent the weekend playing with Catriona and Bear (who were in town from Florida), scouring the local library’s annual book sale and donation drive, cleaning, shopping for a birthday present for my niece and a just-because present for Marie, baking, and watching Downton Abbey. I have thrown up my hands in despair at all of the characters besides the indomitable Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess. I have decided that I am going to be her when I’m old. Although I have heaps of other characters and personalities to try on before I get there.
“You should never take anything I say seriously.” – Lady Mary, Downton Abbey
I am a great admirer of Julian Fellowes. My first exposure to him was his foppish portrayal of the Prince Regent in The Scarlet Pimpernel (which, incidentally, is required viewing for my children and will eventually make it to the list I’m sure). I loved Gosford Park, and I swallowed his novel Snobs down whole. His screenplay of The Importance of Being Earnest is common viewing at my parents house, and most people I know liked The Young Victoria. I’m currently knee deep in his latest novel Past Imperfect with no signs of slowing. And like most people, I enjoy Downton Abbey, his latest achievement.
Alright. That’s not true.
I’m sucking down the outrageous drama in great, gasping gulps. There. Never say I lie to you, kittens.
One of the worst things about being separated from J. is that he gets to taunt me about all the programming I miss on this, the wrong side of the pond. Not only did he get the entire series of Downton months ahead of me, he’s just finished up with the second series of Sherlock. It’s going to affect our marriage soon, if we’re not careful, especially since J. is notoriously closed lipped about spoilers. It’s very annoying.
Meanwhile, I’m hilariously worked up over the personal life choices of entirely fictional characters.
Although, to be fair, the mark of any good work is whether or not you care about the characters or plot. So I suppose that anything that makes me want to throw something at the television whenever someone does anything foolish must be good. Or I’m just someone who hates dillydallying and wants Lady Sybil to run off with her hot Irish chauffeur already. Either is possible.
And that, my dears, is how I spent my long weekend. Let’s not judge one another.