I Watch Downton Abbey to my Eternal Shame (spoilers ahead)

Do you like mudkips Downton Abbey? I watch it off and on, and was lucky enough to see the this series’ finale as broadcast in the UK, a whole six months or so before Americans who don’t understand torrenting will be able to see it. A whole glorious hour-and-a-half of drama! So I watched it, and–misery! Nothing happened! I spent time that I could have spent drinking and talking to actual people watching that! Is there any way to leave Downton Abbey, or is waiting for an interesting plot point like waiting for Godot?

The show used to be such a fun, frothy pleasure. In the beginning of the series, the abbey was full of aristocrats, ambassadors, and business tycoons gathering to do glamorous and cruel things, like killing foxes, sneaking into the ladies’ beds, and having forbidden gay affairs with the servants. Ever since the end of the second season, the glamour has gradually fallen away, to be replaced with money problems, trips to off-screen America, and the introduction of various bits of household machinery. Let’s face it, the abbey is dull as hell, and not in a tragic, Remains of the Day sort of way (the writers are too busy keeping 10 plots in the air at once to bother with any sort of emotional subtlety). It’s just a big boring house. Anybody with a lick of sense would have gotten out of the abbey and down to London or Paris, or at least to, I don’t know, York? Was Slough around in those days? What about Milton Keynes? Maybe that’s a bit much. Regardless, the abbey is not a setting that generates much in the way of storylines.

Anyway, nobody can leave Downton Abbey, because it’s in the title, and that leads to plots repeating and repeating themselves–Daisy has an awkward romance, Edith has an awkward romance with a sleazebag, Mary has multiple romances that she can’t choose between, Sybil/Blonde Sybil rebels, the dowager duchess says something cutting while wearing a large hat. The attempts to introduce plot elements that haven’t been around since the first two seasons are terrible. Actually, the only new element I can think of is the rape of Anna, which seems to have been inserted to be tawdry and shocking and perhaps to attempt to teach people (morons?) that Rape is Bad, as the event didn’t have any sort of narrative payoff–the rapist literally fell under a bus.* For fuck’s sake, you have an stately English home, a rapist that multiple people want punished, and a bunch of characters with various shady ways to kill him? And you don’t go for the murder mystery? I just watched 20 minutes of footage of a village fete god fucking damn it there’s not enough expletives.

It’s especially excruciating because all the actors with any sort of spark or self-respect have left the show. The ones who are left are either on the edge of retirement (Maggie Smith) or like a reliable paycheck (everyone else). It’s particularly depressing in the case of the younger actors, because there must be something more professionally fulfilling than pretending to gawp at electric whisks and wandering around in various beaded costumes. All right, the costumes aren’t bad.

The sad thing is that I know I’m going to watch the Christmas special, just to see how much more pathetic Edith can get** and whether Mary can become any paler without her face disappearing entirely into one white blur with two little raisin eyes. Narrative priorities, people!

* It’s implied that Bates pushed the rapist under said bus. This is a rehash of the whole “Is Bates a murderer?” plot from Season 2, except maybe this time he really is a murderer and who even cares at this point. Just die in a fire already, Bates. A new-fangled, electric fire!

** There’s really only so many bad things that can happen to a character before it starts becoming funny. Anyway, I’m beginning to feel sorry not for Edith, but for Mary, as she had to grow up with a sister who would turn out to believe that 1. you can hide a pregnancy for the entire 9 months and 2. you can then just drop off the baby on a farmer’s doorstep, like a loaf of bread or a bottle of milk. Remember, Edith believes this after 3. watching her younger sister die in a dramatically terrible childbirth, so we can’t excuse her on the grounds that she is sheltered and believes that she can have a baby like a hen lays an egg. Dealing with an Edith of very little brain, while managing the vapidity of her father and mother, was probably very stressful for poor Mary and made her the glorious ice bitch we see today.


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