Downton Abbey, Season Five: Thoughts

Last Sunday, Downton Abbey returned to PBS for its fifth season on Masterpiece Theater. I feel that, at this point, I’m watching the series to snark at it.

When Downton Abbey began, its first season was hosted by Laura Linney. Every week, she would talk for a few minutes about things like inheritance laws and entails and the conflict between the upstairs and the downstairs. These days, we get nothing. The Masterpiece opening credits, and then the sight of Lord Grantham’s dog’s butt as the Downton credits roll.

The problem with Downton in its fifth season is that there’s no point to this. In the first season, there was the question of the inheritance of the estate and the title hanging over everything, and it affected all of the characters, from the job prospects for the downstairs staff to Lady Mary’s marriage prospects upstairs. In season two, we had World War I hanging over everything, and while it wasn’t as compelling, it was still a factor that affected everyone. In season three, there was the question of Lord Grantham’s financial misdeeds and Matthew’s inheritance of Reggie Swire’s forture; again, not as compelling, but it was a topic that affected everyone. In season four, there was… Well, there was nothing. There wasn’t some grand question casting a pall over everyone. Mary was in mourning for Matthew, true, but it wasn’t a topic that consumed every hour ever week.

And that’s how season five feels, two episodes in. There are a bunch of plots happening — Lady Edith and her secret child Marigold, Lady Mary’s desire to take a lover before marriage, the village World War I memorial, Lord Merton’s interest in Isobel — but there’s nothing that affects everyone. There’s no Big Bad. Downton is little more than a soap opera, one that seemed high-brow in its first season but now can’t escape the fact. I find myself watching the series for its characters (and my love for the underdog, in this case Lady Edith) and to snark at the repetitive plots, such as Thomas’ insipid plots against his fellow staff, the consternation that the wireless causes (so similar to the consternation the telephone and the toaster caused in previous years), and the possibility that someone downstairs may have murdered someone.

You know what I miss? I miss some of the core relationships, which have fallen by the wayside; when was the last time that Lord Grantham and Bates had a conversation about anything? I miss seeing inside the world of the downstairs; when was the last time anything of significance happened in the servants’ quarters? I miss the quiet, tender Bates and Anna scenes; when was the last time they had a conversation that didn’t revolve around whatever pain and crap are encircling them?

You know what I want? Fun. I want fun. I want Lady Edith to find happiness. (I reread Dorothy Sayers’ Whose Body? last month, and all I can think of is a world where Peter Wimsey and Edith Crawley are a hot item and solve London society crimes like Nick and Nora Charles. Sod off, Harriet Vane.) I want Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald to play a visit to Downton Abbey and Rose to throw a wild Jazz Age party. I want Lady Mary to stop scrunching her forehead; she has a permanently arched eyebrow now. I want Lord Grantham to strike it rich in the stock market and, wisely, get out of the market before the Great Depression. I want Carson to lighten up and crack a smile.

But there’s one other thing I want. I want a Big Bad. I want something that ties this season together and gives it meaning. Something that keeps this season from being more than just a bunch of characters, wandering aimlessly in search of a plot. That’s what I want, and that’s not too much to ask?

Downton Abbey is amusing, but damn, this could be so much more.

Published by Allyn

A writer, editor, journalist, sometimes coder, occasional historian, and all-around scholar, Allyn Gibson is the writer for Diamond Comic Distributors' monthly PREVIEWS catalog, used by comic book shops and throughout the comics industry, and the editor for its monthly order forms. In his over ten years in the industry, Allyn has interviewed comics creators and pop culture celebrities, covered conventions, analyzed industry revenue trends, and written copy for comics, toys, and other pop culture merchandise. Allyn is also known for his short fiction (including the Star Trek story "Make-Believe,"the Doctor Who short story "The Spindle of Necessity," and the ReDeus story "The Ginger Kid"). Allyn has been blogging regularly with WordPress since 2004.

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