Saturday, January 31, 2015

Disappointing Downton


Oh, Downton Abbey, how you make me sad.  Never has a show I loved so much disappointed me so greatly.

After an amazing start and some wonderful ups and downs throughout big moments in history, Downton seems to have lost momentum.  This is in no small part due to the loss of some of the key characters on the show, mainly Dan Stevens as Matthew Crawley.  Fans are still lamenting his loss, and it seems that anyone they throw under Mary (Michelle Dockery)'s nose just can't stack up.  We love having a good cry over our favorite characters, and seeing them face insurmountable odds - but yank a beloved character out from under us, and we seethe.

Fans.  We're funny like that.

Season Five sees Downton going through the motions, faced with maintaining its dignity and sense of propriety in a changing world.  The sad fact is, there's a goldmine of story possibilities here that is not being accessed.  I wondered what my trouble with the show was for a long time, and then I discovered it: there is no arc.  Writer Julian Fellowes sets a character up with a subplot that might affect his or her outlook, and then he snaps them back into their personal routine like a rubber band.  Just when I think Mary might stop being bitchy to her only remaining sister, she does something so terribly nasty that I hate her again.  Just when I think Edith might actually get a break, she's screwed again by some horrible misfortune.  (No one has luck that bad without ending up in a mental institution.)  And really, wouldn't someone just tell Mary to shut the hell up when they hear her talking to Edith like that?  Why is everyone on the show so complacent about sheer meanness?

The unfortunate result is a show that seems to go on and on without actually getting anywhere.  If we were even given a glimmer of character progression, I would be far more attached to the show than I currently am.  By the end of an episode, none of the characters seems to have moved forward on his or her personal storyline.  Because of that, they lack depth - a mere caricature of themselves.

Even my remaining favorites can't rescue the writing for me.  I love Carson and Mrs. Hughes.  I love Bates and Anna.  I love the way Isobel and Lady Grantham lock horns.  I even enjoy seeing Thomas show his human side, when he actually shows it.  I still watch, but now, it's out of habit.  That's got to be the saddest reason to keep watching a show ever. I hope, for the many, many fans of this show, that the writing improves and the characters' circumstances deepen.  For now, Fellowes is merely scratching the surface of his cast of amazing talent, and it leaves me sadly lukewarm.

Season Five Rating: 3 of 5 Stars

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