SERIES 4 HAS BEEN FANTASTIC. Honestly, it might be my favorite series to date. I can't wait for the Christmas special!
At the end of Downton Abbey (ITV, Sunday), Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) gave an enigmatic smile as she walked into the sunset with two of her suitors. This was fitting for an episode in which many of the expected resolutions didn’t happen. Lady Rose (Lily James) did not elope with black jazz singer Jack Ross (Gary Carr); kitchen maid Ivy (Cara Theobold) did not accept dopey former footman Alfred’s (Matt Milne) proposal of marriage; the shadow of the noose did not hang over Bates (Brendan Coyle) as he took his revenge on the rapist Green (Nigel Harman) and no, Lady Mary did not succumb to any of those tall dark handsome gentlemen who had courted her so assiduously. This might seem strange for a show that has consistently crackled with overwrought dramatic resonance. But it worked.
Downton has always operated with a large ensemble cast and multiple plot strands which makes it hard to achieve a satisfactory finale. So all praise to Julian Fellowes for writing something that not only wove together the loose ends but also created a piece of sugar-coated, but ultimately enjoyable, TV.
Those big dramatic moments were sidestepped rather well. Ross’s admission that he wouldn’t marry Lady Rose because he didn’t want to ruin her life was heartbreaking, beautifully judged and acted with fine understatement by Carr. Ivy’s refusal of Alfred’s hand in marriage was sweetly done as both realised it wasn’t meant to be. Add to that the surprisingly complex Daisy’s (Sophie McShera) admission that she had once loved Alfred and that she hoped they would always be friends and you had a strange sort of love triangle, a tribute to the emotional reserve of decades past.
More troubling was the death of Green, presumably at the hand of Bates. The closing ranks of upstairs and downstairs (Lady Mary realised what had happened) was touching in its avowal of loyalty, but the conclusion that he probably deserved it will have made many viewers feel uncomfortable, even if he was a monster. There again, Bates is a tragic hero and like all tragic heroes he will never be allowed to rest. Heaven knows what Fellowes has in store for this luckless valet.
The episode also set up some promising new storylines. Branson (Allen Leech), rather a minor player this series, was encouraged to attend a socialist meeting in Thirsk by the deliciously subversive Cousin Isobel (Penelope Wilton). Later, he met teacher Sarah Bunting (Daisy Lewis), a doe-eyed, pocket-sized firebrand with a contempt for the old order. “Are they not taking advantage?” asked Sarah, her hands clasped suggestively around a jar of gobstoppers as Branson was made to work like a packhorse at the Downton fete. Romance seemed possible for Isobel, too, in the form of Lord Merton (Douglas Reith), a crashing bore according to the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith), but in truth rather a sensitive soul who might just lift Isabel from her continued grief.
Most characters managed to grab their moment of glory. Special mention to the excellent Kevin Doyle whose portrayal of the bowed but unbroken Molesley managed to convey both a hilarious haplessness and the woes of a man whose existence consisted of a series of disappointments. “Life kicks the stuffing out of you sometimes,” he said at one point, and the understatement of Doyle’s delivery was devastatingly effective.
Some broadsheet critics are unreservedly sniffy about Downton Abbey. It’s true that it’s not perfect. There is too much reliance on coincidence (Branson’s discovery of Lady Rose and Jack Carr’s secret meeting), the dialogue continues to lapse into occasional anachronism (“You can say that again!”) and some storylines seem to have barely left the development stage (the idea that Lady Edith would run off to Switzerland with Cousin Rosamund in order to have her baby). But it is unfair to apply harsh rules of cultural erudition to what is mainstream entertainment. And in any case, the Switzerland stuff prompted some hilarious dialogue – “Can you really afford to spend four months reading novels in the Alps?”
It is surely easier to create a highbrow drama that pleases a small elite or a piece of trash that relies on shock tactics. The hardest job for a dramatist is to write something that is populist but also offers some shards of sophistication and therefore appeals to a wide demographic. It seems that, four series in and after many inconsistencies, Julian Fellowes has finally achieved that.
Sooooo, what did you guys think of the episode? What did you think of series 4 as a whole? Personally, this episode was great, but I think there was quite a bit of set up for the Christmas special in addition to typing up some loose ends. And I LOOOOVED series 4.