One thing PBS must be commended on this year is sticking with ITV’s original format (more or less) regarding its Downton Abbey broadcasts. Though technically next week’s episode will be the season finale (which aired of course as a Christmas Special in England), “Season 5, Episode 8” set it all up perfectly, while also being satisfying in its own way.
A theme throughout this season of Downton has been the slow movement of our main characters away from each other. Isobel considers a future with Lord Merton, leaving Violet more on her own, while Mary schemed to get rid of Tony Gillingham so she could find the right man. Isis passed on, Cora took a flirtation too far, and Edith took off for a little while to London with Marigold. Branson is plotting a move to Boston, and Rose’s marriage to Atticus means she will no longer be a Downton regular. Downstairs, Daisy considers a move to London, Patmore eyes retirement, and in the worst storyline Downton has ever managed to do, Anna is now headed for jail.
There have also been many conversations about futures and opportunities, as the characters have all considered their place away from Downton (as is the case with the downstairs staff), or the legacy they will leave (more of an upstairs issue). More trips to London, and an embrace of radio, bobs, and interfaith marriages all have suggested, as Mrs. Patmore put it, “another clang in the mark of time.”
Let’s start with the episode’s best moments: Branson is getting a very nice send-off from the estate and the show, as he is cherished and appreciated in turn. He shared some very sweet moments with Mary and with Edith in “Season 5, Episode 8,” but the truth is, aside from getting involved with that troll, and doing a little business regarding housing, he doesn’t really serve much of a purpose. It’s a rare situation where both viewers and the character can sense that it would be better to move on, even though he will be missed.
The continued flirtations between Molesley and Baxter remind me of early Anna and Bates, before that train derailed. It’s sweet, and subtle (for Downton), and I applaud the time the show is taking with it (even though Molesley has gone from bumbling fool to part of the intelligentsia in a matter of weeks). The same is true with the easy rapport Carson and Mrs. Hughes have together, and that lovely relationship between Carson and Mary. Only two people have ever really known the person of Mary — Carson and Matthew (Anna mostly stays out of it). They see the good in her, and also know of her sorrows in a very clear way. Carson’s comments about Tony not being good enough for Mary were also very sharp.
As for the new: every time there is a new member of staff introduced to Downton, we should all know by now that drama will soon follow. Denker’s spats with Spratt have been amusing, but never did I suspect her as a basement booze-hound. Her tricking the hired footman Andy into spending his savings so she could drink for free was over-the-top, but, it did allow for yet another opportunity for Thomas to redeem himself, if only in secret. “Next time, ask your Uncle Thomas,” he cautions the naive Andy. Apparently Thomas is a deft hand at poker.
In the neutral zone, per usual, we have Atticus and Rose’s whirlwind relationship. How long did that engagement last, a day? And everyone was perfectly fine with a registry office wedding? Maybe it just shows how little thought most of the characters give to Rose at all that no one really cared one way or the other how things went down. Yet why was Lady Sinderby so insistent on this wedding, anyway? The only thing interesting about the entire affair was seeing how Rose’s truly awful mother Susan would misbehave next.
Less convincing than all of this, though, is the Prince hounding after Violet. I have no problem with geriatric love affairs, and I think plenty of shows (on PBS, no less) do them really well. But the whole thing has really just been Violet thinking of a time when she had a crush, and the Prince ready to move in while he’s still married. And besides telling the Dowager at every opportunity how much he wants to make love to her until they die, he hasn’t really shown much depth of personality. He is your Tony Gillingham, Violet — use him and discard him.
On to the very worst: the incarceration of Anna. As if it wasn’t enough to have to suffer through the whole Did Bates Kill Vera? trial and jail time and possible hanging for way, way too long, this year had the Did Bates Kill Mr. Green? subplot that also dragged on and created more distance between and heartache for the Bateses. Then an even worse twist: Did Anna Kill Mr. Green? Probably not, but just what the heck regarding all of this. If anyone should move away from the house and not return at this point it’s Anna and John Bates. From the best thing about Downton to the absolute worst, these two — and viewers! — have suffered enough. When Anna is released, they should really move to America with Branson, for everyone’s sake.
To end on a positive note, though, I want to give a moment to Robert, our Earl of Grantham. He’s made huge leaps as a character this year, aside from his treatment of Cora during the Bricker incident (and I do not blame him at all for what happened with the troll at the dinner table). He’s selling off land and heirlooms for good reasons, being gracious to Branson, picking up on the fact that Marigold is Edith’s child (whom he shall love), going with the flow of progress, and doing a really sweet thing all on his own for Mrs. Patmore regarding Archie having a memorial marker.
“Season 5, Episode 8” set up the final episode very clearly: Branson will not leave until after Christmas, and the Sinderbys have invited everyone from Downton to vacation with them (as we know the Christmas Special always finds the family somewhere other than home). As far as the regular season goes, this year hasn’t been great or terrible. It has just been Downton. Not at its best, not at its worst, just existing through the clangs of time.
Episode Rating: ★★★ Good
Musings and Miscellanea:
— How gorgeous and delicious did those wedding cakes look?
— Susan: “Do you find it difficult to find staff?” Lady Sinderby: “Not really. But we’re Jewish so we pay well.”
— “It’s an unusual sensation to know there’s a secret in this house I’m privy to.” – Robert
— “You should know, Andy, you’re taking your life into your own hands if you throw your lot in with these two ” – Mrs. Hughes to Andy (who looked like Michael Cera).
— “I am not ‘Miss,’ I am Lady Mary Crawley!” Detective: “I don’t care if you are Queen of the upper Nile, she’s coming with me.”
— “Get down you cat!” – Shrimpy, with the quote of the year.