Monday, January 13, 2014

Downton Abbey Review: “Episode 2” – Backlash

Branson didn't have much to do, but I like Branson, so he gets the picture.

I felt like this past summer was “The Summer of Backlash.”  First, there was the backlash against Man of Steel for its depiction of wonton city-level violence.  It’s not that the destruction of a good chunk of Metropolis was too gory or unsettling, it’s just that after Transformers, The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness and a host of other global destruction features from the past few years, people were just tired of seeing buildings fall and city blocks leveled.  Destroying a city just doesn’t carry the weight it used to especially when, ten minutes later, the hero and his posse are trading quips like nothing ever happened.  Say what you will about the third season of Homeland (and it was pretty terrible), but they never once let you forget about the people who had died in the CIA bombing.  Meanwhile, the deaths of thousands of people in The Avengers, Star Trek, and Man of Steel were typically forgotten before the credits rolled.

The second backlash of the summer came against a pair of middling-to-bad television shows that tried to tread the white male antihero ground that so many better shows had trod before: Ray Donovan and Low Winter Sun.  The shows weren’t terrible; it’s just that they offered viewers nothing new.  Rather, they recycled the same ideas and stories that we’ve seen for the last 15 years. 

I didn’t join in those first two backlashes*, so I guess it’s time for my own.  I’m done with violence towards women.  Just done.  It’s no longer shocking or affecting.  I’ve seen so many female characters stalked, attacked, raped, and killed that it just has no effect on me, even when it’s a character I like.  I don’t know why Julian Fellowes decided to have Lord Gillingham’s butler rape Anna, but it added nothing to the show.  It was a moment designed only to shock.  Granted, Downton Abbey is a soap opera filled with shocking moments but I’m no longer shocked by violent acts committed against women.  It’s now just another cliché that occurs far too often on television.

* I actually enjoyed Man of Steel, mostly for the fact that they finally made Superman more human and thus more interesting.  And while I didn’t particularly enjoy Ray Donovan or Low Winter Sun, I mostly just ignored them.

Really, the rape scene was the cherry on top of an episode I didn’t enjoy.  Fellowes is just far more interested in the protocol of the estates than I am.  I imagine him sitting at his computer saying, “Yes, and then Thomas will have to take Jimmy’s place and serve at the dinner.  Can you imagine?  An under-butler having to act as a footman for an evening?  How delightfully absurd.”  I mean, there’s an entirely storyline dedicated to whether the opera singer should eat with the family, with Robert insisting she would have nothing in common with them only to come around once again to discover that there’s nothing all that special about the gentry.  Perhaps it’s one of those things where I’m just not in on the joke, but however it’s supposed to play out, I just don’t enjoy it.

What I did enjoy was the continuing question of Mary and her place in this new world.  At this point in her life, having given birth to a son, Mary is essentially the Dowager Countess with 75 years of doddering left.  She could resign herself to a lifetime of leisure and let her father run Downton on his own.  Instead, she is thrusting herself into the conversation and taking ownership of her future and the future of the estate.  Introduced this week is Lord Gillingham, a childhood friend of Mary’s and I really hope he’s being brought in to further her development as an individual and not just as yet another romantic interest. 

Downton Abbey is a series that is splitting me.  What material there is that I like, I really like.  But the things I don’t like, I really hate.  There’s just no in-between when it comes to Downton Abbey, nothing of casual interest.  So far, that’s enough to keep me going.  I just hope the next few weeks bring in more that I like than hate.

A couple of spare thoughts –

Edith’s boyfriend Michael gets a nice moment in the episode, rescuing Robert and Gillingham from a poker cheat by employing his own, well-worn card skills.  I wish they would give him more personality like this because he’s a character I could enjoy pretty easily if his main story with Edith wasn’t just going around in circles.

Watching Branson fumble around with the Duchess was also a nice treat.  I kind of wish they would send him, Mary, and Rose off to London in their own spinoff.

“Sometimes I don’t know who I’m more in mourning for, Matthew or the person I was when I was with him.”

So thoughts?  Comments?  Just want to tell me my blog sucks?  Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @TyTalksTV.

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