|Edith gets some unwelcome news in this week's "Downton Abbey"|
I really hate the way Downton Abbey treats its women sometimes. With the exception of Mary, who is always portrayed as walking perfection, and Rose, who is generally too frivolous to be concerned with, almost every woman on this show seems to be pining after a man or otherwise obsessed with the love lives of the show’s characters. I mean, I’m pretty sure this episode fails the Bechdel Test since, despite a female cast numbering a dozen and at least ten scenes involving only women, every conversation between the female characters is either about a man or about a man’s birthday party (the sole possible exception being a conversation about a man and his wife).
Take Edith for example. I had high hopes for her last season. After being left at the altar she really seemed to be progressing toward a life of independence. But then she met Michael Gregson and has since circled around the same, tired story all season long. She wants him but can’t be with him. We get it. But they’ve been telling what is essentially the same story for eight or nine hours now (covering almost two years in real time). And the fact that she’s pregnant and he’s missing in Germany is a storyline ripped straight from a Lifetime Original Movie. Maybe this show’s viewpoint and mine just don’t get along, but is it really too much to ask that, in an era when women were first allowed to experience their own agency, that Edith be allowed to experience a life that doesn’t revolve around finding the love of a man? Mary has managed to make a life for herself in managing the estate. Let Edith do the same. Then again, perhaps following the story of a single mother in 1920s Britain will allow for just that.
Downstairs, the ladies are having their own trouble with men as Alfred is awarded a spot at the Ritz’s cooking school after all and Jimmy makes unwanted advances on Ivy. I really don’t know what to do with either of these stories. With Alfred, on the one hand I’m happy that he got into culinary school. On the other, I don’t understand why that had to be delayed an episode except so that we could get one more week of Carson crapping on Molesley and Daisy getting to passive-aggressively ream out Ivy for “breaking Alfred’s heart.” I’m sorry sweetheart, but if men aren’t allowed to complain about being friend-zoned, neither are women. I’m not sure if this is supposed to be some kind of karmic retribution for Daisy’s treatment of William a couple seasons ago, but it just doesn’t suit her character well, especially given her history with unrequited love.
The Jimmy and Ivy storyline is troubling for other reasons. For starters, Jimmy’s aggressiveness came from out of nowhere. It’s one thing to have a character act incredibly creepy before going after a woman (see: Mr. Green). But to have it come out of nowhere seems like a cheat. It might just be a factor of not having enough time to properly service all of these characters and plots, but even if that’s the case, it’s still the fault of the writer, no matter how it comes about.
I really hate that this review has been so critical of a few particular storylines because, the fact is, I enjoyed a great deal of this episode. The performances, as usual, were amazing. I loved seeing the Bateses working to rebuild their marriage. Mary and Tom are raising pigs! Who doesn’t want to see that? It’s just that certain themes tend to arise in each episode and this particular hour seemed to want to torture the women more than usual. I would really like for this show to let its women be their own people, rather than forcing them to be more concerned with the lives of men than anything else.
A couple of spare thoughts –
I largely ignored Rose, the most progressive character on Downton Abbey, but that’s largely because her story was also focused mainly on a man, as Robert’s surprise party seemed mostly to be an excuse to bring the black bandleader Jack Ross to Downton. It would just be nice if her motivations were based on something other than A) wanting to throw a party and B) wanting to see a man again.
I feel like we could have a lengthy discussion on Carson’s views toward work and his unwillingness to rehire Molesley because the former butler isn’t thankful for the job. It’s a position that could easily be heard today, but if writer Julian Fellowes is unwilling to spend more than a minute on it, I don’t see how I can either.
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