Sunday, February 9, 2014

Downton Abbey Review: "Episode 6" - No Stick in the Mud

Mary and Mr. Blake get dirty in "Downton Abbey"

Any given episode of Downton Abbey contains about fifty percent joy and fifty percent eye-rolling for me.  Generally, my enjoyment of an episode comes down to whether the eye-rolling comes from the characters I like (Mary, Branson, Edith, and the Bateses) or from the characters I dislike or find uninteresting (Thomas and pretty much the entire kitchen crew).  I struggled with the first half of this season because my favorite characters were getting dreadful storylines: Mary was stuck in a malaise following Matthew’s death, Edith and Michael’s relationship was spinning in circles, and Anna suffered needlessly at the hands of Mr. Green.  But the last few episodes have seen a marked turnaround on all of those fronts. 

First off: pigs!  We were promised pigs last week and we got them this week.  Granted, the pigs are dying of dehydration because apparently they haven’t had anybody checking their water trough for several days (seems like a wee bit of an oversight), but still, pigs!  And I am aware that this is yet another man falling all over himself for the apparently irresistible Lady Mary, but if they’re going to make her desirable because of her business acumen and her willingness to get dirty, I could get behind that.  So long as Mr. Blake refuses to care about parties, dresses, and all that other crap, I’d like to see him stick around.

Branson, too, gets to make googly eyes with a new potential paramour as he sidles up to a pretty young socialist at a political rally.  Politics isn’t something the show has played well with, despite having an avowed socialist among its characters.  It’s been interesting but disappointing to see Branson integrate so fully into Downton life that he’s more or less abandoned completely his political ideas for a life of farming.  Perhaps he can be lured back into the world of politics, but it seems to be a theme of the show (one I’ll likely return to when I review the season finale) that the only way to really change who you are is to leave Downton.  Maybe that’s where Branson’s story is headed, but I hope not.  His farming knowledge and fish-out-of water attitude have made him one of my favorite characters this season.

Finally, Edith’s storyline seems to be progressing exactly how you would expect it to.  Once again, though, the show sort of takes the easy way out when discussing a potential progressive plot.  I know that abortion is a touchy subject in pretty much every sphere, but to have Edith get all the way to the clinic without much of anything in the way of introspection on her decision only to back out upon seeing and hearing the conditions of the place seems to me to be a bit of a copout, as though Fellowes was saying, “See, abortion was a thing that existed and I’m recognizing it without having any real, meaningful effect on my characters.”  I don’t mean to belittle the gravity or difficulty of Edith’s decision, I just don’t see how the way it was presented in this episode will have any lasting impact on Edith other than to, perhaps, bring her closer to Rosamund, who comes off as the strongest supporter of the Crawley family.

I wrote two weeks ago that the middle episode of this nine-hour season felt like a piece-moving episode, not really resolving anything, but just positioning everybody for the stretch run.  Unfortunately, the last two hours have felt much the same, with characters making only incremental progress and no real sense of purpose being felt.  With the UK “season finale” next week (followed by the Christmas Special the week after) I have absolutely no clue where anybody is going to finish the season.  On some shows (say Breaking Bad) that kind of uncertainty is a feature built into the plot.  Here, it’s more the result of a lack of direction.  I hope Downton Abbey can find its way quickly. 

A couple of spare thoughts –

Robert takes a slow boat to the states to help Cora’s brother and, honestly, would anybody be disappointed if he stayed there?

Now that Bates knows that it was Mr. Green in the kitchen with a Clue joke in very poor taste, we all know how this is going to go down, right?  Maybe Anna should have let him go with Robert after all.

“I’ve been married. I know everything.”

“I refuse to be shocked.”

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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