Monday, February 18, 2013

Why the Downton Season 3 Finale was Terrible

(the following is nothing more than my humble opinion...)

Let me say first of all, that Mikey and I watch Downton Abbey like it's an episode of Mystery Science Theater, with our own self-indulgent and frankly PG-13 witty commentary. I knew going in to the episode that Matthew was going to --wait for it-- be "written out." And I understand. On any given serial, you have to cut the dead weight every now and then, and no weight was deader than sincere, floppy-haired Matthew. We spent the whole episode anticipating his demise. Train wreck? Highland Fling Fatality? Suffocation as Mary sucks all living joy out of a room? Any of those would have worked, because you can't--you just CAN'T bring a lorry out of nowhere careening around a corner intercut with shots of people talking about how unpredictable life is.

I mean, you can, but it's a stupid way to do things. A sloppy, shabby shortcut. To very loosely paraphrase the brilliant Steven James (because it's late and I don't want to go looking for my notes...) you have to lay out a few crumbs for the story to follow. You have to do something that ups the ante, and Matthew Crawley laid out by the side of the road does none of that. Here's why, and my humble offering as to what should have happened instead.

WHY IT WAS STUPID: We already have the tragic story of a parent dead in the wee hours of a their child's birth. (Anybody remember Sybil?) So--it's a lazy way to create "drama." The circumstances work well with Tom Branson, though, because he now faces an added conflict of wondering where his place is in the household, as all of his status came from being the son-in-law of the Earl.  Mary's thrust into single parenthood accomplishes nothing along those lines. I mean, yeah, she'll be in mourning and she loves Matthew and all, but there's no interesting added dimension to that. Plus, she's so hateful, it's kind of hard to feel sorry for her, especially after cuddling her baby and giving him his first nickname: "Duty."

WASTED OPPORTUNITY: For the first time (how convenient) we hear about the hi-light of Lord Grantham's year--the trip to Scotland to hang out with Shrimpy and Susan. Here we learn of a miserable marriage, barely clinging to civility, with a post in India the next best thing to a scandalous divorce. I kept thinking...hmm...why do we care about these people? Why are we wasting our time with this when the Dowager could be zinging us with snappy dialogue about kilts and bagpipes? And then--oh. Rose. Because that's what every soap opera does when it starts losing brings on the teenagers. (Any All My Children fans remember Greg and Jenny? ) This plot development only proves that Julian Fellowes knows his Brady Bunch and is dressing Cousin Oliver up like a flapper and teaching him the Charleston.

WHAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN DONE: If Fellowes knew that actor Dan Stevens wanted out of the Abbey, he should have given Matthew and Mary a long, miserable year of marriage. Goodness knows it would be believable, given that Mary has all the humor and compassion of a Hot-Pocket. Yes, there could be a pregnancy and an heir, but then Matthew could have looked into the eyes of his little chap and said, "Well done, old girl. I'm off to Australia to learn more about the profit of sheep." or "Good on you, Mary my dear. I'm off to America. Send the boy over when he's 12." That way, we'd have a character in a dicey position. Mary, not-quite-divorced, dealing with the rising above the scandal, and fighting off suitors. She could name the boy Telemachus and take up weaving. Plus, that could explain why he was so gung-ho about bringing Branson in as the estate manager. Not because he's a nice guy always wanting to do the prudent thing, but because he didn't want to leave his son's inheritance in the hands of a bumbling Ponzi-enthusiast and a status-obsessed ice queen.

Believe it or not, I really do love this show for many, many reasons, and I'm just as eager to see what Season 4 offers. And, if Julian Fellowes ever reads this...give me a call. Because it would be really, really cool to spend part of it playing Gaslight with Anna and Bates!

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