Monday, February 17, 2014

Griping about Downton Abbey.

Yes, I am writing an entire blog post about a soap opera.

Downton Abbey still has me. Probably the fashion and furniture alone would tempt me, but I'm also endlessly fascinated by the upstairs-downstairs dynamics in the great houses of the English aristocracy. I guess I'm typically American that way.

Still, there's no denying that Downton has descended into some full-blown cheesiness. Here are some of my latest gripes:

1. Edith's Bad Luck

In the most recent episode of Season 4, Edith confides that she sometimes thinks God doesn't want her to be happy. I can see her point: so far nothing has worked out for her.

Let's review the people she has loved/liked/lusted after. Besides Matthew Crawley, whom Edith flirts with unsuccessfully while Mary's still snubbing him, we have the following: the (real) Crawley cousin who dies on the Titanic and never loved Edith anyway; the disfigured pretend-cousin-Crawley with fake reverse amnesia who disappears from their lives when his ploy doesn't work; the married farmer with whom Edith has a brief fling; the aged Anthony Strallan who jilts her at the altar; and now Michael Gregson. This latest heartthrob is a) married, b) unable so far to divorce his insane wife, c) missing in Germany, and d) the father of Edith's unborn, illegitimate child.

Edith, it's not God who wants you unhappy. It's the writers.

2. Everyone's Confusion at Edith's Distress

Edith is obviously in love with Michael Gregson, and then he disappears without a trace in Germany. Everybody in the family knows this! Yet they all are unaccountably astonished when they notice that she is moping, as if they've forgotten for the moment that her boyfriend is missing and possibly dead. Or perhaps they don't think that's reason enough to be preoccupied.

Probably the repeated expressions of, "Edith darling, what's wrong?" are written into the story to underscore the fact that the family doesn't know about her pregnancy. But they really don't make sense, and they contribute to my feeling that the writers are not taking as much care with the characters as they ought to.

3. Mary's Suitors

I'm not opposed to a good love triangle, but does everybody need to fall in love with Mary? It irks me when she tells Charles Blake that she doesn't want to add him to the "list of men" she's disappointed. Really, Mary? You're starting to have qualms about the length of your list?

And then there's the rivalry between Blake and Gillingham. It would be so much more interesting if they could each put a different spin on their Mary infatuation. But, in fact, they have nearly identical conversations with Mary, which can be summed up as follows:

   Blake/Gillingham: I can't stop thinking about you.

   Mary: I'm flattered, but I'm not on the market.

   B/G: I'm not giving up!

   M: Well, okay then. Pursue me if you must.

If this were real life, I would have no idea as to which suitor, if any, would ultimately prevail. However, this is not real life. This is TV-life, where you usually end up in love with the person you most disliked at the start. Clearly Blake has the upper hand here.

4. Mr. Bates

I once liked Mr. Bates a great deal, but my feelings for him have been in decline ever since we saw Bates and Anna smiling at each other under the sheets on their wedding night. After two seasons of waiting for Anna and Bates to get together, the writers made a misguided decision to give us a happy peek into their marital bed. It was supposed to be sweet, I guess, but it really, really did not work for me. Thank goodness we only saw them from the shoulders up.

After the prison ordeal ended, the cutesy picture of married life we got seemed a bit forced and dull, and I was losing interest in the Anna/Bates relationship. Still, I liked Bates and wished him well.

But I have now lost all patience with Mr. Bates. The moment he learns that Anna has been raped, he decides that the best course of action would be to go murder her rapist. Not helpful, Mr. Bates! Anna is traumatized. She needs love and healing, not endless worry about what her husband might do to ruin their lives. I appreciate Bates's anger and pain, but . . . control yourself, man! This was the moment for Bates to step up to the plate for the woman he loves and see her through the misery. Instead, he indulges himself in a murderous obsession and adds to his wife's grief when she needs him the most.

I am emotionally letting go of this character. Good-bye, Mr. Bates. It was fun while your moral compass was still in place, but I'm done now.

5.  Daisy's Age

I love this character, but how old is she supposed to be? It's been ten years since the story began, so Daisy is probably in her late 20s by now, and she is still treated like a teenager. It's time for her to be a woman, not a girl.


  1. Yes, I agree with everything you've said....and still love Downton anyway, like you! Your comments about Edith made me laugh. Poor Edith.

    1. The funny thing is that she blames God for her misfortunes, when we know that it's the writers' fault. And then, it was the writers who gave her the line to say, as if they want to trick us into directing our frustration away from them. It feels sort of postmodern.

  2. I love this blog! I find myself agreeing and laughing at everything you write. Poor, poor Edith. Maybe she needs to dress more modestly. (wink, wink)