This being my 5th review of a season 1 episode of Downton Abbey, I’d like to give thanks for a few bits PBS got right.
First let’s hear it for keeping the preseason fawning to a minimum at least as far as hype immediately prior to the season opener. I love Laura Linney as much as the next person but at this stage of a hit shows theatrical release it is wise to avoid gilding the lily to death.
The sociological commentary on the life of the characters as representatives of their class roles was nicely inserted post episode.
People know the show and by now most people are only watching because they have been hooked, so any preamble explaining why we should like it would give regurgitation a good name.
The 5th season is a coin toss for many shows as to whether the will peak or if the fraying of plot becomes unmistakeable. There is still room for Downton to find its downside slide even this season, but that would not be in evidence in this tight and compelling first episode.
The characters continue to evolve while wrestling with their given natures. Just when you feel Thomas is going to get his comeuppance for over playing his controlling sadistic streak he emerges victorious saving Lady Edith while involuntarily making sure that James’ goose is cooked. James is lucky in that he presumably won’t find out to what end he would owe Thomas for aiding and abetting the consummated dalliance with an Upstairs Lady under Thomas’ watchful eye.
Lady Edith will again carry perhaps the most sympathetic theme of the year reaching out to her child born out of wedlock who is being raised by a local family. In true Downton form there is a also a whiff of infidelity being suggested between the custodial father and Edith. Also present is the trademark Downton feature of a servant appearing at just the right moment to learn of something not intended for her consumption. In this case the redoubtable Mrs Hughes spies a ripple in the Force between Edith and the aforementioned custodial father.
It is a testament to thew writers that a few short seasons ago I was ready to write off for being such a shit to sister Mary. And now waterworks appear to be looming as she tries for a relationship with her son in the days before open adoption.
Daisy, Mrs Patmore’s assistant who everyone seems to love, but whom I can barely understand through her mumbles, is fighting for an identity as an adult as well as a career for what we know will be the demise of this way of life that won’t last much longer. Her combo of humility and spunk must be why people root for her.
Bates and Anna after having been giving compelling stories in earlier seasons are trying to escape a dreadful subplot that has him trying to free himself of vestiges of the murder of Lord Gillingham’s valet. Nothing would make Thomas happier than to have that juicy little tidbit fall in his lap.
Carson seems to be enjoying something of a last hurrah. When it comes to protocol, he is in full command. He handles the slight of Lord Grantham being passed over to head a WWI remembrance committee with proper deference. We hope the potential romance with Mrs Hughes, alluded to last year, has legs. Mrs H is a favorite of ours because she is the epitome of decency.
Michele Dockery has made Lady Mary a fully realized character. We get her strengths and flaws. And isn’t that the point for all of us who have stayed with the show. The acting is at the level where the actors have succeeded in finding their character. Now we just depend on the seamless writing to keep the plot engines humming. With any luck the shark won’t be jumped any time soon.