On Cricket, Flappers, and Downton Abbey
Last night we started with Bates walking out of prison and ended with Robert, Matthew, and Tom walking into the sunset. And in the two hours in between, there were headscratching moments, there were funny moments, there were touching moments, and there were stupid moments. Sometimes all at the same time! That’s the way of Downton Abbey, it’s a schizophrenic show.
Take Robert. On the one hand, he’s a fuddy-duddy stuck in the 1890s. He wants the estate run in the same way that it’s always been run (even though Murray and Matthew both point out that the estate has flirted with bankruptcy multiple times — and would have been bankrupt again had Reggie Swire not conveniently died). He thinks that Edith has nothing important she can (or should) contribute to society. He’s mocking of Tom’s Catholicism. And yet! He’s not only tolerant but outright accepting of Thomas’ homosexuality. One of these things is not like the others. This season just hasn’t been good for the Earl. He’s been hopelessly out of his depth ever since the start of the war.
And then there’s Bates. For the longest time this year, I was ready for Bates to swing from the gallows; the prison plotline was interminable. I’m glad he’s out of prison, but his sudden softening toward Thomas is uncharacteristic. I could almost chalk it up to his odd sense of honor. Almost.
The first hour is something of a blur in my memory. Violet being a busybody. Matthew trying to convince Robert of his course of action. The christening shenanigans. (Though I loved that final shot — the clear look of distaste on the faces of the Earl and the Dowager Countess at having their picture taken with the Catholic priest was priceless.) Alfred’s misguided attempts at wooing Ivy. It made no lasting impression.
The second hour was slightly more memorable, mainly because they added a new character — the new cousin Rose — but the plotting was frivolous.
An hour was built around the village cricket match. Let me repeat that. An hour was built around the village cricket match. I think I speak for millions of Americans when I say that cricket is the most nonsensical sport ever created. That’s not to say that an hour built around the village cricket match can’t work. But for it to work it needs to feel important. The world needs to hang on it. Empires need to rise and fall on the swing of the wicket. Instead, the cricket match seems to exist solely for the joke about Molesley, who talks up a big game, whiffing when his turn at bat comes up. Wow, we wasted an hour for that.
But what else happened? Matthew and Mary both went to see a fertility doctor in London. It was obvious something was up with Matthew when he was vague about what he was going to do in London. It was obvious something was up with Mary when she had a civil conversation with Edith about trying to keep Matthew from a particular train. And then when Matthew asked the London doctor about whether or not his wife was a patient there, it became pretty obvious that, ohmigosh, Matthew and Mary are about to run into one another and discover that, oh!, they’ve been keeping secrets from each other.
That said, the meeting in the doctor’s office then led to the one thing that this season has lacked — quality Matthew/Mary time. They are the heart of the series, and this season hasn’t had them together enough in any quality way. Yes, it’s cute to see them in bed each episode telling each other how they feel, but I’m missing the fiery scenes of years past where they simply talk about stuff for long minutes. Downton has lost that this year. I hope it gets it back.
Then there’s Rose. I don’t know what to make of this flighty firecracker of a flapper from Scotland (who doesn’t sound at all Scottish). Her best scene was by far the scene with Matthew where he told her how it was going to be — married men who want affairs with younger women always have horrid wives, if she plays by the rules they’ll keep her secret, she breaks the rules and all hell will break loose.
I thought about this scene near the end of the episode, when Edith went back to London to talk to her editor. (By the way, I like Edith’s moxy in taking steps to find out things about her editor.) The editor tells her about his wife, the madwoman and the lunatic, and all I could think about was Matthew telling Rose that married men who want affairs always have horrid wives. I fear that Edith is treading a familiar road to heartbreak. I hope she doesn’t get hurt.
Tom has grown up. He took charge with his ne’er-do-well brother Kieran. He offered advice on the management of the estate. And he convinced Lord Grantham of the soundness of Matthew’s plans for the estate better than Matthew could.
I hope we’re finally done with Ethel. I like the actress well enough — I have a soft spot for redheads — but her plotline this year has been appallingly boring. Really, the best thing about it was its finale, with Violet forcing a solution to the problem and finally washing it away.
One more episode and then we have the wait of another year. Next week, I’ll have some thoughts on the season as a whole.