Phew! At the end of the last season, which was at best “uneven” and at worst derivative and yawn-inspiring, my concern about the fate of the country house soap opera promped me to write, “Eight ways to save the new season of Downton Abbey.”
So imagine my surprise, and delight, when I watched the first episode of the new season on PBS’s Masterpiece (and then the next six on a handout DVD from the show) and realized that creator-writer Julian Fellowes had corrected seven of my concerns. It was like winning the lottery, except that the entire viewing audience got to share the prize. I’m not crazy enough to think that Fellowes read the blog post of a Canadian fan, but he’d clearly received the message that he needed to sharpen the plots or risk losing loyal viewers.
So in order, here are my concerns, and the solutions, without giving away too many plot details:
1. Plots involving main characters must be interesting. (combined with 7. A threat to the entire estate) After a season packed with filler–remember the “Mary and Matthew having trouble conceiving” plot?—the Crawleys are facing an enemy that they might not be able to out-charm and out-entertain. Specifically: taxes are going up, estates are being broken up and the landed aristocracy is under siege. If that wasn’t enough, Mary and Papa do not see eye to eye, and Tom Branson gets a lovely meaty plotline.
2. Give Lady Edith a true lover. I wasn’t sure about Michael Gregson last season, but boy did he surprise me (how he gets on the good side of the earl is pure fun). Sure he’s married to a crazy woman and thus can’t get a divorce, but there are surprises galore in the plotline. Edith finally grows up. Now if only she’d go back to hating Mary–that was fun.
3. Stop the Thomas vs. O’Brien hate fest. The witch is dead, the witch is dead. Well, not deceased, but off the show to go on a tropical adventure with Lady Rose’s mother, Susan MacClare. And with that dastardly duo no more, there is room for more downstairs shenanigans. The Carson-Mrs. Hudson tag team continues to delight and astonish.
4. Give cousin Rose real plot lines. At the end of last season I wrote, “I’ve resigned myself to her inclusion in the fourth season, however her brief fling with a married man and then her angst in Scotland did not bode well for this character.” Well, she’s certainly got a plot line this time, though reality really doesn’t enter into the equation. I’m still not sold on Rose, but at least she’s trying.
5. A conflict for Mr. Bates and Anna. They were too lovey-dovey at the end of last season. But Fellowes’ choice of how to inject tension and angst has sparked debate among fans, which means it was the right decision for the soap opera.
6. Lady Mary needs time to get her own personality back. Yahoo with diamond-studded stars: Instead of thrusting a new beau her way, she is let to grieve and find herself. That aristocrat froideur is back in spades, as is a deep walk-in closet filled with mourning clothes. (Even better is Matthew’s mother, Isobel, whose sorrow is beautifully portrayed. When she quietly explained, “When your only child dies, you’re not a mother anymore,” I cried buckets.)
While Downton Abbey has dealt with seven of my concerns, it ignored one that keeps irking me. So as I said last year: Jimmy Kent must die. He’s all looks and no personality. Kill him or trade him.