As North Americans get ready for their last season of Edwardian excess, it’s time to bring out our wish list of what should happen on Downton Abbey (starting Sunday, Jan. 3 on PBS’s Masterpiece). The hemlines may be going northward, the plots increasingly risqué, but at its heart, creator Julian Fellowes has invented a quintessential pre-First World War soap opera whose upstairs-downstairs format highlights the socio-economic tensions of that era. It also allows the incomparable Dame Maggie Smith to wear imposing Victorian-esque gowns as the dowager countess of Grantham while uttering quips such as, “What is a weekend?” and “Why do you always have to pretend to be nicer than the rest of us?”
Here are the hopes (and a few crossed fingers) of Maclean’s Downton Abbey Devotees:
1. Thou shalt not kill (or be accused, charged or convicted, or exonerated of homicide). The increasingly inane “Who has been accused of murder this episode?” plots involving lady’s maid Anna and her husband, the valet Mr. Bates, have to be wrapped up. Pronto. Either that or throw them both in prison and be done with the never-ending saga.
2. We want romance. The aforementioned Anna and Bates used to be the show’s sweethearts until Fellowes kept droning on about crimes. So now attention, and affection, has shifted to Mrs. Hughes (the housekeeper) and Carson (the butler). The end of season five ended with their engagement. “Of course I’ll marry you, you old booby,” said Hughes. There will be problems to overcome (Does she take his name? Where will they live? Are they too set in their ways?) but the audience desperately needs a happy ending. (Last year’s Lady Rose plot didn’t come close.) Don’t mess with us.
3. A dowager countess who is more than just a quip machine. A colleague recently pointed out that the dowager countess (played by Maggie Smith) always steals the scene with a delicious quote, but rarely says more than two sentences. Last year’s revelations of an old romance with a Russian prince showed what Smith can do with a few more lines. Perhaps she could get an illness, one that doesn’t affect her vocal chords. For good measure, let it so shock her frenemy Mrs. Crawley that she marries Lord Merton. (See how I solved two issues with one plot?)
4. If Tom Barrow can’t be nasty, can he be naughty? Now that the under-butler’s role as the series’ No. 1 source of evil has morphed into something bordering perilously on niceness (Barrow was almost selfless in how he helped new footman Andy last season), it’s time for a re-balance. If overwhelming darkness isn’t in the cards, then perhaps he can be naughty? His inventive plot to put the butler of Brancaster Castle in his place was delicious. Surely he’ll get a similar opportunity home at Downton Abbey?
5. Someone must die. It’s been a long time since a main character was knocked off. Just shuffling them off to the United States isn’t enough. (Oh, Tom Branson, please come back from Boston.) A soap opera involves both romances and tragedies. Someone must shuffle off this mortal coil. Step right up, Daisy! She was adorable in the beginning as a lowly scullery maid, but instead of evolving into a compelling force for social change, she’s devolved into a shrill socialist. It’s arguably Fellowes’s biggest writing failure (after the Anna/Bates murder fiasco). Bye-bye, Daisy.
6. Long-standing requests must be honoured. If this is the end of all things, then there are some old, old, old wishes that should come to pass: Lady Mary must get her comeuppance, Molesley must succeed, Mrs. Patmore must get out of the kitchen and EDITH MUST FIND LOVE!