onsdag 26 februari 2014

Downtonathon: Series four follow-up I

Finally! The whole of Downton Abbey series four has now been aired in the US, and I've decided to have no more compunction about spoilers. If you live in a part of the world where series four has not been shown yet, stop reading now...

Roughly a year ago, I tried my hand at some predictions on what might happen in this series. Here's how they worked out:

Close but no cigar for Lady Mary and Branson: YES. Well, to honest they weren't even close, but I look at it as one of the more successful predictions anyway. I wouldn't have minded seeing more of their mutually supportive friendship: it's touching considering how different they are that they should see the point of each other. As it was, Branson (I'm not calling him Branson to be mean as I rather like him, but seriously, Julian Fellowes, "Tom"? There can be only one!) had a somewhat disappointing series four. He had to briefly get embroiled with Edna again, not very convincingly, on the rebound character principle that we then would resent a new Branson love interest less and compare her favourably - not with lovely Sybil but with minxy Edna. As it happens that didn't work out too well, at least not for me. Branson's new woman, schoolteacher Sarah Bunting, has one unfortunate thing in common with Edna: she makes him feel guilty about having changed from his old firebrand socialist chauffeur days, instead of accepting him as the Crawleys' socially aware but balanced steward (and son-in-law). The poor man spent most of the series feeling ill at ease, and no wonder. Lets hope he ditches the Bunting girl in the next series and finds someone who'll love him for his new slightly more bourgeois self.

Thoroughly modern Edith: YES. But not as modern as one could have hoped. She only got to spend one night with her beau Michael Gregson before he went to Germany, ostensibly so he could become a German citizen and divorce his wife. (Ah, divorce tourists - happens all the time). I have my own theories about Gregson's Germany trip which I'll probably mention in a later post, but for now, let's just say he at least seems to be serious about Edith. Too bad he got her up the spout after only one try, then had to pick a fight with some brown-shirts in Munich and disappear from the face of the earth. I do think Fellowes is being unnecessarily mean to poor Edith in his plotlines. She really shouldn't blame Higher Powers when the one who "doesn't want her to be happy" is really a script-writer who prefers her sister. On the other hand, the more bad luck Edith has, the more viewer sympathy she's bound to get. She may have taken a few knocks, but she's still one of the characters who had a good (as in dramatically exciting) series four.

Jimmy gets entangled with Lady Rose: NO. Well, not yet. But it could still happen. Jimmy had a lousy time of it this time round, a little like Thomas in series one: committing small meannesses and suffering small humiliations. However, there's a reason why he's still around while fellow newbies Alfred (predictably) and Ivy (surprisingly) have been written out. He's more likely to get himself - and others - into trouble, which makes him a good potential plot-line generator. Moreover, he's still so shallow and selfish he's fairly crying out for a Seriously Upsetting Thing to happen to him which will make him Grow As A Person - and generate more viewable drama in the process. Rose could still be it. They did at least get chummy during this series.

Rose's suitors generate drama: NOT REALLY. Rose did have a suitor or two. Well, three if you count the luckless farmhand at the tea dance. But both he and the drunken chinless wonder, which we saw the last of in episode four (three in the US), were of little consequence to the action. Now Rose's main love interest, jazz singer Jack Ross, was a more important character, but sadly his plot-line was a bit of a non-starter. Much was said about how the first black character on Downton would enable the show to tackle "racial tensions". In the end, though, Fellowes chickened out rather: not one of the Downton regulars turned out to be a hardline racist, so there was little tension going on in that field, really. (At the same time, I can't help feeling grateful to Fellowes for not branding any character with this particular mark of Cain.) Jack proved to be an attractive character - sensible, urbane and blissfully un-chippy - but his very sensibleness made it hard to understand what he would see in flibbertigibbet Rose. Their romance was unconvincing. Still, if the intention was to convey the impression that it was Jack who had the lucky escape when they split up, it succeeded.

No, the series instead belonged to Lady Mary's suitors, of whom there were suprisingly many. I was incredulous when I heard the rumours that there were to be two suitors for her hand, but in fact there were three. And all three young, handsome, eligible, titled men with not a scratch on them from the war. This will sound cynical, but after Word War One the marriage market must have been a buyer's one for every able-bodied, surviving bachelor with a bit of money. So why would three of these gold prizes all go after Mary? To be even more cynical, all these three fellows need heirs. Mary is in her early thirties and could provide one, but she is not such a sure thing when it comes to heir-producing (you have to calculate in a few false starts, girl babies etc.) as a twentysomething like Rose, especially not if she dithers for much longer.

So what do they see in her? Would they really all rather go for the dark, difficult, arrogant one with lots of emotional baggage instead of the blonde, easy option? Er... On the other hand, put like that...

Anna and Bates start a family: NO. They had other things on their plate. Move over Edith: the Bateses had the most traumatic - and most dramatically powerful - storyline in the series. I glimpsed something about the "contoversial rape scene" before the episode in question was available to me, and I had my serious doubts about the whole thing, like so many viewers. I'm not normally a big fan of Big Mouth Batesy, and even Anna's pertness can get on my nerves sometimes - but this. After the psycho ex, and Bates's time in prison, could they not have been spared this? On balance, however, I think the riskily gloomy storyline paid off, and the marital reconciliation was all the sweeter for being hard-won. Incidentally, I don't think Bates killed the loathsome Green, but that's another story.

More perceptive fans had their doubts about Anna's ability to conceive as I was still anticipating happy family-making. Now, I believe they could be right, and childlessness might be the next hurdle the Bateses have to face. After this series, though, they'll know they can get through anything.

Yikes, three prediction follow-ups to go, including the most important one! I'll have to call it a day and continue in a later post - and then tackle new predictions for series five in the post after that. Sorry for wallowing, but I might as well while the going's good. Downton won't go on forever: as Fellowes said, "it's not Perry Mason".