onsdag 12 mars 2014

Downtonathon: Predictions for Downton Abbey series five (and yeah - it's still wild guesses)

Just one more blog post, and I'm through with my Downtonathon - for now. Though I had mixed success with my predictions for Downton series four, I'm by no means dissuaded. Some of them were fulfilled at any rate - or sort of. Also, predictions are a good hook to hang follow-up posts on (and of course there will be at least one of those when the time comes). So here are the ones for series five:

Mary chooses Charles Blake: Fellowes has been canny when creating Mary's two new serious love interests (no, sorry, Evelyn Napier, I don't think you can be counted to be among them). Neither of them is in any way an obvious Mr Wrong, like - it had to be said - Sir Richard Carlisle was. Both of them are set to remind Mary of Matthew, but in different ways. Whereas Lord Gillingham has Matthew's tender love-lornness and high principles, Charles Blake is the one who tests Mary's mettle and makes her face up to the changing times. As with Matthew, Mary started out clashing with him, which in romantic tales is always a good sign. She ended up playfully smearing him with mud after a combined pig rescue where he could prove how efficient he was, and she could prove that she didn't mind mucking in - literally - in order to save the estate.

And this, surely, is why it has to be Blake. Romantically speaking, mud smearing beats a lingering kiss any day. As nice a fellow as he is - and not prepared to just roll over when Blake shows up, which does him credit - Gillingham comes across as a gold card version of Napier: a faithful Dobbin who doesn't give the wilful Mary the challenge she needs. It doesn't help that his infatuation with her - and her returning fondness for him - just aren't that convincing. Yes, they know each other of old, but he wasn't in love with her then. And suddenly he shows up and falls head over heels in the span of a few days, throws an impending engagement overboard and asks her to marry him. I couldn't quite believe it. In contrast, the Mary-Blake relationship crackled from the word go. It may be a bit of a reprise of her first fights with Matthew, but it works. Not that everything will be plain sailing, though...

There'll be trouble with the Blake inheritance: Blake may look like a great catch, but the estate he's to inherit has two disadvantages. 1) It's in Ulster. This may not be the Seventies, but still - will Mary want to live in Ulster, so far away from Downton? And what does Branson think about having a future Anglo-Irish - albeit North-Irish - landlord as a potential brother-in-law? 2) The current incumbent is still alive. Unlike Lord Gillingham, who has already come into his inheritance, Blake is only the heir apparent. What do we know of Sir Severus Blake? He might belong to the kind of men who, in Count Fosco's words, "live long and marry malevolently". If he feels like marrying a chorus girl on a whim, and suddenly produces an heir, then Charles will be absolutely nowhere.

But I wonder. I can't but feel that with a Hogwartsy name like Sir Severus, Charles Blake's relation is bound to enter the narrative at some point. And if he were of the simple, chorus-girl-marrying kind, where would the drama be? He could do that without ever coming near his present heir, let alone Downton, which would be a shame. I bet he has something up his sleeve, though. Charles has not proven to be a very eager heir, and there must be a reason why Sir Severus is not called Sir Jolly Cheeryble Blake. Perhaps - with potentially restive locals around the corner - he has a case for petitioning Parliament to end the entail?

Bates didn't do it: I admit, it's not a given, this. Things look pretty cut-and-dried at the moment, and Bates has always had an aggressive streak and a bit of a Wild West complex. Remember his unsuccessful stare-offs with the dispirited Thomas at the end of series three: you half expected the frustrated Bates to yell "Why won't you fight? - YOU'RE THE ONE WEARING THE BLACK HAT". Another small point is against him: the character who most resembles Bates in the Fellowes-scripted Gosford Park turned out to be a cool customer with murderous intent. And we were still meant to think it was good and proper that he and the sweet young lady's maid got it together.

But even so. Cast your mind back to the Christmas special of series two, when Bates was tried for the murder of his first missus. Remember the agony suffered by poor Anna when a plainly psychic (how could he know just the right questions to ask of every witness?) prosecutor reduced Bates's defence to rubble, and when it looked as if Bates was going to swing. And then came the hard trials she faced while he was in prison. Would he really, in a million years, risk putting her through all that again? Surely he would realise, before administering the mortal shove, that that would be even worse than what the horrible Green did to her. It's not as if it were the perfect crime either. Anna, Mrs Hughes, Mary and Miss Baxter all suspect what has (seemingly) been going on. If Miss Baxter had only felt a smidgen more affection for her benefactor Thomas, Bates's arch-enemy himself would know almost the full story by now.

Also, being aggressive is one thing, but being a cold-blooded murderer is another. I never for a moment thought Bates murdered his first wife: he may cave someone's head in when in a fit of rage, but poisoning is entirely unlike him, and so is dispatching a man while making sure it looks like an accident. Finally, whatever Mrs Hughes says, is Fellowes really expecting us to condone a straightforward lynching, however vile the victim may be?

This is my theory: Bates travels to London with the intention of killing Green. Green spots him first, however, and becomes so rattled he carelessly runs into the street and is run over. When seeing the broken corpse, it dawns on Bates that he would never have been able to go through with his plan, and he feels ashamed of not having killed Green for his wife's honour's sake. This is partly why he doesn't want to admit ever having been to London on the day (also, he realises how it might look).

There are a dozen ways in which this could come to light. My favourite scenario is this: Thomas finds out about Anna's plight, Green's death and Bates's trip to London without any help from Miss Baxter (he has many clues in his hands already, and some sleuthing skills: he did figure out about Miss O'Brien and "her ladyship's soap", something she never told him about). Instead of ratting as one would expect, though, he decides to keep mum so he can repay the irksome debt of gratitude he owes Bates for the latter's part in the Save Thomas campaign at the end of series three. He tells his old enemy of his intention but at the same time makes clear that he'll stand no more self-righteous needling from the likes of Bates. "I may be many things, but I'm not a killer." Beat. "As it happens, neither am I."

Bates then reluctantly reveals what really happened, while Anna eavesdrops - or Thomas, disgusted at not getting even, may testily suggest that Bates puts the wife's mind at ease, as a blind man can see that she's been worrying herself sick. At which point, by making sure Bates and Anna have it out, he will unwittingly have repaid his debt of gratitude after all.

Far-fetched, maybe. You could almost guess there was something fishy about me defending Bates, now couldn't you? Still, wouldn't it be very neat?        

Gregson is a spy: There is something a bit James Bond-y about his card-playing talents and his "misspent youth". And he knew he might get into trouble when in Germany, which was why he gave Edith power of attorney. Yes, I'm sure he intended divorcing as well. At the same time, what a perfect cover that story is for an Englishman having a good nose around in "his new home country". If he's been unmasked as a spy for the English government, then no wonder everyone is being so unhelpful when Edith and Gregson's newspaper are trying to find him. The Weimar Republic may have been fearfully democratic, but I doubt it liked being spied upon. Gregson getting into a fight with brown-shirts does seem a bit silly in the circumstances, but who knows: he may have been trying to infiltrate them. In any case, I hope the English government - maybe after a bit of energetic lobbying from Edith - manages to locate Gregson and get him off whatever charges he may be facing. It would be an anticlimax if he were simply to disappear. But German citizenship is off, naturally.

Molesley faces up to Miss Baxter's past: Thomas's implied threat to Miss Baxter - "Do what I say or I will tell the family about your sordid past" - has one flaw. He recommended her for the job of lady's maid: even if he claims not to have known anything to her disadvantage at the time, any mud he slings on her will stick on him as well. But there is one person he can tell what he knows, if he wants to punish Miss Baxter, and that is Molesley. And lets face it: there's only so much non-ratting a villain can be expected to do in one series. In this case, I have little doubt that Thomas will split.

Most likely, Miss Baxter has been a nobleman's mistress, lured from her place as a lady's maid with his family to an apartment in London. Later, when he discarded her, she had to be inventive to make ends meet - maybe renting lodgings by the night and not asking too many questions. This is how Thomas may have come across her while on one of his London sprees. All this will be hard to stomach for Molesley, who's spent his whole life in a quiet village and may never a courted a woman properly before (except the unresponsive Anna), least of all a notorious one. Another hurdle for this couple will be Molesley's lowly position: he can't be expected to be content as a second footman forever. He will come up trumps in the end, though, and as a reward the intelligent Baxter will help him with his career planning (won't Lord Gillingham be needing a new valet?). But it will be a close run thing.

New faces we know about: Official gossip has let slip three new characters we will see in the new series:

Simon Bricker, art historian as played by Richard E. Grant. It is a truth universally aknowledged that a single gentleman in possession of an invitation to Downton must be in want of a love interest. With Mary (hopefully) out of the running, as well as Rose (surely she's too young for him?), this opens up interesting possibilities. But an art historian? Maybe his plot-line is not about love at all but about money? Perhaps he finds an old master and tries to buy it from the Crawleys for a song.

Lady Anstruther "Wasn't that a bit forward?" a worried Thomas asked when Jimmy revealed that he had sent a Valentine to his former employer, Lady Anstruther, whom he abandoned when she went to France but who is now back in Blighty. What with Lady A being played by formidable-woman-role expert Anna Chancellor, the answer to that question is most likely yes. Jimmy has hinted that his relationship with the Lady was pretty close. She can't have liked it when he left simply because he "didn't think he'd like the food" in France. My guess is she'll not be seeking to renew any affair they might have had: rather, she'll be wanting to slap him down and let him know that she's over him. Which will in turn demonstrate that she isn't, quite.

Kuragin, Russian refugee First, I imagined a wild-eyed man with a straggly beard to whom Daisy may show kindness by surreptitiously pilfering from the food store. Then again: he's a Tsarist refugee. Maybe it's an impoverished Russian aristocrat who has no need for the kindness of assistant cooks as long as he can scrounge on his fellow noblemen in England. I predict confrontations with Branson: maybe some choice memories from Revolutionary Russia will finally prove the death-knell to his old socialist ideals. Or Kuragin will prove such a pill that Branson becomes more socialist.                 

New faces/old acquaintances we don't know about: Will Miss Mabel Lane Fox, Gillingham's ditched fiancée, really give up without a fight and without putting in an appearance? I doubt it. And as an upstairs villain is still needed, maybe we will be seeing Sir Richard Carlisle again? Or the duplicitious Duke of Crowborough? Come on, it could happen.