Hooray! Finally the whole series five has been aired in the USA, which means I can blog about it without worrying about spoilers too much. Yes, I realise there are still countries that are behind in the Downton calendar, so I'd better be clear: if you want to avoid series five spoilers, stop reading now, and don't read my next blog entry about predictions for series six either until later. I always try to make my first blog entry about a new Downton series, which appears in the autumn, as spoiler-free as possible for the benefit of America readers, but after that it's no holds barred.
Series five proved to have a different focus than I expected from my predictions, but I'll still try and use them to pin my reflections on. First, though, some general observations. I think I liked series five more than series four, which is odd as I had a problem with many of the major storylines. However, the dynamic between the characters and the development of their relationships were what made this series worthwhile more than each character's carefully (and sometimes not so carefully) constructed story arc. Romance was in short supply, except for the older ladies: instead, the recurring theme was friendship. Isobel Crawley and the Dowager finally became real mates: Isobel was ready to bury the hatchet in series four, but then the Dowager still held out. Mrs Patmore's and Daisy's relationship resembled a mother-daughter one more and more, and you could be forgiven for forgetting how roughly Daisy was treated by Mrs P in series one. The brother-sister bond between Branson and both the Crawley sisters was heartwarming to see: "If you love me you'll support me", he said to Mary at one point to which the ice queen responded: "Then I'll have to support you". Last but not least, Miss Baxter proved to be a pal to Thomas after all, though scrupulous about not wanting anything to do with plotting (unless ordered by Lady Mary).
Now for the prediction follow-up:
Mary chooses Charles Blake and there'll be trouble with the Blake inheritance: UNDECIDED. I bundle these predictions together as the series, rather disappointingly, was not much about Mary's relationship to Charles Blake at all. He helps her disentangle herself when she realises, somewhat late, that Gillingham is not the man for her (and this I could see coming). But then, when he is in a position to reap the rewards of his friendly interference and scoop up Mary for himself, he suddenly ups and leaves for a mission of some sort in Poland! Can it really be that Charles Blake has been written out? I refuse to believe it (hence the "undecided"). Surely if anyone was Mary's true mate, it's Charles. I don't think Henry Talbot of the shining car will prove that keen to do battle with Mary, but I'll leave that for the next blog entry.
Bates didn't do it: CORRECT. Haaa! I told you so, didn't I? I'm really chuffed I got this one right. All around me, people who have more fondness for Bates than I have (which is not difficult) wavered, but I knew: the murder (if it was one) just didn't fit his MO, if he were to decide to kill someone. Cracking someone's head in whilst in a rage? Yes. Needling someone to death with smug remarks? Yes, if it can be done. Shoving someone under a bus to make it look like an accident? No. It's dishonest and cowardly, and therefore not Bates's style.
I did wonder once, during episode five which was a low point in the series, when Bates assured his wife that no harm would ever come to her. How was he supposed to be able to guarantee that? It did sound as if he were some crazy serial killer set on killing everyone that upset her. But I don't really count this small moment of doubt.
Goodness, though, this was a tedious storyline. At the start of the series I was seriously worried that Thomas would blot his copy book irretrievably by squealing on Bates. In the end, I stopped worrying. Anything which would have resolved this drawn-out plot would have been welcomed by more viewers than me, even if it had been the hanging of one of the Bateses. (Thomas did squeal a little, but to no lasting ill effect and mostly because he was peeved at Miss Baxter, plus he was sorry afterwards.)
Gregson is a spy: NO. I'm almost tempted to put "undecided" on this one. How can the German authorities identify a year-old corpse so positively? It does sound a bit like a plot for going undercover, and it would be just like Edith's luck if Gregson turned up alive and well just as she had rebuilt her life and was about to marry another man. But I won't be too fanciful: they say Gregson is dead, so I'll have to believe it. Odd though not to kill him off at once instead of shilly-shallying round for ages.
Molesley faces up to Miss Baxter's past: YES. I was disappointed that Miss Baxter's past misdeed turned out to be a theft: it felt like the regimental silver all over again. But at least there was a man in the case, who will surely turn up to haunt her next series.
I sometimes wonder whether Fellowes has a master plan for his characters or if he makes it up as he goes along. After all, there's being complex, and there's being downright contradictory. Miss Baxter is a case in point. She has gone from displaying passive-aggressive dislike towards Thomas (in series four) to seeming afraid of him (crouching as if struck every time he came near at the start of series five) to finally wanting to be friends with him. I can understand why Thomas was distrustful. In the end, though, Miss Baxter proved herself, and I'm not one to complain. I can just about explain her behaviour by supposing that Thomas in some ways reminds her of the wicked footman Peter Coyle with whom she was embroiled, while at the same time being her best friend's brother whom she has known all her life.
Oh, and the romance with Molesley? It's going well. He's at his best when giving Miss Baxter some piece of surprisingly good advice.
New faces and old acquaintances (well, there were none of the latter, barring Rose's parents):
I'll go into the new regulars when making my predictions. For now, let's just say I only had one correct guess when it came to the guest appearances. Mabel Lane Fox did turn up and proved a match for Mary. However, I did not foresee that Simon Bricker would woo Cora or that the Russian Kuragin would prove to be an old flame of the Dowager's. This was one of the plot lines I didn't care for, incidentally: the Dowager doesn't need a romantic storyline. While Daisy was getting implausibly bolshie by studying, Thomas was - again implausibly - trying to de-gay himself with a painful quack "cure" (he was never ashamed of his sexuality before, the "I am not foul" scene with Carson in series three being one of his strongest) and Edith was battling with the Drewes over her child, not implausibly but for far too long, there was not a love interest in sight for these wounded hearts until possibly towards the very end of the series. That the Dowager should have an admirer felt like adding insult to injury. I'm not against all autumnal romances, though: Lord Merton's proposal to Isobel and Carson's proposal to Mrs Hughes - not least her answer - were two of the highlights of this series.
Anna Chancellor's Lady Anstruther proved herself to be more ready to forgive Jimmy than I thought. She was also a hoot, and I was sorry we did not see more of her. Jimmy's write-out was unexpected and must surely be actor-getting-another-part-related. I seems odd, seeing as I've wanted to smash his pretty face in on occasions, but from a drama perspective I will miss Jimmy. I don't think it's likely that his replacement, the far less glamorous Andy, will generate better or more welcome storylines. But I would be happy to be proved wrong.