torsdag 17 mars 2016

It's the final Downton 2: Follow-up of series six predictions

My (maybe) very last Downton Abbey predictions turned out to be the usual hit-and-miss affair. I might as well get down to it, there's a lot of ground to cover:

Henry Talbot jilts Mary: NO. In fact he turned out to be her happily-ever-after. Who knew? I take some comfort in the fact that even Anna was surprised.

If I could ask Julian Fellowes only one question about Downton, it would be: Why not Mary and Charles Blake? Unlike the majority of Mary's beaux who simply put her on a pedestal, Blake challenged her and encouraged her to become the best version of herself: less the hidebound snob, more the determined, adaptable woman of substance. Now, Henry Talbot seems a nice enough chap, and he loves Mary. But so did Tony Gillingham. So did Evelyn Napier - and still does by the looks of it, poor chap - and there is little to explain why Henry is the better bet. There wasn't an awful lot of time to establish him as a character (he made his first series six appearance in episode four), and we were told rather than shown that he was an equal to Mary in strength of character. What's more - and this may be only me - I found Henry's debonair manner a little verging on sleepwalking. I preferred the snap and crackle in the Mary-Blake scenes in series four and five.

One thing has to be said for Henry, though. Mary's objection that he doesn't bring enough to the table materially is pure nonsense. In fact, a well-born husband without an estate of his own is much the most practical thing for Mary. If she had married Gillingham or Blake, they would have expected her to move to their estate/estate-to-be and take a primary interest in that, leaving the rest of the family to look after Downton for Master George. Henry's lack of non-portable property is actually an advantage, and high marks to him for attempting to make his way in trade along with the newly-converted-to-capitalism Branson.

Marigold becomes a test of love: YES. This was the series where most Downton viewers joined Edith's camp and clamoured for a happy ending for her, which she got. I'm thrilled, obviously, because I've had sympathy with Edith ever since her spiteful letter-writing-to-Turkish-Embassy days. Yet funnily enough, although Mary nearly ruined her sister's love match in an attack of pique, it was in series six where I finally came to see the point of Mary, and to understand why Fellowes himself seems to prefer her to Edith.

I'd lie if I said the reasons were wholly Thomas-unrelated. That of all the family it would be Mary who stood up for him when he was about to be sacked was as unexpected as the Earl's economising zeal. Even I have to concede that Mary owes Thomas precisely nothing. Edith, on the other hand, owes him her life, but she doesn't even register that he's in trouble, or for that matter anything much that happens at Downton if it isn't happening to her. At the start of the series, she moans to her endlessly understanding aunt that she "wants a life" - but she has a life: she has a successful magazine, a gorgeous London flat, and her illegitimate daughter living at Downton, receiving the same love and care as Sybbie and George. When she finds her final piece of happiness, it's as if she's willing it to go wrong: she does little to stop Bertie Pelham leaving her, and nearly drives him away when he comes back begging her forgiveness. Edith isn't more selfish than Mary - no-one could be that - but she is more self-pitying, and more self-absorbed. There's a reason she's the family member who interacts least with the servants.

Nevertheless, it was satisfying to see Edith finally get her man, and a marquess too - an eventuality I predicted, by the way. And Mary's betrayal was terrible - nothing less than fixing the match herself would have given her the viewers' forgiveness. However, I think her sabotaging of Strallan's proposal in series one is infinitely worse: that was a calculated meanness, rather than a moment's loss of temper, and she wasn't sorry afterwards. This time around Mary regrets her actions, and so her lapse into the Bad Old Mary ways paradoxically becomes a means of showing how much she has developed as a character.

An upstairs guest takes a shine to Thomas: NOPE. If Thomas had known that the romantic highlight of the whole Downton series for him would be to be jilted by a duke in the very first episode, he'd probably have accepted Crowborough's offer of break-up sex. Three series of romantic disasters - where at least Thomas kept trying to hook up with someone - were followed by three series of complete quiet on the love front. With a little ingenuity, one can imagine him getting laid once or twice during his travels as backup valet to the Earl ("How was London?" "Quite fun, as a matter of fact." "How was America?" "Very interesting... Very modern."). But otherwise: zilch.

The annoying thing is, I bet the makers of the series are congratulating themselves on how realistic they're being. How likely is it that Thomas would find love when homosexuality in the Twenties was illegal and considered to be a sin, blah blah? Well, the fact remains that Thomas is hardly the only gay man in Twenties England. In the right clandestine metropolitan circles, the unstereotypically alpha-male Mr Barrow would be fighting 'em off. Instead he chooses to stay in a Yorkshire backwater, settles for trying to strike up a platonic friendship with Andy the Ingrate (who's clean forgotten the gambling den rescue) and doesn't even have much luck with that.

Apart from me wanting Thomas to find "the right person", as Mrs Hughes puts it - or any person - surely it is a dramatic opportunity lost not to have him as the chased rather as the chaser in a love scenario? Moreover, if he'd found someone who actually loved him, it would make his attempts to reform his character much more believable. Ah well, maybe in the film (if there is one).

Peter Coyle turns up: YES. Not that we got to see him. One opportunity after another was set up dramatically - a showdown between Coyle and Miss Baxter in court; a confrontation between them in prison - only to turn into nought. It's a perfect example of one of Downton's many Blind Alley Plots. In the world of Downton, there are a wealth of guns over the fireplace that are not fired in the last act - Michael Gregson's disappearance is another instance that comes to mind. As frustrating as this was for the viewer, it did make the series a lot more unpredictable. Though the non-show of the other Peter, Bertie's "artistic" cousin whose character was described at some length, was even more of a disappointment than the invisibility of Peter Coyle. After all, if Cousin Peter had come back from the dead (and in want of a valet, maybe?), Edith would still have taken Bertie.

The Green case is resolved, finally! YES. But not in a way which explained why we've been stuck with this storyline for so long. Instead it just... petered out. This left the Bateses blissfully free of legal problems, but with very little else to do. Bates especially was shoved into the background, which did not displease me. Anna (whose child we could confidently guess would be safely delivered) had a little more on her plate as a downstairs peacekeeper general. Luckily for her hubby's career, she got quite chummy with Thomas, well before he looked set for the butler post. Surely it was largely down to her that Thomas and Bates at long last buried the hatchet (about three series later than would have been natural, but still). It may seem surprising that Anna would befriend Thomas, if one recalls the fierceness of the Bates-Barrow wars in the first series and the fact that Anna was the only one sceptical to the Save Thomas campaign in series three. But they did bond over Sybil's death, she tried to offer him comfort when Jimmy left - a friendly ouverture Thomas didn't reject - and Anna, like Miss Baxter, is a woman who likes to make her benevolent presence felt. She may not be entirely immune to leader-of-the-pack appeal, either.