Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Downton Abbey has lost it's center and why I freakin' care so much

SPOILER ALERT:  I'm discussing the season three finale of Downton Abbey.  Kate, catch me next go-round.

Why am I analyzing the season three finale of DA?  This isn't a pop culture blog, is it?  Well, I do like to compare my life to Edwardian dramas and John Hughes movies, so don't fence me in.

I'm compelled to analyze the "Christmas Special" DA because for one, what a lousy Christmas Special it must have been in Britain ("Happy Holidays!  Merry Chri -- oh bloody hell!"), and because it affected me more profoundly than I am proud to say.

For those in the know, read on.  For those who either don't watch the show and don't really care, it's up to you.  For those who are still on season one -- get a freakin' move on, people!

Typically, I don't watch much television and haven't in a long while.  I find one or two shows that speak to me, become fiercely attached to them, and wander around listlessly when they end or I manically watch the entire series on Netflix.  Do I sound like a Joss Whedon fan?  Hellz yes!  The story is that I decided to settle into Downton Abbey during the holidays because I needed some quiet time at the end of the day, my husband kept crashing early, and my puppy was a total freak for Maggie Smith.  Who knew?  So, I watched the first episode and then the second the next night, with trepidation.  I didn't want to like it and get drawn in like so many friends on Facebook.  But in the end, I'm a complete sucker for British costume dramas, what with their witty asides like "What is a week-end?" and  dastardly characters like Sarah O'Brien and Thomas Barrow and the grandeur of the setting, both the drawing rooms and the estate.  I love the period detail, too.  The bits of technology that creep into the traditional manor life, such as automobiles, telephones, and toasters, and the varied responses they elicit from the conservative butler, Mr. Carson, who looks on all innovation as if it were a threat, to young Sybil who sports pantaloons.

But let's be honest: it's the love story that kept us all coming back, right?  From the second episode, we realize that the eldest daughter, Mary, must marry a wealthy chap to keep her in the lifestyle to which she has grown accustomed.  And . . . we learn at the end of the very first episode that middle class lawyer and third cousin Matthew Crawley is to be the heir to the estate.  The two meet and instantly despise each other.  Viola, Sam and Dianne.  The will-they/won't-they tension lasted through scandal, blackmail, war, a ridiculously unbelievable war injury, and terrible engagements to other people (some, who conveniently wither away).  The point is, we rooted for Mary and Matthew to make it and finally, at the end of season two, they did!!!  The folks at Buzz Feed Shift really said it best: "You could eat ice cream while having an orgasm on a private island populated by adorable kittens, looking up at white doves flying above you in the shape of a heart, and it would be just about as satisfying as that scene of Mary and Matthew kissing and professing their love for each other in the snow."

Here's where folks who haven't seen the last show of season three need to deplane.  Bye, y'all.  Take some peanuts with you.

Okay, I get it.  Dan Stevens, the actor who plays Matthew, wanted to pursue other things.  He's on Broadway (a lifelong goal) and is producing and starring in an indie movie.  He has little kids and a wife.  He's reading 5,000 books to judge the Booker Prize and writes a column for the Telegraph.  (On second thought, I hate him.  Who, at age 30, gets to be that successful?)  I don't blame him, however.  Apparently, 1,000s of Downton fans are outraged by his decision and plan to boycott his movie.  Dude has to make a living, follow his dreams.  No, I'm not mad at Dan Stevens.  I am, however, pissed to no end at Julian Fellowes, the writer and creator of the series for killing off Matthew after finally meeting his son (and heir -- like I didn't see eminent death on the horizon when Mary presented the baby to her husband as "your son and heir.").  Really?  This is how you treat millions of fans who have been rooting for this obnoxious couple for three seasons?  Sure, you can kill off William, Lavinia, Lavinia's dad (we never met him), Ethel's scamp of a baby-daddy, and dear sweet Sybil (even though that was hard to bear, but well done and completely believable).  When I told my husband that now the series was treading into soap opera territory, he laughed as if to say, "NOW, it's a soap opera!  It has taken you three seasons to call it a soap opera!  Woman, you are thick!"

Truth is, I feel betrayed.  This isn't the show I signed up to watch.  Rumor has it Mary will have a new love interest and "not be alone for long," but fuck that.  I don't want to see her with anyone else!  I've invested three seasons to see her happily settled with Matthew.  She didn't deserve him and she got him anyway.  It made her a better person.  And he was bringing the family and the manor into the 20th century with his business sense.

I have no snarky caption because I'm weeping.  Weeping.

What do I wish had happened?  I'm glad you asked.  I wish Fellowes would have said, okay Stevens, you won't sign up for season four.  So be it.  The series will end with the birth of Mary and Matthew's baby boy.  Ta Da.  The end.  Plenty of fine shows have capped it with one or two seasons: Ricky Gervais is a master of this with two seasons of The Office and two seasons of Extras; Flight of the Conchords had a great two season run (though arguably could have ended it with one); and even though it was cancelled, Freaks and Geeks is one of the best one season shows of all time!  Three seasons is a great run.  Why not end on a happy note, the note that we have all been craving?  The writer in me is completely galled.  This is not a good story arc.  This is potentially a great example of jumping the shark.  Northern Exposure immediately came to mind as I threw my remotes at the television screen.  Why would anyone want to watch what happens in Cicely, Alaska after Joel left?  He was the main reason the show existed!  He was the unlikely protagonist, the stranger in a strange land!  Well, guess what?  So was Matthew Crawley.  He was the unlikely heir to Downton Abbey.  What is the point of the show now?  I believe it has lost it's center. 


I can't explain why this has bothered me, disappointed and depressed me, so deeply.  It's a bit embarrassing really.  My husband feels the need to remind me that the characters aren't real.  "He's really okay," he told me worrying that I thought Dan Stevens really died in a freak car accident.  Then he started telling me that a car accident of this nature would have been unlikely because cars at that time didn't go very fast . . . YOU'RE MISSING THE POINT!  Yep, I was distraught and distracted (nothing new there, but worse) all day yesterday.  I don't take betrayal lightly.  It nags at me.

Friends of mine disagree with me, but that's fine.  I'll hold my grudge against Fellowes and return to the series next year just like I first began watching it, tentatively noncommittal.

17 comments:

  1. I completely empathize with your feelings of betrayal and the fact that Fellowes has screwed his own story arc. However, and this is exactly what Dan Stevens is doing, Fellowes and BBC are in this to make money. And DA is making money, so why wouldn't they do a season 4? Especially if the rest of the cast apart from Stevens is on board. They're gonna milk this cow til it dies. Which artistically speaking is unfortunate--a sell-out calamity, actually. Yet, commercially speaking is common sense. So, like you, I tentatively go into season 4, yet go in I will because it's Downton Abbey and, like you, I am a sucker for British costume drama. I may hate it, but I'll still love it.

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    1. I'm trying not to sound crazy by couching this in terms of craft, but I appreciate that you share my feelings. Yes, I know it's a business, but business owners should take heed of their clientelle needs.

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  2. I saw your disclaimer and said, "f*ck it - everyone else in the social media world has already ruined it." So I'm safe because I already know everything. This is awesome, though, because now I know to watch to that one episode and then lurk quietly in the shadows again until you tell me it's safe to come out again. If next season is worthy of your esteem, I'll chug forward. But, if not, I'll leave it on that kitten-filled, orgasmic, ice cream-laden moment...in a matter of speaking.

    I hate it when shows do this, when they don't know when to stop. Conversely, I also hate it when shows are cancelled just as they're hitting their stride. *cough* Better Off Ted *cough*

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    1. I'm sorry the interwebs ruined it for you and hope I didn't contribute. I try to be sensitive.

      I love when writers have a plan for their characters and plan out the story arc ahead of time, rather than ride the fame wave. Few do. Even Joss the Boss Whedon probably let Buffy go on waaaaaaaaay too long. The sixth season sucks a big bunch of ass and I still haven't finished the seventh.

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  3. I've just started watching the series on Netflix so I'm still in the first season on the 2nd or 3rd episode. I'm trying to love it because I know people are addicted. I'm still working on that love.

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    1. You don't have to love it, Julie, but there is much to love. The third season, overall, has been very good until now.

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  4. Blah blah blah, I don't watch DA (eventhoughIshouldwhatever), let's circle back to the John Hughes comparison (or Joss Whedon, for that matter. Did I tell you the Monkey and I are watching Firefly now?? :)

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    1. Don't you blah blah blah me, young lady! And didn't Joss the Boss kill off my favorite character in the movie ending of Firefly, Serenity? Yes, yes he did. Was it necessary? NOOOOOOOOOOOO. Prepare Josh.

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  5. I think you're right - though I don't like his character any more - he and the Irish dude have both gotten soft with the luxury. You're right that he was the narrative center of the story - the "who the hell are these dinosaurs?" that kept it together.

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    1. This, my friend, is an historic moment! You agree with me!!!!

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  6. You know, as soon as Mary said, "We've done our duty.We've provided an heir," I knew he was a goner. Then he's driving and looking up at the sky like it's his first time in a convertible. Foreshadowing overload.
    I was still bummed, though. I had this somber feeling that the show just wouldn't be the same after losing both Sybil and Matthew. However, I also thought it hit a low point with the Matthew in a wheelchair storyline, and it recovered.

    Keep the faith. I think the show can bounce back. In the meantime, check out Upstairs, Downstairs for your Brit-fix. The first two or three are just okay and then it gets pretty good.

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    1. Absolutely right on the foreshadowing. I knew something was up when Robert finally agreed that Matthew knew what he was doing with the estate. The whole episode, I conclude, is set up for next season. What mischief will that Rose get into at Downton?

      I appreciate your optimism. Not sure I share it, sadly.

      Isn't DA just a reboot of Upstairs, Downstairs and Gosford Park? Love it as I do, I know it isn't original.

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  7. You know, as soon as Mary said, "We've done our duty.We've provided an heir," I knew he was a goner. Then he's driving and looking up at the sky like it's his first time in a convertible. Foreshadowing overload.
    I was still bummed, though. I had this somber feeling that the show just wouldn't be the same after losing both Sybil and Matthew. However, I also thought it hit a low point with the Matthew in a wheelchair storyline, and it recovered.

    Keep the faith. I think the show can bounce back. In the meantime, check out Upstairs, Downstairs for your Brit-fix. The first two or three are just okay and then it gets pretty good.

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  8. Great post! I agree, and thanks for clearing up the reason why the writer wanted to kill him off. I just could not imagine, as a writer, what he was thinking in doing that. I'm really curious if the show will still have the stability after this. I guess we'll see.

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    1. Hi Kristi! Welcome! Have you taken the blog leap yet? Thanks for the feedback. I'm curious about the stability of the show as well, but I'm not feeling very optimistic.

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  9. and now for something completely different.
    well i hate to say this but i will, i glad he died, well not glad as much as relieved. maybe americans are used to happy endings. maybe we're hard asses up here in the north. i can't really say. i would have killed him off before the birth. i would have accidentally shot him in the highlands. i would have killed him off before they got married but have her pregnant with his child.

    i love downton but i thought there were getting to be a too many farts and rainbows. all these little loose ends getting tied up so nicely. i loved that matthew and mary got together but all that mary being wasted on the likes of matthew, i don't think so. i don't want happy families in my drama, i don't want the good guy to always win. i wish toad face/bates had been put to death.

    canadian movies rarely end nicely. i think julian fellowes failed when the show became all happy ever after and you're right he has ripped off upstairs/downstairs. i watched almost every available episode of upstairs/downstairs and the first year of downton was pretty much the first year of upstairs/downstairs. but i forgive him for this indiscretion because he killed off matthew.

    dear amy, forgive me. i hope you still like me. xxxx

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    1. Of course I still like you. I've been waiting a whole day for you to chime in and you didn't disappoint. You may have to makes friends with my dearie Sarah IS (see above). She called Matthew "pudding face" and also was happy to see him go.

      I don't think I'm opposed to sad endings, nor am I inclined to happily ever afters. What I'm frustrated with is a plot twist that happened after so much build-up. It's like Lost all over again. (Don't get me started on Lost because it's a long conversation with many expletives about hours of my life wasted!) I think I'm reacting to the writing as if the show were a novel, not a serial. I think I expected Fellowes to have a plan for his characters and not shoot from the hip when an actor didn't re-up his contract. The whole thing felt cheap and utterly disappointing. No, I wasn't a huge Matthew fan, but I liked how he and Mary worked together. I guess I'm not as big a fan of conflict as you (but as my son would say, "but that's okay.").

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Comments for me? Thanks a bunch!