Mar 022015

Downton Abbey Christmas Special: Matthew Goode and Michelle Dockery

The presence of strangers is our only guarantee of good behavior.

Downton Abbey episdoe 5.09 is the two-hour Christmas Special, and since we get the season late in the U.S., we had the odd experience of watching the heartfelt singing of Silent Night in March. Something is definitely lost in translation. Like Jewtticus, I always just try to follow along on these Christmas things.

Is it fair to say I was genuinely moved by Things That Happened this episode? I was! I choked up! There were tears! And I felt kind of foolish about the whole thing, seeing as I’ve been bitching and moaning all season, but when Fellowes decides to tie a ribbon around things, he does a damn fine job.

This episode’s theme, such as it is, is embodied in the quote above; it’s all about how we behave in front of others. There were numerous scenes contrasting behavior for appearances with actual behavior and feelings, and how we can be saved from ourselves by the act of putting on appearances. I’m not sure I actually believe any of that, but there you are.

You’d visit Denker if she were locked up.
Only to check if the locks were sound.

We open with Lady Mary visiting Anna in prison. How lovely of her. Then we find out that the prison only allows one visitor at a time, so her “goodness” means that Bates must forego seeing his wife. The upper classes once again do exactly what they feel is right at everyone else’s expense.

Meanwhile, a grouse-hunting trip to a castle with the Sinderbys is being planned. I cannot even believe I typed that sentence. Let’s let it roll around on the tongue, shall we? “Grouse-hunting…castle…with the Sinderbys.” Holy shit, blogging this show has turned me into someone I don’t recognize.

Never complain, never explain.

Sometimes I love watching the way these people do things. Watching the staff go through the routine of closing up a great house for a season is fascinating. Entering the magnificent Brancaster Castle is like architectural candy. And grouse hunting! You crazy people! Nonetheless, the two-hour length is padded by a ridiculous amount of lingering on arrivals and departures.

And guess what? Bitchy Lord Sinderby’s butler is also a bitch. He’s more fun than watching Denker and Spratt go at it, though. Mary ordering Thomas to get the man in trouble, though? That was never a good idea. Here’s the thing, when the show first started, Lady Mary was supposedly a bitch, but all we really saw was that she wasn’t grieving a man she was expected to marry; a man she didn’t love but whom her sister did. Which told us, what? That Edith was always pining after men, and Mary was always snatching them up. It never rose to the level of true femme fatale villainy. Then she fell in love with Matthew. Then he died. Now, though? Now we’re finally seeing the Mary that she was always purported to be. The Mary that insults her sister, is rude to guests in order to make them feel bad, and demands the servants create trouble so she can have a little fun. I’m loving this Mary.

So, Anna is a survivor of incest, and somehow imagines this will bring blame down on her. This poor girl gets blamed for every bad thing that happens to her, and accepts the blame. I don’t buy any of this. How old was she when her step-father assaulted her? If charges were never filed and he changes his story now, why is that admissible? It all sounds like stupid plot device to me, an excuse to keep Anna in jail long enough for Bates to do his Noble Sacrifice of confessing, which Moseley quickly undermines.

I will never again receive an immoral proposition from a man, was I so wrong to savor it?

In the world of Lady Violet Grantham, Maggie Smith has been on a magnificent roll all season, and does not disappoint. The Princess of Russian Plot Device has been rescused, and you could see why someone would want to steal this sourpuss’s husband. The Dowager Countess never really intended to run off with Prince Silver Fox, she was just getting off on the juiciness of it all. Well, who can blame her? I’ve enjoyed the plot line, but I think it’s obvious she wasn’t going to gallivant all over Europe doing the nasty with this guy. She needs to stay home and criticize her family and the help. Likewise, the status quo cannot support Isobel leaving Downton for London, and deprive the audience of tea time with those two marvelous ladies, so she must have a plausible excuse to back out. I do hope Dickie Merton isn’t entirely gone, but I think he is.

While we’re on the subject of romance—which was very much the subject of this episode OMG ALL THE SEXY—let’s talk Lady Mary’s new hottie. Casting Matthew Goode was both a coup and a tip of the hand. There’s no way that a known movie star is showing up on Downton without him becoming a love interest for Michelle Dockery, meanwhile throwing a bone to Edith in the form of his less interesting friend. My Gods, the eyes on that man (Goode, not the friend). Let’s see some naked sex as soon as possible.

Speaking of Edith, her father forgives her for stealing another woman’s child. I KID! He forgives her for having THE SEX with A NAKED DEAD MAN. But the important part is that he does forgive her, that Edith’s secret is the most poorly kept in all of England, and that she can continue to tromp all over the rights of adoptive parents with impunity. Well played!

Thank heavens we both have a criminal turn of mind.

So, the Bates/Anna drama is resolved for now, and I can’t complain, since I never liked it. I can complain more about Sinderby and Stowe suddenly becoming good-hearted and loving. When people are helped by those they despise, it’s not a recipe for thawing their hearts, which grow ten sizes that day. It’s a recipe for resentment. Softening Grinch Jew was never supposed to happen, and is Julian Fellowes announcing he’s tired of that plot and moving on. Which is ridiculous because it’s all so rich! Evil butler! Out of wedlock child! Clueless wife! GRINCH JEW! This is much, much, MUCH more interesting than the Great Broth Conspiracy, the less said about which, the better.

Oh, and hey, they’re hiring Thomas’s crush so he can get his heart broken again. Welcome aboard, Andy, we knew you’d be back!

Now to the moments that made me cry.

First, let’s all hold hands and remember Sibyl. I know it was cheesy, but Geez Louise, it got to me.

Second, Carson proposing to Mrs. Hughes. Holy shit. Yes, we knew at the finale last season that these two were being ‘shipped, but wasn’t it beautifully done? Wasn’t it so touching and lovely? And she called him an old booby!

I am sad that Fellowes invented a mentally-ill sister for Mrs. Hughes as nothing but a plot device. Just as Isis had to die just to get a stone-cutter into the abbey and make Mrs. Patmore happy, Mrs. Hughes has to have a “not right” sister so that Carson had to propose in order to get her to live with him. Presumably, if he could have gotten her to live out her years with him platonically, as a business partner, he’d never have proposed. Which is just weird, but never mind, they are awfully sweet together.

Were you all happy with it, overall? I was happy with it.


  4 Responses to “Downton Abbey Season 5 Finale: Never complain, never explain”

  1. Does anyone else think the opening bars of the Downton Abbey theme sound like the opening lines of the Mary Tyler Moore theme?

    “You’re gonna make it on your own……”

  2. I was struck by your comment of being saved by putting on appearances to save ourselves. Who doesn’t do that? I’ll admit the aristocracy of the UK probably has it down to an art form, but really even middle class Americans do that. See your husband sneaking out of a party with some hot chick? Do you after them screaming? ( only if you can get it on YouTube ). You get slapped down at work by a co-worker? Do you A) stay cool and plot retaliation B) yell and then go cry in the bathroom? It is of course assumed that everyone who notices is aware that there is bad behavior going on, but not by you, and so you get extra points for that. And in that day and age, everyone knew what was and was not correct behavior. Which is why I find Edith’s behavior rather silly. If she had just adopted or made Marigold her ward from the git go and hired a nanny, etc. there might have been talk, but no one would have really said anything. A standard rule of the time in that class was to “never comment on appearances of children”. Which is why Lady Diana Cooper, wife of Duff Cooper, could claim, much later in life, that Margaret Thacher was her niece.

  3. I wish they’d do a show about Tom going to America with Sybbie. (But maybe not written by Fellowes who often sucks the interesting out of characters)

    I’d totally watch that.

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