With the dawning of the new year, Downton Abbey has returned to us, or we have returned to Downton Abbey. Either way, this most beloved of asinine shows is once again taking up residence on Sunday nights on PBS, though with considerably less fanfare than in previous years. Where is our dimpled Laura Linney burbling through the introduction? Her pixie face is gone, replaced only by her voice as she soberly intones that Downton Abbey is back. Downton Abbey is an award-winning show, Laura’s voice tells us, with Golden Globes and Emmys galore. She reminds us of how much we love it, and how much it deserves to be loved.
Well, I don’t know how much it deserves to be loved, but I do know we love it. From Poor Edith to baby Marigold to Old Donk himself, it’s a great hour-and-a-half of high dollar soap opera. What puzzles me about this show — well, many things puzzle me about this show — is how the writing varies from really great to really terrible, sometimes in the same scene. I have a theory that Julian Fellowes hates or loves his characters and punishes them accordingly. Obviously, he loves the Dowager, as she gets great lines which she delivers with her trademark perfection. And then there are characters like Bad Thomas and Poor Edith and the Socialist Teacher, who are responsible for everything that is wrong in the universe. Deliberate evil, Accidental Incompetence, and Annoying Stupidity, in that order.
The show returned with a whimper, and not much has changed since we last saw our cast of characters. Everyone is back at the Abbey, hanging around on couches and in the kitchen, with the exception of Alfred and Ivy, thank heaven. Rose lingers on in her vacuous fashion. I was hoping she met with a nightclub accident in between seasons but alas, we viewers are not so lucky. We will be treated to another season of her wandering around the house and/or various locales, being inappropriate.
Bates shows up in a few scenes, breathing heavily and scaring Anna. Never in all my viewing years have I seen a character go so abruptly from being someone so good to someone so (probably) bad — and apparently just because the Fellowes is bored with him and wants to shake things up? I don’t know. Honestly, this sort of random about-face abuses the viewers’ good will, because we were trained to think of Bates as innately good and just, and now he’s just a creep. I am not on board with this change, as now the moral center has been moved.
In other news, Moseley dyes his hair, Baxter screws her courage to the sticking place and confesses to ‘er Lady that she committed a crime for reasons so noble she cannot utter them. As though one felon in the house weren’t enough, now we have two jailbirds hanging around both the male and female dressing rooms. So Skulking Thomas threatens Baxter and intimidates Moseley and it’s basically the exact same plot line as the first season with Thomas and Bates and Anna, only a lot more boring the second time around. Bates and Anna are banished to a holding pattern, with nothing to do but glower while the viewers are forced to watch old Moseley wash his hair. In a show full of low points, this was the lowest, the sight of Moseley hanging over the bathtub, the boot black dribbling down the sides.
The high point of this episode, by the way, was during the fire when Old Donk hollered for someone to save the dog. Yes, by all means, save Isis, who not only has the distinction of being the most likable character on the show, but the oldest one. Really, by my rough calculation the dog is 14 years old and deserves a medal for putting up with these people for so long.
Down in the bowels of the house, Carson harumphs and dourly predicts the future, as is his habit from season to season. He is a talented prognosticator, as he announces that he feels change a-comin’ in his bones. What change? Mrs. Hughes asks, referencing Romans and British history and sounding brilliant as usual. Oh, I dunno, says Carson, just that his Lordship is going to play second fiddle to the likes of me and Poor Edith is going to burn down Downton.
No, I don’t think Carson said that last part, though he might have because I lost interest and didn’t listen so I don’t know what he said.
As far as other characters go…Li’l Daisy tried to do mathematics for no apparent reason, but it looks like she has a learning disability (spoiler alert!) and will need help from the Socialist Teacher, who will no doubt help her overcome her woes and learn her sums in some future episode. In the process the Socialist Teacher will earn Li’l Daisy’s loyalty and stuff her head with ideas about Lenin and the coming utopia, where no one will have to scrub pots and pans or marry against her will just because his Lordship said so. Daisy will take all of this into the kitchen and send Mrs. Patmore into a aristocrat-loving frenzy. What’s so bad about boiling potatoes and making meringues for rich people? Mrs. Patmore will shout, her face turning red just like it used to do during the good ol’ days when she screamed on a more regular basis.
Who else is left? Oh yes, Jimmy-James, who got caught in shenanigans with his former lady boss, and was canned, post-haste post-fire by Old Donk. As usual, Skulking Thomas comes out smelling like a rose, getting his starchy shirt waist smudged by ash as he hoists Poor Edith into an easy chair brought onto Downton’s lawn just for the occasion, thus saving her life and putting everyone into his debt, though how one follows the other, I’m not sure.
Mary was as hilariously awful as ever, providing the second best line of the show: “I’m going to go upstairs to take off my hat.” Okay Mary! Let us know how it goes! The first best line of the show came when Tom reassured Old Donk that he “was not a hater”. He may be a player, but he’s not a hater, and he’s definitely not a player-hater. Shake it off, shake it off, and so forth.
The Pigman, as ever, was the hero of the entire episode as he leaped from plot point to plot point, from caring for baby Marigold to restoring a fraction of Poor Edith’s shattered dignity to saving the house of Downton from sure destruction in his capacity as volunteer fireman. Oh Pigman. If only the show were about you and your brood of peasants.
Honorable mention: Isobel Crawley for being extra irritating and the Socialist Teacher for being the rudest dinner guest on the planet.
See you next week, when Lord G. will offend Mary with his recreational advances and Bates and Baxter plot a jewelry-stealing killing spree.