Do you find yourself in front of your television set on Sunday nights, all set to watch Downton Abbey on PBS Masterpiece Classics? If you do, imagine me sitting in a similar seat, cup of tea in hand, ready to join you.
***Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen Downton Abbey recently and don’t want to find hints of what’s going on here, read one of my older blogs and save this one until you’re ready.
I’ve been a big Downton Abbey fan from the beginning of the show. I’ve enjoyed this well-researched peek at the upper and serving classes of England from post-Edwardian times through the years leading up to World War II. If Mary, Edith and others didn’t age or change substantially during that period, who was I to quibble? Their hairstyles changed, as did their hemlines. This is fantasy, and that part was easy to overlook.
Also easy to overlook was the cordial, dare I say friendly rapport between the Crawleys and their servants. In reality, historians tell us that servants would have been as invisible as possible, and certainly not as well cared for.
In a recent episode Mary sits at dinner with a young woman visitor, and after the temporary butler snidely points out that the woman was once in service there, haughty Mary is unhappy. She feels as if she’s been made a fool of. Mary, or perhaps someone else at the table, points out that the woman was right there under their noses, but they never exchanged a word or even really looked at her.
Never mind Anna and Bates, Daisy and Mr. Barrow. That snatch of dialogue was as real as any on the show.
Downton has never been a hotbed of drama. There have certainly been dramatic moments. Lady Sybil’s death. The sudden death of Mary’s first lover in her very own bed. Bates in prison. In between spikes of passion and angst, the family and their staff have gone about the business of their lives with good humor and snappy dialogue.
But lately. . .
This final season has been a disappointment. Perhaps the reason is simply that it is the final season, and Julian Fellowes, who created the series, is so busy tying up plot lines, that there is no time for drama. Stories that have spun out over several seasons have ended without fanfare. For instance over seasons Tom, Lady Sybil’s chauffeur husband, has gone from a fiery Irish rebel devoted to social change to the family pussycat. His short-lived trip to America ended recently–most likely because the actor’s other film or TV commitments ended–and he returned back to the Abbey to report that Downton is really his home and the Granthams are his family. I don’t think a single tear was shed anywhere in the universe during this not-so-touching moment.
For a writer of novels, television shows or any other form of fiction, suspense and drama are employed to keep a story moving. Whatever suspense there has been this season has ended in mere moments. Is the Earl of Grantham going to die? Oh, no, he’ll be fine. Will Daisy lose her job? No, because the aristocrats are just too kind not to help her, thereby teaching her a lesson about trusting the upper classes who only have her welfare at heart.
Perhaps, too, Fellowes is simply and understandably tired of the show, of the family, of the milieu, even the history of the era and ready to take on a new challenge. Writers do get tired. Ideas wither on the vine. Series feel finished, and no matter how much the viewers or readers want them to continue, endings are inevitable.
I am properly grateful for this peek into the not-so-realistic past, in a world where my own ancestors were probably delivering fresh vegetables to the back of the house or at best rapping knuckles in the nursery. I’ve loved every moment, but I am sorry the saga is ending with a whimper, not a bang.
I have not, however, noted anyone else complaining. Downton Abbey is now an institution, and viewers and readers and yes, even critics, are so caught up in the spell that an absence of drama or surprises is barely noted.
We’re all saying goodbye in our own way. And yes, I will miss you, Downton. Sunday nights will never be quite the same. Bless you for all those moments of history and entertainment. You deserve to rest on your laurels. I just wish that”rest” had begun after the show was well and truly over.