Ruminations on Re-watching Downton Abbey

Downton AbbyIn preparation for the coming (and final) season of Downton Abbey I’ve been binging on the previous seasons. My first thought as I watched those early episodes was that this is an easy show to binge. Every installment is a pleasure, not only is it a superb bit of television in terms of acting and scripting but it’s a complete visual feast. The setting and costuming is so delightful it would be worth watching even if the sound is off.

Here are some of my other thoughts as I watched 42 hours of one of the best shows the small screen has ever seen:

(spoilers about earlier seasons are possible)

To me, Lady Mary is an uppity minx who is the author of her own misfortunes. Those are the words of Mrs. Hughes but they echo my own feelings. Mary can be nice enough to people she likes but for the most part she is an uppity minx, to put it politely. Too few people have said to her what should be said: I don’t care if you’re the Queen of the Upper Nile, no one should behave as you do.

Sorrow seems to shadow them both and in their wake it shadows us. I love Anna. She has the sweetest, kindest of natures. It is true, though, that her story line, tied to the unlucky Mr. Bates, can be exhausting in its misfortune.

She is a good woman. And while the phrase is enough to set anyone’s teeth on edge, there are moments when her virtue demands admiration. If I were to hold anyone up as a role model from this show it would be Isobel Crawley. She can cross the line into being too much of a crusader but the fact of the matter is, she is truly a good and admirable person. Almost all of the Crawleys are likable but I don’t find them particularly admirable.

I’ve got used to having a companion. A friend, you know, someone to talk things over with. The relationship I have most enjoyed watching over the seasons is not a romance but one of true friendship between two incredibly strong women. Isobel and Violet started out on extremely volatile ground but the show has done a beautiful job of building the relationship between them into something lovely.

We’re trapped in a system that gives us no freedom, no value. Hurray to Downton for reminding us how unfair everything in this system was, first through the character of Tom Branson and later through Daisy and Miss Bunting.

I didn’t want to spend my life in a bare knuckle fight. I didn’t blame Tom for not wanting to further his relationship with Sarah Bunting. Love was a battlefield for her. He just wants to build a life for himself and his daughter.

The business of life is the acquisition of memories. In the end that’s all there is. This is a nod to all the characters I miss on the show, the effervescent Lady Sybil, the charming Matthew and sweet William. And also a farewell to those whom I did not care for so much – I’m looking at you Miss O’Brien.

She felt you had used her badly. I don’t think much of Lady Edith as a mother. First she takes young Marigold, who was at least a year old and able to recognize her surroundings, from the only family she has ever known. My heart ached for poor Mrs. Schroeder. Not satisfied with the heartbreak she had caused overseas, Edith repeats the offense with the Drewes. Now Mr. Drewe is definitely partly to blame for this. He should have talked to his wife before making the deal with Edith. But Edith holds the bulk of the culpability. First, she cashed in on a favor that wasn’t hers. Her father had paid Mr. Drewes back rent. Mary and Tom had given him the pig work. When he said he owed the family what he really meant was that he owed those who had done him a good turn. Edith took advantage of that debt to bring Marigold over and have the Drewes do the day to day care of the girl. Then she compounds the crime by taking Marigold away from the family when they don’t dance to her tune. And they are a family, complete with other children who will feel the loss of their young sibling. The heartbreaking scene where Mrs. Drewe says goodbye to young Marigold was truly awful. It should be added that Mrs. Drewe had young Marigold with her all day long. They did laundry together, she gave the girl her nap and fed her. Edith snatched the girl twice from the only life she had ever known so that she could spend an hour or so a day with her. To me it showed that Mrs. Drewe was right – Marigold was more plaything than person to Edith.

You looked at that little girl and you never thought it was my business too? Edith might be such a messy parent because she has a less than stellar mother. Don’t get me wrong, I love Cora. But Edith has always been an afterthought for Lady Grantham. During the first several seasons all Cora could think of was getting Mary married or launching Sybil. As Edith often lamented, it seemed she was special to neither parent. When Mary was possibly going to be embarrassed the family was ready to send her to America. When Edith really was embarrassed by being jilted at the altar, nothing was done. No trip to the continent. No voyage to see Grandmama. I don’t like how the Marigold situation was handled in terms of the adoptive parents but Edith was right to exclude Cora and Robert from her decision making. They hadn’t helped when she’d been in trouble before.

I don’t believe in types, I believe in people. My favorite person at the Abbey is Tom Branson. He ably walks the line between the two worlds and has learned that there are decent people on both sides of any political argument. If more people would think that way the world would be a far better place.

Screaming in the servants’ hall, singers chatting to his Lordship and a footman cooking the dinner. What a topsy-turvy world we live in. It might be a topsy-turvy world but it is one made better by having Mr. Carson in it. He might be a bit pompous but his heart is in the right place, even if he does have a blind spot where Lady Mary is concerned.

You have obviously read too many novels about young women admired for their feistiness. When she first came on the scene, Rose was a poor substitute for Lady Sybil. Where Sybil was rebellious with a purpose, Rose’s only purpose for being scandalous was to avenge herself on her mother. To be fair, her mother is particularly heinous so there’s justification for it. Still, it was nice to see her grow up in Season 5 and become a truly charming young woman. I loved her romance with Atticus.

It’s a skill all women must learn. Behind Lady Sybil and Isobel the most admirable character on the show, imo, is Mrs. Hughes. She tempers common sense with kindness and is active in helping those she feels need a helping hand. A shining moment for her was when she helped Mrs. Crawley by having that fine lady help Mr. Carson’s old friend, Charlie Grigg. Her care for the fallen Ethel showed a nice nobility of spirit too.

It shows you to be a very brave person . . . what you could do in this world, if you just set your mind to it. I have conflicted feelings about Thomas. In a household where others have come out of prison with gentle and kind spirits, where people have been raped or maimed by war and continued good he is one of the few who carries his burdens with angst and anger. And yet, I think him capable of greatness if he can overcome his bitterness. He has certainly shown himself able to be a good friend, first to Jimmy and later to Andy. I’m afraid he won’t find peace in this final season but oh, how I hope he does.

In her husband’s case she has such poor material to work with. I hope we see a lot more of the Aldridge family, most especially Rachel, who seems like a very decent person.

I’ve had my stuffing kicked out more than once. And yet Ms. Baxter is a model of kindness and grace. I doubt I could be half as good as she is – but I hope I might aspire to it one day.

How wonderful to be back in a world where ladies are accompanied by their maids. I’m sure that Prince Kuragin deeply loved Violet at one time. But I found several things wrong with this storyline. While I know the dowager Lady Grantham has a policy of “Never complain. Never Explain.” I was surprised she wasn’t more upset when the Russian Revolution was taking place. There Tom Branson was talking about it at the dinner table and she showed no more reaction to this than to his other “revolutionary” ideas. Way not to foreshadow Downton. As the storyline carried on, I was pleased with how Violet refused to be dragged back into the past and I was delighted she turned the Prince’s “immoral proposition” down. I found it very convenient that he wished to hook up with a rich lover rather than go and be poor in Paris with his wife. I couldn’t help wondering if the money didn’t have a little something to do with it.

We all pander to Spratt. Violet’s butler doesn’t need pandering to. He needs firing – hopefully without a reference.

He’s very kind you know. We should always be polite to people who are kind. There’s not much of it about. Truer words have never been spoken. Not only is it right that we should be polite to kind people because there are too few of them but it is also correct to say that Mr. Mosley is one of those kind folks. His sweetness nicely counterbalances the pomposity of Mr. Carson and the sourness of Thomas.

He’s made a daughter out of his widowed daughter-in-law. I like it when good things come from bad. We see too little of Mr. Mason but he’s a wonderful part of the show. People like him and the Drewes are what made estates like this succeed or fall. That he has faced his losses with grace and courage and opened his heart to his orphan daughter-in-law of six hours shows that Mr. Mason is one in a million. I hope we see him again in the coming season.

What with the toasters and mixers and such like, we’d be out of a job. Mrs. Patmore is always good for a laugh. She has a brassy, sometimes nasty (think first season abuse of Daisy) exterior but beneath it all she has a heart of gold. I hope she marries Mr. Mason so Daisy will have a home with two loving parents at last.

I know lots of things and one of them is not to mess with Lady Mary Crawley. I’ll never understand the appeal of Lady Mary. Never. Here’s a raised glass to all the men she’s loved and lost. Good on you for escaping.

I blame the war. Before 1914, nobody thought about anything at all. A great line with which to end, you can always count on Violet for a zinger. But since we are a post war world, we can talk about what we think. Who do you miss? Who were you glad to see the back of? (*cough*Edna Braithwaite *cough*) Do you have a favorite character? What do you want to have happen in season six? What story line is your absolute favorite? Which romance set your heart aflutter?


Maggie AAR

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