Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wanted: A plot

The plot of "Downton Abbey" in its third season has been a mess so far. It lurches here and there with no clear purpose, and, seemingly, with no goal in mind.

We started the season with Shirley MacLaine appearing as Lady Cora's filthy rich American mother. And why was that, exactly? Well, she showed up for Lady Mary's wedding, but evidently she was there to reinforce just how single-minded Mary is in her determination that Downton remain Downton, that nothing changes.

We learned that that idiot Robert had dithered away the family's fortune and that the Granthams were at the point of having to sell Downton, so Mary and the Dowager Countess came up with a devious scheme to inveigle Mary's American grandmother into giving up a sizable portion of her vast fortune in support of saving the old homestead. When she refused, Mary pivoted immediately to insisting that her new husband, Matthew, forget his principles and accept a bequest from the father of his dead fiancee and use that money to save Downton which seems to be the only thing that really matters to her. Mary truly is a very selfish and self-centered woman.

Matthew at first resisted Mary's importuning about saving the family home, but then he gave in with very little struggle after receiving an extremely conveniently written letter from the dead man who made the bequest. He took the money and invested it in the estate. Now he seems bent on insisting that it be run properly. I suspect that will never fly with Mary and her father.

Meanwhile, downstairs, we had the short-lived drama over Mrs. Hughes' potential cancer. That was immediately resolved, of course. We don't want to spend too much time agonizing over those people. Unless their name happens to be John Bates. Then the agony just seems to go on forever, long past the point where we've ceased to care.

And then there is poor Lady Edith, iconic middle child of the Grantham family . I don't know what Julian Fellowes has against her. He seems to delight in thwarting her dreams and humiliating her. He hasn't yet written her a strong story line. This year we have her ecstatically happy and ready to walk down the aisle to her beloved, only to have her lily-livered beloved jilt her at the altar in front of the whole village. I think Fellowes is determined that Edith will never be happy. Still, she keeps trying to find some useful purpose in life. Perhaps it really will be as a journalist crusading for women's rights.

Finally, we come to Lady Sybil, the family rebel. She chose a career as a nurse. She chose to be politically aware and involved. She treated the servants as real people with lives of their own. Perhaps it was inevitable that she would fall in love with a servant - the Irish chauffeur. She and her Tom married and went off to Ireland to live, and almost immediately she became pregnant. This season they came back for Mary's wedding and then went back to Ireland for the baby's birth. Fellowes could have left them there. But nooooooo...

There was a kerfuffle in Dublin and Tom had to flee to avoid arrest. Sybil followed and soon they were both back at Downton waiting for their baby to be born. Cue the squabbling doctors and the pompous Lord of the Manor. (Remind me, has the upper class doofus twit Robert ever been right about any single issue in this series?) Cue the foreshadowing of doom and before you know it, we've got another young woman agonizingly dead on the altar of childbirth. To what purpose?

I've read that the actress who played Sybil wanted to go on to other projects and so Fellowes wrote her out of the series, but he had already written her out when he sent her to Ireland. Why not just leave her there? Perhaps to allow all the other characters to react with sadness to the news of her death, showing their sympathetic sides. Even Thomas, and who knew that he had a sympathetic side?

If Fellowes really felt he had to kill off a major character, why not Bates? It would have been easy enough. He doesn't seem very popular among his fellow inmates. Moreover, that story line has gone on far too long. It should have been wrapped up by the end of last season. Where exactly is Fellowes going with it? In fact, where is he going with any of it? The whole thing seems a bit of a mish-mash. But, of course, I wouldn't miss a minute of it.

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