'Downton Abbey' Wades Around in the Muck

The Atlantic Wire

Lost amid last night's Super Bowl hoopla — how about that one play, huh? You know the one, the thing with the thing and the guy and the ball? — was another episode of the increasingly moribund Downton Abbey, a show that needs to pick itself up out of the mud and get to some greener pastures right quick. After last week's super-downer episode we needed some levity, and yet we spent most of last night still wallowing in the dark.

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Not that anyone else died or anything. No, no, hopefully Downton is done with that for a bit. But still, things were pretty gloomy at the old manor house. Obviously everyone is still upset about [SPOILER ALERT, but really why would you be reading this if you didn't already know what happened last week?] Lady Sybil's tragic death. I don't begrudge them that, mostly because they are not real people, but I do shake my head at the writing. The episode started a month after her death, but I wish it had started a year after, so all these poor bastards could have had some time to shake off the cobwebs of sadness and cheer up a little. But, alas, everyone was still mired in grief, so we were treated to fights about Branson wanting to raise the baby, whom he wants to name Sybil, as a Catholic. Robert Crawley is being even jerkier than usual these days, blustering on about the Catholics and social propriety and all that tiresome stuff. I know, I know, fussiness about social propriety is what made this show originally so good, but when it's only addressed in the form of Robert being stiffly angry about something, it's not so much fun.

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Robert also had a chance to be upset about Ethel the former hooker, after Isobel invited all the ladies of Downton over for lunch and had Ethel serve them. Robert was none too pleased that a (former) woman of ill repute was waiting on his women, but just as they did during the Catholic argument, the ladies held firm and told the barking Robert dog to go on home. As much as I like Hugh Bonneville as an actor, this was some pretty grating stuff last night. Can't we send Robert on some sunny Tuscan vacation where he'll learn things about himself and come back all mellowed out? That'd be nice. His being an ass all the time routine has become monotonous. At least he and Cora have kinda sorta made up, after the doctor assured them that Sybil was beyond saving no matter what. Maybe that love reunion will cure the rest of his crankiness.

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Elsewhere, things weren't rosy either. Thomas is being super blatant about hitting on comely young Jimmy Kent, doing all this touching and squeezing and rubbing, oh my. Jimmy is no dummy and has picked up on the obvious come-on, so we can be sure that some awful catastrophe of confrontation is awaiting us. It's still hard to tell what O'Brien's role in all this is going to be, but I hope she eventually tries to come to the rescue of her old scheming pal rather than hang him out to dry. But given the tenor of this season so far? I don't know if I see that happening. Elsewhere in the Downton dungeons, Daisy is jealous as all heck about Ivy the pretty scullery maid, though she did have a sweet dancing scene with Alfred where she taught him the fox trot. Even though this plot is more in line with the original Downton spirit, it's still laden with heartbreak — the ghost of poor dead William hangs in the air, and we know that Alfred is probably never going to get the sleep out of his eyes and notice Daisy fawning there. There isn't a hint of romantic possibility in the Daisy/Alfred/Jimmy/Ivy love square, just frustration and hurt feelings. Sigh.

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At least Bates is getting out of jail! That is good news, for him sure, but mostly for us. Downton doesn't quite work as a prison drama, so it's for the best that they're leaving that dreary place behind. But what kind of fresh misery and uncomfortableness awaits him upon his return to Downton? Surely Julian Fellowes and his band of sadists can't actually make Anna and Bates happy, can they? No no, that would be highly unorthodox. Some new bad thing is going to arise that everyone will have to frustratingly struggle with for a while. That's what's going to happen. And speaking of perpetually precarious love, Mary and Matthew are totally headed for splitsville, aren't they? Good grief. I think the Abbey might be cursed. Well, yes, that Abbey is cursed, but also this one! This Downton house. No one can stay happy for long; either they find new things to be mad at people for or they plum up and die. Maybe the Crawleys should have moved to that other house after all. At least then they, and more importantly we, may have been spared some of all this unpleasantness.

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