Send in your pledge or another Downton character dies!
So reads a cartoon lampooning the PBS fund raising drive following the harrowing close of Downton Abbey, Season Three.
Less shocking than Mathew's traumatic death was the fact that the anticipated two hour finale was, in actuality, a mere ninety minutes. We stared into Mathew's lifeless blue eyes and suddenly the Masterpiece logo appeared out of nowhere like a black lorry on a winding road.
Quick cut to Mr. Earnest and Miss Chirpy, the voices of PBS fundraising.
We're all suffering the effects of whiplash, and I'm still taking it all in.
Once again, I feel like the Monday morning quarterback picking apart every plot line and piece of dialogue. I stand back and ask myself what every T.V. executives on both sides of the Atlantic must be mulling over: What draws people to do this show? For me, I focus on two things: character and beauty.
From the blurbs I've read, most fans found the finale a real yawner, but I beg to differ. The last two episodes recaptured the elegant pace of Season One when the script seemed less enslaved to plot lines, and the camera could travel slowly down a telegraph line or linger over a train whistle and a plume of steam. The cricket match and the county fair, the Scottish reel and the Scottish Highlands, Anna's laughter and Bates' crinkling eyes -- glimpses of beauty.
This was a nice change of pace from the rest of the season which struck me too often as jarring. With an ensemble cast, the writers have a whole lot of plates to keep spinning. At times, flitting from one character to the next felt like watching so many pawns advancing across a chess board. It might be necessary for the game, but it's not all that entertaining to watch. Yes, the show needs a plot but only so far as it develops character and showcases beauty. We're not tuning in to watch James Bond or Jason Bourne.
As my friend Rachel pointed out, no one cared about Bates in prison; we enjoyed Bates and Anna on a picnic. No one cared about Daisy and the farm; but we loved watching Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore howling over the pathetic pick up lines of a middle-aged grocer.
There seemed a forced tidiness to conflict resolution. Mary and Mathew are at loggerheads over the Swire inheritance . . . until we conveniently learn that Daisy mailed a letter for Lavinia as she was dying. Tidy. Cora and Robert are alienated over the decisions that led to Sybil's death . . . until Dr. Clarkson clears it all up for them. Tidy. Thomas and James eye each other warily . . . until Thomas dramatically rescues James. Tidy.
Real life isn't so tidy. If the script didn't dictate stingy quotas of minutes and lines to quite so many sub-plots, perhaps Downton could fully explore the slow, circuitous and not so tidy way real relationships evolve and resolve. Blogger Melissa Wiley called some of these plot twists"writerly" and I think that word captures it all nicely.
Quibbles aside, I still loved it.
Predictions for next year? O'Brien will grapple with the astounding news that she is not, in fact, the most dour-faced lady's maid in British Isles. Branson will marry Rose, attracted as he is to young, pretty, rebel daughters. Mrs. Crawley will marry Dr. Clarkson.
And dwelling on Mrs, Crawley makes me lament, "Oh, Mrs. Crawley!" Losing your only son, losing any son!
On a side note, the stunning scenery in the finale reminded me of the movie The Queen which was shot near Balmoral, the royal family's estate in Scotland. The Queen is an interesting movie with gorgeous views that make me want to bundle up and go for a trek. (Note to Christine: I'll pick you up in Glasgow!)