Thoughts on Downton Abbey series 4

Yes! It’s finally here! And why did it take me so long? … Well, I guess I had to rewatch it first to get to a (non permanent) final opinion. And you guessed it, the following review (?) contains MASSIVE SPOILERS (including the 2013 Christmas Special). Proceed at your own risk. Also, you know I love Thomas

I love Downton Abbey. There, I said it. I fell in love with it right from the first episode of the first series and my love only deepened with every episode that followed. Especially series 3 is very close to my heart. So, I should have been warned that this state of bliss couldn’t continue forever. Not after Sybil and Matthew had had to die.

I won’t say that I hate series 4. It has some really nice moments, especially with Mr. Carson – he can be so funny. And the costumes are still downright gorgeous. Also, Mary wasn’t forced into a new relationship right away (I don’t like any of her new suitors, but that’s just my personal opinion).

But: there are many things I didn’t like, unfortunately. Where to start?

1. Edith and Mr. Gregson. “Poor Edith” I should say, it has become a running gag around our house as well. Of course we knew it wouldn’t be easy for them in the future, but this? He goes to Germany and then he just vanishes? I know the Nazis had to appear at some point in the story, but this just felt awkward. I guess it’s based on something that actually happened (at least I could imagine it), but it was just dull, seeing Edith wait for news for years (!). And he’s still missing! Gosh, I hope he makes a surprise comeback in series 5 and they finally get married and– oh wait. If Edith marries Gregson, she will leave Downton. So here we have it: because the audience (i.e. Times magazine) fell in love with Edith she has to remain a spinster to live at Downton forever. Poor Edith.

2. The kitchen love square, or whatever you call that Daisy-Ivy-Jimmy-Alfred-thing. I’m not a big fan of Jimmy (even if they had paired him up with Thomas I wouldn’t have liked him), but this season he just felt too nasty. I also don’t like “the new Daisy” – yes, she has gained self-confidence, but does she have to express it that way? Okay, she didn’t like Ivy from the beginning, but she’s more and more becoming like an old woman in a young girl’s body. I’m really looking forward to the new dynamics in series 5 now that Ivy’s gone (although that felt slightly forced as well).

3. The whole Anna story. I get it that they had to (?) introduce some kind of drama between Anna and Mr Bates because “TV is life with all the boring parts taken out” (I forget who that famous quote came from – Hitchcock? Billy Wilder?). But I simply object to the idea that rape was the only possibility to do that. Anna was always a strong, but kind woman and I simply hate seeing her broken like she is for most of series 4. I also think that the threat of another prison sentence for Mr. Bates is a quite lame idea. Geez, Anna has to have some kind of family out there, why not make something out of that? I don’t get it. Maybe I will get it after series 5, but I seriously doubt it.

4. My biggest downer: Thomas. I’m biased, I know, but I have to comment on this at length, because: What the hell was that? Let’s break down his role in a little bit more detail:

  • Episode one: He gets rid of Nanny West. Felt slightly out of character (Thomas is bonding with a child?), but a good start.
  • Episode two: He makes Edna and Anna not like each other. Sounds more like him.
  • Episode three: He gets three one liners and a very short exchange with Mr. Carson. Okay?
  • Epsiode four: He gets two one liners and the wonderful exchange with Edna on the stairs. Great, although a little bit too short.
  • Episode five and six: He tells Mrs. Baxter to keep him informed, she does and he draws the wrong conclusions, but it has no consequences. Pretty boring.
  • Episode seven and eight: He’s mostly away in America and in the end it appears as if nothing came out of it. What?

What we see here, dear fiction writing friends, is a character who is suddenly without a storyline. In series 1, Thomas tried to get rid of Mr. Bates. In series 2, he had to grapple with coming back from the war. In series 3, he had a crush on Jimmy and was almost kicked out of Downton. In series 4 he… Well, I don’t know what to call this. He’s trying to find out where he belongs? He needs to adjust to his new O’Brien-less situation? I’m at loss.

Add to that his new job as under butler at Downton and the inevitable question: “What on earth are the duties of an under butler?” After watching the series, I still have no idea, which is odd considering how obsessed that series is about showing the working life of the people downstairs. Right now, it appears as if an under butler has to be invisible. And maybe help out with serving once or twice.

Also, Thomas’ only (visible) reaction to O’Brien having left is “Never!” – and then he runs off to tell everyone else. I know they’d fallen apart over the whole Jimmy thing, but I still expected him to say a few words more.

Conclusion prior to the Christmas Special: there are three possibilities. a) Julian Fellowes felt that Thomas had gotten enough attention in series 3 and consequently included him in fewer scenes. b) Rob James-Collier needed time off for appearing on other projects (if it involves Doctor Who, you’re forgiven…). c) They cut out many scenes Thomas had a part in.

And then came the Christmas Special. Which was great – I might be a little monarchist at heart… The London Season finally brings us a few emotions from Thomas! I have to admit I slightly prefer his weepy side over his snarky one, but I’m fine with everything. Oh, and I love seeing Thomas sweating – I said that about the cricket match and I’m saying it again about the soccer match on the beach. My only criticism of the Christmas Special would be that the whole agressiveness towards Tom somehow felt as if it came out of the blue. I mean, the man has been living with them for how many years now? And it can hardly be the first time that Thomas has to serve him…

Where does that leave us? First of all, there’s of course the big question: What on earth is Baxter’s secret? And how did Thomas meet her? (fan fiction heart yells: she was serving at a gay club in London!, realistic mind notes: probably at some pub) And then there is my only request ever since episode 1 of series 1: I want some kind of romance for Thomas! A seaside rendezvous! Something! Even if it’s just a “youthful dalliance in the London season” (yeah, I know who said that – stupid Duke). I can write all kinds of fan fiction about that short romance with the first class steward on board the ship to America, but I would really prefer to see something on screen…

Final (?) verdict on Downton’s fourth series: I’m gonna call it “The big transition”. Thankfully in the case of Mary, pretty dull in the case of Thomas. You notice that this series wasn’t planned from the beginning. In the series 2 script book Fellowes notes that they had planned series 1-3 before proposing the series to itv. So now we’re hitting new ground and unfortunately it shows. The Christmas Special gives me hope that series 5 will return with better stories (and characters).


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