Have I kept you waiting? Yes, I did, and I’m sorry. Forgot that I had to work. So without any further ado, here are my SPOILER filled thoughts on series 5 of Downton Abbey – including the Christmas special.
Thoughts on Downton Abbey series 5
As you probably remember, I wasn’t all too happy with series 4 of our favorite British aristocrats and their servants. I’m glad to say that series 5 was much better, although it still wasn’t as good as my personal favorites, series 2 and 3.
The plus side
- Thomas! Thomas, Thomas, Thomas! Sorry. What I meant: he’s back! He’s nasty! He’s got a story! We get to see more of his vulnerable side! I love it! Okay, he kind of vanished for half of the Christmas special, but who cares as long as we get to see him in so many other scenes 😉 By the way, did anybody else notice that the actor’s name in the opening has changed from “Rob” to “Robert”? Makes you wonder whether he negotiated for a better storyline this year…
- The war memorial story line. Probably my favorite in series 5. Pretty much every German town has at least one World War I memorial (and often many more), but if you walk past them today, they are nothing more than mere stones with names on them. Downton‘s story line reminds us why those memorials were originally put up, whether in the UK or Germany. That the names we read on them are the names of fathers, sons, brothers, nephews and that these people meant something to others. It’s a very powerful reminder of how close the war still was six years after it had ended.
- The Earl. Upstairs, Robert is probably my favorite character, ever since his fight with the Duke in the very first episode. And in series 5, he gets to yell and punch other men, he is jealous, angry, sad and – finally – tipsy. Kudos to Hugh Bonneville for his wonderful portrayal of the man.
- The Dowager. We all love her, we always will love her. She’s still wise and at the same time aggressive, but now we finally get to see some vulnerability. As Mary remarks “Granny has a past”. I’d certainly like to see more of that – maybe even as a flashback (which would be a first for Downton, so I will assume it won’t happen). I also loved the Dowager’s relationship with Isobel. They’ve come a long way from their first encounter (“What should we call each other?” – “We can always start with Mrs. Crawley and Lady Grantham.” – such a classic!) and it’s great to see the Dowager realize how much of a friend Isobel has become for her, even trying to hook her up with Dr. Clarkson (poor man, by the way…).
- Lady Edith. The running gag “poor Edith” certainly continues in this series, but at the point where I was slowly becoming wary of her problems with the Drewes, Edith finally acted and made a decision. Was it for the best? Will this impact Marigold or her relationship with her? I can’t say. But what I see is that Edith is once again the strong, confident woman that I admired so much in series 3 and also 4.
- Daisy. She has come a long way, from the cute mascot of the downstairs crew to the confident young woman who wants to leave the house (which would suck for the series, but would totally make sense for her). Marrying William on his death bed seemed like a dumb idea at the time, but now I can see how it was actually for the best: she has a great surrogate dad and as a widow is free to do whatever she wants (well, almost).
- Costumes. Do I have to mention this? They’re gorgeous – including Mary’s new hair cut.
The minus side
- Mary’s “romantic” life. Given that Mary is supposed to be Downton‘s female lead, her story this series was surprisingly weak. Admittedly, I like neither of her suitors, but I still think the whole thing was poorly handled. In series 4, we got to see how she came to like Tony and Charles, but we never really got to see why she chose Tony as her possible future husband and we especially never got to see why she then changed her mind and ditched him. Why did she fall out of love? In fact, this is part of a larger problem: the romance is getting lost. We had great romatic storylines, e.g. Anna/Bates and Mary/Matthew. We got to see how they came to like each other and eventually fell in love. Now we just get new male characters thrown at us (Tony, Charles, Lord Merton) who suddenly confess their feelings and find that the women feel the same about them. Granted, there are exceptions to this rule (Cora/Bricker, Baxter/Molesley, Rose/Atticus), but where it would matter most, the audience is left in the dark.
- The Russian refugees. It’s an intersting premise, I’ll give you that. To think that these people had to flee their country and now encounter people who have all the things they used to have, but will never get back (although they don’t know that yet). However, it felt poorly handled, mostly because the characters came across as walking clichés. It was probably not the intention, but the whole visit to Downton and their endless praising of the Tsar felt overly dramatic, including them crying when seeing artifacts from a wedding that happened 50 years or so ago. I will assume that all of this is somehow based on actual accounts, like most of what we see in the series, but it just felt ridiculous.
- Ms Bunting. Not the character herself – she’s cute and it’s great to see someone Tom can actually connect with. What bugs me is that she gets invited to so many dinners after the first one is such a massive failure. Sure, they want to do Tom a favor, and it might be “rude” not to invite her, but they would have every right to say no and nobody would be offended – not even Ms Bunting herself. It’s great to see fights at the dinner table, but it just isn’t logical to invite her in the first place.
- The tendency to overly short scenes. Not sure whether they were really so much shorter than usual, but especially the first episode felt like an array of scenes with four lines of dialogue. It got better over the course of the series, so maybe they just had too much content and not enough time? Also, the timeline of the Christmas special felt choppy and not quite in the right order.
The “I’m not sure what to make of this” side
- The “afterlife” of Green. By the end of series 4, I was sure we hadn’t seen the last of the Green story, and I was right. But the further course of the story felt slightly awkward. Anna and Bates get even by both having been to prison once? It’s weird. Not totally implausible, but weird. It also feels like an excuse for Anna not being pregnant yet (aka leaving Downton). I will assume there’s yet more to come?
- Tom is leaving for the US. I guess we all knew he couldn’t remain in Downton forever, but I really hate to see him leave the series. I hope they will find a way to keep him, but I have a feeling that’s impossible.
- Carson’s proposal. Okay, I know he’s had a soft spot for Mrs. Hughes ever since we first saw them together and I know there are many fans who want to see them together. Still, the proposal tasted a little bit like fan service – and if it was, I demand a romance between Thomas and Andy in series 6. Not that I find Andy overly attractive or that I think that he and Thomas would make a great couple, but just for the sake of seeing Thomas in love again. He deserves some happiness, I don’t care how unlikely it was, historically…
This was certainly a series that said “the end is approaching” – not only the end of an era, but also the end of Downton Abbey itself. The older characters are thinking about what will happen after their retirements, the younger ones are thinking about leaving Downton (or are thrown out), and all of the stories are heading for some kind of “settlement” on which the whole series could end. There are rumours that series 6 could be the last one, and while I hate to think that there could be only 8 more episodes (plus a special?) left, it would make sense from a storytelling point of view. I’m certainly glad they left the transitionary series 4 behind and headed into the future, but I fear many tears await us in series 6.