Downton Abbey wraps an uneven season 2

21:02, Dec 06 2011

The second season of Downton Abbey closed last night with a scandalous affair, a shocking (albeit predictable) arrest, and a surprising (yet convenient) death. What did you think of the final episode of the season? Are you happy with how everything turned out?

(Caution: Spoilers follow from throughout the latest series, including last night's finale.)

At the midpoint of this second season, I wasn't enjoying Downton Abbey, at least not as much as I enjoyed the first season. But, despite missing the mark on a few major storylines, I feel as though the last few episodes have redeemed the season by returning to what made the first season work: focusing on the interpersonal relationships of the Crawley family and their staff - an element of the show that seemed to be lost during the early World War I-centred episodes of the season.

On the other hand, perhaps it was purely that those WWI episodes weren't done particularly well. It could be argued that there was simply too much going on, too many narrative threads vying for coverage during each episode. Then there were those dreadful battlefield scenes, which looked more as though Matthew, William and Thomas were running around with toy guns in some patch of grass off the A1.

As I was saying though, these last few episodes have redeemed the season and I've found myself enjoying them more and more each week, leading to last night's somewhat scandalous finale.

Obviously we'd be here for hours if I tried to cover off every major story that was given time in the last few weeks. Thomas getting his comeuppance after a black market deal gone wrong, the Daisy-William faux marriage, Ethel and her baby (and Mrs Hughes' willingness to help), Edith kissing that farmer guy, the evil wench Mrs O'Brien suddenly having an attack of conscience in the face of Cora's potential death, Carson deciding to leave then deciding to stay ... some of the minor stories worked, others didn't - it's the nature of a show like this. On the plus side, at least we can always count on Violet, the Dowager Countess marvellously played by Maggie Smith, to steal most of her scenes.

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However, I think we do need to tackle three other major stories: Lord Grantham's fling with housemaid Jane, the arrest of Mr Bates, and the ongoing Mary & Matthew melodrama - three stories that didn't quite work, but which were interesting nonetheless.

Perhaps the clunkiest was Robert's short affair with new housemaid Jane. Though I can see how it serves the character of Lord Grantham - as he expressed after Downton ceased to be a convalescent home, he feels like a man out of place; I like to imagine him caught between traditional ideals and postwar thinking - I kind of feel the affair was handled poorly, as if it was tacked on to the series as an afterthought.

The scenes between Robert and Jane were awkward to watch, especially since most of the pashing** occurred without any real build-up, and now it seems as though they won't have any real bearing on future events anyway. So what was the point? I don't think there was a point, really - other than to give Hugh Bonneville something else to do.

The most predictable was definitely Bates' arrest. I like that writer Julian Fellowes at least allowed Bates and Anna to spend a night together in wedded bliss (in the closest to a sex scene we've had on Downton) before he was shackled and dragged away for the murder of ex-wife Vera Bates. But surely I can't be the only one thinking that this Vera Bates business has been going on for too long. The idea of Bates' wife interfering, whether dead or alive, lost its appeal a long time ago; now, I find myself rolling my eyes whenever another excuse for Bates to leave comes up.

Please, Mr Fellowes, just let Bates and Anna live in peace.

The most frustrating, however, is certainly the love between Matthew and Mary. As Matthew said last night, the couple are accursed, and now he blames Lavinia's death on himself because her heart was broken after seeing him kiss Mary. Seriously? It seems horrible to say this about the death of a young woman (fictional or otherwise), but couldn't he see how oddly convenient it was that she died mere hours after he realised that Mary was still a viable marriage option?

Then there is Mr Carlisle, the newspaper magnate who seemed destined to play the villain, especially after Mary was forced to confide her Pamook problem to him. In a way, it's unfair to blame Lavinia Swire's death for keeping them apart. After all, even if Matthew was good to go, Mary can't escape Carlisle's clutches. Even if she could, she'd probably just flip-flop on her decision and engage some other dude anyway.

I'm starting to ramble now. The point I'm trying to get to is this: we're two seasons into the show, and the two main romantic couples (Bates & Anna, Matthew & Mary) have yet to spend more than about 15 happy minutes together. It's time for Mary to get past all the drama and for Matthew to get over his honour, and for the two of them to just get on with being married. Or courting. Or whatever high-society couples did in 1919.

One last quick note: as far as style and production goes, the show was as good as ever (except maybe those cheap-looking battlefield scenes); my feelings on costume, sets, music and so on haven't really changed since the end of the first season. Besides, Downton Abbey is still a marvellous show - if the first season was a 10/10, then the second was an 8.5 or 9/10.

Look, I only criticise because I care. The second season didn't hit the mark on some of its major plot lines, even though it did improve over the final few episodes. Here's hoping that improvement continues into a third season.

So what did you think of last night's second season finale of Downton Abbey? What did you think of the second season overall? Do you - like me - wish that Matthew & Mary would just get on with it?

(*) I'm not willing to discuss Lady Sybil and Branson's impending nuptials. Just know that I'm heartbroken to see my darling Sybil with someone else. But honestly, don't worry about it. I just need a little time. If you need me, I'll be on my couch sobbing and watching The Notebook for the eighth straight time.

(**) Yes, I realise pashing is a word that no one over the age of 13 uses.

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