by Cara Winter
My husband hates Downton Abbey.
Actually, “Hate” may not be a strong enough word. Loathe? Abhor? It’s hard to say. The depths of the man’s hatred for something… well, make believe… is impressive.
We agree on many shows — most shows, in fact — from Homeland, to The Americans, to Pawn Stars (which is just Antiques Roadshow repackaged, with a little idiot-development on the side). But on this one, Warren and I are as far apart as…well, Downton Abbey, and, say, Sons of Anarchy.
I think it’s the Tea.
Virtually every time he wanders into the room (as was the case during last night’s Season 4 Premiere), someone is having Tea. Or Supper. Or Luncheon. And they’re just sitting there, talking, drinking tea. And he just… can’t …take it.
Course, he hasn’t stayed put long enough to know how much more there is to it. So when there is a fantastically undignified brawl (Crawley v. Carlisle, Season 2), an epic, dryer-than-burnt-toast eye-roll (Cousin Violet, every episode), or a long, drawn-out admission of those pesky, horrid “feelings” (I’m looking at you, Lady Mary)… his response is his own, long-suffering eye-roll. But no, I have not yet murdered him for walking in during a particularly intense, and /or witty, and/or emotional moment, and crapping all over it. I forgive him because, well… he’s just misinformed. Downton is delicious, and the 2-hour Season 4 Premiere was no exception.
For those of us completely committed (including some of my friends’ husbands – holla!), there was a great deal of anticipation for last night’s return to PBS. (Side note: I do think it’s helpful ratings-wise that each new season appears in the U.S. just after Christmas; having Downton to look forward to relieves the S.A.D., post-Christmas-let-down. No, seriously, it really does). As the gossip and flow of the opening credits began, I felt they’d recaptured something lost by Season 3’s Depress-O-Rama.
Creator Julian Fellowes has successfully planted the seeds for some delicious downstairs backstabbing, (despite O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran)’s sudden departure), with the addition of Cora’s new ladies’ maid, Braithwaite (MyAnna Buring), who doubles as Thomas’ new “friend”. Fellowes has also set in motion more trials and tribulations for the rich people than one could think possible, given the fact that they should be able to, you know, throw money at everything.
Fellowes also enticed us to not think too hard on how much we miss Sybil and Matthew – because look at all the shiny, new faces we’ve replaced them with! This was a delicate balance, but they pulled it off; there were well-placed moments of extreme grief, there were photographs in the background, and of course there are the babies. But we never felt mired in it. The formidable Michelle Dockery took Lady Mary’s grief and turned it into sublime, dark action – a tricky undertaking. The steely, unearthly stare she gives Lady Edith, on Valentine’s Day? There are a few NFL linebackers who could learn a thing or two from her.
My sole issue with the evening (besides having to wait 2 hours to pee) was that Lady Rose’s interest in a “townie” struck me a little too similar to Lady Sybil’s arc of yore. Hopefully, they’ll let that one lie. (Lie? Lay? Go? Yes, go. Let it go.)
My favorite development this season is the growing-up of Lady Edith. The ignored, dorky virgin doomed to one day nurse her elderly parents has vanished, replaced by a writing, drinking, liaison-having modern woman (and, frankly, someone I’d like to hang out with). It’s refreshing, it’s cool; and with that gorgeous what’s-his-name (Charles Edwards) putting his hand on her knee, like that? We’re all going to need our smelling salts, in a minute.
And who could not love the Dowager? There have been tomes, TOMES, written in adoration of Maggie Smith’s Cousin Violet; I will not add to them here. I’ll just say this… when I am old, make me like her. Please God; if for no other reason than I’ll finally be allowed to say, out loud, all the things that are trapped inside my head – even to family members!
And that’s really what Dowton taps into (and the ultimate shame in my husband’s not-watching): no matter who you are, what you do, or your nom de plume, there’s someone on Downton who speaks to you. Grief-junkie? Lady Mary. Change-averse? Carson. Love Machine (with a dark side)? Bates. Middle-aged-and-ill-equipped-for-a-changing-world? Molesley.
Downton Abbey is a world full of the same joy, grief, and quiet mystery that exists in all of our lives (if we slow down long enough to catch a glimpse). That is why, when poor old Molesley gazes up at the stars, in awe, lost and alone… we quietly say a prayer for him. All of us have felt, at times, lost. Then, miraculously, we are found. We all must find our purpose in life, and Downton’s magnificent time machine always seems to find a way of reminding us of just that. Even if that purpose is simply to serve a decent cup of tea.