Peter Fenzel and Matthew Wrather overthink tonight’s episodes of Downton Abbey, talking about the various births, rebirths, and revelations including: Bates, little Sybil, Branson, Ethel, and Thomas, and the final resolution of the season. (Though there is a non-Christmas-related Christmas Special to come next week…)
Long time reader/listener/viewer, first time commenter.
So happy to see a double dose of Downton-thinking It today! I’m curious if anyone else is finding their viewing inflected by biographical knowledge about Julian Fellowes (that he is a Conservative and a “gentleman”, to the degree that that is possible in contemporary Britain*). On one hand, it’s interesting to see a historical drama that includes a sympathetic conservative point-of-view. These changes have indeed been hard on Robert. On the other hand, I can’t help noticing the digs the show takes at various characters who take on progressive projects (or heaven forbid, politics) and wonder to what degree they reflect Fellowes’s views. Biography isn’t criticism but knowing his background is affecting how I see the show. Anyone else in the same boat?
I also read his novel Past Imperfect, which to me was snobbish in a old fashioned way that was really surprising….
* or as I could style him, the Rt. Hon. the Lord Fellowes of West Stafford DL http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_Fellowes
The most awesome thing I learned from that Wikipedia page is that his kid is named “Peregrine.”
I think we have to talk about exactly what we mean when we say the show is “Conservative.” It treats the aristocrats sympathetically, glossing over a lot of the suffering that way of life entailed elsewhere in the society (sending little 12-year-old Daisy to work in the kitchen, for example, which may well have been considered a social promotion for her family), and there’s considerable nostalgia for the those old ways.
But for me the whole thing is colored by the historical irony that these people lose, and the Matthews and the Bransons of the world win. I would say that the portrayal of the actual individual aristocrats does not glorify them (Robert is a buffoon this season—kind of ham-fistedly so; Sybil’s old beau was a jerk; many of them are stuffy and needlessly up-tight), but the portrayal of Aristocracy is sepia-toned.
It could be otherwise. This summer, I read Laura Wade’s play Posh (Affiliate link for OTI! Consume and support the site!), where there’s a real unvarnished rage at the decline of privilege.
The “false Jewish name” Mary gives to the fertility doctor is the name of her maternal grandmother. When I heard Shirley MacLaine’s character called “Mrs. Levinson” I wondered if it was meant to imply that Cora was Jewish, but if the show ever offered more direct evidence I missed it. It would further point to the Dowager Countess’ willingness to break tradition in a specific instance in order to ensure the greater continuance.
Good catch. I totally missed that.
Here’s the way I see the differences between Ethel and Thomas’s “intrinsic moral sin” stuff. Ethel’s “sin,” being a prostitute, brings out her “intrinsic stain,” and everyone knows and talks about it in what I guess you could equate with a stage whisper- as in, they make a big deal of not talking about it as a way of talking about it. With Thomas, they really do keep it on a need-to-know basis, and he’s treated almost like, “It’s about time it happened,” when the incident takes place. And the upset isn’t necessarily over the gayness, but how he acted on it. I’d say the difference comes down to when they hate the sinner AND the sin, or just the sin. They hate Ethel FOR her “inherent moral stain,” but not Thomas for his. And to really dig deeper, they don’t seem all that surprised by Ethel, given her previous relationship with the father of her child, and so they sort of saw that coming, too, but their reaction to her is quite different to when Thomas’s inclination manifests itself.
Which yes, as you said, comes down to a gendered difference. Whoring and prostitution are more associated with women, whereas homosexuality, in Christian theology, is more affiliated with men- the Bible references female prostitutes and the lines that get tossed out by Bible-quoters are about men lying with men, not women with women.
I guess next time, we can go further because the way their plot lines wrap up by the end of the “Christmas special” is important to include in any comparison, imo. Thomas isn’t quite done yet, at the point where the discussion has to stop because of what has been on TV in the States so far. Alas.
I have to say, though, I love how Matthew has consistently done his best to incorporate Tom into the family. I think their relationship over the course of the season deserves more attention. The two guys are quite similar in their “working for the man,” too- recall how in the first season, Lady Violet goes to Matthew to have him dig into the rules to see if there’s a loophole through which they could contrive Mary being the heir; he eventually succumbs to the structure of the family, but with his own twist (by, at least in the first season, telling Robert to do renovations in the town, etc.). Tom, too, eventually starts being incorporated with his own twist, by advocating for marginalized people (Edith and the workers- remember, he and Matthew were on her side about the paper thing), and the diplomatic skills he uses both with his brother and his father-in-law. There’s a LOT of symbolism in the suit/tail thing, too- it’s important to note that Matthew is there when Violet orders Tom to wear one. I think Tom is kind of like Matthew’s secondary and apprentice in a lot of ways.
I don’t really mind the length, since it’s basically a podcast- no offense, but I’m not really “watching,” but rather just keeping it in the background like you said someone else does. I’m not working, though- I’m cuddling my new dog. ;p (But previously, I was working, too, so yeah.)
Have you considered any other series to do something like this with in the future? I’m really loving The Following…
Spoiler, they don’t actually play “Scotland the Brave” in the “Christmas special,” that I recall. ;)
I think one thing I can’t help but feel is that the overall actions and reactions of the characters and how they deal with real problems as opposed to creating them leads to whether or not I’ve sympathized with the nobles or not. This is just me personally, but that very self-involvement makes Robert and Mary rather exhausting and hard to feel for. And more importantly, they refuse to change or try to help themselves. Sybil and Edith at least help others and are actively seeking to improve their situations by finding things to do. Granted, Sybil is dead now, but Edith is still around and kicking arse. But the problem is the stubbornness and self-centeredness of Robert and Mary has led to frustrations and problems with other members of the family- Sybil friggin’ dies because Robert is so histrionic, and Mary and Matthew’s marriage is constantly under strain this season because of her own cold attitude. And the moment where Edith reaches out to her and Mary rejects it is quite telling of Mary’s need to wallow and create drama. So I guess my point is that the sympathy for the nobles isn’t evenly distributed. I’m much more inclined to say, “Poor little rich girl,” in the snarky way about Mary than Edith.
Oh God, if Benedict Cumberbatch was on Downton Abbey… I’d die. I’d die.
Well, I for one was glad when Mary didn’t pretend to Edith that everything was going to be different between them just because Sybil had died. They have a history that can’t just be brushed away, and Mary was being honest about it. Too often in situations like that, people make big promises to change that they really can’t follow through on. Mary doesn’t believe in sentimentality.
Sure, I appreciate the honesty, but that Mary has to be honest about it in that way is what’s telling. Or, rather, what she has to admit in order to be honest. The two women are very different- I don’t think Edith is sentimental, either, but she does have much more empathy than Mary. Both are deadly with verbal daggers, but Edith grows to care for others and things much easier than Mary. I think Edith would be able to forgive or move beyond past disagreements if Mary would- but Mary won’t, which keeps Edith stuck, too. Both keep score, but I’m under the impression Edith has wanted to forget the score more than once, while Mary refuses. Again, this goes to how Mary is so much like her father. Edith, I’m not really sure if she’s like Cora. Perhaps more like Lady Violet, actually.
Think, for example, of the cousin that died in the Titanic. We learn a lot more about that in season 2 because of the man that claims to be him. It’s pretty clear that Edith loved him at some point and that Mary was only marrying him to keep the title in the family. If the roles had been reversed, Mary would have made a much bigger deal over it than Edith did. A more specific example from this is the moment when Edith scolds Mary for not wanting to go into mourning- Edith makes no mention of the fact that she had loved him; while it’s probably understood by the family at that point, she doesn’t verbalize it, while Mary would have made a huge deal of how insensitive Edith was being, especially given her own affection for him, etc. I guess my point with this example is Edith had come to accept what was going on and was trying to move on with the family in a way Mary wouldn’t have. Mary assumes everyone else keeps score the way she does (think of the comment she makes about Cora’s heart having the Pamuk thing carved on it or something).
So yeah. Again, I appreciate the honesty on her part, but what she’s being honest about is what makes her insufferable for me. In case you can’t tell, I have very little tenderness toward Mary, so I’m hiiiiighly biased, here. Characters don’t have to be sentimental for me to like them, but a little more empathy and less selfishness would improve Mary in my eyes.
I’m a couple of episodes behind, but I felt like I had to make this, since it’s looking like they’re going to figure out some sneaky way to get Bates out of jail.
(Please do the magic of making this image appear in the comment. I’ve given up trying to use html/tags on this site, because I never get it right and I can’t find any instructions.)
Oh wow, that’s awesome!