Downton Abbey//Season 4//Episode Eight

Written by Julian Fellowes
Directed by Edward Hall
Originally aired November 10, 2013 (ITV)
Rebroadcast February 16, 2014 (PBS)

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Less conventionally dramatic than perhaps anyone might have hoped for or even expected, the season finale of Downton Abbey did what so many season finales have done before: whet our collective appetite for more post-Victorian drama by dangling the possibility of future intrigue in front of us. As a series with a loyal following wrapping up its fourth season, series creator Julian Fellowes likely understands that there is no necessity for cliff hangers anymore. His series has come to stand for the stability and safety that many viewers do not have in their own lives. Hence the reason why, with one ambiguous exception, almost all dramatic possibilities for the already-green-lit fifth season seem optimistic even for characters still sheltering secrets. Still, let’s not forget that the much-anticipated Christmas Special follows this particularly uneventful finale, which is naturally baffling to any American watching the series on a two-month delay. While it’s unlikely that Fellowes will pull anything quite like he did last year, I do wonder if the special will actually provoke any kind of controversy as Episode Eight seems content to just sneak by like a pregnant daughter trying to hide her bastard offspring in the Swiss alps. Continue reading

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Downton Abbey//Season 4//Episode Seven

Written by Julian Fellowes
Directed by Edward Hall
Originally aired November 3, 2013 (ITV)
Rebroadcast February 9, 2014 (PBS)

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Sticking to its biweekly pattern of setup and execution, this week’s episode of Downton Abbey spends a good deal of time polishing the season finale’s finest silver in preparation for what everyone in America hopes will be a juicy evening of television. The main course: the revelation of secrets! This week gives us a little something to get our mouths watering while continuing to mine the theme of women’s independence for increasingly bold results. Furthermore, the presence of Charles Blake gives the series an opportunity to shed some light on the economic and agricultural advancements of the 1920s as well proving that first impressions, while frequently correct, can just as often be misleading. Continue reading

Downton Abbey//Season 4//Episode Six

Written by Julian Fellowes
Directed by Philip John
Originally aired October 27, 2013 (ITV)
Rebroadcast February 2, 2013 (PBS)

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You know that moment in every horror movie where the girl who ends up being the only survivor is alone somewhere and there’s that really creepy point of view shot of her? It shifts around in the bushes, kind of out of sight but not really. And then there’s a dramatic cut and for just a moment you think she’s a goner. Then it turns out to be the creepy boyfriend of her best friend who’s good looking but knows it. He’s always the first to disappear so no one thinks too much of it. After this moment passes, the girl almost always responds that she wasn’t scared just startled. This textbook exchange goes a long way toward explaining how I feel about the twists in Downton Abbey. Though they are predictable in almost every way they are still engaging as a dramatic exercise, a routine that defines the rhythm of the series. Making up for lost time, Episode Six gets a lot of things right including an array of surprises that begin as a bit of harmless, indulgent fun on the part of one of the series’ most contemptibly loveable characters. This episode delves into issues of race and class, committing itself with careful seriousness to both. Though it is never far from gross over simplification, Downton succeeds in giving these topics a sense of personality that empowers rather overshadows them. Continue reading

Downton Abbey//Season 4//Episode Five

Written by Julian Fellowes
Directed by Philip John
Originally aired October 20, 2013 (ITV)
Rebroadcast January 26, 2013 (PBS)

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Episode Five finds Downton Abbey in emotional limbo. There’s a heavy sense of atmospheric hangover from the first half of the season. Yet, despite the “resolution” of the series’ latest major conflict, little is done to shift the overall tone. Having resorted with greater frequency than ever to forays into London and lavish parties brimming with potential intrigue, when left to its own devices Downton suffers from an inexplicable unwillingness to set up future conflict, preferring to resolve things within the body of each episode. There is very little at stake here and thus very little reason to invest energy into what trifling drama there is. The midpoint of any season is difficult to maneuver as things shift from ramping up to winding down. Unfortunately this episode of Downton, with its characteristic languid pace, hangs limply like a windless sail. Continue reading

Downton Abbey//Season 4//Episode Four

Written by Julian Fellowes
Directed by Catherine Morshead
Originally aired October 13, 2013 (ITV)
Rebroadcast January 19, 2014 (PBS)

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The difference between Downton Abbey and other ensemble-oriented dramas, for instance Boardwalk Empire, is that the latter understands that I’m not destined to care as much about Mickey Doyle as I am about Nucky Thompson. In Downton Abbey the hierarchy of character importance often gets blurred. This occasionally produces moments of empathy with a character that might have otherwise been written off the page but more often than not it means killing time between moments of real dramatic juice with Carson and Mrs. Hughes who have now spent three and a half seasons having the same conversation over and over again. But you get what you pay for and I don’t want to appear ungrateful. After all, I do keep watching. This week revealed a great deal about what’s been going on behind the dark eyes and refined features of Mary Crawley, who remains the series most consistently fulfilling character. Were her scenes with Lord Gillingham not so completely enthralling I might have had greater patience while the series fulfilled its weekly quota of melodramatic fluff.  Continue reading