Downton Abbey Devotees: Entrances and exits

Our Downton Abbey panel analyzes every episode of the country house soap opera, starting with Sunday's season five premiere

Downton Abbey

Lords and ladies,

We bid you welcome to this new weekly blog, and wish you good health in the new year. However, we would be remiss if we did not caution that Downton Abbey secrets, even gossip, will be revealed in below writing. We are concerned that the revelations may trigger a splenic attack for those unfortunates who haven’t seen the new episodes. Perhaps they should depart forthwith?

For all others: Welcome to season five of Downton Abbey, or as we call it, the season of LOVE (true, new, illicit, “inappropriate” and unwanted). Your hosts through this season, Genna Buck (@Genna_Buck) and Patricia Treble (@PatriciaTreble), have very strong, often diametrically opposed views of the PBS Masterpiece show. But one thing on which we agree: it’s the most fun soap opera on TV today. After all, they get to wear tiaras and say things like, “Very good, m’lord.”

Patricia: At the end of this episode, I wanted to scream from my balcony, “Jimmy is gone. Jimmy is gone. Jimmy is gone,” but that wouldn’t be decorous, would it? I’ve never liked the smarmy, way-too-pretty footman. Sure he’s an orphan, but hey, so were many in that pre-mass vaccination, pre-antibiotic era. He maliciously broke up Alfred and Daisy, the most innocent characters on the show. That is unforgivable, though I’m hoping creator Julian Fellowes will ultimately give them a happy ending. But back to Jimmy Kent. Beyond that one piece of nastiness, he’s been as dull as dishwater, and that means only one thing: bye-bye.

I love soap operas because no bad deed goes unpunished. And in the case of Jimmy, it was his illicit relationship with his previous boss, Lady Anstruther. He’d come to Downton rather than flit off to France with her—the food didn’t agree with him. However, this show is in love with strong women who know their own minds. And in the case of Lady Anstruther, it was getting the dimwitted but cunning Jimmy back in her bed. She does it in spectacular fashion, gatecrashing a party—car trouble that mystifies Tom, the former mechanic—then being too tired, and drunk, to leave. All to get Jimmy back in her life, and bed. Of course they are discovered, of course by the earl, and of course, in a crisis—fire! The only thing better than seeing the back of Jimmy is seeing Thomas’s self-satisfied smirk.

Genna: Man, that was one convenient fire. It rivals the convenient flu epidemic of season two. We got 1) a symbolic burning of Edith’s relationship with her AWOL baby daddy, Michael Gregson; 2) a way for Thomas to ingratiate himself with the family again by rescuing Edith; 3) an opportunity for Edith to have a clandestine conversation with Mr. Drew, the firefighter who is taking care of her kid; and 4) a chance for Jimmy’s little tryst with Lady Anstruther to go down, literally, in flames.

By the way, I’m not convinced the aforementioned lady is a strong woman who knows her own mind. I think she might be straight-up crazy. One of my favourite things about Downton is watching 1920s people subvert newfangled technologies to find novel ways of getting up to no good. Lady Anstruther’s telephone relationship with Jimmy and her faked car trouble are prime examples of this.

Unlike you, Patricia, I’m not dancing on Jimmy’s grave (er, expired acting contract). He’s pretty boring, true. But I was really looking forward to seeing his nascent friendship with Thomas develop. Thomas is gay, and he’s out to Jimmy. Jimmy tolerates it, even if he can’t pretend to be chill about it. That’s kind of cool. Not everybody was a priggish bigot back in the day. Male friendships are underexplored on television to start with, and adding the element of clashing sexual orientations makes it even more interesting.

That said, of all the characters they could have cut, Jimmy is an okay choice. I wasn’t sad to see Ivy and Alfred go, either. The creators are really hammering home this “times are changing for the working class” theme, and paring down the number of servants. Good. The last thing Downton’s downstairs needs is another love triangle, or, God forbid, quadrangle. The Ivy-Alfred-Jimmy-Daisy thing got so tiresome that I gave up trying to follow it. Speaking of love…

Patricia: Lord Merton. OMG, he’s really serious about courting Mrs. Crawley, a.k.a. Matthew’s grieving mother. What isn’t to love about the guy? My fellow blogger calls him “awesomely adorkable,” with reason. He’s avuncular (yup, had to look up the word: “kindliness and geniality” of an uncle suits him perfectly), handsome, intelligent (not a given in the British aristocracy) and very, very rich. Even better, his pursuit of Isobel Crawley seems to be irritating the dowager countess. And that means only one thing: great quotes! Zinger of the episode: “There’s nothing simpler than avoiding people you don’t like. Avoiding one’s friends is the real test.”

Genna: You know, I think Violet is getting over a bit of her snobbery (imagine that!). She doesn’t care that Isobel pairing up with Lord Merton would elevate her beyond her station. She just doesn’t want Isobel’s new love life to interfere with their friendship. Awww.

Speaking of friendships, I absolutely love Daisy’s new, mature relationship with Mrs. Patmore. It’s gone from a squawking boss ordering around an underling to something much deeper, almost parental. And Mrs. Patmore is encouraging Daisy to pursue correspondence studies in math and accounting. That’s a pretty big step for a girl who always thought she’d be in domestic service all her life. But she’s going to inherit a farm now, and she needs to learn how to run it. The modern world really is encroaching on Downton from all sides. Even Mr. Carson (bless him) feels “a shaking of the ground” under his feet.

Patricia: Oh, bless Daisy—she’s an absolute delight. I’ve liked her from the very first episode, when she was such a timid girl laying fires while the hoi polloi slept. And that earth quaking under Carson’s feet is more than Daisy’s pursuit of continuing education. In 1924, Britons rejected decades of aristocratic rule and elected their first Labour government under Ramsay MacDonald. Born out of wedlock to a labourer and maid, he did what Daisy is attempting, and bettered his chances in both society and the workforce by pursuing evening classes in the sciences. The idea that such a man could inhabit No. 10 Downing Street galvanized the lower classes to demand for better working conditions. Kinda sure this is going to be one of those big “social” themes of the season, like how income tax was raised last year.

I like all the new technology coming into the house, especially the radio, but why, oh, why, does it all have to be suggested by Rose? I find her as tiresomely, blandly annoying as Jimmy. Julian Fellowes clearly decided he needed a young, single woman above stairs, and presto, the daughter of a cousin is living at Downton. For a moment, I hoped that Jimmy may have blundered into Rose’s bedroom, and perhaps they’d both be banished, but no such luck. Perhaps she can fall in love with some diplomat about to be posted to Chile?

Genna: No. Rose stays. I love Rose. I don’t think she’s an empty vessel placed in the show to represent the changing times. She’s an awesome character in her own right—radical, openhearted, and wild. Remember when she fell in love with Jack, a sweet, smart, well-spoken gentleman who also happened to be a black nightclub singer? She forced everyone upstairs and downstairs to confront their prejudices. I expect great things from Rose.

Stay tuned for episode two on Sunday, Jan. 11. Both of us are hoping a bit of romantic fairy dust settles on Mrs. Hughes and Carson. They can’t just hold hands while wading at the seashore, can they?  Hmm, have you noticed that some of the best romances are in the, err, plus-50 age demographic? I think Rose will be getting another beau soon.

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