The Fall Of The House Of Downton

Everybody’s talking about the fall of Downton, but it’s not a conversation about the economic pressures in 1920s England that are wreaking havoc on the estates and manor houses this season on “Downton Abbey.”

It’s an ongoing discussion about the current sixth and final season of this once-electrifying PBS hit and how aimless it seems. The answer is surprisingly consistent every time you ask family members, friends, acquaintances or co-workers: What do you think of “Downton Abbey” this season? 

“I’m just not feeling it,” goes one answer. “It’s too talky,” goes another. “Who cares about this tug of war between the Dowager Countess [Maggie Smith] and Isobel Crawley [Penelope Wilton] over the future of the hospital? This storyline has gone on for far too long. Bring it to a conclusion already!” say others.



The hospital conflict -- in which the Dowager opposes a proposed takeover of the town’s small country hospital by a larger hospital concern that will greatly modernize the facility -- seemed to come no closer to a resolution in last night’s episode in which it was once again the central storyline. Not even a visit for dinner by the Minister of Health -- future prime minister Neville Chamberlain -- seemed to move the story along, although it was another event at the same dinner that might bring the hospital story to a close once and for all.

This was the Earl of Grantham’s sudden coughing up of blood -- the result of a rupturing stomach ulcer. An ambulance was summoned and the Earl (Hugh Bonneville) was taken to the very hospital that has been the subject of so much hand-wringing. By the episode’s conclusion, he was reported to be out of surgery and hopefully on the mend.

However, the episode ended before we could learn how this sudden medical emergency might impact the hospital controversy. There were several hints that it might have helped the faction seeking modernization.

From a viewer’s perspective, the Earl’s near-death experience was highly welcome because it was an all-too-rare instance of real drama this season on “Downton.” But was it enough to save the show?

To apply a famous line from an old Preston Sturges movie (“Christmas in July,” one of the all-time great movies about advertising, as a matter of fact): “That all depends on what happens afterwards.”

Up until now, however, the “Downton Abbey” season has been characterized by a series of missteps, with the season’s nadir perhaps occurring in the third episode with the wedding of head housekeeper Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) and head butler Mr. Carson (Jim Carter). 

“Downton” fans loved it when these two became engaged at the conclusion of Season Five last year. But now that this marriage has come to pass, it feels like a jump-the-shark moment for “Downton” -- something none of us ever expected.

And when Tom Branson (Allen Leech) suddenly showed up by surprise at the wedding, it played like an instance of poor storytelling. It made you wonder: How did he time this appearance anyway? Was this kind of precision-scheduling really possible then? He had presumably taken a transoceanic voyage to return to England, followed by various rail scenarios. His showing up at just that very moment didn’t seem believable. Nor was it the “moment of surprise” that its authors probably thought it would be. It would have felt more truthful to Tom’s story if he had just stayed in Boston.

Elsewhere this season, viewers are also tiring of the endless feud between the Dowager’s lady’s maid Denker (Sue Johnston) and the butler Mr. Sprat (Jeremy Swift). The love lives of ladies Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Edith (Laura Carmichael) are beginning to wear viewers out too, although both of them might now be close to finding husbands.

That’s a good thing, because this past weekend’s episode marked the season’s halfway point. Now, with only four episodes left to go, many questions remain unanswered.

Will Mr. Bates and Anna finally have a child? Will Daisy move in with Mr. Mason in his new farmhouse? Will the ubiquitous constable Sgt. Willis show up yet again to announce that someone else in the household is suspected of a crime? Will Mr. Molesley and Miss Baxter get engaged? Will Mrs. Hughes learn to cook a pork chop to Mr. Carson’s satisfaction? Can Barrow teach the new footman Andy to read in just four weeks?

These questions seem trivial compared to the biggest question of all: Can the Crawley estate survive the 1920s, or will it all tumble down like so many of its neighbors?

The series finale of “Downton Abbey” airs March 6.

5 comments about "The Fall Of The House Of Downton".
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  1. Jim Meskauskas from Media Darwin, Inc., February 1, 2016 at 1:59 p.m.

    I won't disagree that this season does not live up to Downton's of yore. One is hard pressed to say that of any of the seasons since the 3rd, with the demise of Mathew Crawley. Though parts of season 4 did feel good to the fans, once Lady Mary chooses life. However, if you are among the more fanatical fans, as I fear I may be, it almost doesn't matter the logical inconsistencies of Mr. Branson's arrival or whether or not there is time to teach the new guy how to read in 4 more episodes. At this point, it just matters that Downton is still THERE. And knowing that it won't be, as a drama respresenting a time nearly everyone alive now is too young to remember, even if the fictional estate will live on somehow, is what is driving current passion for the show such as it is. Few care too much about any of the story-lines any more. Who cares if Mary finds happiness again? Her reputation as a dragon lady is well-estabished enough that we know she doesn't NEED to. You're right, nobody cares about the hostpital drama, in America, anyway. It's far more relevant to English audiences for whom it represents their history, not ours. I think we are all weary of the Bates' trials and tribulations. Really only Lady Edith's story has some hope of mattering, as she emerged, some time ago, as the most interesting character on the show. Even if she's been the Jan Brady of the family, she really has more potential for future development were the show to continue. But as weak of we may find this final season dramatically, my heart breaks at the end of each episode knowing that we are that much closer to the end of what has become mine, and I'm sure millions of people's, winter tradition these last 6 years.

  2. Jonathan McEwan from MediaPost, February 1, 2016 at 3:41 p.m.

    Those of us who get much of our TV from iTunes have already completed the season, and I can report that it will come to a stirring and satisfying, if somewhat predictable, conclusion. I do love the characters, and Lady Mary is a story unto herself that won't come full circle to nearly the end of the season. Yes, four episodes to go, the last two 90 minutes each. That's the length of three good movies. There's time to wrap it up, and it only gets better and better from here. As with pretty much any of the past seasons it's a slow build to terrific last half. Hang in there. It's worth it, Downton fans.

  3. David Scardino from TV & Film Content Development, February 1, 2016 at 4:07 p.m.

    You are so right about "Christmas in July." If you're in advertising and have never seen it, shame on you...!

  4. Tobi Elkin from MediaPost replied, February 1, 2016 at 5:23 p.m.

    Jim, I agree... Lady Edith's story line is the most interesting of the season as she evolves into an independent woman, running her own business -- a single mother attempting to navigate the viscissitudes of life. I love Downton, don't care if this season feels weaker than others and am quite sick of Lady Mary's attitude, esp. toward her sister. And she, too, is growing into a formidable businesswoman running the estate. I admire the women of Downton in general.

  5. ida tarbell from s-t broadcasting, February 1, 2016 at 9:24 p.m.

    I won't be around and haven't been sine the writers began flipping character motivation the second season.  I've seen that old trick too many times.  Downton, despite all the plaudits and fan worship, is a sad attempt to fill the gap left by the now dead EXXON-supported Masterpiece Theaters that made the late seventies through the nineties worth living.  I don't expect to see their like again.  With Big Oil in the ditch semi-permanently, chances of a resurrection seem unlikely.  I sometimes wistfully re-binge Pennies From Heaven (1978) with Bob Hoskins or Berlin Alexanderplatz from director Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1980).  I know the latter was NOT Masterpiece but I remember those great miniseries of the past anyway.  Also, the Kingdom, also not Masterpiece, by Dogma 'separatist' filmmaker Lars Von Trier, a miniseries 'bingeable before its time!' 


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