writing books

It’s Mary front and center now.

What more can we say about our collective addiction to Downton Abbey? If you’ve not been bitten by the bug, or have somehow shaken it off to return to the 21st Century, congratulations. I think I will join you now.

Cousin Matthew’s tragic demise shocked so many of us. I wasn’t so much surprised as pissed off. I thought they were leaving us hanging — was he dead or alive? Would his broken neck become “spinal bruising” and miraculously heal itself? Was this a “Who Shot JR?” moment? That sort of trickery wouldn’t have surprised me. The show had sunk into melodrama long before the end of Season Three. Then I read the interviews in British newspapers that Dan Stevens, who plays Matthew, gave back in December. He had no plans to do a Season 4. Ever.

What we didn’t realize was that Cousin Matthew and his struggles to become worthy of his upper-crusty relatives and warm the cold, cold heart of Mary Crawley and save the day or at least the Great House, well, it wasn’t real. He was just an actor who had to read 200 books for the Man Booker Prize and appear on Broadway and father his own (real life) children. (The nerve!) We Americans identified with Matthew. He was one of us, a clever, middle-class, journeyman lawyer with sky blue eyes, fatherless but happy, with a cool, caring mom who was unimpressed by six sets of silver and titles. He was much more American than the real American, Lady Grantham, whose accent was only thing remaining before she starred in a Henry James novel, albeit a happy one for a change. Matthew was the strong, central core of the family struggles.

Oh, we’d like to think as Americans we identify with the servants below stairs. Okay, I’ll give you Bates. But the rest are too into their roles. Even smart-mouthed Thomas dissolved into tears when he was sent away without a recommendation. He’d never get a job in service again! Dear God! He might have to, I don’t know, be an auto mechanic in Ireland. Not too modern there, Thomas. (Not Tom, that’s the other guy. Aren’t there enough names in England to make them different?)

Which brings us to the writing and producing. Nobody can deliver a zinger like Dame Maggie. I love the sets and costumes. Who doesn’t? They are lush and gorgeous and numerous. The house itself, sitting so proudly on the lawns. How about the endless orange outfits Edith has to match her hair? Or Mary’s wedding dress, the sole object — her marriage — being the focus of two seasons? Loved it, all 30 seconds of it. No wedding, no champagne, no Matthew in morning jacket. Zilch. No drama in a happy wedding. Edith, well, that was another story. As the middle daughter of three girls myself, I feel for the girl.

But so many dramatic moments are breezed over like ‘the point is made, move on.’ It made my head spin a little. Onward, next crisis. Or the opposite, like the cricket match, a tedious event with lovely costumes that made absolutely no sense in the dramatic scheme of things except to mortify Molesley. He’s turned into the court jester, poor guy. James Parker in the Atlantic Monthly has a hilarious piece analyzing the show’s appeal. He’s in Molesley’s corner, at least.

My mother, older than Maggie Smith, predicts that Cousin Patrick will come back from Canada to reclaim his title and the hand of Lady Edith. James Parker opines it will go on for 12 seasons. Either way, I’m back to watching The Good Wife.

PS: Still addicted? Feed it here.