February 28, 2013
The Odds & Ends of Downton Abbey (and a Couple of Digressions)

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I was asked by the three people who read these posts what I thought of the final episode of Downton Abbey.   Now I know I said in my last post that I was done until the Christmas special but, as it turns out, in the U.K. the death of Matthew Crawley was the Christmas special.  So.

Matthew’s Death

How does a young, healthy, sober man get into a car accident on an empty road on a sunny day with a milk truck that I can beat in a foot race?  It isn’t as if Matthew was eating an eclair, then took a swig of coffee that spilled down the front of his impeccable shirt causing him to take his eyes of the road in order to gauge the magnitude of the stain, then decided that perhaps he could get it out with saliva, whereupon he began gnawing wetly on his own button placket, all the while fiddling with the radio trying to find a station that wasn’t playing  ”Hotel California” and failing that, propelled his Stutz Bearcat into the nearest available obstruction (milk truck) in an attempt to, dear god, make it stop.  

Instead, Matthew’s death reads like the work of ne’er-do-well, marginally embittered writers who were tired of Dan Stevens (Matthew) bursting into their office, interrupting  whatever time wasting activity in which they were involved in the name of “research,” demanding to know exactly when he would be available to pursue “other professional opportunities.”  Thus serving to remind the writers how lucky they were to have this opportunity because “marketing departments dictate the literary marketplace,” leaving them so few options in the book world, that their response was to write what can only be described as a “just fucking go already” scene.

Question:  Is Downton Abbey a scientific experiment in “life out of order”, or  the most impressive example of job security ever for older actors ever?  (Subset question:  Did they turn Downton Abbey into an officers’ military hospital to test the viewers’ willingness to accept Downton as a high end retirement home?)

Downton is a place of death.  Specifically, young, untimely death:  the randy Turkish fellow, the virginal footman who loved Daisy and died of something that I believe is called We’re Tired of Writing Dull Dialog For You disease; the beautiful Lady Sybil who channels her inner Chatterley by  taking up with the chauffeur; Miss Swire who was interchangeable with Lord Grantham’s dog, Isis, in terms of her dramatic impact, and, of course, Matthew. (Eighteen year-old Cousin Rose was at Downton for two days before she got shipped back to Scotland.  Let me just say, Whew!  Close one.)  

I don’t know quite how to say this so I will just say it:  The key to unexpected turns of events is to make them unexpected.  For example, if you predictably only kill off anyone under the age of thirty, you thereby establish what is known as “a pattern.”  A pattern could be considered  the opposite of the unexpected. Just something to think about during all that free time the Downton writers now have due to spending exactly three seconds coming up with Matthew Crawley’s death.

Question:  Why Don’t The Crawley’s Ever Go Anywhere?

They’re rich.  They’re retired.  They have great clothes, and no one needs to lose ten pounds before attending a social event, and yet the only place they ever venture is to the drawing room and the dining room in a house the size of the nearby village.  The last movie I saw that was historical and set in a mansion where no one ever left the premises, was The Others, with Nicole Kidman.  All I’m saying, Downton, is it’s been done.  

Just when it seemed that the Crawleys shared a genetic disposition to some sort of agoraphobia, they went to visit Rose’s parents in Scotland—no doubt with the intention of “inviting Rose back to Downton” once  they realized she had craftily escaped with her young life.  I can’t quite imagine how the Crawleys all came to be sitting around in the drawing room (or dining room), having a family meeting on where to take a week’s vacation as if they only have seven days of vacation left on their time cards, and no one suggests “Paris.”  Or “Cairo.” How does “Let’s go see Shrimpy and Lady Shrimpy (aka The Bickersons) in the desolate north in that forbidding manor with the DIY rifle-flower wall art and no central heating” win?  Did someone have a wager to settle? 

Question:  How old were the Shrimpys when they had Cousin Rose?  

Odd chronological familial relations is a kind of mini-staple in visual entertainment, to the extent that more than a few casting decisions look more like someone calling in a favor than actually paying attention to the reproductive cycle of the average human female.  How else to explain:

1.  Marian and Winthrop Paroo

In The Music Man we are introduced to Marian (The Librarian) who lives with her widowed mother and her younger brother, Winthrop.  Marian is old enough to be considered a spinster and looks about thirty years old.  Winthrop is maybe six years old.  I believe Mrs. Paroo’s heavy Irish brogue is a diversionary tactic to prevent us from “doing the math.”

2.  Mitch and Kathy Brenner  

Mitch Brenner frequently visits his widowed mother and younger sister, Kathy, in sleepy little Bodega Bay, soon to be a vacation spot for The Birds.  Ages run crazy all over the place.  Mitch looks to be pushing forty, so in 1960s years he’s probably more like thirty-two years old.  Kathy is twelve.  The Widow Brenner looks about fifty.  It’s possible for her to have had Mitch at eighteen and Kathy at thirty-eight, but who plans a family with an entire generational span between siblings and no one in between?  I mean, don’t they sort of cease to be siblings and become more like a guy and his mom and “that girl.”

3.  The Von Trapps

Nothing seems amiss, until Liesl ‘I-am-sixteen-going-on-forty” von Trapp shows up in the whistle line-up.  It’s a testament to Julie Andrew’s acting that when she’s introduced to the children, played by actors who all look age appropriate with the exception of the young matron, Liesl von Trapp, stomping out their names and ages, that she waits until the toad scene at the dinner table to accuse them of “pulling her leg.”

Question:  Why Do I Expect The Actors Playing The Servants Only To Leave Their Acting Job at Downton Abbey If Asked To? 

It is also a testament to the veracity of Downton Abbey that only the people upstairs seem to be able to leave the show; downstairs it seems they are lucky to have that job.  I mean, I have to remind myself that they aren’t really servants with prescribed lives but actors who are playing servants with prescribed lives.  Yet somehow I find myself reading about Matthew or Lady Sybil getting other acting opportunities and thinking, well, of course.  Yet I somehow know that if O’Brien suddenly showed up  as a Broadway lead, or Jimmy the Footman was the new regular on GIRLS I would find myself thinking, Really?  Who knew? Followed by a good for them!, as if they had, by sheer luck, escaped their sad little basement life.

Question:  Is Isis immortal?

Um, yes?  Either that or a Ripley’s entry.