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This isn’t easy to say, so I’m going to just say it.

I don’t think we have a future.

I can’t deny things were amazing at the start. You invited me to a world of such activity and glamor, where men come down to a hot breakfast and a freshly-ironed paper, the lady of the house can lounge in bed with her own breakfast on a tray, and even the servants’ quarters, spare as they are, are infused with a warm, natural glow.

Bates

And I’ll always be grateful for the way that you brought Bates into my life, and Anna, the good Anna to embody my admiration. There is no affection quite as poignant as an unspoken affection, and their still, quiet surfaces left us to imagine their raging, turbulent depths.

The yearning alone had me tangled up in the most delicious knots. Mrs. Hughes, given the opportunity to chose between her life and position in the house and a life of her own when an old flame returns and proposes. Gwen, dreaming of a life in the new middle class instead of service. Thomas and O’Brien, scheming and scheming. William pining after Daisy, Daisy pining after Thomas, and Mr. Carson, just hoping that the family he takes care of, the only family he knows, will finally have its future secured one way or another.

But now it feels like we’re both working so hard to recapture the old magic, and you have to admit that things just aren’t the same. When Gwen left, you got another redhead to take her place. Another girl with stars in her eyes who didn’t see herself spending the rest of her life as a maid. But how did it go so wrong? Could she not live up to Gwen’s shining example? Did you have second thoughts about class mobility? Even O’Brien now seems petty, defeated. The person who once had the gumption to engineer a false theft to pin on Bates can’t even get Mrs. Patmore fired for actually stealing food! Even worse, her grudge against Bates, which once at least was intended to get Thomas in as Lord Grantham’s valet, now just comes off as paranoia. When Dr. Clarkson reprimands Thomas for exceeding his authority, O’Brien is quick to blame Bates, even though Bates has refused to rat on either Thomas or O’Brien when the pair repeatedly caught themselves out in their own schemes.

O'Brien

How can I respect someone who used to be so fabulously evil, when she doesn’t even respect herself anymore?

And while we’re on the subject, I’m not sure that I like the person I am when I’m around you. Last week, I actually found myself angry that Mrs. Patmore was stealing to feed out-of-work veterans. Even worse, I was angry at Ethel for being so stupid as to sleep with that no-good Major Bryant, and that’s not who I am. From the day that you introduced us to Ethel, you’ve made clear that she’s someone who doesn’t know her place, someone who would destroy her own future in a deluded grab for a life that she thinks she’s entitled to, and worse, that the whole sordid situation would revolve around a man. In reality, Major Bryant is a predator, taking advantage of a girl to whom he can never be held accountable, but he’s not even enough of a character to possibly bear any of the viewer’s blame.

And if I’m going to stay involved, then I have to take that on myself. I can’t stay a tourist forever. If I’m going to live in your world, then eventually I’m going to buy into some of your Tory politics and nostalgia. I’m going to have to accept that getting emotionally invested means accepting the implicit argument that service isn’t exploitation but a way for a few chosen common people to participate in the dignity of the aristocracy. That the weaker party not only bears the consequences of an imbalance of sexual power, but that they have to bear the blame as well. Perhaps worst of all, I have to take sides in a battle between Isobel Crawley and the Dowager Countess that started off as an entertaining and illuminating struggle between middle class and aristocratic entitlement, but is increasingly just a stupid argument between two unbearably self-centered people.

And maybe even that would be okay if there weren’t something vulgar, and, dare I say it, even American about the new season. I’m not sure that you know where things are going, and I’m concerned that like a stateside drama you’ll just keep making things up even after it’s clear that there’s nowhere else to go. And let’s not do that. You know that something like this is best when there’s an end in mind from the very start.

But maybe we shouldn’t try to place blame. We’ve been apart for so long, maybe it wasn’t fair for either of us to expect that things could be the same.

I know I’m only human, and deep down I’ll be happy to see you when you come around again, but you know that won’t be often, and Wikipedia will have already spoiled all your major plot points.

And maybe it’s best that way. No matter what, we’ll always have season 1.

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4 thoughts on “Dear Downton Abbey

  1. It was when the chauffeur’s idea of meaningful political protest became pouring a bowl of shit on the general’s lap at a private dinner that I threw up my hands in despair. I didn’t actually expect DA to endorse a communist worldview, nor do I think assassination is a good thing, but to take a serious critique of DA’s political system and to diminish it so thoroughly–that was the last straw. It made us complicit in its politics and no longer even makes that complicity tolerable by offering satisfying, complicated soap opera!!

    • I have to agree. Branson was an interesting and rounded character at the end of last season, but he’s rather shallow now. The whole “I’ll stay until you run away with me” is more than a little self-centered and melodramatic. If Sybil instead of Edith had been the one to learn to drive, it would have more credibility, as you’d have a more established period where they worked together on a common goal and were able to come to know each other. Right now, Branson’s affection for Sybil doesn’t come off as any more reasonable than his conviction that the Tsar’s family will be just fine.

      In fact, Branson would have had more credibility if he had said that the Tsar and his family had kept the people under his thumb for generations and deserved whatever he got. It wouldn’t have made him a nicer character, but it would have made his politics a little less dreamy and a little more real. And since when do we watch Downton Abbey for nice characters?

  2. I watched the first season with a passion and now I’m just a little cautious in my enthusiasm. Too many things happening at once with . I miss the romantic longing and the suspense of the first episodes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still addicted, but the story is veering off into soap opera- telenovela land. Thank God for the Dowager Countess. Maggie Smith always saves the day.

  3. Pingback: Downstairs at Downton Abbey « The Idler

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