Oh, hello there. So glad you've finally caught up. For those of you too chaste and pure of internet soul to watch illicit downloads of Downton Abbey's second season when it aired in the UK last fall, the show's American run concluded last night. Now you finally know what we've known for literally months. And? How'd it shake out for you? We're going to guess that some of you are unsatisfied. Let's talk about why. (Spoilers ahead, obviously.)
Well, of course the Christmas Special, which is basically the episode you saw last night, is perfectly satisfying. What with Mary and Matthew kissing in the snow and all that. That's great! Yay! Finally! So the second season does go out on a high note, but what about the rest of it, what about everything that came before? As we gently warned you last month, didn't certain plotlines — Anna and Bates, Daisy and William's dad — feel stuck and repetitive week-in, week-out? With Anna and Bates in particular, every episode seemed to set them up just to knock them back down, over and over again. And then came the too-soapy murder trial plot, the one thing to really happen to them all season, and we didn't even get a resolution to that! Ugh, is next season going to be all dreary maneuvering to get Bates out of the clink? No thanks.
In general it would be nice to see the next season turn the dial back down on all the capital-D Drama. All the hokum with Matthew's magic legs, the mysterious long-lost Crawley heir, the Ouija board, the psychic connection to the boys in war, it all felt a bit much. It felt like straining on a show that largely succeeds because it's about not straining. It's about loaded looks and the power of the not-said and all that fun crusty English stuff. The more genuine American-style happenin' they slather on, the more the show loses its innate sparkle. Obviously Jullian Fellowes and the rest of the team were under great pressure to recreate the first season's magic, an unenviable task indeed, but we wish they'd realized that it wasn't at all necessary to throw so many events and dramatic staples at us. We'd have been just fine with more gentlemanly misunderstandings and corseted gasps of desire.
A third season is in the offing, and we've high hopes that the show will settle down some after a restless and overreaching second season. Now that the war's ended, perhaps the drama can be a little more interior again. We've no doubt that the capable crew can pull it off, though two things cause a little worry: Fellowes himself seems to have no endpoint in mind, which is rarely a good sign for series television, and Shirley MacLaine, big ballsy Shirely MacLaine, is joining the cast as Cora's American mother. MacLaine is a wonderful actress, obviously, and one we'd love to see more of her in general, but something about the idea of her on this show seems like invasion, like frustrating catering to the show's sizable and surprising American audience. We know ITV wants to turn a buck on this thing, but we'll watch anyway, guys! We don't need Aurora Greenway stomping around the English countryside to make us tune in.
It may sound like we're being harsh on this show, but that's only because we know how good it can be. Season two was, yes, a bit overwrought and silly at times (and at other, more troubling, times a bit boring), but it was still solid entertainment more smartly written than anything else you'd find in the "soap" category. Still, it wasn't its best, so we are somewhat desperately hoping that this sophomore stumble was only just that. Let's cross our fingers that season three returns the show to elegant form and then, we'd hope, it ends. No reason to drag this thing into the Great Depression, is there?