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- Tim Boden’s Letter from Australia – First Impressions - 15 March, 2014
Last week: Lord Grantham was called away to the USA, Lady Violet had a rather dramatic case of the sniffles, and Lady Mary and Mr Blake bonded over pig farming. No, really.
It’s the end of the series! What are we going to do on Sunday nights now? I suppose one could use the time to reconnect with family or take up an interesting hobby… or alternatively, there’s always booze. But regardless of how you’re going to fill the yawning Downton-shaped hole in your heart between now and Christmas, you can still soothe the withdrawal symptoms for the time being by looking back at what went down in last Sunday’s extra-long series finale.
And blimey, it was certainly packed. After points in earlier episodes where very little seemed to be happening at all, this episode chucked in all kinds of new and unexpected developments. There was the arrival of a hitherto unmentioned godparent who immediately took a shine to Cousin Isobel, a potential love interest for Branson, and best of all, Miss Baxter suddenly becoming pals with Molesley, much to Thomas’ consternation. Poor old Molesley really has come into his own this series, I think mainly due to the fact that the actor who plays him really excels at looking quietly crestfallen and a script which gave him ample opportunity to do so. It was rather pleasant to have something nice finally happen to him, not to mention good for Miss Baxter to have something to do other than sew things and get smarmed at by Thomas.
The saga of Lady Mary and her various suitors dragged on, with very little being said or done that changed the situation from where it had stood in previous weeks. Much more dramatic was Rose declaring her intention to marry Jack Ross the jazz singer, and more’s to the point, finally (finally!) developing something of a personality. I loved her stroppy defiance and hyperbolic declarations of her determination to stand up against imperialism, as well as some of the wry remarks she made elsewhere in the episode – where the heck has that been for the previous seven episodes?
Even better were Edith and Lady Rosamunde’s increasingly ridiculous attempts to figure out a way for Edith to have her baby without anyone finding out. Edith wanted to give the kid away to a farmer she’d only just met, whereas Rosamunde favoured absconding to Switzerland. It is, after all, very clean, not to mention full of mountains and Toblerones. (And in twenty or so years’ time, the kid can make a killing looking after all the Nazi gold its father might have got his hands on.) It was a brilliant plan, except for the fact that Rosamunde’s explanation that she wanted to go away to improve her French was so unbelievable that it led to Lady Violet figuring out exactly what was really going on. I’m going make a prediction now that Edith will give birth at Christmas (or at least in the Christmas episode), Lady V’ll pop her clogs around about the same time and the sprog will be called Violet in her honour. Even if it’s a boy.
Some plotlines were wrapped up at last, such as Alfred and Daisy finally getting a chance to say goodbye properly, whereas others are clearly only just getting going, such as the ongoing financial woes of the Crawley in-laws across the pond. (And you have no idea how much it gladdened my history-geek heart to get a shout-out to the Teapot Dome Scandal, which was clearly only slipped into the plot because it’s so satisfying to say the phrase ‘Teapot Dome Scandal’.) And inevitably, the plotline that’s been simmering for half a series came to a climax as Mr Green the Rapist Valet died in a mysteriously convenient traffic accident in York.
Did Bates do it? Well, on the one hand, it’d be far too obvious for him to have done it when everybody has been constantly saying “Bates can’t find out or he’ll definitely kill someone!”. On the other, if he’s innocent, why is he accompanied by creepy music everywhere he goes? So based on the soundtrack alone, I reckon he did it. I also reckon he killed his first wife, for what it’s worth. He probably killed Matthew and all. And I wouldn’t be entirely unsurprised if he turned out to have a hand in the shooting of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
So although the series has finished there’s still many questions to be answered, and strangely enough, I’m still keen to see how things pan out. Although this series has had its low points and slow points, not to mention a fair bit of pointless filler and some rather abrupt shifts in tone, this episode made it feel like there was life in the old workhorse yet. I don’t think they can drag it out very much further – for one thing, there’s only so far they can advance in time without the characters becoming implausibly old – but Christmas is going to be fun.
Best bits: Being presented with a food hamper was enough to make Alfred seriously consider proposing to Daisy. I know the feeling, Alfred, I’m anyone’s for a pork pie and a bottle of cider too.
Worst bits: The Lord Gillingham stuff all seems a bit repetitive, frankly, though I guess he had to keep hanging around like a bad smell in order that the Mr Green situation be dealt with.
Ad break highlights: More like ad break lowlights, to be honest. The second weekend of November is too damn early for Christmas adverts! Yes, even the John Lewis one. Although the animation’s quite nice, and the requisite ‘girl sings weedy version of indie song’ backing track is less irritating than usual. Still. TOO EARLY.
Quote of the week: “Is it right that it should grow up Swiss?” Edith has her priorities right when it comes to the ‘running away to Switzerland’ plan. Runner-up: “I’ll ask Mrs Patmore for some refreshments for the village people.” Sod Kiri te Kanawa, that’s who we should have had as musical guests!
Next week: Nothing. Nothing at all. Just ashes and dust and adverts for supermarket canapes.