Monday, January 4, 2016

Downton Abbey, Season 6

Yesterday afternoon, the historic Tennessee Theatre held a free advanced screening of the opening episode of the sixth (and final)  season of Downton Abbey, which premiered for the rest of us on Sunday night.  (Of course, UK audiences have already seen the entire season, which finished on Christmas.) It is estimated that  Downton Abbey  has some 120 million watchers worldwide!

Of course, I couldn't go to that event. Among other things, I had our annual Epiphany Brunch for parish volunteers Sunday afternoon to attend.  Even so, the atmosphere of eager expectation was evident even there - along with speculation about how the final reason will (or will not) "resolve" the unresolved threads in the various characters' lives, what knots it will (hopefully) untie for (among others) Anna and Bates and Mary and Edith and Isobel. 

And after all the waiting, episode one did not disappoint. How could any episode that ends with Carson and Mrs. Hughes finally kissing possibly disappoint? Their awkward attempts to discuss sex seemed only to confirm the charm of their late-life romance. Maybe it is my own age speaking here, but to me there is always something special about love between two older people, who have been through so much together and are now finally able to express their feelings romantically - contrary to societal prejudice that would confine romance to the young and beautiful. 

And, while that other great downstairs romance - Bates and Anna - obviously still has some dark clouds hanging over it, but at least their legal troubles are now (finally we hope) over. What a relief this was not only for Anna and Bates but for everyone else - upstairs as well as down! What other event has ever brought Lord and Lady Grantham rushing downstairs to celebrate with the servants with 4 bottles of Veuve Clicquot, not to mention the precious family gramophone for the staff to dance to! (It also gave Robert a chance to see a refrigerator for the first time!) Now, if only Anna could actually completely accept that she is well and truly loved - and show it by being honest with her husband instead of always concealing something (most recently her miscarriages)!

The other really positive move in the story was with Edith,who seems to be on the verge of starting a London life.  Like Bates and Anna - and, for that matter, Barrow - Edith seems perpetually sentenced to disappointment. Maybe life in London as a career woman will start filling some of the vacuum in her life!

I don't particularly care for the conflict between Violet and Isobel about the local hospital. One of the stronger and more heartwarming themes from seasons 5 was the acknowledgement of the genuine friendship and emotional dependency between the two dowagers. I would hate to see that sacrificed just to act out the series' tiresome theme of the social changes of the 20th century via another silly fight between those two fine characters, who really do deserve each other!

But all through the episode i was quite conscious of the missing characters - of Lady Rose in New York and Tom Branson in Boston. Rose has been a singularly strong addition to the family, and Tom has been since almost the beginning at the heart of how the family has been developing. Their absence is certainly a loss.

The overarching theme for the season is, of course, the series' obsession with the impending demise of the country house way of life. Was it a a gain or a loss for 20th-century Britain? However one may answer that, its eventual TV demise in nine more episodes will be a loss for all of us!  

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