Friday, March 1, 2013

Downton Abbey: What Possibly Awaits Us in Series Four?

Matthew who?

You're still thinking about this show?  It's been a whole two weeks since Matthew Crawley's death.  Time to move on.  There are newer and shinier objects out there.

Okay, maybe that's not the way people think, but in the world of television, one show quickly takes the place of another.  My thoughts are already straying toward Game of Thrones and Mad Men.  Still, I can't let Downton Abbey go without first speculating about what the last episode means for Series Four.  Here are my thoughts at random:

The Viewership Numbers Will Remain Strong.  I've read many posts where people complain that after Sybil and Matthew's death, they are "done" with the show.  That is their prerogative, though there is reason to believe that come the start of Series Four, they will tune in, however reluctantly.  After all, we want to see how the Crawleys are reacting to Matthew's death, especially Mary and Isobel.  And how will Branson pick up the pieces?  Then there are those who had nothing invested in Mary and Matthew whatsoever, but instead have watched the show for Edith or the downstairs characters.  Will Edith consent to being Gregson's mistress?  Will Thomas ever find a satisfying relationship?  Will he abuse his power as under butler, especially over Bates?  Will Daisy leave the kitchen to go work on her father-in-law's farm?  Will Alfred take her place?  The buzz going into Series Four just might be enough to draw angry viewers back into the fold.

Mary and Branson Probably Won't Get Together in Series Four, But in Series Five...  I don't see any fewer than five series for Downton Abbey, unless the numbers really tank.  Even then, that probably wouldn't be enough, since the viewership numbers are so much better than anyone expected.  I also don't see Mary and Branson getting together in Series Four.  Even though by then, Branson would have been a widower for close to two years and Mary a widow for at least six months, to us, Sybil and Matthew's deaths would still feel relatively recent, so getting Mary and Branson together so quickly would feel crass.  However, I believe that Mary and Branson will get together in Series Five, or at least the final series will end with the suggestion that they will end up together.  Why?

1.  The build up to this pairing would provide more narrative sparks than anything we've ever seen before.  Mary's values system would be challenged in unprecedented ways.  It was one thing for her to "get over her prejudices" when the object of her affection was her father's heir, who spoke with the same flawless Received Pronunciation as she, despite being a middle-class solicitor from a northern city.  It is another thing for her to fall in love with Johnny Foreigner, a former chauffer who will never, ever have money or a title.  Impossible!  Mary was almost the wife of a duke and a newspaper magnate, and was the wife of a future earl -- now she could marry the land agent?  That would never happen, never!  Which is why Fellowes won't be able to resist doing it.

2.  It would also challenge Mary in other ways.  While there was maybe some sense she felt inferior to Lavinia in Series Two, she never knew Lavinia all that well.  Whereas she adored Sybil.  Whenever Mary is with Tom, in the back of her mind, she will always be comparing herself to her youngest sister -- caring, unselfish, adaptable, forward thinking, with a smile like the sun -- and always questioning whether she measures up.  I think the "Who is the 'real' Mary?" theme will get a lot more play.  Branson will be comparing himself to Matthew as well, whom he practically worshipped.  In the end, these two highly flawed kids might just decide that they're fit for each other's company after all.

3.  Mary is in a unique position, what with her son's status as the future Lord Grantham assured.  Not to mention, she holds some power in her own right as the holder of Matthew's money.  She could mary a prince... or a janitor.  Whatever she does, she will likely want to stay near Downton, at least until her son is of a certain age.  So why not go for Branson, to whom she has already shown great (rare) empathy and kindness?

4.  It could give Branson back some of his brashness.  He was pretty strident in the first two series, up until Sybil's death.  Now he's like a sweet, hopeful puppy dog.  Which is kind of charming, but I miss some of that old cocky Branson, as long as it's doled out in small doses.  At some point, Mary's poorly concealed snobbery should rub him the wrong way, and he'll lash out.  His lashing out will be that much stronger because he's just so damn attracted to her!  The sparks could fly between them in a way that we only wished they did between Mary and Matthew.          

5.  Branson is hot.  That must not be wasted.

Edith Will Be Gregson's Mistress?  I really, really hope that Gregson's wife is insane and locked away, because I am tired of seeing poor Edith get jerked around.  I would like to see her go all the way and actually be his mistress -- or rather, his wife in all but name -- just to show dear Daddy that times really have changed, and she won't automatically be the disgrace he assumes she'll be.  If Lord Grantham shows up at her door in London, threatening to disown her, I would love to see her calmly call his bluff.  "So disown me.  What am I losing -- your support?  Your respect?  You can't even afford to give me a dowry -- all of the money invested in the estate is Mary's money.  So go ahead.  I'm happier where I am."  Even better would be if Mary backed her up for once, but I'm not holding my breath.

What Will Become of Mary and Isobel's Relationship?  It seems pretty odd that we never saw much interaction between mother- and daughter-in-law.  In fact, there wasn't even much interaction between Isobel and Matthew, including any signs that Isobel was having difficulty adjusting to living alone.  But now that Matthew is dead, what will the relationship between two headstrong personalities be like?  Will there always be tension, or will they always support each other?  Would Isobel approve of Mary being with Branson, or Mary approve of Isobel with Dr. Clarkson?  

The Servants' Lives Will Continue to Be Frustratingly Inert.  Which is not to say I don't enjoy watching the servants -- especially Carson, Mrs. Hughes, and Mrs. Patmore.  However, just as you think that things will finally change for some of the servants, they remain the same.  I do hope that Daisy agrees to be Mr. Mason's heir, and not spend yet another series waffling over the issue.  I also hope that O'Brien leaves, since as I said before, I don't think Downton has anything more to offer.  I hope that Thomas is good at his job, and is not a dick to the rest of the staff, and manages to restrain himself where Jimmy is concerned, unless Jimmy himself shows interest (which he probably will, knowing the way this show goes).

Rose Will Serve as an Audience Surrogate.  I suspect that Rose will play -- or is meant to play -- the "breath of fresh air" that is uninhibited enough, and far enough removed from the family, to question some of the dynamics.  I could especially see her taking pokes at Mary, hopefully on Edith's behalf.  Beyond that, I can't really say.  She'll probably cause chaos in several episodes that would realistically get her thrown out of other houses, but the people of Downton will find her so gosh-darn endearing!

Lord Grantham Will Continue to Be Stupid.  It would have been nice if Lord Grantham could have represented the traditional way of thinking without seeming like such a boob.  We could have seen a genuinely intelligent man struggle to adapt to a new world that he's not sure he likes.  But I guess there was room for only one intelligent traditionalist in that family, and she's not going anywhere.  So Lord Grantham will continue to be stupid whenever possible.  And I might as well add: Cora will continue to be boring.    

'Til Series Four, everyone!

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