Monday, February 18, 2013

Downton Downer

"You do know that Downton Abbey is not reality television."

That caption in a cartoon I saw weeks ago my husband repeats every time he hears me vent about Downton Abbey.

Downton ended on a downbeat. Drat. Today I vent, and even though I watched the finale days ago, I waited until after the episode aired last night on Masterpiece Theater to comment.

How can we the viewers across the pond await the rest of the story? Will the characters' response to this tragedy seem muted by the time between now and then? Will the story resume days, months or years beyond the accident, as if to say Keep a stiff upper lip and all that rubbish?
The cast of characters viewers have come to love

Spoiler: Read only if you know the ending

Matthew Crawley, aka. Dan Stevens the actor who plays Matthew, had decided to leave the show even as Season 3 began filming, so I guess it was up to writer and series originator Julian Fellowes to decide how and when.

A pall cast over the entire season, I awaited the outcome since, early on I had glimpsed a headline that reported Stevens's departure from the show.

Should we wish him well?

I think not. Why not suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and see the remarkable story through to the end? This forced ending seems a crime against viewers who had grown to trust this family, upstairs and downstairs.

Then I reminded myself that the theme of the series revolves around the ongoing estate. A residence. A relic. A snapshot of British history. Then time (WWI, for instance and the sinking of the Titanic foreshadowed events) swamped former things (entailed estates and class distinctions, for example) and all things became new, with or without the consent of the landed gentry.

The message reads: Change or be changed. Life has a way of sweeping the living in its path on to new ways of seeing and doing.

Comments from friends

"Terrible ending for us."

See? We viewers do take the series personally.

"Dangit Downton. I protest that ending. I want a do-over."

"(............................" A response made only with keyboard strokes.

"It occurs to me as I bawl my eyes out that I am far too emotionally invested in Downton Abbey."

In the old days, Hollywood showed to preview audiences a film and changed the ending if it soured viewers. Three such films come to mind: the original black-and-white Wuthering Heights, Our Town––in both cases the audience hated that the lead character died at the end. A more recent film, Fatal Attraction, the audience wanted the female lead to die.

So here I confess my own fatal attraction to a television series destined to disappoint. For like all series, even those that enjoy the limelight pinnacle, Downton will one day end. Cut. That's a wrap.

Maggie Smith plays a defining role

And won't we all cry when The Dowager Countess Crawley, played by Maggie Smith, is deprived of those lines she delivers like a bee sting? So beautiful even when it hurts.

Some of her "spiky" quotes

"Spiky" 78-year-old Maggie Smith gave a rare interview on 60 Minutes last night.

In that interview, Maggie Smith stated that she has not watched the series and perhaps she will, she said, when it is complete. Until then, she prefers not to second-guess her acting instinct. When asked about acting advice, she said a director once told her not to think about how [to say her lines], but rather why.

When interviewer Steve Kroft asked, "Do you accept the fact that you're a star?" Maggie said, "If you say so. I don't feel any different . . . [It] is entirely due to the television set."

Yes. It is entirely due to the television set that today millions of viewers feel letdown.

We will recover ourselves. Viewers always do. We awaken as if from a dream and admit, Yes, I know that Downton Abbey is not reality television. But what a reprieve it gives fans of the show from what does pass for reality.

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