Downton Abbey Series 6 Recap: Episode 5

I hate to say it, but I was definitely okay with the idea that Donk was going to die. As soon as he started erupting blood, I was reminded of Nate’s death from Six Feet Under (and no, that’s not a spoiler. The show is ten years old). Lord Grantham’s death makes a ton of logistical sense from a plotline perspective.3366

It seems unlikely that Mary could marry Henry Talbot with his Donkship still alive when he’d presumably need to move into Downton, especially after how Matthew objected to it at first even as the heir. It would also allow Carson to move on from Downton and pave the way for Thomas to become butler. Fellowes did say that not everyone was going to have a happy ending.

The blood spitting was completely comical, even for a show as soapy as Downton. How is anyone supposed to feel the emotion of losing a beloved character when he’s recreating a scene out of The Evil Dead? I expected something bad to happen to Lord Grantham, but I didn’t expect it to make me laugh out loud.tumblr_nwfsfxnQkU1swrlk9o3_500

The question is, will Donk join Isis and the Turkish Gentlemen up in Downton heaven? It’s certainly possible. I did think this episode would be a bit early, but he could certainly take a turn for the worse next week.

Counting the Christmas Special, there are four episodes left of Downton. If Donk dies sometime next episode, the characters could spend episode seven mourning the loss of one of the Canadian railway’s most ardent backers, which allows them two episodes to move on and wrap everything else up. With the time jump, it could be years later, making a happy ending possible.

The Mary/Henry romance is being handled wonderfully. Mary’s snobbery is expected and not exactly unjustified either. Even in today’s day and age, there are plenty of taboos associated with wealth and social class in marriages. This has also been a great opportunity to get Tom back into the narrative in a productive way.

We finally learned things about Andy! He likes pigs and he can’ t read, which is two more things we know about him than we’ve been told in the preceding six episodes. The whole “Andy is cold to Thomas” thing was getting a little old. He does seem destined for a pairing with either Daisy or Barrow, which should be interesting.

The farm stuff was good and served as a great way to get Andy and Mrs. Patmore involved. I don’t think a Mason/Patmore romance is going to happen, but I like that they’ve built a little group outside the main house. Mr. Mason’s arc this series has been pretty incredible for a longstanding minor character. The show has done an excellent job incorporating Downton’s earlier days into this series.tumblr_nwfsfxnQkU1swrlk9o2_500

Barrow’s storyline is the only one that didn’t move forward at all. That’s okay, especially if he ends up leaving Downton, but no mention of it at all was a little old. There wasn’t room in the episode for another awkward interview, but a passing mention would have been nice.

The Carson/Hughes scene was weird. I think we’re supposed to think that Carson is having trouble adjusting to an environment where his opinion isn’t the only one that matters, but he came across as too rude to really get behind him. I’d like to see a little more affection between the two.

While I enjoyed its resolution, the set up to the Denker/Spratt throw down was a complete unrealistic mess. Are we really supposed to believe that Denker would stand up for the Dowager like that? Or that Dr. Clarkson would dare write a letter criticizing a member of her staff? If it wasn’t unrealistic enough already, we’re then expected to think that the Dowager would actually fire her lady’s maid over that. Why wouldn’t she use that as ammunition to prove to Clarkson that the people of the village are against the takeover?

The Dowager has repeatedly noted that finding skilled staff is increasingly difficult and at her age, it might be difficult to find a good one who wouldn’t be able to find better job security somewhere else. Beyond that, it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as Daisy’s outburst, which was barely even considered a fire able offense. I love watching Spratt and Denker feud, but Fellowes couldn’t come up with a far more believable buildup.

The Dowager is also back to being totally unrealistic and childish about the hospital. Her reasoning just doesn’t justify her behavior. Blackmailing Neville Chamberlain was mildly amusing, but seemed a little out of place with Exorcist Robert.

The same is sort of true for Mary’s Marigold revelation. I get why it happened because of timing and all, but I’m really not interested in seeing a Mary/Edith feud this late in the show. Given how quickly Donk and Tom processed the information, I don’t see why she couldn’t have found out later unless they’re going to make a big deal out of it. I’ll hold off fully judging this until we see more. I didn’t like how much focus there was on other plotlines after Donk’s bloody emissions.

I haven’t liked how little we’ve seen of Spratt this series. I hated him for most of series 4 after he sabotaged Molesley’s audition, but Jeremy Swift is an excellent actor who really endears the character to the audience. Spratt’s spats with Denker have consistently been among the highlights of the show since her introduction last year.

Speaking of Molesley, he continues to shine in his supporting capacity. I am concerned that we’re more than halfway through the series and he hasn’t been given a plotline beyond being Baxter’s support system, but Kevin Doyle is always a treat to watch. The end of the Baxter plotline was a little anti-climatic, but that’s okay. It’s not a storyline that needs to last the whole series.

The Bates finally got to have a not so depressing scene! No harvest! No sadness!

That’s it for this week. Despite the Donk theatrics, it was a very strong episode. I hope next episode brings something good for Molesley to do, possibly another cricket match.

To end with a bit of self-promotion, the ebook editions for two of my books are on sale for .99 cents this week. If you enjoy these recaps and my writing, you may want to check out Five College Dialogues and Five More College Dialogues. Thank you for your support.

Analyzing the Impact of Matthew’s Death on Downton Abbey

 Note, while I dislike spoiler notes immensely, as Downton Abbey is currently airing in America, I thought it was polite to note that this article contains minor spoilers through season five as it’s completed its run in England already.

It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since the abrupt car accident took Matthew Crawley away from Downton Abbey at the tail end of the season three Christmas Special. Perhaps it feels longer because of the drop in quality since the heir to Downton left the show. The excellent season five Christmas special shows that DA does have some life left, making now an appropriate time to take a look at how Matthew’s death changed the show.

Downton Abbey, being an ensemble drama, means that it’s hard to argue that Matthew’s death changed the storylines for every single character on the show, even though he was a main character. Matthew didn’t frequently interact with everybody on the show, making it hard to really say that his death impacted everyone equally. You could argue that he might have played a part in Mrs. Patmore’s dead nephew storyline, but you wouldn’t really say that his death altered her arc in any substantial way.

I’ve organized the impact of Matthews’s death on the cast by five tiers. I’m going to exclude Lord Gillingham, Charles Blake, and the rest of Mary’s suitors who were introduced post season three as it’s unlikely they would have been even introduced had Matthew stayed on the show.

Tier 1 (Major): Mary, Molesley

Tier 2 (Secondary): Lord Grantham, Isobel Crawley

Tier 3 (Unknown): Lady Rose, Tom Branson, John Bates, Anna Bates

Tier 4: Everyone else.

Tier 1 is fairly straightforward. Mary’s entire storyline was completely altered because of her husband’s death. No Matthew means no suitors. It’s possible that either Lord Gillingham or Charles Blake could have been introduced in a similar fashion to Simon Bricker, but most of her storylines would be in conjunction with Matthew’s. Maybe she would be a better mother.

Molesley is the other one whose entire storyline was impacted by Matthew’s absence. Matthew’s death caused Molesley’s complete fall from grace, going from valet to second footman. This might have been for the best from a screen time perspective, but he was already comic relief. He might have been in a better positon to court Miss Baxter, but Fellowes has always found ways to screw Molesley. Matthew’s death took much of his dignity, but perhaps it made him more endearing to the audience.

Tier 2 might be a point of debate for some, especially considering that Isobel is Matthew’s mother. But his move to Downton set up Isobel’s relationship with Violet quite nicely and I think that would have happened regardless of whether or not Matthew died. Obviously there were grief moments that wouldn’t have happened, but I don’t think her storyline took the drastic turn that Mary and Molesley experienced.

Lord Grantham fits largely under the same category. Aside from the will stuff, Robert’s storylines would have happened anyway. Matthew would have been involved with the business matters, but you can mostly swap Mary out with him to see what would have happened there. I don’t think Matthew’s death necessarily precluded him from any particular storyline.

We can split up the Tier 3 Unknowns into two categories. Lady Rose and Tom likely experienced slightly larger roles due to Matthew’s death. But I don’t think it’s fair to say that Matthew’s presence would lead to any major changes for either one. Rose could have still come to Downton to represent the younger side of the aristocracy. There was the role of Sybil to be replaced as well, though she was hardly a major character in season three.

Tom is a bit trickier. There’s no denying that he filled some of Matthew’s role, both in Lord Grantham’s eyes and the viewer’s. But would Matthew’s presence prevent his relationship with Miss Bunting or interfere with his desire to move to America? I don’t think so. Matthew meant a great deal to Tom, but his path wasn’t blocked by having a friend and similar (relative) outsider.

As for the Mr. and Mrs. Bates, they seem like an interesting choice to put in the mix considering neither shared much screen time with Matthew. But Matthew’s death lead to Lord Gillingham, which led to Mr. Greene and Anna’s subsequent rape. If Greene hadn’t done it, there’s certainly the possibility that someone else could have. But Matthew’s presence and the need to give him something to do might have cancelled that one out entirely. We don’t know. Hence the unknown.

Which is sort of the same for the rest of the cast. You could say that Matthew might have developed a rapport with Carson, but that’s pure speculation that isn’t really rooted in anything. He could have gotten caught up in a Barrow plot or maybe not.

One element worth speculating on is whether or not Alfred, Ivy, and Jimmy would have left if Matthew hadn’t died. While Matthew didn’t really have anything to do with those three, he was at the forefront of Downton’s “youth movement” in season three, as he and Tom worked with Lord Grantham to modernize things from a business perspective. Entering season six, that youth moment is largely gone, though there’s a new footman in Andy who could bring down the servant’s average age by quite a bit.

One could point to Matthew’s death as indirectly causing Alfred’s departure as Molesley took his place as footman. I wouldn’t say that necessarily needed to be the case and the subsequent departures of Ivy and Jimmy suggest that if that hadn’t have happened, something else might have. Unless you want to make the argument that Matthew’s death elevated the importance of Molesley as a character, rendering some of the servants redundant since there’s only so much screen time to go around.

Which isn’t an unfair point. Matthew’s death took much of the “let’s bring Downton into the modern times” away and instead created a sort of holding pattern that did the show no favors in its lackluster forth season. It’s fair to suggest that the show would have been more business related if for any other reason than it would’ve needed something to take the place of all the grieving over Matthew’s death.

Matthew’s death may not have created much of a visible “void” considering Downton’s large cast, but it had a tremendous impact. Shows like DA tend not to get better with age, but much of the complaints over the past two years fall on Mary’s storylines and the stunting of the plot that was forced by his death. That was avoidable, but it still happened because Dan Stevens wanted off the show before Fellowes could figure out how to adjust properly.

Mr. Molesley: The Man, The Myth, The Legend

From his first appearance in episode two, it would be hard to tell that Joseph Molesley would become one of Downton Abbey’s most endearing characters. From butler to valet to laborer to footman, Molesley has a list of occupations rivaled only by Thomas. The backwards progression of these jobs naturally lead to a consistent suffering matched only by Lady Edith. Yet as season five comes to a close, Molesley goes on, earning both the adoration and respect of his fellow workers and viewers alike.

Molesley begins his time on Downton as the butler to Mrs. Crawley, a job that appears to have been organized by either Robert or Violet as Molesley was away from the area at the start of the show. He continued to be a minor character and occasional comic relief throughout the first season. His standout moment was perhaps when Matthew struggled to embrace his services, creating a unique moment where the lavish excess of the upper class is countered by the pride that a person like Molesley takes in his duties.

We see this evolve in season two as Molesley finds himself with little to do in Mrs. Crawley’s absence. Rather than sit around twiddling his thumbs, Molesley makes himself useful at the big house. This is overshadowed by his accidental drunkenness brought on by wine tasting and his failed romantic overtures directed at Anna. Season two establishes Molesley as the good-natured Mr. Bean like klutz destined to be Julian Fellows’ whipping boy.

This “Molesley must suffer” mentality continues in season three. With Matthew engaged to Lady Mary, it makes sense that Molesley would be destined for the big house as the valet to the heir of Downton. Problem is that Matthew doesn’t want a valet. But then he gets one for some strange reason, only it’s not Molesley. It’s Alfred. Without the interference by a jealous Thomas, who insisted that Alfred was not ready for such duties, Molesley might still be in the service of Mrs. Crawley.

Molesley’s high status as Matthew’s valet was short lived. While Mary and Mrs. Crawley could recover their statuses following Matthew’s death, there was no one for Molesley to valet for. Season four showed Fellows’ love of making Molesley suffer as convenient landing destinations for his services were foiled using spotty logic. Mrs. Crawley could’ve easily taken him back as butler and Spratt could have been kicked to the curb following his sabotage of Molesley’s audition. So poor Joesph had to settle for the lowly job of second footman.

The problem is that the positive outcomes would’ve taken him away from the big house, which at this point is where he belongs. The staff has taken quite a beating over the past two years, seeing O’Brien, Alfred, Jimmy, and Ivy all leave. The latter three weren’t exactly replaced by new characters, making Molesley even more important.

There are two distinct versions of Molesley that the viewer gets to see. There’s the drunken bumblehead who loses at cricket and can’t seem to catch a break. But then there’s the man who shows a genuine desire to help others like Baxter and Daisy and of course, the strong man victory in the season three Christmas special.

Mrs. Patmore’s scolding of Daisy for her treatment of Molesley was what prompted me to write this article. In telling Daisy to be nice to people who are kind, Patmore reminds us why people like Molesley are special. They’re rare.

Molesley has had his fair shares of ups and downs, but besides his reluctance to accept the footman position, which received a rather rude response from Carson, he takes his fortunes in stride (even his strong man carnival victory). How many of us can say the same?

Through five seasons, Molesley has grown from a background comic relief figure to the heart and soul of Downton Abbey. He’s an older worker facing uncertain times without the capital of Carson, Hughes, Patmore, and the Bates, who can all invest in retirement options. But you wouldn’t know that just by looking at him. He’s neither the best looking nor the most interesting person on the show, but his consistent good nature sets him apart from the rest of the cast and earns him a place in the viewer’s hearts.