Downton Abbey, Series 2 Finale, ITV1 | TV reviews, news & interviews
Downton Abbey, Series 2 Finale, ITV1
It doesn't always make much sense, but you can't help loving it
And so the eventful second series surged to a close with a bumper 90-minute edition - or at least it was in a 90-minute slot, generously padded with the commercials battling to scramble aboard the great ship Downton - and we were still left dangling in Mary and Matthew's will-they-won't-they neverland. The show's resemblance to a gargantuan soap which has been telescoped into a handful of Greatest Hits episodes was never greater.
Mary is supposed to be marrying the hard and cynical newspaper tycoon Sir Richard Carlisle (a dish served cold by Iain Glen, [pictured below]), who has charmingly threatened to go public with the "My Night of Lust with Dead Turk" scandal should Lady Mary attempt to bolt at the starting gate. But we also know that the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) remains a fervent believer in an eventual Matthew-Mary match, and she doesn't like to be contradicted. Even Matthew's fiancée Lavinia (Zoe Boyle) felt compelled to agree after catching Matt'n'Maz having a crafty snog while waltzing around the Downton foyer as cheap music floated from the gramophone. When the saintly Lavinia was carried off by the Spanish flu epidemic, it looked like a shoo-in.
However, this didn't produce the anticipated result. Instead, a gaunt-looking Matthew (Dan Stevens) was overcome by guilt that he and Mary had killed poor Lavinia by breaking her heart. He gave Mary the bad news as they loitered beside Lavinia's grave. "We're cursed, you and I, and there's nothing to be done about it," he quavered, a caricature of gaslit Edwardian melodrama. "Let's be strong, Mary, and let's accept that this is the end." It looked bleak. Nonetheless, I chose to interpret this as meaning that Julian Fellowes has already written the episode from series three in which the pair finally tie the dynastic knot and seal the problematic Downton succession (Matthew and Mary in happier times, pictured below).
The sense that the outwardly stately Downton Abbey was being thrown together in a panic gathered pace as the series progressed, with bundles of new storylines being flung desperately into the boilers to keep the show on the road rather than continuing series one's more measured exploration of character and motivation. For instance, the potentially thermonuclear fallout from Matthew returning paralysed from the Front was never exploited, but simply erased by his miraculous recovery. Likewise the farcical introduction of the mutilated, amnesiac soldier purporting to be Patrick Crawley, Downton's missing heir, who barely lasted an episode before vanishing again.
There was oodles of scope in the black market shenanigans of Thomas the conniving footman, but yet again Fellowes started the hare but failed to shoot the fox, if I may scramble my gentrified metaphors. He tamely brought Thomas back under the Downton roof, despite the fact that his behaviour richly deserved not just the sack but a jail term. We even had Carson the butler telling Mrs Hughes that "it's no good thinking we'll get shot of him now". Because Fellowes needs his pantomime villain, in other words.
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
A tale of bands in vans that, for the most part, stuck to familiar routes
It's still sharp, but should the BBC be flagellating itself a second time?
Untangling the structure of Islamic State reveals the scale of the enemy
The hills have eyes in this sinister new Lakeland thriller
Impressive talents in remarkably gimmick-free Beeb competition
New puppet satire can barely drag itself to the finishing line
Pleasing travelogue with game presenter Christine Bleakley
Erudition and humour, pleasure and sin jostle in unashamedly intelligent television
The case in which DNA profiling was first used to catch a killer makes for gripping drama
An arts and broadcasting giant who was an inspired head of music at the BBC
Troubling investigation of the disaffection of French Muslims
Old Testament epic rendered as an animal-free northern soap