Poor time-stopped Downton! Trapped in its own bubble while, all around, change speeds ahead like Toad of Toad Hall…
For the characters, it is now two years since Thomas cryptically outed himself to one of the war wounded, and Lady Edith nearly had a moment in the hay with her farmer friend.
But for Lady Sybil and Branson’s romance, time seems to have stood still for so long, one wonders if they’re in Downton Abbey or Brigadoon. It’s a miracle why Branson hasn’t headed to the village, long before now, for a bit of how’s-your-father with the local dairy maid. There’s only so much displacement tinkering with his motor that one man can do.
And now the War is over. And it seems a strange thing to say about an event which, in story terms, has been used to kill off one character and cripple another, but, in retrospect, it feels like a bit of a wasted opportunity.
Ultimately, we thought there would be more to it than this: more to Thomas’s terror in the trenches; more to Molesley’s reasons for avoiding call-up; more to the Easter Rising; more even to Lady Mary’s lucky mascot.
The end of the War, when it came, was beautifully played in two scenes: one in the kitchen; one, rather more formally, in the hall, as the Armistice took effect. Even so, at the end of the Great War, the one thing you don’t expect to be thinking is, ‘Is that it?’
Character moments which, four weeks ago, seemed so portentous, now, in the light of the Armistice, look like passing social blurrings and transgressions – a dream of a more tightly-worked, less predictable second series. But this is the disappointment you risk when you signpost every hint and frisson with such laboured intent, but can only come good on the big stuff.
It’s the cosy familiarity of the melodrama which both comforts and confounds us: the certain knowledge that the scratch on Bates’s face will lead to an accusation of murder, just as the friendship between Lord Grantham and the new maid will precipitate at least a lordly mid-life crisis, if not frotting in the Library.
Writer, Julian Fellowes is like a drug pusher getting us hooked on a diet of Werther’s Originals and Aunt Bessie’s Yorkshire puddings. We hate ourselves for going back for more, and yet we can’t help it.
We daresay that this is all very well researched, and that events which strike us as ludicrous have their origins in fact – possibly in the Fellowes family history, where there is doubtless a Canadian burns victim fraudster waiting to be unearthed by Who Do You Think You Are? Even so, we’d like a little less of the Dynasty histrionics.
Now it looks like Matthew may yet be able to walk, to which we say: sheesh! Are we yet going to be subjected to the sight of a wedding day miracle, as Matthew takes his first tentative steps down the aisle to meet his new bride…?
Downton Abbey may be a soap opera for Barbour-wearing, hearty types who claim to ‘bloody loathe’ soap, but if it carries on too much in this vein, they’ll have Isis the dog waking up to discover it was all a dream. And we’re not sure that wouldn’t be preferable.
Aired at 9pm on Sunday 23rd October 2011 on ITV1.
What did you think of the episode? Let us know below…