Lord Grantham and Co. are back in town, and the start of the series finally wrapped up that will-they-won’t-they saga, with Matthew and Mary tying the knot.Thing is, that was kind of the point- now that the Earl’s daughter has married the heir the mansion stays in the family and everybody’s happy. Surely, no more programme? But never fear, his lordship has suddenly lost all his money, so they might all get turfed out after all. Meanwhile, Matthew’s about to unexpectedly inherit an equally huge fortune, something he’s making rather a habit of. But will he or won’t he use it to save Downton? Well we’ve got all series to find out.
Despite this looming disaster, it’s largely business as usual: there are random downstairs subplots and incredibly one-dimensional downstairs characters – evil Thomas continues being evil and new valet Alfred’s only notable attribute seems to be being tall. There’s still plenty of clunky, anachronistic dialogue: Sir Strallen casually greets Lady Edith, ‘how’s it going?’ and there are scores of implausible plot twists: an evil house guest slips Tom a drug that forces him to rant angrily about English repression – an odd thing to carry around in one’s dinner jacket.
But there are also some new features, my personal highlight being Fellowes’ forays into sexual references, resulting in some hideously awkward lines: Matthew: “I’m looking forward to all sorts of things”, Mary: “Don’t make me blush”. (Yes it seems Lady Mary has come over all demure lately – you’d think a woman who’s driven a Turkish diplomat to his death with her passionate throes would be a little harder to embarrass). Everyone is still insisting on telling us what year it is, but there’s the newly added feature of reiterating their nationality every five minutes, too: “I’m an American,and it’s 1920”. Yes the roaring twenties have arrived – well, maybe not quite roaring – “Can I tempt you to one of these exciting new cocktails grandmama?” “No, thank you, they look a little too exciting for me.” And, maybe this was just me, but was there a hint of sexual tension when Shirley serenaded old Maggie at the end there? Well, it is 1920.
There’s also been the touching story of Mrs Hughes’ possibly suffering from breast cancer, although this led to a rather rapid change of tone at the end of episode two, as the housekeeper came over all Beckettian: “One day I will die, and so will he, and you and every one of us under this roof.” Steady on, guys. We don’t come to Downton to reflect on the ultimate futility of all human endeavour in the face of mortality; we come for the yards of lace and beads, the evil footmen, the dodgy character development and Maggie Smith’s eyebrows. Parade’s End it ain’t – but a girl can only take so much sophisticated and thought-provoking Edwardian drama per season.