I will say that one of the main reasons I’m making this primer is not really to catch people up, although that is a big reason. The main reason I’m making this primer is to introduce my style of reviewing Downton Abbey.
On my old site, Moniqueblog.net, I really had a love-hate relationship with Downton Abbey. By “had,” I mean, “I still have.” There are many things I love about the show, like the sumptuous clothing, the period hair, the eleganza of living in a huge estate with tons of money (not so much the servants part…I like doing things myself and I don’t much like servitude), but there are things I don’t like, namely elements of the writing.
Many characterization moments don’t make sense, like why Thomas never gets developed, why Edith never gets her “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” moment, why Mary is such a b&%^# and everyone still likes her for no reason and she never learns anything from her actions, etc. Plot points also don’t make sense, like why the Turkish attaché 1) died while having sex with Mary (with very dubious consent) and 2) had his body stashed away by Mary, her mother, and housemaid Anna in what looked like a closet or a trash chute and 3)was never found or no one ever smelled his decomposing body!?!? Fourthly, why did the Turkish government NEVER INVESTIGATE THE DISAPPEARANCE!? This was the first blow to my faith in writing consistency.
So here we go — a primer into how I recap Downton Abbey and some of the key moments from Seasons 1 through 4.
How I recap:
There are some things of note, since I am one of the people in the minority (I think) who basically call out the craziness on Downton Abbey for what it is (or, at least, what I think it is). Here’s how I feel about several of the characters.
• I hate Mary. I can’t get with her or most of anything she does. She didn’t deserve Matthew (also, marrying your cousin, however distant, is a little weird, at least in these times).
• I want Edith to get ahead. Just let her have a nice life, writers! Why does Mary get all the breaks! Why is she the writers’ (and Julian Fellowes’) favorite! Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!
• I want Thomas to succeed, also. I know he’s a b&^%$ and a manipulator, too, but at least he has a little bit of a reason for why he’s the way he is — he’s a gay man living in a time that is quite inhospitable to gay men, despite the drastic lessening of gender politics in the ’20s and ’30s. He developed this mentality when he was growing up and working in the 1910s as a way to protect himself. I wish this would be explored more in the show.
• Branson has become a shell of his former self. When Lady Sybil married him, he was a rebel, fighting for Irish independence. Now, when Lady Rose had that tryst with the black “American” jazz singer just to make her mother mad, he acted like many of the “I’m not racist” racists people encounter and talk to every day. He was rather spineless, to be honest, especially since Frederick Douglass became a big figure in Ireland after befriending Irish nationalist Daniel O’Connell.
• Daisy has hopefully finally grown out of her annoying boy-crazy phase, because that phase was/is ANNOYING!
• Mrs. Crawley is one of the best characters in the show, as is the Dowager Countess.
• William (RIP) Lady Sybil (RIP) and Matthew (RIP) were also great characters who really gave the show its heart along with Mrs. Crawley.
• “Now kiss me” is how romance is written.
• Carson is a white Uncle Tom.
What has happened so far:
• Turkish diplomat Pamuk (Theo James!) dies mysteriously in Lady Mary’s bed, he’s stuffed in a closet or something.
• Anna falls in love with Mr. Bates, Lord Grantham’s manservant
• Mary fights for the heart of Matthew Crawley, the next in line to inherit Downton Abbey, but Matthew, a middle-class lawyer, has to warm to the idea of becoming a landed gentleman.
• Gwen, one of the best maids to grace Downton Abbey, leaves her job to become a secretary in London. I wish we could see her life, since I’m sure she’s much happier than serving people she’s probably smarter than.
• We learn Carson used to be in vaudeville. He’s ashamed.
• Edith never gets a man, and Mary ridicules her for it.
• Mary is briefly engaged to Sir Richard Carlisle, a self-made newspaper (tabloid?) owner, but he threatens to blackmail the family about Pamuk, the engagement is somehow broken off.
• Bates has a redonk ex-wife; she mysteriously dies. Bates is thought to be the killer. He’s arrested and spends the entirety of S2 in jail. But he does get married to Anna before that.
• Matthew and Mary get engaged and married.
• Lady Sybil falls in love with Branson, who started out as the family’s chauffeur with leftist politics. They will eventually run away together against Lord Grantham’s will.
• O’Brien, Lady Grantham’s maid, is fiercely loyal to Her Ladyship, but when she thinks Lady Grantham’s going to fire her, she trips Lady Grantham on a bar of soap as she’s getting out of the bath. Unfortunately, Lady Grantham is pregnant with a boy and the fall causes her to have a miscarriage. The baby dies as well as the future heir of the house. O’Brien eventually leaves Downton Abbey in the dead of night.
• THE GREAT WAR! Downton Abbey is turned into a recovery home for soldiers. Sybil becomes a nurse. And there’s that strange “cousin” who is disfigured, whom Edith falls in love with and then he disappears? Also, Thomas, who was in the war, but hurt himself to get out, finds a friend in a wounded soldier, but unfortunately, he ends up killing himself due to his PTSD. Daisy’s first love William dies in war.
• Thomas finally gets the thing he’s been working hard (and scheming for); a promotion from first footman.
• Lord Grantham has a strange affair that ends weirdly.
• Edith gets stood up at the altar.
• Lady Sybil gets married to Branson and gets pregnant, they come back to Downton to have the baby (also, Branson’s quite unwelcome in Ireland now that he’s a gentleman).
• Sybil has the baby, but dies in childbirth from eclampsia. Lord Grantham is thought to be the cause of her death, since he refused to listen to the doctor’s warnings. Later, it’s revealed that no one would have been able to save her (which, I later found out, could have been actually medically correct for the time).
• Matthew and Lord Grantham butt heads over how to run Downton Abbey; Matthew and Branson come up with a great way to ease debts.
• Matthew dies in a car accident right after Mary has her baby, their son and future heir.
• Bates is finally out of jail. Even though he should have been convicted due to the mountain of evidence against him.
•Mary gets some more suitors a year or two after Matthew dies, the most prominent being the married Lord Anthony Gillingham. Branson gets an admirer as well — an Irish woman who also has the same leftist politics he had at one time, but he finds out he can’t relate to her.
• Branson has a weird affair that ends very weirdly — the woman tried to frame a pregnancy.
• Lady Rose, the Crawley girls’ cousin, comes to live with them and immediately hits up the jazz scene. She has a tryst with a black singer named Jack Ross. Ross breaks the tryst off eventually, but Mary also helps as well.
• Edith gets engaged to a newspaper man (it’s always older men with her), but he goes missing in Germany (which is becoming Nazi Germany at the time). She’s pregnant, gives birth in Switzerland, and at the behest of the Dowager, gives the baby to a poor farming family on her family’s property.
• Anna is raped by Gillingham’s manservant, she wants no one to know, but Mrs. Hughes, the housekeeper, finds out and tries to keep the secret until Bates figuratively twists her arm.
• Gillingham’s manservant ends up mysteriously dead. Mary is beginning to think Bates is a murderer after all.
That’s about it. I’m sure I’ve missed some small things, but I’ve done my best. What do you think about Downton Abbey? Give your opinions in the comments section below!
EDIT: I did forget one big moment: the reveal of Thomas’ sexuality to everyone else in the house when he’s caught trying to seduce a semi-asleep Jimmy in Jimmy’s bedroom! Not only did he not get fired for sexual harassment, but Jimmy becomes his friend and Grantham, going very against his times and breeding, says Thomas is not the first gay person he’s been in contact with and doesn’t see why that should be a reason to fire him. Good on Grantham, though, for being open minded. Jimmy did give off tons of signals, leading Thomas to get his signals crossed, but did Thomas have to invade Jimmy’s room in the middle of the night? That’s kinda disturbing.
Photo credit: Carnival Film/Nick Briggs for Carnival Film Television Limited 2013 for MASTERPIECE/PBS