Tag Archive | Downton Abbey

The Ethics of Accepting a Television Role

[Obligatory spoiler warnings for “The Good Wife” and “Downton Abbey.”]

An actor wants to leave a role in a television show because they want to move on to film parts or are disillusioned with their character or are having an internal dispute with writers, showrunners, fellow cast members, etc. Sometimes these are valid reasons. But what about if your show is insanely popular and/or critically acclaimed? Adored by the masses? And most importantly, what if it disrupts the end game of the show’s narrative?

As you can guess, these very questions crossed my mind (and not for the first time) with Will Gardner’s death on “The Good Wife” and Josh Charles’ exit from the show. It’s one thing when a death or exit serves the story being told. It is another thing when a significant character leaves, thus altering the creators’ final vision of the show. I doubt that I’m alone in this, but when deaths or character exits happen for this reason, I don’t get sad. I get ANGRY. After all, they literally brought it on themselves. You chose to leave; and if you fundamentally screwed up the culmination of different character arcs, why shouldn’t I be pissed? We can only hope that the creators and writers can use the exit to inject fresh life out of the unfortunate loss of their (potential) conclusion.

What do I mean by ethics? Well, I mean an implied ethics. An ethics that says, hey I decided to play so-and-so because I wanted a job but more importantly because I believed in the character and hoped the show would be a hit. And sometimes it is. But what “moral” right do you have to say a few years later…I love this show. It’s the hit I wanted it to be. It’s Emmy nominated. I’ve been nominated for my work. But you know what? I’m bored. I want to concentrate on doing other things. No hard feelings guys! Feel free to call me for talk show appearances anytime.

In case you missed the bitter undertones, Josh Charles’ exit from “The Good Wife” has left a particularly bad taste in my mouth. It’s not just that he wanted to leave. Or that for whatever reason the writers chose his exit to be the most schlocky ending they could go with. It’s how vocal and jovial Josh Charles has been about the matter. Reassuring fans on Twitter. Making the talk show rounds. In other words, relishing his moment that torpedoed what everyone expected about his hit show. Will “The Good Wife” still be excellent? Yes, I think so. But doesn’t the idea that whatever the writers planned for their characters was taken away because of someone that was over a job he signed on the dotted line to have? Look, I’m not even saying I expected the last scene to be Will and Alicia going off into the sunset together. I just imagine they had an idea of how Will fit into the idea of a series finale. And that’s gone forever. Hopefully the writers come up with something better and they can thank Josh Charles for abandoning ship early.

This same scenario played out last season on “Downton Abbey.” After spending seasons dedicated to the love story of Mary and Matthew, they finally married. Then Dan Stevens (Matthew) looked around and thought, well that’s that then. I think I’m ready to move to New York, star on Broadway and hopefully transition to film full time. And thus the heart of the series, Mary and Matthew’s relationship, was blown to smithereens. In what seemed like a “screw you” at the time, Julian Fellowes, showrunner, decided to off Matthew in a random car accident and spent almost no time mourning him in the next season. And once again, why not? A primary component of the series known as “Downton Abbey” was now gone forever. Let’s move on with people that want to be here, on a hit show no less.

Of course Fellowes said that Matthew had to die, that there was no feasible alternative to explain his absence from Mary and their newborn. Sound familiar, “The Good Wife” fans? The Kings wrote an open letter that explained the decision for Will’s death the same way. Except, at least in Matthew’s case, the reasoning is sound. I’d argue it makes total sense for Will to decide trying a new life at the proposed Lockhart/Gardner New York offices. But in reality, just as Fellowes chose such a cheap death for Matthew, the Kings chose a cheap death for Will. Get outta here if you want to go! See how expendable you were in the end?

Actors leave long running series all the time. Sometimes their talents are being wasted. Some have no obvious bearing on the show’s trajectory. Some characters are written to be expendable. I’m not implying that actors do not have reasons for leaving or that some exits are necessary. I am implying that when your exit impacts a serial show where you figure into the narrative prominently, a certain ethics should be involved. And maybe these ethics normally work. Do the remaining original cast members of “Grey’s Anatomy” really want to be playing those roles still? Their ethics are likely motivated by paychecks. As was the cast of “Friends” (although “Friends” would have just ended a few seasons early as opposed to Matthew Perry leaving and Chandler leaving Monica a widow). I could talk in circles around this all day. Perhaps devotion to character and story keep many actors in jobs they’d rather leave. And the Josh Charles’ and Dan Stevens’ of the world are the outliers. Bottom line reiteration: if an actor chooses to leave a role you love on one of your favorite shows, don’t mourn. Get angry! And move on. If the writing is good enough, the show will turn their poor judgement into a creative windfall for your series.

Advertisements

Random Thoughts on 2012 Emmy Noms

I stopped hoping/predicting Emmy nominations a long time ago because going down that road inevitably leads to disappointment. But foregoing your hopes and dreams allows for another thing: pleasant surprise. Yes, most of the nominations were easily predicable but more so than usual, this year is shaping up to showcase some very deserving ensembles and individuals. One thing I won’t discuss: the snubs. I fear making that list will result in insanity and depression. Forewarning: since my thoughts range from actual having an observation to just “yay!” this is a mishmash of ideas more so than an actual post. For a better breakdown of exactly how this year is surprisingly positive, check out Tim Goodman’s analysis at The Hollywood Reporter.

Downton Abbey: Having returned for a second season to PBS, it was necessary for DA to move from the miniseries category to the drama series category. It took America a year to catch Downton fever, and I am just a little bummed that it happened on a less than stellar season. Nevertheless, I am happy for it to be included. The show even garnered far more acting noms than expected: Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Maggie Smith, Joanne Froggatt, Brendan Coyle, and Jim Carter were all nominated. The Brits are already laughing at our outdated obsession.

Mad Men: What do I love about the Mad Men noms this year? Well, Jared Harris for one (who replaced John Slattery in this category). I was a huge fan of Lane this season and while I could sit here and work myself into a fit over how much I think Weiner blundered his storyline, Jared Harris was awesome throughout. He devastated me for well over a week. I was happily surprised by the nomination for Ben Feldman as Michael Ginsberg in the Guest Actor category. His scene where he describes himself as a martian to Peggy is one of the standout moments of the season. And semi-related: Jon Hamm was nominated for Don Draper but he was also nominated for Guest Actor in 30 Rock. I know he doesn’t consider himself a comedian but he never ceases to be hilarious in comedies and on SNL. He may not be able to win for Mad Men, but he was definitely a standout on the 30 Rock live episode.

Curious Strategies

American Horror Story: Due to what can be deemed downright mischievous, FX submitted AHS as a miniseries, arguing that each season is a self-contained anthology (never mind the fact this was decided after it aired). Due to a sparse field of competition, this has allowed AHS to CLEAN UP. I am very excited to see Denis O’Hare recognized in the Supporting Actor category because he’s awesome.

Sherlock: And speaking of strategies, PBS entered “A Scandal in Belgravia” into contention as an TV movie. Huh? It is a single episode in a continuous series that involves the same principal characters but okay. I can’t really complain too much because I may in fact be rooting for Benedict Cumberbatch in the Lead Actor category far more than anyone else at the ceremony. Martin Freeman also got some love in the Supporting Actor category so I can’t argue with the results of this subterfuge.

The Year of the Creator/Actor?

Girls: Not only was it nominated for  Outstanding Comedy Series, but Lena Dunham got nominations for writing, directing, producing and Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.

Louie: Louis CK may have missed out on getting his actual show nominated but he successfully got nods for writing, directing and as Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. Even more impressive? He now holds the record for most nominations for an individual in a single year (7).

Miscellaneous Thoughts

Max Greenfield: I know that Zooey Deschanel also got the nomination, but I have to give it up to Max Greenfield for making New Girl one of the funniest new shows on television this year. The evolution of Schmidt was a great thing to watch throughout the season and I am very glad that it was noticed.

Writing in a Comedy Series: Talk about a category that got it completely right. Girls, Parks and Recreation, Louie, and Community (The “Remedial Chaos Theory” episode!!!) all represented. I can’t wait to see what episode picks up the award but they are all so deserving.

The Hour: I just recently devoured the first season of The Hour and adored it so I am sad to see that the series was ignored (or “miniseries” I should say…er) as well as Dominic West and Ben Whishaw. However, Abi Morgan did get a nomination for Outstanding Writing.

Modern Family: I…don’t get it anymore. I watch it and it often makes me laugh but not everyone on the show needs to be nominated particularly since it wasn’t a very strong season. I would nominate Ty Burrell, that’s all folks. Instead of some of the other adults I would also nominate the kid that plays Luke, Nolan Gould, because he makes me laugh more than most of the cast combined.

Benedict Cumberbatch: Best Quote Generator…Ever?

The New York Times caught up with Mr. Cumberbatch to discuss the return of Sherlock to American television and his numerous upcoming projects. I especially love how this reporter describes BC:

In person the thin and muscular Mr. Cumberbatch shares the piercing gaze and sonorous, sinister voice of his Holmes but is warmer and more irreverent. He is a self-confessed motormouth and a relentless mimic who, over the course of an hour, adopted the shrieking voice of an admiring Valley girl; the Scottish burr of his friend and colleague James McAvoy; the synthesized speech of Stephen Hawking, whom he portrayed in a British TV movie; and the rapid, adenoidal clip of both Mr. Abrams and Steven Spielberg, who directed him in “War Horse.”

And luckily for everyone, the “self-confessed motormouth” peppered his interview with a number of memorable, thoroughly delightful quotes.

On keeping secrets about Star Trek 2, The Hobbit, the Sherlock cliffhanger…: “You could stick a knife in my thigh, and I wouldn’t tell you. [But] pull the hair on my head the wrong way, and I would be on my knees begging for mercy. I have very sensitive follicles.”

and: “I’ve got to be a complete and utter tease.”

On Christmas: “We observe this little Judeo-Christian cult holiday called Christmas. Whereas, you know, some kids in this part of town” — he circled his hands in the Los Angeles air — “with their Crackberrys, don’t.”

On Sherlock, as a character:“He’s a high-functioning sociopath. He has a general disregard for standard codes of conduct, pleasantries, niceties. He wants to cut to the chase. He wants everything to be faster and better and purer.”

On Sherlock, the show: “I’m desperate for America to really take to this. It has taken it into its heart as a cult thing, but I’d love it to hit the mainstream this time. Because I just think it’s of that quality, and it belongs there.”

[Yes — Americans, rally. Because the time period between January and May was just ridiculous I have already watched the second season. But, worth it. Above and beyond the first season — and I thought that was great. I wasn’t even obsessed with BC until “A Scandal in Belgravia,” as Martin Freeman was my original draw. That episode…wow.]

On Downton Abbey’s award success: “I just looked at [the Golden Globe] and went: ‘Begone, woman. Bring it back when it says “Sherlock Holmes” or Steven Moffat or myself — someone else who’s more deserving than the second series of “Downton Abbey.” ’ ”

Speaking of The Moff, on BC: “His look is quirky. His appeal is quite intellectual. He’s not conventionally handsome — handsome by any normal human standard. But the screen is very demanding. [He is] not ever going to play an ordinary man.”

Finally, on criticisms about selling out: “[There has been] a huge blogging response to me selling out to Hollywood and dating a model and become a walking cliché. That was nice.”

What can I say Ben? HATERS GONNA HATE. You do you.

 

A horse is a horse…unless its WAR HORSE

I have to admit: I went into War Horse with fairly low expectations. Yes, Spielberg is a favorite, but after age ten I haven’t been able to get invested in films that largely revolve around an animal. I expected to go in, suffer a bit through “oh, I surely love my horse so much” parts and enjoy some quality time with Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch. Surprisingly for me, I gleaned much more enjoyment from the film overall than I anticipated. So here is my breakdown of the film (into its piecemeal way of storytelling) and what I liked/liked less as well as the obligatory Downton Abbey comparison. (I am talking explicit plot points here, but just in case let me say in my best pirate: THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD.) The past few months have been steadily increasing my knowledge of the Great War, especially with Downton and Boardwalk Empire. I say, keep it coming!

My boys!!

Part One: When you covet thy neighbor’s colt….

…..your father foolishly outbids his landlord and pays an extravagant price for a thoroughbred when your family really needs a strong plough horse. Granted, this portion was necessary for set-up; they only stress it in a million different ways but just in case you don’t get it, “Joey” the horse is special. He’s different, stronger and smarter than the average horse. Albie (…the racist dragon) trains him to come with a special owl call (like he read in a book about Injuns) and Joey somehow overcomes all obstacles to plow the stony field when surprise! Rain makes the earth more pliable. Other notables: Albie’s dad is an alcoholic with a gimp leg, both legacies of his time in the Boer War. Albie has a goofy-grinned best friend Andrew and a rival, David (son of their evil landlord), who is the “only boy in the village that can drive.” Unfortunately for this wunderkind, the girl he is trying to woo with his driving skills is much more impressed with Albie’s horsepower (literally) (har har). Due to a freak storm, the precious turnips are ruined and Albie’s dad goes to plan b: sell poor Joey to an army captain before he marches off to the front. DOWNTON PARALLEL: If you live in Devon (or a place that looks like Hobbiton) you get your war news via the town Paul Revere. If you are the Earl of Grantham, you can conveniently announce the news at your garden party, in front of your closest friends, relatives, and servants.  Luckily for Albie, his dad sells him to the kind blue eyes of  Tom Hiddleston’s Captain Nicholls who promises to return Joey to Albie at the end of the war if possible (anvil clang).

Part Two: If you are cool enough to be the horse of either Benedict Cumberbatch or Tom Hiddleston, you must, by necessity, become the best of horse friends

Finally, for me, the gears of the movie (and war) started turning. It proved to be very difficult for me to focus my energies when both Benedict and Tom were on the screen. (BC won usually). But luckily Tom had a few scenes sans Benedict’s Sergeant Jamie Stewart. What a good natured character was Tom’s Captain Nicholls! He sketches! Jamie leads the men into a German camp via a cavalry charge with disastrous consequences: honestly, I thought Jamie was sure to perish. Why? Not sure, but probably because his presence in the trailer led me to believe Tom Hiddleston had a larger role. WRONG. As the Germans reached their hidden machine guns, the recognition of their unavoidable slaughter crept into Tom’s baby blues. I can only express my sadness by listening to/watching Black Swan Song. Oh well, I have The Avengers to look forward to, this Comic-Con panel to keep me entertained, and my Thor Blu-ray. Benedict went off to POW land, never to be seen or heard from again. DOWNTON PARALLEL: The male population of the UK was absolutely decimated during the Great War. Just ask Sybil: “Sometimes it feels as if all of the men I’ve danced with are dead.”

Part Three: The guy from The Reader and his brother commit a No-No

In memory of the precious few minutes we got of the Benedict/Tom bromance, Joey and Topthorn (BC’s horse) remain together in the German camp. And because Joey is special you guys, he shows Topthorn it is okay to be harnessed, ensuring both of their survivals. The appearance of the boy from The Reader as Gunther (David Kross) resulted in me listening to his speech patterns; I was trying to decide if he actually knows English now rather than just memorizing some consonant sounds. Lucky for him, he is really good with the horses; so much so that he gets to stay behind and care for them. His 14-year-old brother gets his orders to go to the front, and despite his protests, Gunther grabs him from the line of marching men and they flee to a nearby windmill (aka the most obvious hiding spot within a 20 mile radius). It is a gamble that in the end is not worth the risk: we all know what the punishment for desertion is….DOWNTON PARALLEL: One cannot help but think of poor Mrs. Patmore’s nephew MIA and later revealed to have been shot for cowardice. TORCHWOOD PARALLEL: Poor Tosh’s out of time semi-boyfriend Tommy, who was doomed to death once he returned to his appropriate timeline because of his PTSD (or shell shock) which, in the eyes of officers, was cowardice on the battlefield, and resulted in execution.

Part Four: A Sickly Girl Meets Two Horses (Interlude)

This was probably my least favorite chapter in the story of Joey. I was truly enjoying the battlefield so to be torn away so abruptly into this farm setting was a little boring (especially if you are expecting an Inglourious Basterds type situation).  A little girl, Emilie, living with her grand-père, falls in love with the two horses she magically finds in their windmill. All she wants to do is go riding, but she suffers from brittle bones.She wants to know about the death of her parents and he wants to talk about some pigeons. In the end, the horses are found when Emilie is allowed to ride Joey on her birthday and sent back into the field.

Part Five: Its 1918, Welcome to The Somme, Albie

Poor Joey and Topthorn are now employed with the wrenching work of moving heavy artillery up and down embankments. While we know this is something THE MIRACLE HORSE Joey is capable of, Topthorn is already struggling.

MEANWHILE at the Battle of the Somme we see a familiar face: Albie! As one could have guessed, no able-bodied boy from Devon could escape conscription when his age allowed (but he was probably eagerly awaiting the day he could begin the Joey search, if Captain Nicholl’s sad little sketchbook and death notice did not dissuade him too much). Andrew is alongside Albie as well as Mr. I Can Drive David. The boys raid No Man’s Land, except Andrew is in charge of giving any cowards a bayonet to the stomach. Albie saves David halfway across the stretch of war-torn land (making me search my brain for what this reminded me of: The Pacific? Of course not…ahhh yes, the Doctor Who episode where the mean popular kid becomes friends with the little scrawny Love Actually boy when they are in the Great War–and his vision from the Doctor’s fob watch allows him to save them both on the battlefield). DOWNTON PARALLEL #1: In the second season, they sure do beat us over the head about how war changes everything, war is the great equalizer, etc: Matthew: “War has a way of distinguishing between the things that matter and the things that don’t.” And similarly, the fact that David got to drive around a pretty girl and their dad’s hate each other matter a lot less to Albie in the middle of combat. Andrew cannot bayonet his friends when they scramble back into the trenches and instead he leaps onto the field to join Albie. This made me wonder: would he have been accused of cowardice himself, for refusing to kill the cowards? Time wouldn’t tell because dear old goofy Andrew succumbed to mustard gas in the enemy trenches. DOWNTON PARALLEL #2: I did half expect to see Matthew and William preparing to go out on a raid.

Oh Matthew, your eyes can shine through anything.

BACK TO JOEY. Topthorn is completely spent; he lays down and will not get back up. With fighting breaking out, Joey is able to escape, only to leap around the trenches and get stuck in No Man’s Land, caught in barbed wire. This leads to one of my favorite scenes of the film: the cooperation between the British and German soldiers who cut Joey free. That both sides would break for Christmas celebrations or football matches and other such tales is one of the most heartwarming and heart-wrenching aspects of the Great War. The British soldier wins the right to take Joey back to his camp, thus setting up….

Part Six: A boy and his horse reunited

As storytelling allows, Joey and Albie end up in the same vicinity. TWIST! Their reunion is made all the more difficult by Albie’s temporary blindness due to the mustard gas. However, the fateful owl call he taught Joey as well as his perfect description of his features spare Joey yet again. There was only one obstacle left: Joey was going back to his beginnings—the farmer’s auction. While all the soldiers chip in to help Albie, the grandfather of the little girl appears and pays an astronomical price for Joey, recognizing that the miracle horse was being sold. He has his reasons for wanting him: his granddaughter is dead, and he wants the one piece of her that the war didn’t take. (And thus the whole little interlude in the middle of the movie wasn’t a complete departure from the plot). Albie mans up and says goodbye but Joey is reluctant; the old man pulls out Albie’s father’s regimental pennant from his pocket (that traveled from Albie to Joey to the old man) and he finally realizes the horse belongs with Albie. Albie returns home with Joey to his parents and I sit in wonder at how a movie can end so happily. The father isn’t even dead? Wow, and one of my friends thought for sure Joey would be heading to “The Glue Factory” by the end.

Sighhh. Jimmy on Boardwalk Empire

Let’s just hope that Albie doesn’t end up like his father or poor Jimmy Darmody on Boardwalk Empire, forever haunted by his experiences.

This picture is really tops

GGs

"The Tourist," Ricky? That is some hard hitting stuff. Except it took me about 5 minutes to remember that film existed.

This year, Ricky Gervais did not go for the jugular like he has in the past; that is a shame. If anything, the stars were prepared for it. Since he planned on this being his last time as host, why not take as many celebrities out as possible? And no, I don’t think Colin Firth even batted an eye at Ricky’s remarks about his evilness. George Clooney actually wins the award for comment of the night, remarking on Michael Fassbender’s…physical gifts, which elicited this wonderful reaction:

This is amazing.

Some other thoughts:

People I feel should have been recognized: Amy Poehler, Bryan Cranston, Kelly Macdonald.

Salutes to those that I feel earned it:

Downton Abbey–Should Downton be in the mini-series category, no. But, this is the Globes. (And just for fun, this Tumblr mashes DA and Beyoncé lyrics and is awesome).

Homeland–Breaking Bad was the best drama but I think Homeland needed this extra push for public recognition; also Breaking Bad wasn’t nominated…um…okay? Claire Danes absolutely deserved that award for her amazing performance as Carrie Mathison.

Christopher Plummer for Beginners!

Best Screenply for Midnight in Paris (I feel out of the options Woody Allen should have gotten Best Director as well).

The award for interview slyness (who I didn’t even know was there, sneaky monkey) goes to:

The actual interview is available here–in written and video form.

The person that needs some awards love too (and not just as a presenter for 50/50…am I missing his connection to that? or from Christopher Plummer, although that was very nice):

The GGs are always sure to handsomely reward past favorites as well: Laura Dern, Jessica Lange, Kelsey Grammer, Kate Winslet…

Random:

  • What the hell is Hugo about? I get absolutely nothing from trailers or from the clips shown at the awards. I refuse to actually look up the synopsis.
  • I officially need to go back to watching Luther, find a way to get my hands on Appropriate Adult (after missing it twice on television) and give Enlightened a watch on HBO GO.
  • The Hugo thing may not be the film’s fault. Who compiled these reels? The one for Midnight in Paris is completely misleading and spoilery—it gave away what happens to the private detective!

Christmas Special Redux

Damn, those did not disappoint.

I felt physically ill during most of Downton Abbey (it stresses me so) but the payoff was so, so sweet. The scene right before the end was a bit too over the top for me (Lavinia, please go gentle into that good night) but its inclusion closed the book on her and paved the way to glorious happiness.

I want to include every screencap of this moment possible but the above is so perfect. Look how happy Matthew is (finally, away with dreary doom and gloom Matthew!). But the Daily Mail has some other great pictures from the special here. Matthew proposing (properly on one knee)! And Matthew punching Sir Richard! And other things happened.

Side note: More Britons watched Downton Abbey and Doctor Who than the Queen’s speech yesterday. Down with the last vestiges of monarchy via televised drama?

On to Doctor Who: very funny, many memorable quotables. The Doctor makes me laugh out loud more than many sitcoms I watch; I think it is largely due to how Matt Smith delivers his lines. Of course, Steven Moffat warned us we would cry (thus making me more prone not to get sentimental) but he was half-right. I got very teary at the end because Moffat tricked me. I thought he wanted me to get sentimental for the wife saving the husband, when it wasn’t very shocking to me. NO. He had to throw in my kryptonite: the Doctor’s feelings. I immediately got emotional at the idea he was actually going to visit the Ponds. That was already enough. THEN he had to get all humany-wumany with the happy tears. That was such a great payoff too. Especially from earlier in the episode where the Doctor claimed he was not capable of such things (I retorted, oh yes you are Doctor). And boom! Told ya.

I am a huge fan of the one single tear out of one eye as well. If I had more examples of this, I would totally make a Tumblr or something. Alas, my other perfect example is Andrew McCarthy. I feel he has used this in multiple flicks but never as prominently as in Pretty in Pink:

And finally, thinking back to the popularity of the Christmas special in Britain as opposed to the complete lack of programming in the US, I realized it isn’t just that…we don’t or no longer have a tradition of the Christmas special at all. We have the Christmas “episode” which just happens when a 22 episode season coincides with the holidays. We also have Halloween, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, and St. Patrick’s Day (among others) to celebrate season to season.

Warehouse 13, Eureka, and Haven

I have to give props for SyFy’s attempt to re-energize the idea. And even with their specials, there are differences. SyFy’s Christmas episodes aired December 6th, when the Christmas season was at its start. And, these episodes are stand alone. No plot was furthered on Eureka, Warehouse 13, or Haven. So it is sort of disjointed to see characters happy and relatively unscathed from the explosive events of their respective finales. I don’t know about Eureka but Warehouse 13 and Haven ended on significant cliffhangers. In comparison, the British specials moved A LOT of plot, especially in respect to Downton Abbey. But even Doctor Who set the Doctor back up with Amy and Rory before the episode was out.

In conclusion, even though some American shows are moving back toward special holiday hours, they are still afraid of viewers missing out. Strange, but typical.

Happy TV Special Day!

So excited for the Doctor Who and Downton Abbey Christmas Specials tonight!

And also, I suppose, MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Look! It’s an American Downton w/ similar issues

This week in strange connections I bring you: The Age of Innocence and Downton Abbey. Namely, Lavinia Swire as the successor to May Welland. When I first started reading Edith Wharton’s Pulitzer prize winner, I immediately thought: “ah! The American literature version of Downton Abbey!” Technically yes, though it takes place in the 1870s and servants are merely portrayed as that – servants.  There I stopped at the comparisons….until I started watching the movie version on Netflix. It occurred to me (in the scene, which also appears in the book) where May tells Newland that they should put off being married, ESPECIALLY if he is in love with someone else. Now obviously the parallels between her and Lavinia are broad, but even if Lavinia hadn’t felt the urgency of telling Matthew the same thing on her deathbed, I feel she would have eventually told Matthew regardless: don’t marry me, clearly you love Mary and just feel honor bound to me.

I never hated May; I felt sorry for her. Her life with Newland was perfectly fine until the Countess Olenska came along. If she hadn’t, their relationship would probably have faced no peril (other than Newland’s dissatisfaction at her lack of interest in his interests). May, the picture of a gentle soul, is willing to give up Newland if he is in love with another woman (never mind the fact she is wrong about which woman). If Newland were to give up May in order to be with the Countess Olenska, he would be committing social suicide and that is one of the primary points of the novel. At that moment, even Newland cannot conceive of marrying anyone other than May. More so than honor, society dictated that it must be so. In this case I was more annoyed with Newland: maybe at this moment he was still confused but later in the novel he plans on leaving May (after they are married) and even fantasizes about her death.

Lavinia arrives to disrupt a relationship we were already invested in: Mary and Matthew. At the conclusion of season one, we knew there would be no easy sailing for these two but introducing a new love interest for him? Even the actress who played Lavinia was prepared to be hated. Throughout the course of second season we are given every reason to not hate Lavinia: Mary realizes that Matthew truly loves her, Mary even likes her! But that doesn’t stop Mary and Matthew from colliding back into each other’s arms. In this case (although I am not too familiar with this society) the social ramifications would have been significant but not suicidal if Mary and Matthew decided to leave their betrothed for each other. After Matthew’s injury, his honor forces him to break off his engagement with Lavinia but she comes back, ever so dutiful, giving up the idea of children in order to stay by his side. And this action even further entwines him to her, regardless of whether he is dancing with Mary and kissing her in full sight of Lavinia. When Lavinia is struck down by the Spanish flu, she urges Matthew to go to Mary. Of course, after she dies, instead of taking her advice, Matthew being Matthew, can never entertain the idea of being with Mary now. Sigh…Unlike The Age of Innocence, Matthew is more conflicted towards Lavinia (and doesn’t pray for her death unlike many viewers).

While The Age of Innocence is a true-to-reality telling, with no one really stuck in their ideal situation and all the heartbreak that that knowledge entails, Downton Abbey is purely dramaville. So many things led to the final moments but honestly I blame Mary’s aunt Rosemary for making her reject Matthew back in season one. Matthew thinks he is paralyzed–Lavinia forces him to take her back and be engaged–Matthew can walk!–Surprise, Lavinia sees Mary and Matthew kiss–Lavinia tells Matthew to be with Mary and then up and dies—now Matthew is a bitter old soul. Unnecessary drama, but heart wrenching none-the-less.

Freak. Out.

Matthew and Mary

This season of Downton Abbey got a lot of flack for becoming too soapy. But my interest in the characters sucked me into all of the drama regardless. I thought last week’s episode was the finale and my heart nearly beat out of my chest from the stress. Nope, it is actually tonight so cue my stress all over again (mainly over Matthew and Mary). Damn you, emotional investment!