At their worst, "Downton Abbey" and the Oscars are a lot alike: predictable, repetitive, and mostly worth watching for the dresses. So what is there to say about the penultimate episode of Season 5, which happened to air opposite one of the more tedious Academy Awards ceremonies in living memory? Well, there were some really fabulous dresses!
This quasi-finale episode (before next week's Christmas special) is centered around Rose's wedding to Atticus, which means the whole Crawley clan and their staff are off to London for a few days. It's an exciting change of scenery but otherwise yields little in the way of meaningful drama, except for the discovery that Dinker likes the sauce and Daisy is a city girl.
Rose's miserable, anti-Semitic mother attempts to sabotage the wedding by sending a floozy up to Atticus' room after his (admittedly very fun looking) bachelor party. It's the second time this season and by my count at least the fifth time on this show that someone barging into someone else's bedroom has become a pivotal plot point. Dear Julian Fellowes: It's time for some new ideas!
Despite Lady Flintshire's meddling and Lord Sinderby's disapproval of his son's "shiksa" (a term that will never not remind me of Elaine Benes) and her soon-to-be-divorced parents, the wedding goes off as planned and Rose looks absolutely lovely in both her frocks -- that gold beaded number in particular is to die for.
But the status of many other relationships remains up in the air. Isobel is still unsure what to do about Lord Merton -- or "Dickie," as she calls him rather adorably -- while Violet is taken aback by Prince Kuragin's suggestion they spend their final years together. I've said it before and I will say it again: The very best thing about this season is that "Downton Abbey" has really found a way to use Maggie Smith.
The scene where she and Decker talk about what she's going to wear -- and Violet makes it clear that she wants to look her best while also pretending she doesn't care -- is a little slice of heaven. We all know Dame Maggie can deliver a perfect one-liner, but she's also better than just about anyone at conveying a bundle of seemingly contradictory emotions -- in this case, insecurity and confidence, excitement and calm -- all at once. And yes, she looks smashing in that lavender dress.
More disappointing is the total absence of any progress in Mary's love life. Charles Blake is nowhere to be found in this episode, presumably because he's already off on that trade mission to Poland. The only hint of progress comes when Mary slips away from the wedding reception. Carson, who understands Mary better than just about anyone, knows that she's feeling lonely and reassures her that she was right to cut Gillingham loose. "He wasn't good enough for you, my lady. He wasn't good enough by half." It's a sweet little exchange, but doesn't quite make up for the fact that Julian Fellowes is milking the will-they-or-won't-they-duh-of-course-they-will thing for all it's worth. Let's just hope they get together before another World War rolls around.
But the most unforgivable development this week is Anna's arrest. I don't quite understand why Fellowes has felt the need to torture the Bateses for the better part of four seasons: First as Mr. Bates was wrongfully convicted of murder, then as Anna was brutally raped, and now as she's imprisoned for murdering her attacker, which we all know she didn't do. And let's not forget, they also seem to have fertility issues. Unlike the measles, misery is best when you spread it around a little!
For evidence, look no further than Edith, who has spent most of the season bursting into tears but finally seems to be happy now that daughter Marigold is living at Downton. So what if she has to maintain the ridiculous ruse that Marigold is an adopted foundling, a cover so transparent that even Lord Grantham figures out the truth? Happy Edith is so much more enjoyable to watch than Miserable, Lurking-in-the-Bushes Edith.
The episode concludes with the dedication of the war memorial, and Grantham kindly finds a way to honor Mrs. Patmore's nephew. It's a nice way to acknowledge the passage of time and the massive upheaval wrought by the war, which remains present in the lives of these characters seven years after its conclusion. Now if only "Downton Abbey" would look to the future with similar resolve.
To quote Carson, "We must always travel in hope."
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