Sunday, March 1, 2015

Wordy Old Men on Downton Abbey: Season Five, Episode Ten, The Christmas Special

Rich people shoot grouse at Hogwarts. A butler is a dick to Branson. Lord Grantham has chest pains. Rose saves the day. One couple calls it a day while another gets serious. Bates tries to take the heat for Anna. The house says goodbye to Branson.

Old Man Duggan: As Lady Mary stepped through the doors of the ladies' prison to visit Anna, do you think the pondered what would have happened if the world found out about her criminally inclined anus?

Wordy Ginters: I believe exactly that pondering accounted for her face, drained of color yet flush with trepidation. That heiny is like an atomic bomb in a suitcase. No wonder she's so damn cocky.

OMD: When Molesley made hilariously anachronistic mention of tea gowns when detailing how the rigors of being a Lady's maid for three Ladies would overwhelm him, I immediately thought of him becoming Mary and Edith's confidant and then jumped to wishing that was the show we were watching. This has increasingly become a problem for me watching this show. My mind wanders more and more as I long for it to be something it's not. This was not a problem in the first two seasons.

WG: It's a shame, isn't it? It would be pretty easy to shift the characters on the show like moving around a Rubik's Cube and come up with more favorable scenarios. Pratt running a Pub. The Dowager and Kuragin on the run like Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw in The Getaway. Daisy reprising Eddie Redmayne's portrayal of Stevie Hawking in a made for TV 1920's British take on The Theory of Everything.

OMD: All of those would be beautiful. I, for one, am glad Susan MacClare was not invited to Brancaster. I need not look at her puckered mug again.

WG: Screw her.

OMD: It is amusing that Mary is the only one that hasn't figured out Marigold's origins, as she's the only one so self-obsessed to have paid the whole situation no attention whatsoever. Is it just me, or would Mary not look upon Edith much more sympathetically if she were to divulge the bastardly origins of Marigold to her? Nevertheless, here we find ourselves in this labyrinth of barely interesting familial intrigue.

WG: I don't know if there is anything Edith can do to wring compassion out of Mary. She is capable of compassion, but you are right, she's too self-absorbed to notice much of what happens with her sister. And, she's still pissed at Edith for dropping a dime about Mary's fatal F2FA murder of Kamal way back in Season One. Season One! Let that shit go Mary. More jarring: Seeing Edith with her golden ringlets unfurled prior to her genuinely feel-good I know what's up chat with Grantham, or seeing Kermit ride a back in The Muppet Movie?

OMD: Kermit, because that shit ain't supposed to happen.

Mr. Stowell makes Carson look downright jolly. What a stodgy piece of shit. You're still The Help, douchebag, serve, and that means Tom.

WG: Downton Abbey Clan ain't nothing to fuck with. It was fun to see Thomas, with the help from those who previously would have preferred to gouge his eyes out with salad forks, completely wreck those fools in Brancaster, from Sinderby all the way down to the comically loutish Stowell. Is there any sweetness sweeter than comeuppance?

OMD: Probably not.

Little sidenote, Brancaster Castle is actually Alnwick Castle, which serves as a primary location for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series. I thought it looked familiar, and it does for a reason. As Jack and I like to jokingly call out during movies when we've either visited a place--say, Independence Hall in National Treasure or Duart Castle in Entrapment--or obviously not ever been within thousands of miles of the place--Phuket in The Beach or Istanbul doubling as Tehran in Argo--"Been there."

WG: Awesome. Odd variation on that theme specific to this Christmas Special, Mrs Wordy Ginters kept hollering out "BATES!" during the last 20 minutes of the show, presciently expecting his triumphant return. We debated whether or not he'd reappear in a Santa costume, perhaps drunk and disorderly style like Dan Aykroyd in Trading Places, or just springing from the shadows with standard issue black stocking cap, black turtleneck, Hogan's Heroes type gear. I was secretly relieved he showed up as regular old Bates.

OMD: Any mode of return was possible given Fellowes's recent history.

The firing back and forth of pot shots and minor acts of sabotage between Denker and Spratt couldn't go away fast enough. Both share a fundamental lack of redeeming or humanizing traits, but Fellowes chose to spend unreasonably large segments of this season's run focusing on one, the other, or both, leading me to wonder if he holds his audience in contempt.

WG: Would it be too simplistic to suggest Fellowes finds petty squabbles and disputes a defining feature of the lower classes? They're dumb and mean like ill-tempered livestock.

OMD: It's certainly possible, though the most grounded, wholesome people in the show tend to hail from those lower ranks.

Apparently retroactive injury had to be added to insult and injury paid unto Anna. Of course, he had to have been molested as a child. Clearly the only way people will keep watching is if Anna and Bates are stabbed with pen knives every few episodes. Nothing fatal, of course, but flesh wounds must be inflicted for fear of loss of audience interest.

WG: That story line is the one that wears me out. Ridiculous. That shit is so sadly common in real life, and also sadly ignored, that it's shitty to use it like Fellowes has, without being able to treat the subject matter sensitively or in a way that helps anyone anywhere.

OMD: The shot of Stowell underneath the snarling mounted lion head on the is a comically obvious metaphorical juxtaposition.

WG: I noticed that too. Pretty sure that head belonged to Scar from The Lion King.

OMD: Jesus, Princess Kuragin is one dour old bitch. Violet is a cockeyed optimist and blinding ray of sunshine by comparison.

WG: I still dig that guy. He brings a wholly different vibe to the proceedings than any character before him. I don't know if it's the acting or the character, but he's sprung from something more tangibly believable than the soap opera he's been stuck into.

OMD: True dat. Robert's late night conversation with Edith was an oasis in the midst of the barren desert of niceties that is Edith's life. She doesn't get many bright spots, but his overwhelming acceptance of his granddaughter was heartwarming.

WG: Agreed. Grantham was obviously more concerned about his chest pains than he let on. He was in non-oaf mode. Which is nice.

OMD: Lady Mary siccing Thomas on Stowell is the aristocratic equivalent of using a Panzerzug to get rid of a zit. Stowell certainly had to pay Branson more respect, but an entire family was almost done on account of Thomas's handiwork. Talk about invoking the nuclear option.

WG: It was a thing of beauty. Just when you think those at Downton are sheltered or soft, they turn loose Thomas and he sets the place on fire inside of 48 hours.

OMD: "We can't all be as unselfish as you, Mary. (beat) Just joking." I laughed so hard at Allen Leach's delivery of that line.

WG: I hope they still make room for Branson next season. I suspect it's the last of him, but maybe it's better for him to get written of the show before he was completely emasculated. Who the fuck am I kidding? He was neutered long ago.

OMD: It seems odd to introduce Henry Talbot as what superficially amounts to a suitor for Lady Mary, but it would be surprising for Matthew Goode to actually join the cast as a regular, as he surely can't fit Downton into his schedule while he's a primary cast member on The Good Wife. As far as Henry being into racing, that's probably a harbinger of what's to come in the Season Six premiere. Mary and Talbot will have had an off-screen affair, only for him to run into the business end of a lorry.

WG: After the Bates/Anna/Bates murder plot twists, two car crashes isn't out of the question. Just what Downton needs, more hot car action.

OMD: Molesley & Baxter, Private Dicks. Another show I'd rather watch.

WG: Absolutely.

OMD: Violet's admission to having run away with Kuragin only to be stopped by the Princess was something everyone had expected since he first popped up in Yorkshire, but her failing to eliminate other instances in which she may have strayed may mean that we will be so lucky as to have a different septua-/octogenarian suitor risen from the dead each subsequent season. I hope next season's vier for Violet is played by Sean Connery.

WG: Was that Fellowes underlying theme this season? Old people can still live life? I'd love to see a shirtless Sean Connery in the cast. Michael Caine? How about Roger Daltrey? Is Tom Courtenay still alive? Benny Hill? This is starting to become a lot like what I imagine The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is like.

OMD: Have we come to that? Wishcasting a version of Downton Abbey that more closely mirrors The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel? Jesus.

Branson running interference on Robert's drunken attempt at speech delivery was a fun bit of business. If this was a true farewell (and with Branson not actually dying, perhaps he'll make occasional appearances), the show has had worse. Lord Grantham's fond farewell showed how far the two have come. His speech to the house got me a bit choked up, but who knows how much of that is related to Branson's departure leaving little to root for in the house.

WG: At that point, I would have enjoyed it more if Branson would have been forced to continue finding ways to cock-block Grantham from getting off his speech. "And now, Mr. Moseley will entertain us with a version of Silver Bells in the style of STOMP!"

OMD: I'm glad Carson was able to put aside the airs they'd been putting on and just propose. Mrs. Hughes's sister sapping her of her money need not be a hindrance for Carson's happiness. The upright proposal was the nicest moment of the Christmas Special. The most tear-inducing moment of the finale.

WG: Hughes is a mensch. Another spin-off I'd rather watch. Carson and Hughes with an unending river of entertaining characters coming and going from the B&B.

OMD: And we end on Bates returning to presumably impregnate Anna only to have Fellowes fuck with the pair once again. It seems like the show is heading irreversibly down the path toward irrelevance, especially given Fellowes's inability to restock the show with rich, new characters who are able to draw the concern and affection of the audience. What spin-off would you rather watch than another season of this dreck?

WG: Fellowes and Mary on Naked and Afraid. What are you going with?

OMD: I'd have to say I want Molesley: Once, Twice, Three Times a Ladies' Maid to happen most. Well, if this is the last time we venture down this road, it's been my pleasure.

WG: The feeling is mutual.

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