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Downton Abbey Season 4

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So, who else was surprised that they ended up loving Downton Abbey this season? After a couple of years of disappointment and incredibly annoying male characters (I think Robert and Branson competed for “male character I hate the most” while Sybil was still around), Downton Abbey managed to once again find its sweet spot of soapiness and addictive drama without ever-repetitive plotlines and the diminishment of its female characters. The love square with Ivy, Daisy, Jimmy and Alfred was a bit annoying, but even that was perhaps worth it, when it concluded with a beautiful, tear-jerking scene between Daisy and Mrs Patmore.

And that, I think, sums up a lot of this season of Downton Abbey. Suitors abound, we have some enjoyable scenes with pig farming, and occasionally people fret over their missing or otherwise unpredictable loves… but really, it was all about the show’s women, and their relationships with one another.

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Anna and Bates in Season Four of Downton Abbey

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This post contains spoilers for Downton Abbey Season 4

Perhaps surprisingly, Downton Abbey has made a major comeback this season. After two increasingly disappointing seasons, where female characters were mistreated and the writing and continuity spiralled downhill, season four has burst onto the scene with massive improvements in coherency, enjoyability and feminist storytelling.

After Matthew’s death, Mary is dealing with the loss of the person who she not only loved but who, she thinks, softened her, and so the loss of the person she was with him. Edith dabbles in rebellion, while Rose becomes a more fun-loving Sybil-esque character. We even see the unlikely developing relationship between Isobel and Violet, as Violet attempts to help Isobel with her grief.

The relationship between Sybil and Branson is long over, and so we can see Branson as an interesting character, rather than the controlling jerk he often was during their “love” plot, and although Robert contains to be something of a fail, but we’re clearly meant to side against him and his sexist old-world views now.

All in all, it’s working very well. But one plotline has caused a lot more controversy, and its positive and negative aspects are difficult to untangle. At the end of episode 3, Anna was raped by the valet of one of Mary’s suitors.

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Downton Abbey Season 3 Finale

The final episode of third season of Downton Abbey felt, in many ways, unresolved. With the exceptions of Thomas and Ethel, the stories felt like another step in the season arc, rather than the definitive end of a season of television. After eight episodes, Sibyl is dead and Bates has been released from prison, but nothing else feels particularly different.

However, after three seasons discussing the conflict between the old and the new, I felt that this episode finally pulled them together, creating alliances that will allow the household to move into the future. Branson has accepted that he too may need to make some concessions in his relationship with the Crawleys. Robert has accepted that they may need to experiment with the estate to keep it afloat. And we see everyone’s reactions to Thomas’s homosexuality.

Of course, no one called the men out on their treatment of the women or forced that to become more progressive, but… well. Baby steps.

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Thoughts on Sybil Crawley

Sybil’s death represents everything that is good and everything that is bad about the representation of women in Downton Abbey. It is a hard-hitting, gut-wrenching indictment of society’s tendency to dismiss women’s opinions and expertise, even about their own bodies.

It also continues the tendency for Sybil’s plotlines to be about anyone but Sybil herself.

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Mary Crawley is a bitch

This post contains spoilers for all aired episodes of season three.

Mary Crawley is a bitch. And I love her for it.

Over the past day or so, I’ve seen some criticism of Mary floating around, based on her behavior in the new season of DowntonAbbey. In particular, the way that she refuses to accept that they may be forced to sell the estate and move into a smaller house.

But I think this “bitchiness” is one of Mary’s greatest strengths. Mary Crawley is, for better or worse, a flawed character. She is proud, and she can be petty and vindictive when it pleases her (although always with a dignified air). Yet she is also a perfect example of a young “strong female character” (as much as I hate the phrase) who fits into her era. She is strong and compelling without being a radical, like Sybil, or simply a modern girl completely out of time. And she is willing to fight for what should be hers.

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Downton Abbey Season 3: Episode One

This post contains spoilers for the latest episode of Downton Abbey.

The 1920s have come to Downton, and with them, the long awaited wedding of Matthew and Mary. But when Robert finds out that his investments have failed, the wedding and even Downton itself seem on the edge of disaster.

I was exasperated by Downton’s second season, but completely enraptured by the gorgeous Christmas special. Luckily, the first episode of the third season is more in the spirit of the latter, with great scenes between Matthew and Mary, and a bucketload of fantastic female character.

Unfortunately, Branson is still around.

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The Martyrdom of Lavinia Swire

Downton Abbey has one of the best casts of female characters I have ever seen. These complicated, compelling women are not always likeable, but they are engaging, and achingly, painfully realistic.

Unfortunately, in Season Two, the writers dropped the ball with new addition Lavinia Swire. Introduced as Matthew Crawley’s new fiancee, Lavinia is immediately thrown into the cliche, hate-infested waters of TV’s “other woman” — she is the obstacle to the union of fan favorite couple, Mary and Matthew.

Despite the instant problems with her introduction, Lavinia is a character with a lot of potential. She avoids many of the cliches we might expect, and is, on the whole, a likeable, genuine character. However, as the season comes to a close, her presentation becomes deeply problematic, as she turns into little more than a sacrifice to the Great Romance of Matthew and Mary.

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Downton Abbey

I know, I know. I’m ridiculously behind the times. But I just finished watching Downton Abbey, and I am in love.

What a fantastic show. The first season and the Christmas special, in particular, were everything that a TV show should be, with  complex, amazing, flawed and compelling female characters, emotional plotlines and costumes and sets to die for. It gripped me, it moved me to tears — from sadness and from joy — and it featured men and women who felt painfully, achingly real.

Unfortunately, it also had some bumps in the second season that marred an otherwise amazing show. It turned to melodrama when authentic emotion would have done the trick, and although some of the female characters remained complicated and sympathetic, and some who I had previously disliked grew into favorites, others lost their agency and became little more than plot devices. Daisy and Sibyl were both sacrificed to the plot, while the newly introduced Lavinia offered hints of greatness but ultimately became a cliche reminiscent of a young lady in a sentimental Victorian novel.

However, despite these problems, Downton Abbey has one of the greatest arrays of compelling female characters that I have ever seen on television. Set in a world of restriction and dignity, on the cusp of social upheaval, Downton Abbey is really the story of its women, who struggle and suffer in a world that is changing, but, as Lady Grantham says, not changing fast enough for them.

I have a lot of Downton-related thoughts, so expect several posts on these plots and characters over the next few weeks.

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