Over the first four seasons of Downton Abbey there have been times I’ve been in love with the show (the Kemal Pamuk episode never gets old), times I’ve rolled my eyes (Matthew miraculously walks!), times I’ve been devastated (I will never forgive the show for killing off Sybil. NEVER.) and times I’ve been enraged (I have yet to make peace with the Anna rape story line from last season).
Until now, however, I’ve never been bored. But I must confess I was filled with ennui while watching the first two episodes of the fifth season. Things kick off in 1924 with the Labour Party in power, and times they are a-changing. Cousin Rose wants to bring a radio (known as a wireless) to Downton, Mary wants to sleep with her suitor before she marries him and the committee to memorialize the war wants Mr. Carson (not Lord Grantham) to chair their committee.
But as the saying goes, the more things change the more they stay the same. Once again, poor Edith would probably win the title of Most Pathetic Television Character. Now her illegitimate daughter is being raised by a kindly pig farmer and his wife. The only problem? The wife, with good cause, thinks Edith has the hots for her husband. “We need a way for you to live the truth without telling the truth,” the farmer tells her. By the end of the season premiere, Edith, fraught with despair, has accidentally set fire to the entire house, or as Mary puts it, “Lady Edith chose to set fire to her room.”
And really—are there no other women in all of England? Must every man be in love with Mary? Lord Gillingham announces that he wants the couple to be lovers before walking down the aisle. Mary’s all for that and poor Anna gets stuck with buying the birth control. Mary escapes under the ruse of going on a painting trip with her friend, which everyone kind of acknowledges is not something Mary would do. However, I did love Anna fretting about Mary being able to dress herself on the trip. Ah, the problems of the very, very rich.
My biggest issue is with the continuing mystery surrounding the death of Anna’s rapist and whether or not Mr. Bates had anything to do with it. Now the police are investigating his death and have come to Downton asking questions. The whole thing reeks of way too much familiarity. We have been down this road with Mr. Bates before. He’s already been to jail.
And Thomas—he’s like a cat with nine lives. Just when you think the series is done with his scheming for good, he’s back. Baxter confesses to Cora that, before coming to Downton, she was in jail for stealing from her previous employer. Cora is none too pleased with this information, but more upset that Thomas would knowingly recommend someone with a criminal background. But then, Thomas goes and discovers the fire, saves everyone, and he’s once again back in the Grantham’s good graces.
Things looks like they will get very interesting for Cora when art collector Simon Bricker (guest star Richard E. Grant) comes to Downton to look at a painting, and is immediately smitten with her. I like this story line for Cora, as she often doesn’t have much to do but fret over her daughters. This will give her a life of her own.
Elsewhere, poor Mr. Molesley dyes his hair for laughs. Daisy wants to further her education, and the feisty and frankly quite rude school teacher flirts with Tom and encourages him to return to his revolutionary roots. And poor Jimmy loses his job after Robert discovers him in bed with his previous employer.
Really, the best part of the first two episodes is the witty repartee between the Dowager Countess and cousin Isobel. Violet is keen to meddle in Isobel’s romantic affairs (both Dr. Clarkson and Lord Merton have taken an interest) and watching Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton together is glorious. “There’s nothing simpler than avoiding people you don’t like. Avoiding one’s friends, that’s the real test,” the Dowager intones. The lady speaks the truth.
Downton is back, and maybe it’s all too familiar, but it’s still a lot of fun.
Other thoughts on episodes one and two:
• Are we ever going to find out what happened to Edith’s paramour Michael Gregson? I have always thought he was pulling a long con, on Edith and I’d like to be proven right.
• “I do love you in my cold and unfeeling way.” Seriously what do these men see in Mary?
• I want this to be the season Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes finally get together. People must be writing fan fiction about this, right?
• I continue to find it extremely difficult to care about Rose. At all.
• I laugh every time the sweeping music accompanies Tom and Mary’s children adorably trotting in. Best behaved children ever.
Amy Amatangelo is a Boston-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter or her blog.