Season Three of the hugely popular Downton Abbey has come and gone in both the U.K. and the U.S. and by the time this post appears, they will already be working on Season Four. So I am assuming no spoiler alerts will be necessary since even in America the Season ended two months ago. Even after three seasons (or as I prefer to call them, half seasons), Downton Abbey is still America’s guilty pleasure (8.2 million watched the finale on PBS which outshone all competition on that Sunday night. The best ratings PBS has seen since Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary), though after the way this season went, the staying power of that will be tested, to be sure. Lots of folks had issues with the way this season’s series ended…. with a thud.
Let’s consider for a moment where we are in the story. Unlike earlier seasons, this one encompassed only 1920 and 1921 (and the latter only in the very last episode which is said to transpire a year later). Perhaps the happiest new developments besides the long awaited babies, was the exoneration of Bates, and his lovely relationship with Anna. That is to say, in some ways the stories downstairs were often more appealing than the stories upstairs.
And if you are wondering about the deaths of two prominent Crawley figures, well both of them wanted to be written out of the story—which frankly was pretty foolish of them. Talk about killing the goose that was laying golden eggs. In the case of Dan Stevens who would not renew his contract for a fourth season, I was there in NY several weeks ago when his Broadway play was declared a flop, and closed prematurely. Maybe Julian Fellowes can figure out a way to undo the Season Three ending.
Despite various promises that religion would play more of a role in this season’s episodes, this never really materialized to any extent. The costumes and local scenes and recreation of the world of British life in such a house is still grand, and worth watching in and of itself, but we could use some fresh new ideas, plots, substance, subject matter, in Season Four. Perhaps someone other than Maggie Smith could be allowed a few zingers in Season Four.
Most of all, we need to see more of the new world being born and how it changes life at Downton Abbey and perhaps a bit less of looking back wistfully at the past. Of course Carson would not take kindly to me saying so. It might be useful if the story gets to the brink of the great crash of 1929 as well.
All in all, this season could be summed up in the words of a famous poem— “life and death upon one tether, and running beautiful together”.