Downton Abbey: Season 5 Wrap-Up

Deborah Gilbert | March 9, 2015

‘My, people come and go so quickly here!’ ~ Lady Dorothy Gale

When a Downton Abbey season ends, it is always the same for fans; we look out upon that long, long stretch until next January, and it feels like forever. Then suddenly, it’s here, and before you know it, it’s over. Yes, Downton Abbey is like life: It all goes by too fast. But like life, it is sweet while it lasts!

Watching Downton Abbey is almost like being a little kid and having someone read you a bedtime story. Lord Fellowes has a masterfully economic way of storytelling that leaves breathing room, giving the viewer’s imaginations a space to play. There is story in what is said and there is story in what is not said. I think that is one of the things we find so much fun about Downton: There is a place for us in it. Maybe that’s why we love it so…

The Times They Are a Changin’:

Change. If anyone has been playing a Downton Abbey drinking game where the code word was ‘change’, they’d be spending the off-season in a twelve step program. Change has been the constant theme since that morning in 1912 when the bicycle messenger rode up to the house with the telegram. But the thing about change is, one doesn’t usually recognize the end of an era until that era is well and truly over. That is when you look back and realize what has been lost (or gained).

But there are big changes and small changes. Small changes are like snowflakes, one doesn’t usually think much of them until they pile up. On Downton Abbey, nothing is insignificant, really, no matter how small. This is a show so vast and yet detail oriented that stitches on costumes that will never be seen on camera are bespoke and sewn meticulously by hand. And it is the same with subtle changes viewers can pick up on in the background. For example, in Season 3 when Anna spent much of it wearing one of Mary’s dresses, a hand-me-down, from Season 2. It was never mentioned. It just was. This season we notice more empty seats at the staff dining table, and standing at attention to receive visitors are hall boys and lower ranked maids, and still not in numbers as in Season’s past. We also saw Daisy start thinking about education, and opportunities (and limitations); taking a personal journey that mirrored much of society. And it took the downstairs village to raise her and see her over the hurdles, carrying their young dreams with her. What else did we learn this season? It’s all about the tweed. Yes, when the swells get together for an event or a holiday, they do not celebrate with fireworks. They prefer an explosion of tweed. One is thinking an explosion of Tweed is what really killed William.

A couple of years ago, Lord Fellowes had said Downton would end with Season 5, but that was then and this is now. Season 6 is already being filmed and in fact, one of the big news stories this past week was the announcement that the eight months pregnant Princess Kate will be visiting the Downton Abbey set on March 12. Note: She will not be visiting Highclere Castle, but rather Ealing Studios where all the downstairs scenes are filmed. Maybe she’ll have her baby there, and leave it with Mr. and Mrs. Drewe. Hey, it could happen. And it’s a funny thing; just recently there was a gossipy story in a British paper claiming that staff at the Kensington Palace, home of Wills and Kate, have been quitting because they don’t feel the household is royal enough. It is too middle class for the liking of these staff people in question so they are leaving. Who does that sound like? But back to our season recap…

What’s the Matter With Kids Today: Kissin’ Cousins:

It was fun to see the children figure more into the story this season, but what of their futures? Will Master George grow up with the sense of entitlement of his mother, or will grandma Isobel be able to put her beak in enough to make sure he has some of the middle class virtues of his father? And what of the relationship between George and cousin Marigold? They are growing up in the same nursery, but are they separate but unequal because of birth? Will they get along like Mary and Edith? Will Marigold remain the secret Crawley? It doesn’t seem like that’s possible. It seems that people are discovering/guessing the secret at a rather rapid pace. But even if the general public never finds out and everyone in the house knows, what will that be like for Marigold? Won’t she be living separate lives; a Crawley while in the house and no one’s around, and something else whenever outside the gates or when there’s company? At this point, the Crawleys are legend for their disastrous dinner parties. Can’t you imagine a Marigold time bomb ticking away somewhere, ready to detonate at some point in the future? Maybe set off by oh, I don’t know… Larry Grey (if he’s ever allowed back), or maybe a resentful Marigold herself?Or a democratic, Americanized Sybbie. And what of Sybbie, growing up in America; what kind of dynamics will that bring to the mix whenever she returns? When I wrote my Season 3 wrap up I had ideas about what I thought should happen to the next generation; Sybbie, the then not yet named baby George, and the not yet thought of Marigold. It’s funny to read it now. Part of the fun is the speculating on what’s to come, but whatever it is, I have a feeling that this story is the one that is going to require seat belts.

Burnin’ Down the House: Little Edith, Happy At Last:

This season began with the solitary figure of Edith riding her bicycle along country roads and longingly looking in at her secret daughter from afar. One hopes Edith has given up reading in bed because (at this point) if she sets the house ablaze yet again there is no guarantee that Fire Brigade Captain/Pigman/adoption co-conspirator Mr. Drewe won’t just let it all burn. It was awful. It was messy. One felt bad for Mrs. Drewe, but we knew from the moment this ruse with the Pigman began at the end of last season, that it would end in tears. We just didn’t know whose. It seemed like there were plenty to go around, but it was good to see Edith stand in her truth and break free – if only for a little while. Just like with Editor Charming before her, we saw the love of baby Marigold be the making of Edith. But the siren call of Downton pulled her back. Was that a mistake? We also saw Edith with her hair down, looking like Glinda, which one supposes is appropriate because, there’s no place like Downton! What’s next? Might there be a little something-something with pitiable Mr. Pelham? From the moment we saw her bat her eyelashes at Atticus’ mention that they felt sorry for him, we knew that there was some sort of destiny there. But let’s not dwell on it. To dwell on Edith’s future may just be borrowing trouble. We know that Lord Fellowes thinks of Edith as one of those people who is just unlucky, so this current happiness might be short-lived. Let’s enjoy it while it’s here — and not tempt the gods by declaring to the sky. And wait a minute, now that I think of it, what happened to those pigs? Might Mr. and Mrs. Drewe be caught crossing the border with a truck load of bacon, exposing the whole sorry story to the light of day? Well you know, Sir Richard is still out there somewhere, one imagines, collecting Crawley secrets for some later date with tabloid destiny. Who knows?

Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight: Huddled Massachusetts:

Tom Branson is yearning to breathe free, and the talk, all season, was of his plans to leave… or not. For the last two and a half seasons, Branson has, in a way, kept Sybil alive in the house and in the lives of the Crawleys.  When he leaves, I suspect that they will feel the loss of her even more. One of my earliest memories of the Crawley sisters in Season 1, was of them walking down the great stairs, Mary and Edith sniping side-by-side, with Sybil behind and in-between them. Branson has functioned in that role. He has become the third Crawley sister: A friend to both. Underdog Edith has always been his natural ally. And for all her faults, Mary never forgot her promise to Sybil about defending Tom and Sybbie with Robert, and he, in turn, helped defend her (and the estate) from Lord Grantham’s power grab last season. He now feels comfortable enough to tease the imperious Mary. Who else does that? For his part, there was quite the bromance moment there at the end, with drunk Donk confessing his feeling for the son-in-law he once loathed. Early this season he took a wrong turn with obnoxious Miss Bunting and, I don’t know about you, but as talk of him leaving progressed, I worried that he would leave to join her. Instead he’s going for something new. Are Branson and Sybbie gone for good? Or will they be back? Matthew (Dan Stevens) couldn’t leave Downton without being killed off, but it is perfectly logical for Branson to go (giving Alan Leech time to do other projects) but still pop back in for part of the season – maybe the big finale episode, with a new fiery woman in tow? Somehow I don’t think we’ve seen the last of them.

Tradition: If I Knew You Were Coming I’d Have Baked a Mandelbrot:

A rainy day, a bit of chance, a chivalrous gent, and just like that Cousin Oliver Rose, who had only just sworn to daddy Shrimpy that she was not out looking for Mr. Right, no way, took a left turn and found Atticus. Or rather, he found her. Turns out Jimmy Webb was right: There is something to be said for leaving cake out in the rain. So #HotHebrewHunk and #ILoveCake join the hashtag lexicon, and our little Rose grows up. It’s not going to be easy. There is a bit of crazy on both sides (like in all families). Given that it seems that she’s about to be left to wait tables, it was surprising that Sourpuss Susan tried so hard to ruin Rose’s prospects. But ignorance is a rather powerful force. Fortunately for Atticus and Rose, they’ve got Shrimpy and Lady Sinderby on their side, and after Supershiksa saved his (if you’ll pardon the expression) bacon, Lord Sinderby came around as well. But he is quite the bad boy. If this Diana Clark and mini-me issue returns to stir the pot next season, might I suggest that Lady Sinderby check into community property laws, divorce Lord Sinderby, and take up with Shrimpy?

With the introduction of the Aldridges we see anti-Semitism brought to the table. Like every other country, England has a long history of anti-Semitism, and over the years it has taken different forms. Here at Downton we saw the casual, dinner party variety, the kind many of us have seen in varying degrees. In the genteel aristocracy it exists, the same as anywhere else, and there have been some rather famously anti-Semitic aristos, probably the most well-known being the Mitford sisters. Lord Fellowes has a way of bringing social issues and history into the conversationoffering just a taste of the humanity with small moments in big topics. Not enough to hit you over the head (this is entertainment, after all) but enough so you get the feel of it, and how it affects and changes the world of these people we have come to know. If you want any more you can Google, and I’m sure that every season there are names and topics that send Downtonians to do just that the moment the episode ends. As Europe continues to rumble, will it engulf anyone we know next season?

The Odd Couple: Romancing the Stone:

This season found Mary recovered from Matthew’s death, but for the occasional wistful moment when she dropped her guard and we saw his memory roll across her face. Aside from those brief moments she was an impeccably dressed knife, slicing at will. But she did finally find her match. No, not Tony, or Blake, or even hapless Evelyn Napier (who was MIA); who? Thomas (Don’t fight the idea)! And she even gave us a new euphemism. After a week of sketching with Annabelle Portsmouth, Mary tired of dull Tony and gave him the boot – or rather, the boomerang. It took quite a lot of kicking (and a committee) to get that boy to the curb! But now he is happily back with potential serial killer Mabel Lane Fox, and (we assume) married. What’s up for Mary next season? Aside from replacing Isis with 101 Dalmatians, one suspects that grouse-shooting third wheel Mr. Talbot will become her new plaything and he seems equal to the task. Unlike Tony, he is clever (Blake was right), so he might have some staying power. There is one bothersome thing though. One would have hoped that Mary learned a big lesson in Season 3 but apparently she didn’t, so Miss Bunting provided us with this formula:  Mary + men in cars = disaster. Remember. Learn.

And that match? For his part, Thomas learned to use his, shall we say gifts for good, not evil. He spent the early part of the season the desperate victim of a gay conversion scam that claimed it could make him “more like other men,” and almost killed himself in the futile attempt. While we don’t know what his current feelings on the subject are right now, with Dr. Clarkson’s advice, that bit of kindness from Baxter has given him a new lease on life. And now that Mary has his Machiavellian powers on tap, what could these two achieve together? We look forward to Lord Fellowes relenting and taking Downton into the 1930’s when Mary and Thomas will team up to defeat the Nazis, and thus prevent WWII, with nothing but a martini olive, a matchbook cover and a paperclip.

The Perils of Pauline: From Zero to Hero:

Seriously, being tied to the railroad tracks may be about the only impediment to happiness not tossed in the Bates’ path. But right now they are both sprung from jail and experiencing a miracle: It seems like Bates is healed. As everyone Christmas caroled, he just put down his cane and picked Anna up. Hallelujah! Not even finding The Thing on his button box scavenger hunt was enough to keep them apart for long. Lucky for the Bates, they’ve got the Crawleys on their side, though that doesn’t seem to hold as much sway as it used too. If Mary has a soft spot for anyone (aside from rather sweet George and Carson), it is her PollyAnna. And Anna is loyal in return, keeping Mary’s secrets even from Bates. When Edith’s room was on fire, all Mary could do was ask Madge to fetch some marshmallows, but she would go to the ends of the earth for Anna, and she has done all she can to help her – including destroying evidence and lying to the cops. But when Anna was being dragged off to jail in the night, her “and I am not Miss! I am Lady Mary Crawley!” did nothing. In times gone by a declaration from a Lord or Lady would have stopped one of those little people in their tracks. Not anymore. Talk about shock and awe. That illustrated change in a nutshell right there. One suspects that Mr. Vyner will be back next season with a stack of unsolved crimes to pin on Anna and Bates. Or maybe we’ll find out it was Madge who killed Green. Think of it: She was also at Downton when Green was there and may have been his victim as well, giving her the motive. We have no idea whether she is tall or short because we never see her and no one seems to know where she is. Clearly she has a cloak of invisibility that would make it possible to commit the perfect crime. Hmmm…

But who ended up saving the Bates’ bacon in the end? Molesley the accidental hero. Come to think of it, it was his advice that saved Baxter’s job and Daisy’s education as well. He started the season as a punch line and ended it as MVP. Will he have what it takes to save himself and grab a bit of happiness for the future? Might Molesley and Baxter be the next simmering Carson and Hughes? Here’s my advice to you, Mr. Molesley: Don’t wait as long as Carson to make a move. Be bold, man! Be bold!

Lordy, Lordy: The Games People Play:

“Thank heaven we both have a criminal turn of mind.” Yes, seriously. Without it you wouldn’t be able to understand anyone else in the house. Is there anyone upstairs or down who isn’t hiding something from the cops? Mr. Vyner could just save time if he locked the gate on the way out and took the keys with him. This season began with Lord Dim Bulb snootily taking Cora for granted, only to be snapped back to attention with a little game of Roman Greco wrestling. And just like that he’s back to speaking to her in cryptic Valentines and selling off any memories of Orange Julius. For her part, Cora woke up (with the help of alarm bell, Mrs. Drewe) and put Rosamund and Violet back in their box, saving the day for Edith (though we suspect Edith could have saved the day for herself, and maybe better, all on her own). We learn a lot more about Cora this season. Her character has been fleshed out, and in a way we met the young Cora Levinson. It helped us to see the pragmatist in her and made it understandable why she gave Baxter another chance. What is in the future for Robert and Cora? More financial turmoil, we suspect. We are just a scant few years away from the big stock crash of 1929 (then again, maybe Lord Donk has no stocks, having lost everything on the Canadian railroad). Maybe there’s another long lost someone to leave them a few shekels. But here is the question I will head into the off-season with: What the heck did Bricker hand Carson on his way out the door? It’s driving me nuts (and I know what you’re thinking: That’s not a drive, it’s a short putt, but still). What was it? Is it something we will discover next season? Or am I just a worrier?

The Days of Wine and Roses: Wedding Bell Blues:

You always hear actresses lament, where are all the parts for women over 40? The next time anyone asks that question, please tell them they are right here on PBS on Sunday nights; specifically, on Downton Abbey. Unlike with most TV shows, where tricks are for kids and the oldsters just serve tea, Downton gives every character of every age a full emotional life (even if they are cold and unfeeling). The sweet romance between Lord Merton and Isobel moved in fits and starts and at first it seems that Violet was acting as roadblock out of jealousy, but as soon as Mary voiced that thought to Violet and she responded with, “is that what you think of me?” we all felt bad for ever misjudging her. Am I right? And what of Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, who had her own Bridges of Madison County moment, except with an encore and a second chance that was not to be?  With this story we plumbed the depths of Violet’s soul and found out that the no generation has cornered the market on musical beds. After all, they were the Edwardians! But it seems that the more enduring relationship here is the one between Violet and Isobel (and interesting to note that the course of this relationship followed Mary’s pattern with men – starting with challenging each other.)  But what of poor, sweet Dickie Merton? Will he give it another go? Will Prince Badenov be back? Or will Thelma and Louise ride off into the sunset in a snappy chariot?

Downstairs, Carson, Mrs. Hughes, and Mrs. Patmore were making plans for a future where they might need to abandon the Downton ship – or the Downton ship might abandon them. Mrs. Patmore got some resolution over the death of her nephew, and started to plan for an uncertain future away from Downton, and Daisy, with her new/old cottage. We hope she can manage some indoor plumbing before she needs to move in. But I’m thinking that at whatever point Daisy inherits Mr. Mason’s Farm, there will always be a place there for Mrs. Patmore.. Then there was the slow simmer of Carson and Mrs. Hughes; the twosome Downtonians have been rooting for longer than Anna and Bates. And he sure took his time, didn’t he? Sly old dog, Carson circled around the question of their future by making it about a house hunt until she admitted she had no money to partner up, and he couldn’t wait any longer. When Mrs. Hughes finally answered, “Of course I’ll marry you, you old booby!” I heard cheering coming from an apartment downstairs in my building. I suspect it was the same where you live. I felt like cheering myself. Will they make it to the altar, or will something (or someone) stand in their way? Let’s not think about that now. Let’s just enjoy a toast: To the adorable couple! Mazel tov!

Happily Ever After: The Beginning of the End:

It seemed like this season ended with the three questions we hear Lord Fellowes most often asked, answered: Will Edith ever be happy? Will Bates and Anna ever be allowed to be happy? Will Carson and Mrs. Hughes ever get together? And there they were, all tied up in a bow. So there you have it, Downtonians; happy endings all around! Season 5 ended happily for everyone, um… except Jimmy, who now spends his nights chained to Lady Duckface’s headboard… and Aunt Rosamund who was (apparently) traded to Singapore in exchange for old Princess Misery Guts Kuragin… and poor Prince Badenov who now must spend eternity with the old battle ax… and Lady Sourpuss Susan who has taken her other (more like-minded) daughter, Jane Withers, off to Hollywood… and Mr. and Mrs. Drewe who (if you noticed) weren’t at the tenant farmer’s Christmas party… and Orange Julius Bricker, who may still be in traction after being pounced on by Robert… and Madge. What about Madge? I worry about Madge.

And dearly departed Isis, long may she wag. Sigh.

Is It January Yet?:

We don’t want to wait till next January for another Downton episode. We want one next week. Someone tell Thomas to arrange that, pronto! And so say all of us!

But until Thomas (or Fellowes) works his magic, we’ll have to occupy ourselves with other things. We’ll have to come up for air, and shop for a hat for Carson and Mrs. Hughes’ wedding. And then there are the other Sunday night delights coming down the pike on THIRTEEN: New seasons of Call the Midwife, and Mr. Selfridge, and all new series like The Crimson Field, and Wolf Hall, a dark telling of the Henry VIII/Anne Boleyn story (don’t tell me how it ends!).