Sunday, February 10, 2013

Review: Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey Season Three Penultimate Episode Ushers in the Modern Era

Rob James-Collier
By the end of tonight's two-hour Downton Abbey (PBS, 9pm), Earl of Grantham Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville) stands on a cricket field looking far into the distance, to the future perhaps. Underscoring the point, on each side of him stands a successor to Downton Abbey, Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) and former chauffeur and widower of Lady Sybil, Tom Branson (Allen Leech).

The symbolic gesture is ushering out this season. WWI is in the past, John Bates (Brendan Coyle) is finally freed from prison but, most important, Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) died during child birth. She left behind the first heir to the family fortune, a baby born quite literally to the upstairs and downstairs Downton families.

Tonight's beautiful episode - unhurried with a casual, confident pace - also ushers in the next generation at Downton Abbey. Matthew and Tom, with guidance from Robert Crawley, are set to rework Downton Abbey into a modern home, a profitable operation that benefits the Crawleys, the staff and Downton's many tenants.

And, for a long stretch, tonight's episode also ushers in some modern-day thinking. It's probably too modern to neatly fit into 1920s Britain. But it's a nice nod to the modern world nonetheless.

Valet Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier), who kissed a boy the first season, did more that that this season. He kissed a sleeping boy who didn't want to be kissed, footman Jimmy Kent (Ed Speleers). Jimmy is pressured by nosey troublemaker, ladies' maid Sarah O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran), to turn in Thomas. Thomas faces jail time in an era when the ruin of Oscar Wilde was surely fresh in every Brit's mind.

Thomas' predicament is too conveniently remedied, and in decidedly 21st century fashion. In the process, Bates gets burned when he inadvertently gives Thomas a free pass to continue being a bother in his life.

But Downton Abbey is too good to be sidelined by convenient storylines. In fact, sometimes its soapy too-convenient plot developments are its greatest asset.

Speaking of soapy, and modern life, the cruelly funny woes that Lady Edith Crawley (Laura Carmichael) faces in finding a man hits yet another snag. Let's face it, love and Lady Edith were not meant to be. But she does land an exciting new job in London.

Next week's season three finale will almost certainly have another one or two too-convenient storylines, along with another soapy surprise or two. (Just check British websites for which cast members won't be back for season four and you're liable to figure out next week's finale.) And, we can't wait.

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