Season Five of Downton Abbey ended last week, but the fun isn’t over yet! Here to discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly of this past season are Stephens, who pens News in Asia each week for Persephone Magazine, and fellow Downton Abbey recapper for the very funny blog Happy Nice Time People (seriously, go check it out!) and author of the recent novel Blood Diva (as VM Gautier), Marion Stein.
Linotte: Were there any moments in the season that really stood out to you? Which plot points were well done and which weren’t? If they weren’t so good, how could they have been done differently? How was character development this season? Anything else you wish to discuss?
Stephens: I love how the matriarchs of the show got romantic storylines. I mean, how often do you see older female characters get a romantic subplot? What I hated…the Bates storyline. So very over it.
Stephens: I wish their storyline didn’t revolve around misery and Bates being a bit of a dick.
Marion Stein: I think the world hates the Bates subplot. Nobody wanted to see either of them suspected of murder again, and the Green thing has dragged out for two seasons.
Linotte: Yeah, the whole thing with Bates and then Anna being accused of murder was ridiculous.
Stephens: Also, I know that Edith did a bad thing with Marigold, but I really felt for her this season and I’ve always related to Edith more than I ever did to Mary.
Linotte: I loved the development of Cora this season and how they showed the way her family treated her. Cora clearly isn’t stupid; she has just had her own pursuits and when Bricker arrived at Downton Abbey, he paid attention to her and cared about what she thought.
Marion Stein: It was like Cora came out of a coma this season.
Linotte: I also liked how they gave a nod to the old The Scarlet Pimpernel series with Richard E. Grant and Elizabeth McGovern.
Stephens: YES! They always had such excellent chemistry.
Marion Stein: Was Mary always that much of a sociopath? She seemed AWFUL this whole season.
Stephens: Yeah, any love I had for her died with how she treated Edith.
Linotte: I know some people think he’s funny-looking, but Richard E. Grant is hot. But then I love Sir Percy, every Sir Percy, so.
Linotte: Mary was always pretty awful, and Sybil always reminded her to be nice.
Stephens: No, when The Scarlet Pimpernel first premiered I had the biggest crush on him.
Maron Stein: My own sister reminded me (when I called her up after an episode to thank her for not being like Mary) that Edith had written that letter to the Turkish consulate so it’s a long history, but enough already.
Stephens: Sybil was the moral grounding of the family. They’ve lost it a little.
Marion Stein: I do get how things looked from her POV. Her husband died the day her son was born, Edith’s been mourning Gregson for 2 years and as far as Mary knows they weren’t even physically intimate.
Stephens: That is true, but I can see Edith moving on and growing and I think she has this season, but Mary would hold on.
Linotte: Well, you have to remember how much Mary has weighing on her. She’s the mother of the heir and her husband, with whom she was totally in love, is dead. She wanted what she had with Matthew but I think she knows things will be a little different. I think with Tony she was settling.
Linotte: What do we think of Carson and Mrs. Hughes? Totally adorable?
Stephens: When he proposed I yelled, “Fucking finally!”
Marion Stein: I still have this sense of foreboding about Mrs. Hughes. Remember her cancer scare?
Linotte: And Violet and Prince Kuragin? That storyline was amazing.
Stephens: It was so tender I could cry. Another example of the olds still getting romance.
Linotte: And Isobel so has it for Dr. Clarkson. Still. You know those two are going to end up together.
Stephens: That came out of left field and I totally loved it.
Marion Stein: Yes and no. It explained why she felt she’d owed the Princess, but from what we’ve seen of Violet it surprised me she came that close to giving everything up.
Marion Stein: I didn’t totally buy it for the character as written for the past 5 years.
Stephens: I was surprised there wasn’t more push for a love triangle between those 3.
Marion Stein: I don’t think Isobel will marry Clarkson. She already rejected him. She doesn’t love him.
Linotte: One thing I liked about Violet is how she’s so confident in herself and her decisions. She can look back on her life and see how fate intervened and saved her from making horrible mistakes, and I like how she tries to counsel her granddaughters and kept them from making mistakes.
Stephens: I do think it injected a bit more dimension to her than an ornery old grandmother with funny one-liners, though I love the one-liners.
Marion Stein: Yeah but she and Rosamund totally mucked it up with Marigold. I loved when Cora took charge and said they had to see what Edith wanted to do.
Linotte: I think we’ll see another love triangle next season with Mary, Charles, and Henry Talbot.
Linotte: It’s amazing how progressive Cora is. You can see how much she loves each of her daughters.
Stephens: Probably true. If it involves Matthew Goode I’m hooked.
Marion Stein: IF Charles comes back, but Talbot is SOOO hot and in those couple of scenes they had great chemistry.
Linotte: And Talbot is a decent guy, too.
Stephens: Cora really is an underappreciated character.
Linotte: I will say that I have grown to love Rose. At first I thought they were going a little too far with the flapper/Zelda Fitzgerald thing, but she has really evolved as a character.
Linotte: And IDK why, but I want to see more of Shrimpy; seems like he’s a pretty cool guy.
Stephens: Me too. Her marriage plot was very sweet and slightly schmaltzy, but I couldn’t hate it.
Marion Stein: Cora has her own interesting backstory — being the fish out of water before Matthew was, it would be great if the final season explored that past more.
Stephens: Agreed. I’d like to hear how she dealt with being an outsider.
Stephens: I’d like to see more of Shrimpy; also Violet’s lady’s maid and butler having it out.
Marion Stein: Speaking of Shrimpy, there was a lot of inconsistency with characters. Rose seemed so innocent, but she used to be the troubled teen. She also seemed amazingly dumb, but then with the Sinderby situation she was suddenly clever. And after establishing Sinderby as a prig, why go out of their way to make him a hypocrite?
Marion Stein: I’m done with the Spratt/Denker shenanigans.
Linotte: Yeah, that was one thing I didn’t get (the Sinderby thing). But Rose has grown a lot as a character, as we saw from the work she was doing with the Russians, and she’s been hanging around Lady Violet, who can spot any shenanigan.
Linotte: Sinderby’s priggishness comes from the fact that he knows he screwed up in the past, and he probably can’t forgive himself.
Marion Stein: Maybe. It just felt contrived to me.
Linotte: So he’s pretending to be this principled guy who hates divorce, and here he is with this ex-mistress and illegitimate son in London—whom he’s clearly supporting—but he feels horrible that he screwed up at the same time. He’s projecting his own feelings of regret on others.
Marion Stein: I can see that, but it just feels forced. Like various things this season. The Denker London thing with Andy for instance. They’ve made Denker odd, and not always honest, but she’s up against Spratt, and Violet seems to get along with her, then in London she’s just terrible.
Linotte: What do we think of Branson leaving with Sybbie?
Marion Stein: Oh man, they brought it up constantly. JUST LEAVE ALREADY OR SHUT UP.
Linotte: I honestly think the cousin is involved in bootlegging.
Linotte: I mean, where else would he get is money? The Irish mob was really into bootlegging.
Marion Stein: I like that idea. But Tom is a pretty honest honorable guy. I don’t see him going gangster.
Stephens: I’m sad to see the character go, but I agree, there was nowhere for Branson to develop more just hanging around Downton.
Stephens: I could see him getting in too deep before he realized it and got stuck.
Linotte: I don’t see Tom going gangster, but I can see him freaking out and returning to Downton.
Linotte: And the bootlegging thing is such a gimme.
Marion Stein: I wouldn’t buy it. Even if his brother wasn’t out there, it’s an odd set up. As he said the way they raise children is “peculiar.”
Stephens: Maybe needing to flee because he got involved in organizing and worker’s unions. I could see that.
Linotte: Tom was very kind to Edith about the Marigold situation.
Marion Stein: They only have one season left and they’ve made such a big deal about his leaving, I don’t see him coming back. And yeah, he is a very nice guy.
Stephens: I thought that was lovely. It could have been different with him being Catholic.
Marion Stein: Speaking of characterization: BUNTING. Wasn’t she the worst?
Stephens: Maybe coming back for the finale, but yeah, he’s probably gone.
Stephens: Ugh. They took a character who could have been very interesting and just made her annoying.
Marion Stein: Yeah, but he was also poor and like he said he knew a lot of Marigolds in his village.
Stephens: Yeah, you do have a point.
Marion Stein: Re: Bunting. She was a caricature and I really resented that.
Linotte: Bunting was horrible. I don’t know why Fellowes did that with her. She was kind of a MacGuffin to help Tom realize maybe he ought to go to the U.S.
Marion Stein: I’m wondering if she was based on someone Fellowes knew — an annoying ex, a sister-in-law?
Marion Stein: Speaking of which, what about the way every single dinner at Downton was either very awkward or a total disaster.
Linotte: Fellowes knew a lot of people. Have you seen his series A Most Mysterious Murder? His grandparents were very well connected and knew the people involved in the case outlined in the book White Mischief.
Stephens: I know you have principles, but there’s a time and place for fuck’s sake and a dinner party is not it.
Marion Stein: But then Larry and Tim came to dinner and were even more rude and annoying.
Linotte: They were so mean. I’m so glad Branson told them off.
Marion Stein: And poor Tom, he volunteered to take care of a dying dog to avoid dinner with Larry!
Linotte: Branson has really come around as a character. He has his ideals, but he also has this wealthy family he loves. It shows how much his character has evolved that he can walk the line between the two, and how he and Robert have grown to respect each other.
Stephens: I felt bad for Isobel because of that. She may have been happy with their dad if not for them. I understood why she broke it off though.
Linotte: Isobel is strong enough and confident in herself that she can find her own sources of happiness beyond romance. Yes, she would like to get married again for the love and companionship, but she would rather be by herself and be happy than be with someone and be miserable.
Marion Stein: I can’t let go that Robert really caused Sybil’s death because he listened to his well-connected doctor over Clarkson. I don’t think Tom realizes that. (I haven’t forgiven Robert or forgotten that Violet go Clarkson to soften what he said about that.)
Stephens: It reminds me of being around family and friends who hold vastly different beliefs than I do. It’s hard to demonize them if they love you despite the differences.
Stephens: Yeah, Robert is someone else I could take or leave.
Linotte: And I think this is the whole point of having Tom strike off on his own for a bit. They may fast forward a year or two to have him return, but I don’t see Allan Leech leaving. On a lighter note, the dog who played Isis loved him and they developed a special bond. It was nice for Fellowes to touch on that this past season.
Marion Stein: Re: earlier remarks on Branson. I don’t see him as “evolving.” Politically I’m more with Bunting, which I why I resent they made Bunting seem like a completely rude looney.
Linotte: Robert’s moments with the grandkids are adorable. He doesn’t like being called Donk, but he rolls with it.
Linotte: Bunting was rude. Hannibal would eat her.
Marion Stein: The way they never see the kids though. It may be historically accurate, but it is odd. I could see Tom feeling stifled by it. Having to dress for dinner every night. The whole thing.
Stephens: That scene on the train when Mary was declaring she’s a mother and isn’t overly concerned about her kid going on a picnic, I did think, “But you see your kid once a day.”
Marion Stein: If next season is set a few years later, all the kids will be in boarding school.
Linotte: Depending on the family, it was common to have a nursemaid and/or governess do the dirty when it came to raising kids. Branson seems more hands-on, as does Edith, but Mary seems okay with the whole thing. Which doesn’t mean this won’t be covered in the series. It already has been. Edith is very hands-on, while Mary rolled her eyes at her and wondered why she couldn’t leave the nursemaid to handle things.
Marion Stein: But what did you think of it taking Robert so long to figure out that Marigold was his granddaughter?
Linotte: I know in at least one Agatha Christie book there was a governess.
Marion Stein: Also am I the only one that thinks Gregson might still be alive and likely to show up at some very inconvenient time, like when Edith is marrying Pelham or something?
Linotte: I think Robert kept himself willingly blind. Edith had been through hell and back, and he just wanted to see her happy. And then he saw it and was like, “OMG.” But it was a very Dickensian solution.
Linotte: No, I think Gregson is still alive. I think he purposely faked his death in service to the government and to eventually get back to Edith. Again, Dickensian.
Marion Stein: Wow. I imagine him amnesiac and running around like Ronald Coleman in Random Harvest! If he is alive he should’ve gotten a letter to it. Edith would have moved to Germany and lived “in sin” to be with him if he couldn’t get a divorce.
Stephens: I did think for a time Gregson had just used Edith and then peaced out, but I can get behind a “sacrificed for king and country” plot.
Marion Stein: Interesting we all suspect Gregson is alive despite what Robert said about finding “what was left of him.”
Marion Stein: BTW, did everyone see the “TextSanta” parody. They can laugh at themselves.
Linotte: Yeah, which reminds me. I need to find out when they started using dental records to identify corpses.
Linotte: That was so funny. And they had Mr. Selfridge on.
Marion Stein: I loved how they gave the shout out to Tom’s always saying he doesn’t belong. Every episode either he said it or somewhat else did — often more than once.
Stephens: I thought about adding Mr. Selfridge to my queue.
Marion Stein: Speculation? Anyone?
Linotte: What do we think about the rumors the show is ending? HuffPo released the report late last week, because Joanna Froggatt, Laura Carmichael, and Allan Leech have been in Hollywood discussing opportunities and Maggie Smith let it drop that she was leaving Downton after series 6. Fellowes is developing a series called The Gilded Age with NBC, and he came out and said, “Um, I didn’t know we were ending.” But we don’t know for sure. Maggie Smith’s publicists retracted her statement and said, “We’re with Downton all the way!”
Stephens: They’ll probably drag out the Anna murder plot just because I think Fellowes likes to torture his audience.
Linotte: Tom will probably go to America and come back. Or get in some trouble and the Levinsons wlll use whatever influence they have to bail him out. Because we all love Shirley MacLaine and want her to come back.
Marion Stein: I dunno. There’s been so much negative feedback. In Gosford Park the housekeeper did it, so it could be Hughes — and maybe she’s dying so they’ll never take her alive. (NOT serious but hoping.)
Stephens: I actually thought season 6 was the last. I hadn’t realized that it was just a rumor. Honestly, I love the show but I don’t know how much more they can squeeze out after 6 seasons.
Marion Stein: I don’t think it should go past season 6, and it will be a better season if they decide that and can plan an ending. To me it makes sense to jump five years to the cusp of the stock market crash.
Stephens: Oh, don’t get me wrong, if gets resolved off-screen I’d be ecstatic. And Mrs. Hughes being a murderess would be the best plot twist ever.
Linotte: IDK, there’s all sorts of conflicting info going around. They won’t say a word until the season is done filming, I bet. Remember all the rumors that Dan Stevens was leaving and he remained until series 3?
Marion Stein: Yeah, and his film career has totally taken off…
Linotte: But when you have another project and your cast is ready to move on, it’s best to end on a high note.
Stephens: Yeah, that was a bad career move.
Stephens: I think they don’t want to announce quite yet that it’s the last season, but I predict they’ll announce it sooner or later. I’d be even more surprised if they did a season 7.
Marion Stein: I read the article Linotte referred to earlier and thought it was pretty much a done deal — next season the last.
Do any of you readers have anything to say about Season Five of Downton Abbey? Let us your know thoughts in the comments below!