Thursday, July 28, 2016

When I Gave Downton Abbey a Second Chance

One day, during Christmas break in my freshman year of college, I watched the first episode of Downton Abbey. Many people had recommended it, the costumes and setting looked amazing, and we were in the mood for a sweet love story. However, towards the end of the episode, there was a scene with two men that I had not been expecting, and I was concerned as to where this show might be headed. So, I backed away from it for the next several years.

Several months ago during pregnancy, I realized that postpartum would be a wonderful time to do some Netflixing.  Since many friends have continued to talk about Downton Abbey over the recent months, I figured, "Well, when I'm sitting around with a newborn, maybe I should give it another try."

So I gave Downton another chance...and I'm glad I did. Because, to my surprise, this show did not just consist of gorgeous dresses, incredible settings, and beautiful music. In addition to all of these things, Downton Abbey showed me examples of love, friendship, and forgiveness.

As I gave the first season of Downton another chance, I initially was not sure that I liked it. This show is dubbed a "soap opera" by many people, and I just was not a fan of all of the melodramatic elements.  Some of the characters drove me crazy, too. I did not like Thomas Barrow's rather flamboyant advances, and he irritated me-especially when he was in cahoots with O'Brien. Many of the Crawleys seemed snobbish and Lady Mary's cold attitude bugged me. 

However, I loved seeing the lives of the servants (O'Brien and Barrow excluded), and I think this is what helped me stick with the first season. I also thought Matthew Crawley was a very interesting character, and I enjoyed seeing his interactions with everyone at Downton. The historical setting intrigued me, particularly when World War I broke out. So, I stuck with the show as I cared for my baby boy. 

As Season 2 wore on, though, I grew increasingly ticked off at the melodramatic, slow-moving events. In fact, I accidentally skipped an episode, but didn't even realize it until I was about a third of the way through what I thought was the next episode! By the end of the season, I had learned two things: 

1. I figured out the "best" way to watch the show! As I watched Downton, I could simply scroll through the episode to only watch the parts with certain storylines that I was invested in (Mary & Matthew) and thus skip all of the other boring or melodramatic events. 

2. The close of the season finale interested me in Season 3, because I was curious about how things would continue for Mary in the coming episodes. However, I did not know if I could stomach another season of constant melodrama! 

So, after the first two seasons, I was not sold on this show. There was a bit of so-and-so sleeping with so-and-so and some scandal that hearkens back to Jane Eyre. Yes, I know that Bronte and Austen both include some pretty scandalous behavior in their writing, but since it seemed to be such a big focus of Downton, I just was not sure if the show was for me. But, some good friends mentioned to me that the show gets better, and even though some seasons or episodes are not that great, it's worth continuing. Well, maybe I'll watch some more eventually...but it's not a priority, I thought. And so I switched my Netflixing back to The Walking Dead (because that's a reasonable alternative to Downton, right?). 

Yet, while I love love love to watch TWD, I soon discovered a problem: I would frequently pace the apartment in the middle of the night with my son, to help him fall asleep. And while I've gotten less jumpy over the years, I still can get scared or startled quite easily. Let's just say that walking around a dark apartment, imagining the Governor standing around the wall as I turn the corner, was not the most relaxing thing for me. So, I decided that I would continue my viewing of TWD in the daytime, but that for Netflixing sessions in the evening or nighttime, I would get back into Downton. 

I enjoyed Season 3 quite a bit more than the previous season, but was still not entirely a fan of the show. However, I decided that I no longer wanted or needed to skip around to only watch my favorite characters, since I had become invested in the stories of many of the characters! Season 3 ended on a note that seemed a bit predictable but also made me interested in Season 4 as the characters picked up the pieces. And, in the blink of an eye, I found that I had seen all six seasons of Downton Abbey

Initially, I had been a bit prejudiced where Downton was concerned. I let my initial hasty reaction at one scene cloud my view of the entire show. But when I gave the show a fresh look, I was able to see so many beautiful aspects. 

Companionship among people who strive to help each other. 
Devotion and loyalty in marriage. 
Moving beyond the wounds of one's past. 
The joyful acceptance of an unplanned child. 
Persevering through one trial after another, holding onto hope of a better life.
Looking at another person with true compassion and charity. 
Mercifully extending a second chance to another person who did wrong. 

Seeing the characters interact and grow brought forth so many messages of hope. To my great surprise, Thomas Barrow-who I utterly despised-truly had my sympathy in the end, and I genuinely cared about him and his welfare. Mary Crawley, who I was irritated with for much of the show, broke from her hardened, cold shell to live more fully. Edith Crawley, who had spent most of the show sorrowfully drudging along, finds a joyful meaning in the whole mess that had been her life. 

Downton Abbey may seem like a really simple soap opera at first, but it touches on much more complicated matters than I had bargained for. Some very intense situations arise that have lasting effects. Many of the characters do some quite horrible things, and we see the consequences that many of them face for their sinful actions. This is a show with broken people, muddling through a historically turbulent time, trying to live and secure their futures. The show has its faults, and even in the later episodes, there were moments where I just couldn't handle the melodrama and skipped a couple scenes here or there. And I was not satisfied with Robert and Cora's marriage at the end. It's not a show I'd watch all the time, but I am glad that I watched it. 

Plus, it features the Dowager Countess, and she's the best (since I would be walking with my son or nursing him as I watched this, I couldn't keep a notebook of her quotations, but I would have loved to!). She's that one friend you always want to hang out with at awkward parties so that you can make snarky comments together. Oh, and her butler, Spratt, is also pretty fabulous. 


  1. I'm glad you stuck it out. It's one of my all time favorites. I'm getting into Poldark now.

    1. POLDARK!!!!!!! That's such a sweet show. I absolutely love Demelza, and the relationship that she and Ross have is so great to watch. Watching that show while pregnant made me an emotional wreck at one point, but it was still lovely to see it. I hope that you enjoy Poldark!

    2. Where does one access this Poldark? I keep hearing about it.

    3. Season 1 is currently on Amazon Prime; I think Season 2 is coming out on Prime soon as well.

  2. I watched it as it was going on and felt like I really got to know the characters over the years. I generally can't stand Mary or Thomas--though I admit they generally improve as time passes. My sisters and I probably had a crush on Matthew up until he went and died. Tom Branson is a big favorite of mine--I think I could really relate in some way to the "cross-cultural" marriage between him and Sybil. Also Rose and her Jewish husband. Marrying into a family from a different culture is no joke, and I liked seeing that aspect.
    Carson is so, so stubborn but his story with Mrs. Hughes is a favorite of mine.
    It's definitely a dramatic show, but I love how many different people are involved--granted, not all of them are likeable, but if they were, that would probably be a bit unrealistic...

    1. I love how you bring up "cross-cultural" marriages-it was really nice, I thought, to see the characters work through differences of religion or class as they got married. Carson & Mrs. Hughes were some of my favorites, too! I was cheering them on from the beginning of the first season, and it was so nice to see them finally get married :) I think as the show went on, Tom Branson actually became my favorite character-I thought it was quite beautiful that he was willing to soften up and try to understand the Crawleys and become part of their family, instead of stubbornly remaining a firebrand.

  3. Glad you kept going, after watching the pilot I had similar thoughts wondering if that was going to be the main focus of the show but it actually seemed quite out of character with all the rest of the episodes!

    It's been a while since we finished watching the series, but I don't think Phillip and I will ever stop saying "Mistah Beaaaates" in a British accent just for fun.

    1. Hahaha that's awesome! It makes me happy that you and Phillip do that; you two seem like such fun people!
      I'm very glad that I eventually got over my initial reaction to the pilot and kept with it-I think Downto provides a good reminder to not judge too hastily. If I had kept with my initial hasty judgment, I would have missed out on all the beautiful growth and development that takes place in the whole series!