The grandeur, the nuance, the amazing way nothing happens until the final scenes of an episode... In its glory days, I could spend hours describing the delight that is Downton Abbey. Yet anyone who’s watched the show since the beginning can see that it’s a shadow of what it once was. If it wasn’t for the pragmatic wit of the Dowager Countess, the intermittent brashness of Tom and the simmering affection between Carson and Mrs. Hughes, I don’t know if I could have made until the end.
So I’ve been contemplating the big question that plagues many great shows that receive high praise at its onset: what went wrong? Was it the death of beloved characters like Sybil and Matthew? A tone shift as the characters clumsily dealt with the drastic differences between pre-war frivolity and post-war austerity? Or had it reached its peak in the third season and we’re watching its slow decline into mediocrity?
Or perhaps it’s the problem Downton has been grappling with since the start: over-privileged men, specifically Lord Grantham (a.k.a. Robert Crawley a.k.a. the blustering, bumbling head of the family). At the start, his oblivious follies created dramatic plot points and added tension to the show. Now, despite (and sometimes because of) his intentions to protect the family name, Lord Grantham seems to cause and/or aggravate many of the Abbey’s catastrophes during these, as Lady Mary likes to point out, “changing times.” He epitomizes the dangers of unchecked male privilege.
Let’s take a quick look at Lord Grantham’s low points from the past five seasons:
- With his terrible money management and lack of good decision-making skills, Lord Grantham basically ran Downton into the ground. He lost his and Cora’s money based on a bad investment decision he made without consulting her.