In Series 1 we were given the story of a family whose future was thrown into uncertainty by the death of their male heir on the Titanic. Then with the death of a house-guest while in bed with Lady Mary, the potential of her ruination at the hands of the scheming O’Brien and Thomas and then the ensuing love story with Matthew Crawley, Downton had an over-arching storyline. There was a point to its existence. While it has always been more of a light drama, focusing on being a snapshot in time over being anything shocking, it has had its moments of attempting twists and turns. The death of Lady Sybil was a jolt from nowhere, this series’ rape of Anna was a plain-faced attempt to shock the audience, but what relevance did either of these events have to the plot as a whole? Unlike the earlier series, these storylines occur in isolation, with events happening to these characters with very little ramification to anyone but themselves, or with very little effect on anything else occurring around them. This is what happens in soap operas, not tentpole prime time dramas.
The buzz around Downton has died down, it’s lost its “Event TV” status; if they’re not careful, the show will just splutter out and go out on a low, four more series down the line. Why not go out on a high? There were numerous complaints to ITV after the episode in which Anna was raped, due to people saying that they treated Downton Abbey like a safe comfort blanket and this storyline was at odds with that. But why should the show be a comfort blanket? It’s aired in the Sunday 9pm primetime slot, the most prized timeslot on television, this should be the time for an adult intelligent drama, not saccharine family-friendly tea-time entertainment. The kids are in bed at 9pm, so show me something interesting, thrilling and challenging. Killing off your main characters willy-nilly may be one person’s idea of making it ‘gritty’, but it’s not mine; I call that lazy.