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I just started watching Downton Abby Cannoli Send a noteboard - 20/09/2019 12:16:45 AM

The good part of the show is Maggie Smith being a bitch. It's more funny when she does it to Lady Cora or Cousin Matthew than to Isobel. That kind of feels like she's punching down. It's good when she does it to her granddaughters, too.

The most tedious part of the show is Lady Mary being a bitch. It's, like, the number one cause of problems in the household, after the Evil Maid and Footman. I'm in the middle of the episode where they are trying to frame the Valet (which they pronounce to rhyme with "wallet" - not being either upperclass, nor of a servile background, and having taken French in high school, I have been pronouncing that word as "va-LAY" for almost 30 years), for stealing wine. There's this scene where the two most evil servants, plus the dimmest punching bag of the household staff (I don't know what her job title is - she doesn't dress like the maids and it seems she's basically at the bottom of the proverbial hill down which shit rolls) are lined up in front of the Butler telling him what reason they have to suspect the Valet, and the dumb one (I'm going to go with "Scullion" even though I'm sure that specifically pertains to washing dishes, because it sounds lowly and like onion) has clearly been briefed by the Footman. Now the Butler has been presented as this super-compentent expert without whom the household would fall apart, and I am seriously starting to question that portrayal, because even if you don't know the truth, and don't see that the Valet is infinitely more sympathetic than anyone else on the staff or in the family, it's still incredibly obvious that these people ARE LYING THROUGH THEIR TEETH! And they've hated the Valet from day one. And the Butler has known them for years and should know they are scum. His equally superlatively capable colleague, the Housekeeper, even came right out and said an episode or two before that the Second Footman is a much better human being than the evil First Footman. So why is this even a thing?

Which is another point. Crap on a cracker, this show has very low stakes. One episode is all about whether the Lady Grandmother is going to hog all the flower trophies for herself instead of letting them give this year's trophy to the puppy-dog-eyed father of the Crawley's Butler. Occasionally something exciting happens, like when the Turkish ambassador expires in Lady Mary's bed, (presumably because his penis choked to death on the dust and cobwebs inside an English aristocrat's vagina) and Lady Mary, Lady Cora and the Housemaid have to carry his body back to his own bed. They also rode their horses fast and made them jump over an obstacle I could jump with half the running start before getting it on, so that was probably the most action-packed episode ever. It might have threatened to cause a pulse in the BBC studio executives, so they've toned the show down since then.

The two major through-lines of the season so far are 1: the issue of the inheritance of Downton Abbey, and how most of the financial assets of the estate come from Lady Cora, but now they are inextricably bound to the estate, which stands to be inherited by Cousin Mathew, who isn't related to her at all. And they could resolve the issue by having Mary marry Matthew, except Mary herself diagnoses the problem as her being a right royal (figuratively speaking, since her rank is no higher than 'possible countess' ) bitch, who wants whatever she can't have, and nothing that is available to her. When these are your problems, you deserve to have problems.

And 2: the Evil Footman wants to be the Earl's valet. And for some reason, the Evil Maid is on his side, so she helps him by trash-talking the actual Valet to Lady Cora (I seriously do not know how Lady Cora can bring herself to trust her breakfast in bed when the Evil Maid is the one who puts it on her lap every morning). The motive for being a valet appears to be slightly more comfortable clothes, and the chance to, I guess, get your own way by making suggestions to the Lord while you are getting him dressed? That was why Dukes and shit eagerly vied for jobs like that with the King, but they had political agendas and whatnot. When you're a valet, what exactly is it you want to be able to bend the Lord's ear about? A raise? Every day? For that matter, they don't actually seem to have lives, aside from waiting 24/7 on the family and maybe, with permission from their superiors, a chance to go into the village for a lame-ass fair or the ceremony of naming a new boss for the hospital or the winner of the flower show (except up until 1913 or whenever, it was always the Dowager Countess, Lady Grandma, so it's not like there was any suspense). So what's the benefit of being the Valet instead of the Footman, if your life revolves around the family anyway?

The creepy thing is that the Evil Footman seems to want the job for the purpose of molesting the Lord. He does duty as a temporary valet to two different guests, with both of whom he almost gets it on (one was leading him on and the other was breaking off their affair, but both his stints as a valet really chucked heteronormativity out the window). And his sexuality seems to be an open secret, with even the (literally) near-sighted Cook aware and trying to find a way to convey that information to the crushing Scullion, across the barriers of language & topics of discussion permissible in Edwardian England within 100 yards of a noblewoman, and the Scullion's own intellect or lack thereof. So why would anyone think the Evil Gay Footman had a chance of being hired to look at the Lord in his underwear? It seems like his chances would rate down with those of the Actual Valet or Second Footman getting hired to perform valet services for Lady Sybil. Who has now radically altered my mental picture of Samuel Vimes' wife.

Another funny thing is that one of the first regular cast members whose face appears on the show is Rose Leslie. Who was Ygritte in "Game of Thrones." Of her characters, one had an easier time crossing a giant literal Wall made of ice & dark magic, than the other has trying to cross the social class boundary between Maid and Secretary. What's even more amusing is that the family quickly becomes aware of her aspirations and are generally supportive (and even the ones who disapprove of her ambition believe they have her best interests at heart) even to the degree of doing most of the legwork and trasnportation for her job hunt, it never occurs to them to employ her in that capacity. While Downton Abbey could, itself, be seen as a multi-million dollar business, albeit one with little useful output and scant income, the people running it have absolutely no use for a secretary who is trained in typing and shorthand. They do all their own correspondance with their fancy handwriting, because it's not like there's much else demanding their time, they'd rather send a servant to fetch something or tell someone something than send a business letter or order form, and the Royal Mail Service probably has people to screen their mail for junk or circulars or anything that might disturb their lordly serentity.

A weird thing about this whole domestic dynamic is that when I wrote about "The Butler" and "The West Wing" I noted that the people who work in the White House do their various jobs like butler or deputy chief of staff, so the President can concentrate strictly on the duties of his office. Anyone can make a sandwich or fetch a beverage, so they do that, and the President just has to reach out his hand for these mundane things, without losing any of the time wanting, going out to get, and making food, plus returning to one's workstation. There's a similar thing going on in "Wheel of Time" with Elayne's seemingly out-of-whack relationship with her own domestic help, where she is constrained by their habits and ways, despite being their monarch AND employer. In a world with no religion, she has every sort of non-familial authority over them, but she has to live her life by their rules. And she can't do much about it, because she has an important job to do, and going by their rules means she devote almost 100% of her waking hours TO that job, without having to do all the normal daily life errands like obtaining food & other goods, maintaining & cleaning her clothing & residence or procuring her meals. Even personal hygiene doubles up as time to get reports and incidentally seed the domestic staff with your propaganda to keep morale up for the cause.

Except in the setting of Downton Abbey, it's all on its head. The one Crawley who actually works, Matthew, has little use for domestic service, intending to retain only those people who relieve the burden on his mom, while dispensing with the services of his Butler-Valet, Mr. Son of Rose Gardener. (not Gamgee, I checked, that would be too awesome). And the Butler-Valet is almost as good at sad puppy eyes as his dad, until eventually the Lord has to tell him to put up with it to give the Butler-Valet a job and let him feel good about himself and give him a purpose. When you sort through all of that, and put it in the context of domestic service in other settings, the family in Downton Abbey's job is basically giving the servants something to do.

On the other hand, the other TV show I am currently binge-streaming is "Van Helsing" and the other one with which I am preoccupied, in an entirely negative sense, is "Game of Thrones". Next to the acting & production values of the former and the story coherence and selling out plot for spectacle of the latter, not to mention anticipating the steaming turd Rafe Judkins will be dumping on our laps all too soon, "Downton Abbey" wins hands down.

Edit: Also, I don't get the issue with the Lord's & Lady's marriage. He married her for her money and they fell in love afterward, but why did she marry him? Especially since she had money, which means options. Like in the old(er) days, that would be a thing, because his title and blood gets her, and her subsequent offspring, access to those tiers of society and avenues of power and influence only open to the nobility. But in the 20th century, or even the 1880s when they married, money was a better ticket to access power than blood. Also, she's American, so the title would have meant even less. AND, it seems that her father-in-law was able to leverage the situation so her money was inextricably subsumed into the estate. If she didn't yet love him, what was in it for her? Or did he trick her into falling in love with him when he was only after her money? That's kind of creepy, especially since it has come to light to the degree they are talking openly about it a couple decades later.

Cannoli
“Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.” GK Chesteron
Inde muagdhe Aes Sedai misain ye!
Deus Vult!
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This message last edited by Cannoli on 20/09/2019 at 02:27:03 AM
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I just started watching Downton Abby - 20/09/2019 12:16:45 AM 165 Views
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