Downton Abbey Season 6 Review

  • Series Title: Downton Abbey
  • Season: 6
  • Episodes:  9
  • Discs:  3 (and sampler disc from PBS)
  • Network:  ITV
  • Cast:  Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Laura Carmichael, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Dan Stevens, Jim Carter, Phyllis Logan, Joanne Froggatt, Brendan Coyle, Sophie Mcshera, Lesley Nicol, Robert James-Collier, Allen Leech, Samantha Bond, Raquel Cassidy
  • DVD: Widescreen DVD (R1, NTSC)

The final season of Downton Abbey is about facing change and growing up. It’s 1925 and the world is changing, bringing changes for the people of Downton, both above and below stairs. For Mary and Edith, it’s a time of suitors and making decisions about their future. For those below stairs, it’s a time of changing jobs and preparing for a life outside service.

Mary sees more of Mr. Henry Talbot, whose hobby is racing cars. He invites the entire family to a race at Brooksides. Unfortunately, his friend Charlie is killed in a car crash. Mary has an almost PTSD reaction and she drops Talbot flat. It’s Anna who gets a crying Mary to admit that she’s afraid of being a “crash widow” again. Tom tries talking to Mary but she tells him she can’t tell Henry to give up something he loves just to marry her. Tom and Lady Rosamund play cupid and arrange dinners and other meetings between Henry and Mary. Finally, Mary realizes she and Henry are evenly matched, not in terms of rank (Henry has no title), but in terms of personality. The two marry.

Edith spends her time at her magazine and raising her daughter. She even talks of moving permanently to her flat in London and sending her daughter, Marigold to a London school. But she met a land agent, Bertie Pelham, and the two fall for each other. When it turns out Pelham will be a Marquess, it throws a wrench into the works, as does Mary revealing Edith has a daughter before Edith gets a chance to tell Bertie. Despite the ups and downs of their relationship, Edith marries Bertie at New Year and she becomes a Marquess – a higher title than her father, the Earl of Grantham.

Daisy passes her exams. A new footman seems interested in her, but she ignores him. Finally, Mrs. Patmore points out Daisy’s problem is she’s never interested in a young man until he’s no longer interested in her. Sure enough, when Andy starts to ignore her, she gets interested and even cuts her hair. The season ends with an implication the two will get together and Andy will move to Mr. Mason’s farm to be a farmer (he’s already helping out).

Anna finally gets pregnant and has her baby on New Year’s Eve during Edith’s wedding. But Mary, Mrs. Hughes, and Dr. Clarkson handle everything without interrupting the wedding. John and Anna have also finally put their legal issues behind them.

Mrs. Elsie Hughes and Mr. Charlie Carson settle into married life, and Mrs. Hughes uses her old title at Downton to make everything easier for everyone. Mrs. Patmore has a bit of an issue at her bed and breakfast, but Lord Grantham settles it. Lady Grantham gets involved in her work with the hospital board and does well.

Tom does return about halfway through the season. He and Mary form a strong friendship and he’s influential in getting her to realize that marrying who she loves is more important than making a successful match for money and position. Tom and Henry start a car sale business in Downton in the last episode of the series. Mrs. Crawley finally marries Lord Merton – despite opposition from his son, Larry Grey and his new wife (who is a real piece of work).

Mr. Molesley passes a general knowledge exam set to him by the headmaster of Downton school. He is invited to teach part-time. Although his first class is a bit of a disaster, he gradually improves and takes to teaching like a duck to water. He’s invited to teach more classes and live in a cottage near the school. Mr. Molesley accepts the position, resolving to leave service. He and Baxter are also clearly good friends.

Thomas Barrow tries to be a bit nicer and also looks for a new butler job because he fears for his job at Downton. He’s constantly rejected which leads to some unpleasantness. However, he ends up accepting a job he’d rejected, which isn’t exactly what he envisioned. However, when Mr. Carson is forced to retire due to shaking in his hands. Barrow is invited back to the position of butler. Carson will only help by organizing major events.

Rose and Atticus return for Edith’s wedding from their year in New York. However, since their nanny kept their daughter in New York they will go back.

Overall, everyone ends up happy and with exactly what they want. Both Mary and Edith are married and happy. By New Year’s, Mary is expecting her second child. Both George and Marigold have their futures assured. Tom and Henry are starting a new business. Daisy will work at Downton as long as she’s wanted then go to her father-in-law’s farm, no doubt married to Andy. And Baxter and Mr. Moslesey will probably settle down together. John and Anna Bates have a child, a son. Even Thomas is happy for once.

I had to wonder what would happen to Edith’s magazine business. Surely as a Marchioness, working in London wouldn’t be allowed, even in 1926. And no one knows another war is coming in twelve years.

Read my Review of Downton Abbey Season 1.

Read my Review of Downton Abbey Season 2.

Read my Review of Downton Abbey Season 3.

Read my Review of Downton Abbey Season 4.

Read my Review of Downton Abbey Season 5.

If you are interested in learning more about the lives of servants in Victorian, Edwardian and early modern England, you may want to read Below Stairs, the memoir that Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs is loosely based on.

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Downton Abbey Season 5 Review

  • Series Title: Downton Abbey
  • Season: 5
  • Episodes:  8, plus “A Trip to the Moors” special
  • Discs:  3
  • Network:  ITV
  • Cast:  Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Laura Carmichael, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Dan Stevens, Jim Carter, Phyllis Logan, Joanne Froggatt, Brendan Coyle, Sophie Mcshera, Lesley Nicol, Robert James-Collier, Allen Leech, Samantha Bond, Lily James, Raquel Cassidy, Matt Barber
  • DVD: Widescreen DVD (R1, NTSC)

This review contains Spoilers for Season 5 of Downton Abbey.

When last we saw Lady Edith Crawley she was determined to return to Switzerland to bring home her illegitimate daughter. Much of this season focuses on Edith and her daughter, Marigold. Edith reaches out to Mr. and Mrs. Drewe, tenant farmers on the estate. Edith had met the farming couple when she helped them during the war, and she got along well with Mr. Drewe, although there was more friction between Mrs. Drewe and Lady Edith, due to Mrs. Drewe’s misplaced jealousy. Lady Edith sees Mr. Drewe privately at Downton Abbey and explains how a “friend” of hers had died and left behind a child, whom she wanted to care for – but her mother didn’t approve of this friend, so she wanted the girl to stay at the Drewe’s farm and she would sponsor the child. It’s as thinly-veiled a story as it seems, but Mr. Drewe accepts it, telling Lady Edith he wouldn’t judge her. He also says he’ll tell his wife that a friend of his had died and named him and his wife as guardians for his child.

Marigold now lives at Yew Tree farm (the Drewes farm) and Edith visits frequently. Unfortunately, Mrs. Drewe again becomes jealous and tells Lady Edith not to come. Meanwhile, the investigation into what happened to Michael Gregson continues. Gregson’s publishing company learns that he was attacked by brown shirts, and finally he is officially reported as dead. This sends Edith into a tailspin. She takes advantage of the entire family being at a steeplechase outing and goes to Yew Tree farm where she takes Marigold and runs off to London. Having inherited Michael Gregson’s publishing company, Edith is about to run it and raise Marigold on her own. Cora, Rosamund, and the Dowager Countess go to London to bring Edith back. Marigold is brought into the house formally, though officially the child is the family’s ward and not Edith’s child. But Edith can still raise and care for her daughter, though at the moment she can’t acknowledge her. Cora learns the truth about Marigold. At the very end of the season, both Tom and Lord Grantham figure it out.

Mary is still being courted by several suitors, though Tony Gillingham actually breaks off his engagement to Miss Mabel Lane-Fox to court Mary. Mary finally decides she needs to spend some real time with Gillingham, so she arranges for them to spend a week together in Liverpool including sleeping together. To make sure she doesn’t get pregnant, she sends Anna to a pharmacy to buy a diaphragm. Anna is extremely embarrassed but does it. Both Mary and Anna read a book about “Married Love”.

Mr. Green, the valet who attacked Anna, is now dead, from an apparent hit-and-run. The police harass and interview both Mr. and Mrs. Bates. While both have plenty of motive – neither have any opportunity, with Mr. Bates having spent that day in York and Anna having been in Downton for the church fete. However, the police persist and it’s actually Anna who is arrested. Then they receive a letter, a confession, but Mr. Bates goes on the run. By the end of the season, the family and servants at Downton are able to prove Mr. Bates innocent and he returns at Christmas.

Mrs. Patmore inherits some money and buys herself a retirement cottage. The village puts up a war memorial but doesn’t include Mrs. Patmore’s nephew Archie. However, Lord Grantham has a special memorial to Archie placed on the church. Lord Grantham’s dog dies from cancer. Mr. Carson suggests to Mrs. Hughes that they also buy a house, rent it out for now, and then retire there. Mrs. Hughes goes along at first, but then reveals she has no money because all of her spare wages go to support her younger sister who isn’t “right in the head”. Carson proposes at the end of the season.

William’s father suggests that Daisy should take over his farm, but she realizes she doesn’t know how to run a farm. When she looks at math books, she gets confused and feels stupid. Ms. Bunting, the local school teacher tutors her. Ms. Bunting is also interested in the widower, Tom, but although they get along well, they are not romantically suited for each other – and every time Ms. Bunting does attend a dinner or cocktail party at the house, she ends up getting in an argument with Lord Grantham. Daisy also starts to parrot back what she’s learned from Ms. Bunting. Daisy even briefly considers moving to London to get a good chef’s job but changes her mind when she realizes that would leave Mrs. Patmore alone.

Throughout the season, Tom talks of moving to the US with Sibbie, his daughter. His brother in Boston contacts him and invites him over. Finally, his brother offers him a partnership in a business venture. Tom decides he will stay at Downton for Christmas and leave in the new year.

Mary, meanwhile decides that Tony doesn’t suit her. She also meets Mabel and realizes Tony really should marry her because they are well-suited to each other as a couple. Her conversations with Tony accomplish nothing. Finally, Mary and another of her old suitors arrange for Tony to see Mary kissing this other man at the Cinema. This gets Mary off the hook.

Lady Rose meets a young man by chance in the rain. They take an immediate liking to each other, and before long they are engaged. Atticus is Jewish, but the Granthams’ don’t mind because Lady Grantham’s father was Jewish. There is friction against the marriage from Lady Rose’s mother and Atticus’s father but the marriage takes place at the registry office as planned.

The season finale has the Crawley’s go to a shooting party at a castle owned by Atticus’s father. And it is an impressive locale. Mary meets someone who doesn’t even know she was married to Matthew and upon between told she’s widowed, he assumes she lost her husband in the war. She tries to correct this notion but they are interrupted. After the shooting party, the group returns to Downton Abbey for Christmas, including Atticus who is introduced to new customs. Tom again states his plan to leave. At one point, Mary, Tom, and Edith are all hanging stockings for their children in the nursery and they say a prayer of remembrance together for Sybil. Mary is a widow with a son. Tom is a widower with a daughter. And Edith is single, has a child, and lost her lover to violence in Germany.

I liked Season 5 of Downton Abbey, though at times it feels very much like a soap opera (Why can’t Anna and John Bates be happy? Why does Edith have to have such a complicated life?). I like Edith, though. Some times she seems to cry or whine more than she should, but it makes her more realistic than some of the other characters. The storyline with Ms. Bunting and Daisy felt extremely forced. Daisy’s constant talking about how she feels “oppressed” and that just seeing art at the museums in London makes her realized what she’s missed. (Mind you, the museums are free and Daisy could have gone to them whenever she liked. Daisy also has been one of the kinder and sweeter characters, though she’s nasty to the kitchen maid, Ivy, when she thinks Ivy is after the footman she’s sweet on. This footman, of course, has no interest in either Daisy or Ivy.) It just felt off. Daisy wasn’t like Gwen who wanted to move up in the world. And Daisy wasn’t like Alfred who had only taken the footman job because it was what his mother wanted and who had always wanted to be a chef. Daisy wasn’t even like Thomas and O’Brien who resented serving the family and were therefore nasty to everyone else. It was like the show decided to shoehorn in a plot without really making it suit the character, so it came off as being badly written. In a similar fashion, Ms. Bunting’s arguments with the family and their guests, especially Lord Grantham were very ill placed – there is no way a woman in 1924 would be so rude to an Earl. It just wouldn’t happen. But the show is still quite watchable. If Tom does disappear next season, I’m going to miss him a lot – he’s another character who has grown and is more realistic. I still recommend this series.

Read my Review of Downton Abbey Season 1.

Read my Review of Downton Abbey Season 2.

Read my Review of Downton Abbey Season 3.

Read my Review of Downton Abbey Season 4.

Downton Abbey Season 4 Review

  • Series Title: Downton Abbey
  • Season: 4
  • Episodes:  8, plus “The London Season” special
  • Discs:  3
  • Network:  ITV
  • Cast:  Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Laura Carmichael, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Dan Stevens, Jim Carter, Phyllis Logan, Joanne Froggatt, Brendan Coyle, Sophie Mcshera, Lesley Nicol, Robert James-Collier, Allen Leech, Samantha Bond, Lily James, Gary Carr
  • DVD: Widescreen DVD (R1, NTSC)

This review includes spoilers for Downton Abbey Season 4.

Season 4 of Downton Abbey begins with the family recovering from the horrific events at the end of last season’s special. Lady Mary is attempting to recover from the sudden death of her husband, Matthew. Lord Grantham and Tom Branson are trying to keep the estate from going under. O’Brien has suddenly quit for another job, leaving Lady Grantham, the Countess of Grantham in search of a new lady’s maid. Thomas puts forward a candidate, Baxter, and she is hired by Lady Grantham. It’s clear throughout the season that Thomas has some hold over Baxter, and although at first she gives in and acts as Thomas’ spy on the family, it becomes clear she is decent and knows how and when to keep secrets. Moseley, who rejoins the household officially as a footman, not only treats Baxter kindly but advises her to not let Thomas bully her.

The main continuing story is that at the beginning of the season, the Crawleys’ host a large house party when a famous opera singer comes to perform at Downton. A number of people are at the party, some of whom the family doesn’t know well. Those staying overnight also bring their personal servants – lady maids and valets. Anna is nice to all of the temporary staff because she always goes out of her way to be kind to everyone. On the night of the performance, the staff is invited to listen to the performance as well as the guests. Anna decides to head downstairs to take a headache powder. She encounters the valet there and he rapes her. Mrs. Hughes discovers this immediately, but Anna swears her to secrecy. Anna is shellshocked and unable to have a normal, married relationship with her husband, John Bates. She even moves back into the main house, giving the excuse she’s providing lady’s maid services to both Lady Grantham and Lady Mary. Anna’s distress becomes more and more obvious, even to Lady Mary. Mrs. Hughes keeps telling Anna to tell John, but she refuses, worrying he would kill the man if he knew.

Eventually, one by one, Anna tells people who must know – first her husband and then Lady Mary. She insists that she doesn’t know the man who raped her, it was a stranger who broke in the night of the concert. But when Gillingham continues to show-up with his ill-behaving valet, additional truths have to come out. Anna reluctantly tells Lady Mary the whole truth and Lady Mary later tells Lord Gillingham to sack his valet, though she doesn’t tell him why and just asks him to do it on trust. Mrs. Hughes is also the one to tell John Bates the truth about what happened to Anna, again without using the man’s name. When the valet returns, things click for John. Later, Lady Mary receives word from Gillingham that he couldn’t sack his valet because he was the victim of a hit and run in London, he fell or was pushed in front of a car or lorry. Anna, Lady Mary, and Mrs. Hughes are all worried about this but they know John Bates was in York that day, so they aren’t too worried. Later, Mrs. Hughes asks Anna for old clothes for a charity barrel and she gives her one of her husband’s old coats. Out of habit, Mrs. Hughes checks the pockets and finds a return ticket to London. She talks to Lady Mary who seems determined to make the information public. But when Bates does something extraordinary for the family, Mary burns the ticket.

Alfred, a footman at Downton Abbey who’d had an interest in becoming a chef since he was introduced, also gets a full story this season rather being someone for Daisy and the new kitchen maid, Ivy to fight over. Alfred discovers there’s a new cookery program at the Ritz – applicants must take a test and the best four will be accepted into the program, with no tuition costs and a chance at a job after successfully completing the course. Alfred applies, takes the test, but doesn’t get in, though his letter says he was in fifth place. Later, he gets a letter saying someone dropped out and he’s offered the next place if he can get to London immediately. Alfred jumps at the chance and leaves. He later writes to Mrs. Patmore to say he’s gotten a job as a chef.

Lady Edith also gets a story this season. She has accepted the position working for Michael Gregson, and the two also are immediately attracted to each other. But when Edith finds out Gregson is married, she is willing to quit her job as well as break up with him. He, however, explains his wife is in a lunatic asylum, and he can’t divorce her, because she cannot legally agree to the divorce. Gregson does some research and decides to move to Munich to get a divorce there. Michael and Edith share a last evening together and then he leaves for Munich and disappears. Eventually, they learn he was set upon by brown shirts, whom Edith describes as “saying the most horrible things”. Meanwhile, Edith discovers she is pregnant. Lady Rosamund finds out and helps Edith. At first, Edith considers having an illegal abortion but she changes her mind at the appointment. Lady Rosamund then takes Edith to Switzerland to have the child and convinces her to give it up for adoption. When they return, Edith continues to have doubts. Lady Rosamund tries to convince Lady Edith it would be cruel to take the child back from the loving couple that she promised her too, that she’d be breaking her word. Edith decides to bring back the child and have a farming couple take in the child. That way, she’d be able to see her little girl, even if she couldn’t officially be her mother.

Introduced this season is Lady Rose MacClare, an 18-year old cousin who’s proved to be too much for her family to handle (we met her briefly last season). Rose is a bright young thing who’d rather go to jazz clubs than attend formal family dinners. Although Rose gets on better with Lady Grantham, Lady Mary, and Lady Edith than she did with her own mother, she is still a bit wild. Rose even takes up with a Black band leader. When Rose tells Lady Mary she’s “engaged” to Jack Ross (the band leader) she goes to see him. Mary is actually nice to Jack and in the end, he decides to let Rose go, especially when Mary tells him that Rose is more interested in shocking her mother than actually being in the relationship.

The season special has Rose presented at court to the Queen and King. One of Rose’s friends had a letter she was showing off that showed the Prince of Wales in a bad light. Much of the episode is a bit of a French farce as the Crowleys’ try to obtain the letter from the same man who proved himself a card sharp at a poker game at Downton at the house party at the beginning of the season. It’s Bates who finally recovers the letter. The Prince of Wales himself arrives at Lady Rose’s coming out ball.

I recommend Downton Abbey. It’s a soap opera, but it’s the best kind of soap opera – the acting is top-notch, the writing is excellent, the characters are great fun, and it’s an enjoyable watch. I also like how this program mixes real historical events and people with its fictional characters. Recommended.

Read my Review of Downton Abbey Season 1.

Read my Review of Downton Abbey Season 2.

Read my Review of Downton Abbey Season 3.

Downton Abbey Season 3 Review

  • Series Title: Downton Abbey
  • Season: 3
  • Episodes:  8, plus “A Trip to the Highlands” special
  • Discs:  3 (and special features disc for set)
  • Network:  ITV
  • Cast:  Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Laura Carmichael, Jessica Brown Findlay, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Dan Stevens, Jim Carter, Phyllis Logan, Joanne Froggatt, Brendan Coyle, Sophie Mcshera, Lesley Nicol, Robert James-Collier, Allen Leech, Siobhan Finneran, Amy Nuttall, Samantha Bond
  • DVD: Widescreen DVD (R1, NTSC) (set is seasons 1-3)

Season 3 of Downton Abbey is the saddest season so far of the show. Sybil and Tom have married and moved to Ireland, but Sybil’s pregnancy and Tom’s trouble with the Finians leads to their return to Downton. As Sybil nears the time for the birth of her child, Robert brings in a new obstetrician who ignores signs of Sybil’s distress. Dr. Clarkson correctly diagnoses preeclampsia and suggests moving Sybil to the hospital for an emergency C-section. The obstetrician disagrees, and before long it’s too late. Sybil gives birth to a healthy girl and then dies. Tom spends the rest of the season trying to figure out his place in the family. Eventually, Matthew convinces Robert to let Tom replace the land agent who has resigned in protest over Matthew’s plans to modernize the estate.

Mary and Matthew marry and Matthew inherits a large sum of money from Lavinia’s father. He argues about whether or not to keep the money because he feels very guilty about Lavinia’s death. Eventually, Mary convinces him. Matthew pours the money into the estate and Robert accepts it on the condition that Matthew is a partner in the running of the estate. Yet, when Matthew suggests changes – Robert balks. Eventually, Matthew and Tom with help from Murray convince Robert that he must modernize.

Mr. Bates is in jail for killing his wife, even though everyone at Downton, especially Anna and Lord Grantham believe him to be innocent. Anna continues to investigate and eventually gets proof of her husband’s innocence. She brings the proof to Murray (the lawyer) and Mr. Bates is released. The reunion of Anna and Bates is one of the few happy things that happen.

Edith is ready to marry Sir Anthony Stallan but he jilts her at the altar, insisting he’s too old for her. Edith is understandably upset, noting that all the boys she danced with are dead. Edith writes a letter to the Times complaining that she doesn’t have the right to vote because she’s not over 30 and a landowner. A magazine editor sees the letter and invites her to write a column for his magazine. At first, she ignores it, but when he writes to her again, she goes to meet him. Edith and the editor, Michael Gregson, get along well and Edith begins to write a weekly column for The Sketch magazine. Michael is quite taken with Edith and she with him – but he’s married to a woman who is in an insane asylum whom, by law, he cannot divorce.

The family takes a trip to the Highlands to visit friends at their Scottish castle and discovers the couple is miserable together but they cannot divorce. Shrimpy has also lost his entire fortune and will need to sell off his property. He’s moving into a government service job in India. Plans are made for their 18-year-old daughter, Rose to live at Downton. Mary is now pregnant. The special ends with Mary giving birth to a son, whom she introduces to Matthew as his heir. Matthew heads home to bring the news to Downton and he is killed in a car crash. This is horrific – for the two to go from the epitome of happiness to such a needless death. It’s still one of the most shocking and depressing bits of the series.

I still like this series, but season 3 is difficult to watch at times.

Read my Review of Downton Abbey Season 1.

Read my Review of Downton Abbey Season 2.

Downton Abbey Season 2 Review

  • Series Title: Downton Abbey
  • Season: 2
  • Episodes:  8, plus “Christmas at Downton Abbey” special
  • Discs:  3 (and special features disc for set)
  • Network:  ITV
  • Cast:  Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Laura Carmichael, Jessica Brown Findlay, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Dan Stevens, Jim Carter, Phyllis Logan, Joanne Froggatt, Brendan Coyle, Sophie Mcshera, Lesley Nicol, Robert James-Collier, Allen Leech, Siobhan Finneran, Amy Nuttall, Iain Glen, Zoe Boyle, Samantha Bond
  • DVD: Widescreen DVD (R1, NTSC) (set is seasons 1-3)

Season 2 of Downton Abbey covers 1914 to 1920 and is mostly concerned with World War I and the Spanish Flu epidemic that followed. However, rather than focus on the events on the war both at home and abroad, much of season 2 of Downton Abbey revolves around the loves and losses of the people at Downton as well as the changes that war brings to everyone. Lady Mary and Matthew have formerly split up. Matthew becomes a captain, serving in France, and also falls in love and becomes engaged to Lavinia Swire. Lady Mary is engaged to Sir Richard Carlisle, a newspaper owner, and businessman. At first, Lady Mary likes his unconventional nature, but over time he shows himself to be a bit of brute – treating her with profound disrespect and even threatening violence. Mary, however, stays with him because he knows the entire story of her “encounter” with Mr. Pamuk – the Turkish diplomat gentleman who died in her bed the previous season. Matthew is joined by William, the footman, as his batman. They are lost and reported Missing in Action once, are found, and are later blown-up in battle. Both are severely injured and sent to the local hospital in Downton and then to Downton Abbey itself, which by this time has become a convalescent hospital. William dies from his injuries, but not before marrying his sweetheart, the kitchen maid, Daisy. Matthew looks to be paralyzed permanently, but he recovers the use of his legs.

The youngest daughter, Lady Sybil, immediately takes a course and becomes a volunteer nurse at the local hospital. Tom Branson, the chauffeur, pursues her. They had formed a friendship last season, and that becomes love in season 2. The two plan on eloping but are stopped by Lady Mary and Lady Edith. Lord Grantham hits the roof when he finds out, but when Lady Sybil indicates she plans on moving to Ireland with or without her father’s blessing, he eventually gives in. We are told Tom has a job on a paper in Dublin and Sybil plans on getting a job as a nurse. Later, Countess Grantham (Cora) gets a letter from her daughter saying she is pregnant. Cora insists she wants to see her grandchild.

Lady Edith learns to drive from Tom Branson and helps one of the local farming families by driving their tractor and helping out around the farm. When Downton becomes a convalescent hospital, Edith takes charge of the non-medical needs of the soldiers in their care. She gets books, picks up the mail, reads letters to blinded soldiers, writes letters for soldiers who have lost their hands, etc. Lady Edith is quite good at this and also good at organizing things at Downton to help the soldiers.

Anna and John Bates are openly in love, and John tries to get a divorce from his wife. He gets evidence proving she was unfaithful and offers her money from his inheritance from his dead mother. However, somehow Vera Bates is able to reverse the divorce decree, stopping the marriage between John Bates and Anna. When Vera is found dead, at first assumed to be a suicide, Bates is finally free and he and Anna marry at the registry office (an inexpensive option, similar to getting married by a Justice of the Peace or at a courthouse in the US). However, even dead, Vera messes up when a letter she wrote to a friend shows up in which she claims she was “in fear of her life” from her husband. She had also asked John to buy rat poison for her months ago. Bates is put on trial and found guilty. Lord Grantham finds out that Bates had taken action to prevent Vera from going to the papers with the story of Lady Mary and Mr. Pamuk. Lord Grantham takes up Bates’ cause and gets his lawyer involved to save Bates. They get as far as having the automatic death sentence commuted to life in prison, and plan on trying to prove his innocence.

After the war ends, at a disastrous dinner party, several people take ill – both servants and lords and ladies, including Cora, Carson, and Lavinia. Everyone recovers but Lavinia – who conveniently dies. Lady Mary also reveals to her father and to Matthew just what Sir Richard is holding over her to force her to marry him. Everyone decides she must not marry him and Mary breaks off her engagement. She plans on riding out the storm with relatives in New York when she and the newly-free Matthew have a moment – or several. In the end, he proposes and she accepts.

Much of season 2 of Downton Abbey is devoted to romantic games, but they end more successfully than the previous season. The other theme is of the aristocratic women trying to make themselves useful during the war. Lady Sybil starts this by becoming a nurse, but she had shown sympathies with others outside her class before, so it’s no surprise. Lady Edith also tries to become useful and shows herself to be rather good at it – both doing farm labor and organizing help for the soldiers at Downton doing little but kind and thoughtful things. Cora also ends up running Downton’s hospital, organizing schedules, planning meals, etc. This means that Matthew’s mother, Isobel is pushed out a bit. She eventually travels to France to help with the office that takes inquires into the missing. She quickly returns when Matthew is injured. Cora and Violet (the Dowager Countess) give her another project, working to help refugees.

Overall, Downton Abbey is an enjoyable series. At times it can be a bit of a soap opera, but the characters are consistent, interesting, and fun to watch. I recommend it.

Read my Review of Season 1 of Downton Abbey.

Downton Abbey Season 1 Review

  • Series Title: Downton Abbey
  • Season: 1
  • Episodes:  7
  • Discs:  3 (and special features disc for set)
  • Network:  ITV
  • Cast:  Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Laura Carmichael, Jessica Brown Findlay, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Dan Stevens, Jim Carter, Phyllis Logan, Joanne Froggatt, Brendan Coyle, Rose Leslie, Sophie Mcshera, Lesley Nicol, Robert James-Collier, Allen Leech, Siobhan Finneran
  • DVD: Widescreen DVD (R1, NTSC) (set is seasons 1-3)

Downton Abbey is similar in spirit to the classic series Upstairs Downstairs, and during it’s run an updated version of Upstairs Downstairs was produced by the BBC but it was less successful than Downton Abbey. The first season opens in 1912 with the sinking of the Titanic and quite a bit of the first season concerns “the Entail” which is an agreement that Cora Crawley’s fortune, Downton Abbey itself, and all the lands attached to the house (“the estate”) can only be inherited by a single male heir. The problem is: the Earl and Countess of Grantham have three daughters and not just one but two male heirs went down on the Titanic. A third cousin is found, Matthew Crawley who arrives at the Abbey with his mother, Mrs. Isobel Crawley. And this sets up much of the above stairs drama of the season, as the earl and his wife try to throw Matthew and eldest daughter, Mary together, so the family can keep the estate. And a male heir wouldn’t hurt, either.

Yet Downton Abbey introduces us to the servants first, which makes this show very approachable for a modern audience. A new valet arrives for Robert Crawley (Earl of Grantham), Mr. Bates. Bates was Robert’s batman in the Boer wars where he was wounded. The current head footman, Thomas, and the conniving Lady’s Maid, O’Brien, decide to make Mr. Bates’ life a living hell (in part because Thomas thinks he will be promoted to valet if Bates isn’t there). This conflict almost leads to Bates’ dismissal, but Anna, an extremely kind housemaid, takes a shine to Mr. Bates and does her best to see justice done for him. Grantham also knows the man to be honest, kind, and capable. Bates will stay.

But we know Thomas and O’Brien to basically be terrible people. The two try to blame Bates for stealing wine when it was Thomas who did so. O’Brien is caught lying to back Thomas and harm Bates – and later thinks she’s going to be dismissed by “her ladyship” (the Countess of Grantham), this leads O’Brien to deliberately do something careless that results in a family tragedy. Anna admires Bates, and discovers a few secrets he’s hiding that in other circumstances may lead to his dismissal but there are special circumstances (and Bates’ very British sense of honor means he will not cast blame on others, even when they are to blame). Still, Anna, Daisy the kitchen maid, and a guest butler/valet staying at the house all provide information to Carson the butler and Lord Grantham that, in addition to Bates’ character, saves the man and keeps him in the house. Carson even gets information that proves Thomas stole wine from the cellars, which meant Grantham was going to dismiss him. Thomas, though, quits first, to be a war medic.

Other characters include Gwen – a housemaid who wants to better herself. She takes a shorthand course and uses her savings to buy a typewriter. Lady Sybil the youngest Crawley daughter takes a shine to Gwen and tries to help her find a job. This seems to be hopeless, but then by chance, a workman in the house to install telephones complains to Sybil that he really needs a secretary. It’s a match.

Daisy the kitchen maid is shy, and easily led astray, especially by Thomas. But at her heart, she’s a good person, and when she sees she’s made a mistake she admits it, usually with plenty of tears.

Mrs. Patmore, the cook, is rough around the edges and dealing with a medical issue she keeps secret. Eventually, her losing her sight becomes common knowledge and Lord Grantham agrees to pay for her to have an operation in London to restore her sight.

Upstairs, most of the stories involving the three girls have to do with them courting. But Mary doesn’t seem to want to marry, especially the various men thrown at her (such as Matthew). Edith has horrible luck – she wants to marry but no one seems interested in her. When someone is interested, often Mary turns their head. Sybil is young (she has her first London season during the show’s first season) and is more interested in Liberal politics especially votes for women than she is in finding a husband quite yet. However, when her father hires a good-looking Irish chauffeur, Lady Sybil is immediately interested in him.

Season 1 covers 1912 and 1914, with the last scene of the last episode being the announcement that Britain is at war with Germany (World War I).

I enjoyed Downton Abbey. I have seen this season before but it’s been awhile. I was surprised how much I remembered and how smoothly plot points that will be important later are introduced. This series is recommended.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 1 Review

  • Series Title: Star Trek: Discovery
  • Season: 1
  • Episodes:  15
  • Discs:  4
  • Network:  CBS (CBS All-Access)
  • Cast:  Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Anthony Rapp, Mary Wiseman, Jason Isaacs, Michelle Yeoh, Shazad Latif, Wilson Cruz, Mary Chieffo, Jayne Brook
  • DVD: Widescreen DVD (R1, NTSC)

This review includes some spoilers but seeks to not reveal major plot twists. Read with caution.

I really, really, really liked this newest version of Star Trek. First, it addresses two of the biggest issues I’ve ever had with Star Trek generally, especially Star Trek: The Next Generation – the non-alien appearance of aliens and the constant hitting of the reset button. First, ST always had “aliens” that didn’t look the least bit alien or different. Even Doctor Who, as low as it’s budget was, had aliens that looked more different – not like they had random lumps of plasticine stuck to an actor’s face for no reason. Saru looks alien – his face, his hands, and I don’t know if they digitally lengthened the actor’s legs, the actor is incredibly tall, or the actor wears stilts under his uniform – and I don’t care how they did it – Saru looks like a gazelle which is perfect for his character. They also really developed Saru’s background, while showing how who he is to his core can be an asset both to the rest of the crew and to him personally. And Saru, like the rest of cast, grows throughout the season, something I also really liked.

The second thing I liked about Star Trek: Discovery is that Season 1 is a continuous story. This is a Star Trek novel for television. Finally! It is also one addictive novel. I flew through the DVD set and not just because I had a lot of time on my hands. Most episodes end in a cliffhanger. The series continuously changes, even though it’s only a short fifteen episodes long. The characters also grow and change – this is not a flat character arc show, and it is so much better for it. Also, actions have consequences, and there is no reset button. Finally! This is a modern show in writing and execution and it shows how much better Star Trek can be with a continuing story and characters who change and develop and even die.

The two-part pilot (which is not marked as such on the DVD case, which is a problem) has our main character, a woman named Michael Birnham, serving on a ship called Shenzhou. She is the first officer and her captain is also a woman, Capt. Philippa Georgiou. The Shenzhou arrives at a binary star system – and most of the rest of the two-part pilot is actually irrelevant. What matters is the results. The Federation ends up at war with the Klingons. The Klingons actually have a good point – they believe that the Federation’s “we come in peace” is a lie and that if they join the Federation they will be forced to assimilate – that they will have to give up their own language, their own religion, their own culture. The Klingons believe that as part of the Federation they will be forced to assimilate completely. It is telling that the slogan of their leader is: “Remain Klingon”. They also are not a united empire but 24 Houses who more often than not are at war. The other thing the Klingon leader wants is to unite the warring Houses into a single Empire. Michael talks Capt. Georgiou into attempting to capture the Klingon leader. But instead, both Captain Georgiou and the Klingon leader are killed – making the leader a martyr – something Michael warned against. Since Michael had also attacked Georgiou and tried to get the Shenzhou to shoot first at the Klingons – she’s arrested for mutiny and other charges. Michael pleads guilty to all charges and prepares to spend the rest of her life in a military prison.

Enter Captain Lorca of the USS Discovery – he not only gets Michael out of her jail cell, but he also offers her a position on his ship. The Discovery was originally a science ship but now it’s one of a pair working on an experimental new drive system. Soon after Michael arrives on the Discovery, and while she’s still not sure about Lorca’s offer, the ship receives a distress call. It’s the Discovery‘s sister ship. Michael is on the team that goes to investigate. Everyone on the ship is dead, parts of the ship have been torn apart, and the ship itself wasn’t attacked from the outside but torn apart by a malfunction of the new drive. Michael and Paul Stamets, a scientist working on the new drive, investigate what went wrong. Paul thinks it was the length of the jump (the new drive allows instantaneous travel) but Michael believes it was the lack of an intelligent navigator. It turns out the “creature” they discovered, and that Lorca brought about the Discovery secretly, wasn’t a vicious attacking predator – it’s an over-grown microscopic organism that eats the mushroom spores that power the drive. Lorca and Stamets figure out some equipment they found on the other ship is a harness for it. They use it as a navigator. It works – but tortures the animal, finally nearly killing it. Stamets discovers he can be navigator instead.

In one episode Lorca is captured by the Klingons (remember there’s a war going on) and he shares a cell with Ash Tyler a captured Starfleet officer and Harry Mudd. Lorca and Ash escape. Over the course of the season, Ash and Michael become close. But Ash is also hiding a secret and it goes deeper than hiding his PTSD from being tortured by the Klingons.

The one stand-alone episode of the season is the obligatory time-loop episode featuring Harry Mudd. The episode isn’t bad, it’s actually pretty good for a stand-alone episode. But it seems much weaker than the rest of the season because the arc-plots are put on hold and you could skip it entirely without missing anything.

Returning to the main plot, the Discovery goes to an “uninhabited” planet that turns out to be the sentient planet Mogo from the Green Lantern Corps. OK, not really, but it turns out that there are glowing blue sentient tiny balls of light that flood the planet. Because the planet is inhabited, the crew can’t, per Federation rules, do what they were there to do. Also, these beings create a high frequency “noise” that humans can’t hear but that has a profound, and negative, affect on Saru. The situation is resolved, and it even looks like the Federation has made a great stride towards winning the war against the Klingons.

But in what should be a normal jump to a nearby starbase – the Discovery ends up in the Mirror Universe. This is not the obligatory Mirror Universe episode, though, most of the rest of the season has the Discovery in the Mirror Universe. And not only do characters have to deal with the Fascist Terran Empire or meeting doubles of people they know (including people who died in the first two episodes), but they now need to find a way home. The disastrous jump that caused the Discovery to land in the Mirror Universe has also physically harmed Paul Stamets and he’s in sickbay in a coma. Ash Tyler’s secret and his health become issues, though he starts out accompanying Michael on her missions inside the Terran Empire. And let’s just say this, episode 12 “Vaulting Ambition” has one of the most stunning and shocking plot twists I’ve ever seen in Star Trek. I’m not going to spoil it, because even watching this show about a year after it aired on a streaming service I can’t physically get, I had managed to remain unspoiled and my jaw dropped.

The Discovery does manage to figure out a way to return to the Federation Universe and cripples the Terran Federation in the process (no I won’t say more about that either). While they are figuring out how to do this, and discussing plans, and drawbacks to the various plans, Paul, finally recovered, mentions he can now get the Discovery home, but there might be a displacement in time. I don’t want to discount what happens in the Mirror Universe, it’s a lot, several episodes worth, and it is fantastic, plus we see a lot of character growth, but it is also extremely spoilry and I do not want to ruin it. The Discovery makes it back to the Federation Universe, nine months later. And the Federation is losing the war.

Once back in the Federation Universe, and up to speed, with Admiral Cornwall on board, a new plan is put together to defeat the Klingons – with input from a Klingon prisoner and a prisoner from the Mirror universe. These are not the best people to be asking for advice. In addition, the Federation has suffered great losses – ships, starbases, territory, civilians – Cornwall is desperate. Tilly figures out that the “plan” Cornwall and the Mirror Universe character came up with is different than what they agreed to with the Discovery‘s crew and other Starfleet military leaders – and it is truly horrifying. Michael and Tilly stop the Mirror Universe character and also manage to end the war for good, while their Klingon prisoner becomes the new Klingon leader. (The Klingon, L’Rell had been the second in command for all intents and purposes of the Klingon Empire. But with the leader dead, another Klingon took control who kicked L’Rell out of her place in the rather tenuous Klingon leadership. L’Rell implies this is a reason she wishes to “defect”, something considerably more complicated than it sounds.)

The series ends with Michael giving a very good speech about what it means to be Star Fleet and the importance of the ideals of the Federation, especially at times of war. All the main crew of Discovery is decorated by Starfleet (some posthumously) and it’s noted that Saru is the first Kelpian to receive such an honor. Michael’s record (the mutiny and other charges) is expunged and her dishonorable discharge is reversed and she’s accepted back into Star Fleet officially.

I loved Star Trek: Discovery. It’s more like a page-turning thriller than what one normally expects from Star Trek, but this is the Federation at war, and the Federation at war can be a scary thing. Captain Lorca was a character that as he was introduced I would normally hate, but I found that the way Jason Isaacs played him made him understandable and even likable. He also seems to be the typical maverick Star Trek captain and war covers a lot for some of his questionable actions. There is more to who Lorca is but’s it’s a spoiler. Yet, all the characters in Star Trek Discovery, even bubbly cadet Tilly are not simply well-rounded, but they are characters who grow, who change, they are not the same in the last episode as they were in the first episode we meet them. I really enjoyed seeing a Star Trek series that has a continuing plot and characters who actually change and grow. I loved the fact that Saru looks, acts and talks like he’s alien – but that he isn’t mocked for this. Star Trek: Discovery was already darker than most Star Trek series because: war, and then the show spends most of the back half of the season in the Mirror Universe, but, tellingly even in this situation we see the characters shine and more Star Trek optimism and decency of character. In a situation where the easy path was there and loud voices suggest taking it, the series itself goes the other way, and that is what creates the Federation we know as opposed to the Terran Empire we learn a lot more about. Also, when Paul Stamets mentioned “time displacement,” I thought the Discovery would end-up at the Battle of Binary Stars and the entire season would be re-written. I was extremely impressed the writing staff didn’t take this obvious easy way out and the Discovery turned-up nine months after it had disappeared from the Federation Universe.

I simply loved this series. It may be my favorite Star Trek series ever, and that includes Classic Trek. I liked Michael, she’s not the typical lead character, especially for Star Trek, and she grows just as much if not more than any other character. I highly recommend Season 1 of Star Trek: Discovery and I have no idea what they will do for Season 2. I hope it’s just as good.