As is usually the case, if a series makes it through four seasons, I’ve run out of things to say about it. I suppose Season Four was an improvement on Season Three, although the truth is, I’ve come to question my previous notion that there is a difference in quality between the seasons. I faulted Season Two for being too much like Season One, and most of what I complain about is still there in Season Four, so how much has actually changed?
To summarize my comments from the past few years … I think Downton Abbey is too fond of the old established order. The narrative is supposedly about how society is changing for the rich, but the one place where that change might truly matter (downstairs) stays the same. OK, the one guy has gone from being a servant at Downton to being a chef somewhere else, and one of the assistant cooks will now be a cook in America. But outside of The Evil Barrow, every member of the staff accepts their place. Carson insists on his preeminence among the staff, but he would never think to rise above that station, and the rest of the staff doesn’t question Carson’s preeminence, much less aspire to the upstairs. Tom Branson marries his way from staff to family, but he always feels like an outsider. There was an attempt to recall his radical politics in Season Four, which was welcomed, but I’m guessing it goes nowhere. Meanwhile, Barrow chafes under the strictures of hierarchy, but this only makes him villainous.
I appreciate that Downton Abbey is far more popular as a story about the rich than it would be if it were a story with Bates and Anna at the center. I remain a bit confused about why this is true in the U.S., where at least we pretend we don’t believe in royalty. But the acting is still very good, and if the storylines are less than I’d hoped for, at least after four years we’ve come to know the characters enough to want to visit them weekly. My personal grade for Downton Abbey is in the B range, but I wouldn’t argue with those who would make that a B+, even if I’m thinking more of B-.