The Grammy's weren't the only program to draw avid viewers last night. They had stiff competition from Downton Abbey, the demure costume drama that has enraptured viewers with its portrayal of the labyrinthine world of British high society intrigue. And the show's rapidly expanding fan base has come as a boon to PBS whose ratings have nearly doubled since its US airing.
Sumptuous costume design, excellent acting and delightful plot twists are standard features of the show, but its success has also depended on seamlessly interweaving micro-personal character drama into historical events. In the first season, there was the sinking of the Titanic and the Great War, which continues to feature heavily in season two. And last night's penultimate episode brought viewers the Spanish Flu, which spread world wide and killed over 50 million people - and one at Downton Abbey.
June Thomas of Slate's TV club joins host Madeleine Brand to discuss the juicy details of last night's episode. SPOILER ALERT!
First up, that convenient Spanish flu, which appears first as only a slight cough, but then devastates half the manor who end up in bed sweating. Viewers who have been aching for Matthew and Mary to finally get together will have celebrated the flu's choice of victims, striking down Levinia whose beauty under duress is breathtaking. As June describes her bedtime appearance, you "expected soap bubbles to come rising up to meet the camera."
While Downton has the accents and course meals, the show is really a glorified soap opera, or as June says, "its a calorie-free cheese cake." But right as viewers thought they were enjoying the bliss of that sweet cheesy goodness with Matthew and Mary's long awaited confession of love and steamy kiss, they may have choked when they heard the most romantic declaration of love at Downton: Matthew describes Mary as his "stick" and like much of Downton's romantic high points, it seems to be a competition for least steamy moment.
Up for the same honor is Lord Grantham's confession of love to a staff maid. For a man so devoted to his wife, who by the way is on her death bed with Spanish flu, this comes off as completely uncharacteristic and rather hard to believe. As June exlaims, "for a toff hes quite a good chap."
And if you thought that the obstacles preventing Mary and Matthew had finally been clear, the episode hints at the troubles for next season. Not only does Mary still have another fiance, a powerful print mogul, but Matthew now believes Levinia died of a broken heart after witnessing "the kiss," and he now wants to accept that this is the end of their romance. Just remember "this is still a soap opera...we have to keep the lovers apart."
So the stage has been set for next week's action packed finale, and if you Downtonheads needed a nice thought to get you through the week, just imagine Madeleine as the dowager countess, as she confesses, "she is the only person I want to be."