Sep 122013


2013-08-28 09.04.28

I’ve just – JUST – caught up on Downton Abbey. Like, I had a half hour left when we went to dinner last night, and I fired it up to watch this morning while eating my rice krispies. So Matthew’s dead and Mary’s sitting there gazing pleasantly at the new little heir. Snap, crackle, pop.

Yes, I’m pissed at that ending. Which they aired on Christmas like a bunch of Krampusy grinches. I think, though, that I’m far angrier about Sybil and Branson, dead and de-fanged.

Lady Sybil ran off to elope with Tom Branson, the socialist chauffeur. Her sisters convinced her to come home, tell the family, force them to accept her choice. Which she did, admirably! Branson announced his new career in journalism and the two wed, then left for Ireland. It reminded me a bit of Karl and Jenny Marx, still much on my mind from reading Love & Capital: A proper lady with a noble pedigree marries a working-class revolutionary who attempts to support them by writing.

This can’t be permitted. Eventually, we find out that Tom has been attending revolutionary meetings in Ireland, which is entirely consistent with his politics and values. He was involved in the burning of a house but, after fleeing Ireland for the safety of Downton Abbey, a pregnant Sybil following close behind, he explains that he was pro-violence until he witnessed it first-hand.

Sybil dies in childbirth. Just like in Doctor Who, can’t have a female character with that much agency going around unpunished. Branson grieves appropriately, and stays on the show, becoming upper-class and managing the estate, all his politics washed clean by feeling bad over what we’re supposed to believe was the first violent incident he had been involved in.

In SLC Punk*, there’s a wonderful scene that I shall now quote, courtesy of the internet**:

Stevo: You two are divorced. So love failed. Two: Mom, you’re a New Ager, clinging to every scrap of Eastern religion that may justify why the above said love failed. Three: Dad, you’re a slick, corporate, preppy-ass lawyer. I don’t really have to say anything else about you do I dad? Four: You move from New York City, the Mecca and hub of the cultural world to Utah! Nowhere! To change nothing! More to perpetuate this cycle of greed, fascism and triviality. Your movement of the people, by and for the people got you… nothing! You just hide behind some lost sense of drugs, sex and rock and roll. Ooooh, Kumbaya! I am the future! I am the future of this great nation which you, father, so arrogantly saved this world for. Look, I have my own agenda. Harvard, out. University of Utah, in. I’m gonna get a 4.0 in damage. I love you guys! Don’t get me wrong, it’s all about this. But for the first time in my life, I’m 18 and I can say “FUUUUUCK YOU!”

Dad: Steven, I didn’t sell out son. I bought in. Keep that in mind. That kid’s gonna make a hell of a lawyer, huh?

Mom: Yeah, he takes after his father. He’s a son of a bitch.

Dad: Well fuck you dear.

At the end of the movie, Stevo cuts his hair, goes to Harvard, gets married, and “buys in”.

Rebellious politics are only acceptable in our heroes if the hero encounters something difficult or upsetting about those politics and immediately turns around and transforms into something tamer.

What’s that? A hardcore punk rock lifestyle has elements of danger? I guess now that my friend is dead I better abandon all my youthful ideals and fuck off to school and wear suits!

Oh jeez, I didn’t realize the violence inherent in a war for independence would be icky! Guess I’ll just stop being a socialist and show my true colors as a gentleman farmer!

It isn’t that I think Branson should have abandoned his infant daughter and gone back to Ireland and gotten himself arrested and killed. I’m just disappointed in the writing. They needed his character to fill a particular slot, and cut out his politics to make it happen.


* Remember how good that movie is? Did you know the director is currently in the midst of idiot plans for a sequel? #rageragerage #stopruiningthings

** ETA: right, this is the internet, here it is on youtube:

  5 Responses to “Downton Abbey Buys Into Life”

  1. This is an excellent review. One indication is that, in the Twitter discussion, it led to exposing something I think is very indicative of the time we live in: that accurate and critical depictions of sexism in the 1920’s is wrong, yet sacrificing one’s principles for personal gain is just normal and accepted and not even worth questioning.

    Like any good period piece, it speaks to us today. Like any good review of a period piece, this brings those issues out into the open.

  2. It may have been an accurate depiction of the sexism of the time, but it was not overly critical of it, just as it was not overly critical of the flip flop by Branson. I think this has something to do with the creator’s lack of sympathy towards the ‘upper class’ in general. The fact that the actor who played Matthew went to other work because the show had yet to be renewed may have resulted in the unfortunate writing choice.

  3. @pvd – The show is fairly positive towards the upper classes. (See: My problem with Branson’s vanishing politics isn’t that it happened uncritically, it’s that it happened at all. It doesn’t seem true to the character or the period (though I don’t really know enough about the period to state the latter for certain).

    I’ve been told on twitter that Matthew’s death was totes caused by the actor leaving abruptly.

  4. This post was awesome. But then you disparage the director and writer who wrote the lines you are quoting. Calling him an idiot. So why are you quoting his work then? Those lines did inspire you and as a fellow writer , you should have a little bit of faith in another writer’s talent. #judgementisforposers #writesomethingbetterandthenyoucantalk

  5. Gabby — The idea of an SLC Punk 2, especially this many years on, is fucking terrible. That’s my opinion, and I’m entitled to it, but thanks for coming round to defend Merendino’s honor.

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