At this point, after all these years, Downton Abbey has become for me, the show that I will watch to the end, simply because I've been doing so for this long already, and when I've invested this much time I've got to make it to the finish line. And this season, like most Downton seasons, had some good moments sprinkled in amidst some very draggy storylines, particularly so this year.
The "big dramatic event" that seems to take place once a season (Mary killing Pamook, Edith's wedding, Matthew's death, Anna's rape), happened this time in the first episode, which was the fire that engulfed Downton and forced everyone out of the house, but frankly, I think the big dramatic event ought to be saved for the middle of the season or closer to the end on this show, because after that early climax, everything else seems a bit of a comedown. Especially because this year in particular seemed to spend a lot of time on dragging out lagging arcs left over from last year, the worst of which was the ongoing saga of the Bates' quest to find (or not find) Anna's rapist, Mr. Green, who may (or may not) have been killed by Mr. Bates at the end of last year.
What made this storyline drag so hard was the fact that neither Anna nor Bates had any idea what really happened to this guy, but wouldn't talk to each other about it, and so spent almost the entire season in non-communicative, what-if glances and worries that frustrated any audience member who really wanted this thing to be over with. With the police on the trail of obviously putting together false evidence that would implicate Anna in his death, you almost wanted them to cut to the chase just so that we could get on with her inevitable arrest and his inevitable sacrifice in order to save her from a fate in prison (a place where no one wanted to see this show go again, if you remember Bates's horribly dull time there in season 3). Funnily enough, some of the other characters are now starting to put together the endless misery of the Bates's and seem to be tiring of it almost as much as we are, so at least the show's aware.
Another annoying story this year was Edith's continuous stalking of the neighbors she gave her illegitimate child to, as she constantly stuck her nose in and attempted to become a godmother, only to eventually, finally kidnap the kid and take off to London, where at long last her indiscretion was finally revealed to the rest of the family (sans Mary of course), and little Marigold taken in as a child "adopted" by Edith to live at Downton with the rest of them, unacknowledged by her mother, even though everyone knows she's really hers. The frustrating part about stories like this is how incredibly simple the resolution becomes, and it feels like a wast of time to have spent seven out of the eight episodes wondering how they will solve this problem, only to have it be solved in the most obvious manner possible. For Edith to just take the kid back to Downton in the end...why couldn't she have done this from day one again?
The brighter parts of this season came from Mary's slightly more salacious storyline, as she becomes more of the adventurous 1920's progressive woman she was always meant to be, getting a makeover and going on a weeklong roll in the hay with suitor Tony Gillingham, which of course makes her tire of him immediately and dump him as a simple conquest. You go girl. And the older actors on the show also provided some more entertaining moments, as Lord Grantham and Cora go through a marital riff while she indulges the flirtations of a handsy art broker, Isobel accepts and then rejects the proposal of a kind widow with two despicable sons, and the Dowager Countess is wooed by a Russian aristocrat and revealed to have a mildly juicy backstory of her own. It was quite a good season for Maggie Smith actually, getting what I'm pretty sure was her most amount of screentime ever and showing what an asset she is to the series as a whole, which probably couldn't survive without her, which is why I'm guessing next season will be the last.
The downstairs cast continued to do their thing, with Daisy's attempts to educate herself still proving as boring and uninteresting as always (seriously, give Daisy a boyfriend or something), but happily this year, my beloved Thomas got quite a bit to do, once they dumped his unnecessary shakedown attempts of newbie Miss Baxter (whose criminal record was exposed), and started using him as the comic relief bad boy that he is. They ought to use him that way as much as possible, since he always delivers on a sarcastic zinger, nearly as reliable as Dame Maggie Smith in that regard. Also happily jettisoned this year was the stupid Miss Bunting, who got the boot after a couple of overtly rude and confrontational lectures at the Downton dinner table, insulting the entire clan (although why they kept inviting her to dinner is a mystery on its own- did they secretly enjoy the outbursts?), and two characters made their exit off the show, as Tom finally made good on his resolve to move to America with his and Sybil's daughter, and Rose married into a Jewish family that at first seems to hate her, but ultimately is won over by her good nature.
I was mostly just okay with the season as it ended, but the supremely enjoyable Christmas special renewed my faith in the series. With all the frustrating ongoing storylines finally over with (no more Bates and Edith drama, woo-hoo!), it was classic Downton that made use of all its best characters in the ensemble and seemed to bring in heartthrob Matthew Goode as yet another suitor for the man-eating Lady Mary (although if Goode's coming on the show, my guess is he's "the one"). I still have to mark this year down in total, because it's probably the season I'd least like to watch over again, but with the Christmas special rejuvenating the series with a lot of squee-worthy moments (Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes got engaged!!!), I'm once more looking forward to the sixth, and presumably last season, which I'm sure will wrap things up for our favorite 1920's pals with at least one adorable old-person wedding, and some final nods to the ever changing days ahead.