I’d avoided this much-talked-about joint British ITV/American PBS Masterpiece Theatre television series until last night, when special circumstances conspired to compel me to view it (i.e. my better half wanted to watch it). I fully understood that the show was basically a soap opera for people who are too good to watch soap operas. And there’s nothing wrong with that, per se.
Last night’s episode (Season 3, Episode 2) had multiple plot-lines promising turbulent events. A young woman was due to marry an older man with a disability, to the disapproval of some. A middle-aged servant woman in the Downton Abbey edifice was awaiting test results that might confirm that she had cancer. Meanwhile, there was much angst circulating roundabout due to the fact that money was running out to keep the gigantic household running, and the family might soon have to move from their palatial Downton Abbey structure (which appears to have about 500 bedrooms) to another site that was merely a huge mansion (containing probably only about 50 bedrooms). This would also require laying off some of the army of household servants.
By the end of last night’s episode, these plot-lines had sorted themselves out in the following manner: The young woman did NOT marry the older disabled chappie, because he left her at the altar. The middle-aged servant woman’s test results came back as BENIGN; nothing to worry about there. And it turns out that the family will NOT have to move from Downton Abbey, because one of them just inherited a vast sum of money from somebody and he’s going to invest it in keeping the old place running as usual.
In other words, nothing happened in this episode. My hour was wasted sitting in the chair watching as absolutely nothing at all came to pass (despite all of the portents at the beginning). And this is to say nothing of how much time was wasted by the inhabitants of Downton Abbey themselves, running around worrying and chattering to each other about all of these plots, none of which effected any alteration in any of their lives. If the writers of the show are seeking job security, they are doing an excellent job. At this rate, they can just suggest things which might happen in order to keep people watching, then make sure all the possibilities for change fall apart at the end of each episode, and keep the show going for years and years—or at least until too many of the actors have died.
“Nothing will come of nothing,” said Shakespeare’s King Lear. “Too much of nothing / Can make a man feel ill at ease,” sang Bob Dylan. Certainly, the path to perfect stasis in last night’s episode was charmingly pursued, well-acted, and enhanced by an impressive level of historical detail. Perhaps it is not the destination of nothingness that is the goal, after all, but rather it is the journey to nowhere that we are supposed to enjoy.
Who knows? I could even watch it again … if I have nothing else to do.