TV Review: ‘Downton Abbey’ Season 5 Opener Puts Out Fires

Caution: This review contains spoilers.

“Downton Abbey” returned in all its splendor last night, picking up in 1924, which is 10 years after the time the series first began. Thank goodness for the jumps instead of having to wait 10 years. Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) visits her daughter Marigold at the farm. Her grief for Michael and being separated from her daughter leads her to accidentally set fire to her room. The literal fire may be out, but one expects that Edith’s woes are far from over.

As always, several issues are brewing upstairs and downstairs but not to the point of overload. One major topic of the evening was sex and relationships with quite a bit of innuendo. “Downton” really puts those conversations almost front and center for the evening. Mary (Michelle Dockery) seriously considers the idea that relationships should go through a “trial” phase to make sure couple are compatible on all levels. Tony (Tom Cullen) proposes a holiday for the two of them. There’s a bit of the earlier Mary coming out when she tells Tony, “I do love you in my cold and unfeeling way.” (Ouch.) Meanwhile, Jimmy (Ed Speeler) enlists Thomas’ (Rob James-Collier) help in trying to shake off the advances of Dowager Lady Anstruther (Anna Chancellor) but to no avail.

The more interesting aspects of the episode concern the other characters. Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) presumes he’ll be the one to chair the war memorial committee, but Carson (Jim Carter) gets the request. Debate on the war comes to a head at dinner, when Sarah Bunting (Daisy Lewis) expresses opposing views. Thomas tries to bully Baxter (Raquel Cassidy), who finally confesses her secret crime to Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern) after prompting from Moseley (Kevin Doyle, whose character sports an odd hair dye).

As always, I think the best dynamics on “Downton” involve anything to do with 1) Violet (Maggie Smith) and Isobel (Penelope Wilton) as well as 2) Carson and Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) in their disagreements. For the first, Lady Violet is trying to play matchmaker to get Lord Merton’s (Douglas Reith) attentions away from Isobel, in front of a jealous Dr. Clarkson (David Robb). As for the latter, Mrs. Hughes supports Daisy’s (Sophie McShera) efforts to study accounting and math and also encourages Carson to accept the committee position.

So how was the season premiere? Admittedly, it seemed to crawl a bit and provided a lot of filler, moving conversations along. It appears some characters may be looking to leave the Abbey – like Tom (Allen Leech) and Daisy – and others (predictably) want to maintain the old traditions in spite of the new Labour government. Stay tuned next week for more “Downton Abbey.”

Great Quotes:

– Isobel is better at lasting through two parties on a single day, compared to the partied out Dowager Countess. Best quote from their conversations: “There’s nothing simpler than avoiding people you don’t like. Avoiding one’s friends: that’s the real test.”

– “[Carson]’s a considerable figure in the village. Tea, please,” says the committee spokeswoman, during the meeting with Lord Grantham. It’s amusing to see the juxtaposition of Carson’s new position with his role of butler. One wonders whether Carson would also be serving the tea in the village once the war memorial planning really gets under way.

– Carson is uncomfortable with change, yet Mrs. Hughes reminds him, “”They’ve been testing the system since the Romans left!”

“Downton Abbey” airs Sunday evenings on PBS.

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