Feb. 8, 2013 at 8:41 AM ET
No musical score sets our hearts aflutter like the opening theme for "Downton Abbey." That will never change, despite the epic period drama's disappointing third season.
There's a lot to criticize about the characters who've lately become the metaphoric equivalent of Fonzie on water-skis, but our complaints come from a place of love.
Bates and Anna: Remember when we so desperately rooted for these star-crossed lovers to get the happy ending they deserved? Then came the Case of the Misplaced Mail, a story line so pointless and dull that we rooted for the valet to be shivved in prison.
Mary: The harpy of season three should've been jilted at the altar instead of Edith. Regardless of Lavinia's (too conveniently revealed) dying wish, Mary had no right to furiously demand that Matthew dismiss his convictions and throw money at her feeble-minded father. And why is the heiress suddenly so committed to saving Downton? She was perfectly happy to leave with the odious Richard Carlisle. It's even more unfair when she chastises Matthew for trying to manage his own investment. The couple who once had so much chemistry now seem to be in a loveless marriage. Hmm ... maybe their trouble conceiving is because they don't actually have sex?
Daisy: One of the most likable characters has suddenly transformed into an entitled, spiteful and bitter brat. Maybe her resentment about her lack of promotion is consistent with her past inferiority complex (fueled by O'Brien), but her abuse of new kitchen maid Ivy is completely out of character -- and kind of horrifying to watch.
Earl of Grantham: The man is Bozo the Clown with a starched collar instead of ruffles. His testimony convicted Bates, he cheated on his wife and then he bankrupted Downton by secretly investing all his (and her) money in an ill-advised scheme. Worse, he ruins his daughter Edith's happiness by persuading Strallan that she deserves a younger man. (But it was totally peachy when Lady Mary wooed him to get back at Edith?!)
It's not quite fair to say he killed his other daughter, but he was more concerned about offending the fancy Harley Street fop than considering the family doctor's recommendation. His obliviousness about Thomas' shady character and mismanagement of the estate are more reasons to detest him. (And just wait until you see how his obsession with the annual cricket match affects his judgment.)
The earl is a walking warning against aristocratic inbreeding, and it is impossible to believe he's related to the quick-witted Dowager Countess. (May we suggest a switched-at-birth "Pudd'nhead Wilson" story line for season four? Thomas is actually Violet's son, while the earl is the son of a clockmaker? You're welcome, writers.)
Sybil and Branson: The former chauffeur is as lifeless as his dead wife. Even before Sybil's tragic passing, the once vivacious pair sucked the life out of every scene. Their marriage virtually castrated the Irish radical, and the drawing-room ottoman had more personality than Sybil, whose spirit died long before she did.
Thomas and O'Brien: The schemers we loved to hate are waging a war and the attacks seem completely out of proportion to their shared grievances. Nothing about O'Brien's relationship with Alfred warrants her scheme to destroy her former partner-in-crime's livelihood and freedom. Maybe the spinster fiercely loves Alfred like the son she will never have, but if so, that emotion exists solely in the mind of show creator Julian Fellowes.
Mrs. Hughes: She might have cancer. No, she doesn't. The end. What? This pointless vehicle to personalize the housekeeper is nothing more than a retelling of Mrs. Patmore's cataracts from season one. We've already seen the Crawleys' familial generosity to their domestic staff, so her support lacks the surprise and poignancy of the original "sick servant" story line.
The Dowager Countess: Kidding! The acid-tongued Lady Violet remains perfect and true to the original character Fellowes created. If Maggie Smith opts for a "car accident" exit, we'll bid a polite farewell to "Downton Abbey."
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