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Notes on a Wonderful Genre: Rewatching the First Season of Downton Abbey

You’re probably pretty over Downton Abbey coverage by now, but here you are and here I am.

The only way to start a movie or a television serial about upstairs/downstairs relationships in a stately home is to have a new servant show up. There is no alternative.

New Servant – “Hey, I’m new here!”
Old Servants – “We’re skeptical of newcomers, as ours is a curious closed world with a clearly defined dominance hierarchy, like wolves or stockbrokers. Let us show you around for the next four hours and introduce all of the protagonists to you and to the audience.”
New Servant – “Isn’t it psychologically and culturally odd to be a servant? Let’s look thoughtful about it.”
Old Servants – “Wow. That IS odd. I had literally never considered that before. Why can’t we have nice things, like snuffboxes?”
New Servant – “Perhaps one day the world will be different.”
Old Servants – “Perhaps it will.”

Legal matters are complicated! Rich people hate entails, but they love talking about entails.

Lord Grantham – “Cora, let’s remind ourselves of how I married you so your money could save Downton Abbey.”
Cora – “You sure did marry me so my money could save Downton Abbey.”
The Dowager Countess – “If only Cora’s money, which you married her for to save Downton Abbey, hadn’t been bundled into the estate.”
Lord Grantham – “Yes, the estate (which Cora’s money, which I married her for to save Downton Abbey, cannot be separated from) must pass to my nearest male heir on my death.”
Cora – “It’s such a shame that your nearest male heir died on the Titanic, and now the estate, which cannot be separated from my money, which you married me for to save Downton Abbey, must pass to a new male heir instead of our daughter, Mary.”
Everyone – “Does Mary have to marry Mr. Collins now?”
The Dowager Countess – “Pretty much.”

The future is coming for all of you.

Lord Grantham – “Do you want some tea? I’ll ask Carson to have us sent some tea. People bring us tea on the daily, which affords me time to be moderately introspective about the idea of being brought tea.”
Thomas – “I am evil, but I will bring you tea now, as I am a cunning survivor with a much clearer grasp of my situation than any of you foppish losers. I am the first evil opportunistically-gay character since Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, which is kind of progressive.”
Sybil – “Do you know what’s even better than tea? Pants, and votes for women.”
Blind Cook – “It sure would be easier to make tea if we had electricity in the kitchen.”
Dead Turkish Diplomat – “Hey, we could probably have sex without a lifetime of rigorous duty and ceremony and having tea together.”
Matthew – “I am too good to be served tea by a manservant. Someday, tea will come in dusty bags, and we will all be able to buy it from the store together, as equals.”


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