As such, it has to have its moments of poignancy. We’re not talking subtlety and nuance, of course: it’s Downton Abbey after all.
So, due to a surfeit of melodrama, overacting and zombies (more on that later), this week’s episode is subtitled “Over the Top”.
It starts as Blackadder finished, with Matthew leading his plucky Tommies into no-man’s land where he and brave, innocent, inevitable-cannon-fodder William are bombarded with some prime-time special effects.
William, tragic hero that he is, takes some Jerry ordnance smack in the chest, in the process shielding Matthew from certain death. Well, the top half of Matthew, anyway.
Back in the Abbey, the scriptwriters toy with another inter-series linkup as both Daisy and Lady Mary channel “Most Haunted” rather more convincingly than Derek Acorah ever managed. As the shell eviscerates Matthew’s sperm and William’s lungs, both women claim someone is walking on their grave.
Anna also wouldn’t look out of place on “Ghostwatch” – the only thing greyer than her dress is her face. As has become the norm, she and Bates are granted a nanosecond of happiness before Bates’s wife, Tipperary’s answer to Barry White, comes back on the scene with her one-note threat to sink the good ship Grantham and all who sail in her.
But this time, she is defeated by a greater evil – Lady Mary persuades Sir Richard (what IS his accent? Think I detect a hint of Wales, and more than a suggestion of Mordor) to buy her story then bury it, leaving her huskily infuriated. I can’t help feeling I should write something about doing deals with devils: it hasn’t worked out for Matt Cardle and it ain’t looking good for Lady M – “as my future wife you’re entitled to be in my debt”.
With Matthew and William transferred back to Downton, Matthew is forced to come to terms with a likely future of no legs and – as we are reminded over and over and over again – no shagging. Well, he puts it in terms of being unable to be a “proper husband” and, in a twist designed solely to put Mary through the wringer another few squeezes, breaks it off with Lavinia.
I believe her when she claims that a non-proper marriage would be fine, but saying “I’ll die if I can’t be with him!” has me all “steady on, rather, what”. He’s only a handsome, charming, honest, heir to a massive… oh.
Meanwhile, Daisy and William have pretty much the opposite issue. It has been decreed that William’s injuries are too serious for any chance of recovery, so he’s pretty much going to die whether he can be with his beloved or not. But this gives him a pretty strong reason for demanding a swift betrothal. Daisy, fighting her conscience to the last, seems to find peace as the marriage ceremony takes place (but only thanks to the Dowager Countess coming over all Tony Soprano on the vicar, who clearly values his ecumenical balls), and to her credit the war widow’s pension she’ll now be receiving isn’t the mitigating factor.
Downton is at its best with big, emotional scenes like this – up and down the land shares in Kleenex are skyrocketing as 8 million people join the entire cast (even Dame Maggie “seems to have a cold”) weeping into their chiffon, worsted and silk. If that means we have to sacrifice a key cast member every episode, so be it.
But it’ll have to be a toff next week.
Multi-faceted villain of the week: pretty much all of them. O’Brien’s loyalty to Lady Cora, Thomas sticking up for William and the working man, Sir Richard helping our favourite tragic couple, and even the Dowager Countess using the non-evil side of the force for once to smooth the passage of William’s treatment and marriage. This is depth, people.
Sex pest of the week: Branson, taking last week’s creepiness a step further, daring to touch the vision of full-lipped petticoated purity that is Lady Sybil
in a nurse’s outfit oh my. What a shame restraining orders haven’t been invented yet – this is a man who compares the prospect of a life together with the ruthless murder of a Russian dude and all his family. Not hot.
Juxtaposition of old and new of the week: Maggie Smith using a telephone. Feel they should have made more of this scene – it should have been her “a HANDBAG?” moment at the very least.
Zombie of the week: Matthew Crawley. Yes, he basically took Prussia in the face, but could the make-up not have been a wee bit more nuanced? He makes Melting Nazi Dude from the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” look like he’s troubled by a touch of eczema.