Showing posts with label British television. Show all posts
Showing posts with label British television. Show all posts

Friday, April 12, 2013

Downton Abbey and Mayhem

Word 201 is...


Mayhem, as you may have surmised from the Allstate commercials featuring the ironic personification of mayhem ("I'm a branch about to fall on your car", etc), is a willful and permanent crippling, mutilation or disfigurement of any part of the body - especially involving the loss of a limb or a digit. In other words, needless, willful damage or violence.  Which brings us to Downton Abbey...

Several months have passed and I believe most of us Downton fans (or addicts, as the case may be) are aware of how the third series ended.  Matthew Crawley, happily married and new, proud father, dies in a car crash.  The final image is of lifeless Matthew, lying in a growing pool of blood, his eyes opened.  Not moments before, he'd been holding his baby son.  Naturally, this has sparked a wide range of outbursts from fans of the show.  My father exclaimed, "he was the only one in that family who made sense!" 

Dramatic death is the plot-mover and shaker in Downton.  The show opened with the death of the then-heir Patrick on the Titanic.  A few episodes later a young Turkish nobleman died suddenly in bed (whose bed being the compelling secret of the series).  Series Two saw the first world war, bringing on the death of a beloved footman and Matthew's apparent paralysis (which he later miraculously overcame) and the Spanish flu which killed off Matthew's fiancee, Lavinia.  Series Three saw Lady Sibyl die in childbirth, leaving behind her husband (the former chauffeur) and her baby daughter.  Mayhem is unavoidable here, the life blood of the show.

Matthew Crawley's final moments with Mary and son

It does seem remarkably unfair to have killed off Sibyl and Matthew in the same series, and neither instance was very pleasant.  Yet, on a more pragmatic note, Jessica Brown-Findlay and Dan Stevens both wanted to move onto other projects once their contracts had expired.  The story lines had to shift to accommodate them, even if devastating those of us who finally FINALLY saw joy come to their respective characters.  If an actor feels the call of Broadway, as Mr. Stevens certainly has, he should be free to follow that call wherever it leads him.  We've seen this before: in The X-Files, Agent Mulder is abducted by aliens so that David Duchovny can focus on a film career; in Doctor Who, the Doctor has regenerated many times now*, a death loophole that frees the actor but lets us keep the character in a brand new incarnation; Tasha Yar in Star Trek: The Next Generation; Charlie in Lost; Daniel Jackson in Stargate SG-1... the list goes on...

The Tenth Doctor regenerates.
The ordinary mayhem of non-renewed contracts brings opportunities for the creative minds behind these shows.  Interesting opportunities.  Story, in whatever form, has the unique ability to shift direction, flexible and resilient against such challenges.  It shows me that any obstacle I may encounter with a plot line in my own fiction is not The End of All Things, but a chance to bend the story onto a new vector I had not considered.  It's a matter of realizing - hey, there's a dead-end here, but I can 1.) build a door right here, or 2.) find that secret passageway I know is hidden around here somewhere... what a thrill to find the solution right there, waiting.

For Downton, rumor has it that the fourth series will focus on the grief and recovery of Lady Mary, Matthew's widow.  As an aside, I have a soft spot for haughty, stern, self-righteous Mary; as a character she has grown through her mistakes and her sorrows.  And the question now can be about her ability as a character to grow stronger from this tragedy... remaking her, revitalizing her and revivifying her as her story continues on.

Matthew's exit is unavoidable but may contain blessings in disguise. The creator of Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes, remarked that the happy Matthew had to go, because happiness is next to impossible to write. And to this end, killing Matthew when he was at the peak of happiness seems to have been the best option.  He died happy and a success, instead of fading away out of monotony or boredom into a shadow of himself.  Explaining Matthew away in a divorce would be cruel judging from the richness of the story he and Mary have shared for the last three years.   

If the spirit of the story is preserved, if other characters are allowed to grow in new ways to become better versions of themselves, then I look forward to the fourth series of Downton Abbey.  Even if more mayhem awaits us in the form of stock market crashes and love affairs.

* On terms of Doctor Who - a totally different animal - there were similar reactions when David Tennant left the show.  The Doctor, having been fatally dosed with radiation to save a companion, regenerated dramatically into Matt Smith's Doctor.  While at the very core he is the same man, alive, well and frenetic as ever, something very real died in his explosive regeneration. His is a death: a chapter closed and forever cut off from new adventures. (... unless they involve the fiftieth anniversary special, that is.  Doctor Who is infamous for its loopholes.)  But, as we are reminded by the watchful Ood Sigma, the story itself does not end.  Doctor Who simply experienced a changing of the guards: new Doctor, new head writer and producer (Stephen Moffat).  It was the same and not the same, and that is okay. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Arguing (pleasantly) with the Prince of Wales (Jillian)

This week marks the premier of the final Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. Naturally, there has been quite the buzz about it, as Harry has been in our literary world for years now and some of us were lucky enough to have grown up with him. I, like so many others, read the final novel in two days and cried for Dobby and so many others. Harry Potter is not exactly classic, and is flawed in certain ways - not entirely a perfect read, but honestly, what is? The magic of Harry was that he got so many young (and old) ones to read and enjoy reading.

Which brings me to commentary this week. Charles, the Prince of Wales, remarked this week that the end of Harry Potter is completely awful for all of those young readers. Now, I don't really think that this was a negative comment, but I want to argue a bit with him. Yes, it is sad that the series is ended, and that there are no more books to gobble up. But that has been the case for a number of years. With the end of the series comes an opportunity to move on to something new... to find pleasure reading something as equally exciting that takes one in new directions. Harry has grown up. I think that means we readers can, too. Not that we should let go of him and never look back, but appreciate what we've learned from him by enriching our experiences with other stories.

The end of a series is actually another beginning. And that in itself is a scintillating experience. So no, your Highness. The end of Harry is not an "awful" thing.


This is similar to my case for why American television stinks. If you've heard me yammer from this soap box, please ignore me. I'll keep it brief. '

We Americans enjoy procedural: crime dramas and who-dunnits that are built around a recurring, near-permanent cast. Not all of them are bad. But they follow a very irritating pattern. Once a show catches fire and popularity, the general consensus is that they remain on the air indefinitely - as cash cows. But because so many of these shows are not character-concetric, the longer they last on air, the staler they get. Oh, yes, the characters grow, but by committee and network discretion... not from the writers' instincts.

Again, not all shows are like this. But shows are stories at heart, and they are organic. Therefore, trying to keep them around does not guarantee they will resonate the same way. Take The Office, which began to lose its witty energy two years ago, but is still on the air. And House, which, in my opinion, has become boring.

This has come to mind after watching the British (note that: BRITISH) show Life on Mars. It lasted two seasons and about 15 episodes. Because it closely, evenly, carefully follows the story of the principal character Sam Tyler as he struggles to find out why and how he woke up as a detective inspector in 1973, the story ends the way it's supposed to. (I won't spoil anything for you.) Yes, it's a "crime drama", but that is merely the backdrop for a very human experience. The fact that the writers who created Life on Mars ended it of their own accord is brilliant to me. They listened to the story - not to plaintive whining of greedy executives or rabid fans - and that is remarkable in this age.

Follow the story. If the story ends, find another one. There are plenty lying in wait!


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