Downton Abbey Series 5 Episode 1 Review

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When you return to Downton Abbey after a long while away, it can be hard to get back into the swing of things. Everything in this show is delivered at a slower pace, in a more obvious and clunky way than necessary and with a strong whiff of manipulation thrown in for good measure.

When the stories and the characters and the drama was good, these things didn’t matter – heck, they set the show apart and got it noticed – but last year’s fourth series took an unfortunate turn into the boring and the downright offensive.

We could only hope that 2014 would see Downton turn over a new leaf, getting back to the soapy fun and melodrama that captured the world’s viewing public in the first place. And, with this first episode to judge from, I’ll just say it’s a mixed bag of small successes and major failures.

The successes come with a lot of the old favourites. There’s Isobel and Violet gently clashing without ever actually having cross words with each other, Edith being sad and traumatised by something awful while her family ignore her, Barrow hatching dastardly schemes yet never being caught and Branson generally bumbling about the Abbey, not sure of his place in all this.

It’s all stuff that’s been covered since the show’s first episode, of course, but Downton Abbey is a show about small comforts and repeated situations. No matter how often we’re told that the entire world order is about to change (we’re in 1924 now, with a labour government looming), we know really that nothing will be different for these characters a year down the road.

No matter how used to the stories as ordinarily-told we are, Edith isn’t suddenly going to be able to raise Marigold, Mary isn’t going to get away with ‘testing’ Gillingham out before marriage, and Barrow and James’ bromance isn’t going to turn into some kind of illicit affair.

No, the good in this episode comes from the little things. Edith’s quiet mourning for a child she still sees is heartbreaking, Daisy may be considering a move to her father-in-law’s farm and Branson might finally have found a love interest to take the place of Sybil in his heart. It’s all the better that the family don’t approve of her, and Branson’s dual existence looks set to crumble.

The bad? Well that all comes down to the big fire, which was teased as some huge series-defining event and actually amounted to diddly squat in the end. Edith started it, because of course she did, and no one died. The fire didn’t even spread out of one room, and it all felt like a ploy to get Barrow off the hook for his rumbled blackmail scheme against Baxter.

There was a time when Downton Abbey epitomised warm, comforting television to have your tea to, but now there are more annoyances in each episode than there were over the course of the entire first three seasons. It’s always been twee and inconsequential, but when did it become a parody of itself?

What did you think of the episode? Do we still care about the Green murder plot? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.