The backhanded, conniving and often ludicrously behaved characters of Downton Abbey never cease to amaze me.
Last night’s North American season 3 premiere (which has been out in the UK for a while now) was my first return to the British soap opera since its finale last year. And I don’t recall the other seasons being as chock full of mean one-liners as the start of season 3.
Clearly, I had been inoculated by bitchiness before suffering from withdrawal, and now its starting all over again. Absent for months now, the initial blow returned to me but I am sure it will pass and I’ll get used to it again.
So how come this doesn’t happen in real life? How come, every time some backhanded comment comes my way, I take it so personally? We can’t just shake it off and grow stronger, like the characters of Downton.
These characters are like The Simms, they just get up and keep going through adversity. Sure the gradual, passive-aggressive nature of a nemesis starts to pervade the psyche, but they all seem to get stronger with every threat, every scheme, and every plot against them. Bates is in jail. Edith is the publicly announced ugly duckling. Brutal schemers O’Brien and Thomas are at odds. Daisy can’t get a promotion. Mary wants a dead man’s money. There is a feeling of schadenfreude that we get from watching them cause great suffering to one another. But then again, when its not happening to me, its easy to feel that way.
As with any good drama, the stress the characters are feeling should leave an invisible mark on your emotions and have you wondering ‘why am I feeling like shit?’ I find myself taking a step back from the show to say, ‘wait a minute, this isn’t happening to me, phew!’. And I admire the characters for their ability to face abuse and take it, over and over, and still manage to triumph in small or large ways.
I hope that by watching Downton I’ll develop a thicker skin. Let’s see it as a Clockwork Orange-style immunization to the real ugliness of character, the selfishness of lusting for power, and the greediness of society. The next time someone makes a nasty remark about you, do as the British do: inhale deeply through your nostrils, sit up straight and wait for the scene to cut.