This weekend I watched two very different season finales, on two very different British imports: “Downton Abbey” and “Doc Martin”. My British readers have already long-since seen both; for my American readers who may not have caught them yet, I promise no serious spoilers. However, you may still want to bookmark and return to this piece after you have seen these episodes, if indeed you plan to do so.
Now I know, I know, after the scathing piece I wrote regarding happened to Anna early on in this season of “Downton Abbey”, I am clearly a hypocrite for getting drawn back into it again. Unfortunately “Downton” at times is rather like a bag of Fritos. It can be addictive, salty, and pleasurable, but it has little nutritional value. Plus, you really aren’t supposed to eat it all in one sitting, unless you have a morbid desire to experience heartburn and indigestion.
In the end it turned out that the “Downton Abbey” finale was just as bad as inhaling an entire bag of corn chips. Remember at the end of Season 2, when Matthew finally proposed? Or at the end of Season 3, when he bit the big one? The highlight of the Season 4 finale was two characters wading in the sea at Brighton, hand in hand. In fact, that pairing was trending last night on Twitter across the U.S., probably because it was the only item of note in an otherwise dull finale.
We all know that “Downton Abbey” is little more than a soap opera masquerading as a costume drama, given its ridiculous plot devices and wincingly bad historical anachronisms. However I did come back to it even after what I had written previously, for the simple reason that there is so little of any merit on television. Should I watch a 256th version of a show about cops tracking serial killers who employ particularly gruesome methods of torture? Or should watch a supposedly funny show about a group of confused people having no moral center beyond the old, “if it feels right to you then it must be right”? There are many things wrong with “Downton”, but there are moments when one is reminded that there is in fact a moral center to the universe, even if popular culture elsewhere would have you believe that the only true Polaris to human existence is self-worship.
Moreover, one keeps coming back to “Downton Abbey” because, let’s face it: it looks great. The cars, the homes, the clothes, everything is just wonderful eye candy if you appreciate beautiful things. Try flipping through the channels some evening, and pause to consider, visually, what you are looking at, and ask yourself how aesthetically pleasing it truly is. How much ugliness can we look at, night after night, in our entertainments and not have it affect us in some way? That is not necessarily a reason for “Downton” to survive as a series, of course, but when considering the viewing alternatives, it was overall a far better choice to make.
I also caught the finale of Season 6 of “Doc Martin”, which although well-liked, has never been a cultural phenomenon in the way “Downton Abbey” has been over on this side of the pond. I have never been an unreserved fan of the show, finding some of the characters rather repetitive and twee, although it is generally entertaining and does its job well. For once you get into it, there are enough good performances – particularly Martin Clunes, Caroline Catz, and Eileen Atkins – to keep you interested.
Unlike the “Downton Abbey” finale, there was serious drama at the conclusion of “Doc Martin” this season. However there was also one of those rare moments when one sees two good actors doing a superb job addressing serious matters that come up in the lives of human beings, wherever they happen to sit on the social scale. For this reason, “Doc Martin” actually had something better and more relatable to say, despite “Downton” trying to hit all the buttons of lust, murder, rape, and so on. And of course like “Downton”, “Doc Martin” is also beautiful to look at, albeit for very different reasons, thanks to the magnificent Cornish coast.
For the finale of “Doc Martin”, a conflict between Martin and Louisa comes to a head, which at first I must confess I found incredibly irritating. Louisa knew what Martin was like, I was thinking to myself, and she married him anyway: she made her bed, now she must lie in it. Yet seemingly within weeks of their wedding, she tires of the trials of living real married life, where all is not sunshine and rainbows.
Interestingly, in the resolution of this crisis it is the taciturn Martin who, with his methodical nature, proves to have a much better grasp of what the term “marriage” actually entails than does the romantic and breezy Louisa. It is Martin who realizes what his duties are, and that in order for things to get better, he is going to have to change, and to work with her together on their marriage. As someone who has always been painfully shy and withdrawn after years of abuse at the hands of his parents, for Martin to stop trying to shield himself is a major triumph. When he does so, at the end of this season, the man of principle within is still there, it is not merely a facade.
In sum, then, both these finales have their high and low points (and the reader is certainly welcome to disagree with my thoughts on each by leaving comments below.) Both are lovely to look at it, albeit for different reasons. And both provide the benefit of making you think, rather than just sitting back and allowing your brain to atrophy. Given these factors, you could do far worse than to add them to your television viewing.