Downton Abbey finished its fourth season last night, all full of secrets and romances and vengeance-murders and jazz music. Oh, Downton: The show where nothing really changes. (Seriously: When will Daisy get a promotion?) Lady Mary finds herself in much of the same position she found herself in during season one: Which of her suitors suits her best? There’s Lord Gillingham (Tom Cullen), the dapper aristocrat Mary’s known forever, and Charles Blake (Julian Ovenden), the secretly wealthy government official who initially rubs Mary the wrong way. Vulture’s Amanda Dobbins and Margaret Lyons debate the respective merits of these two love interests.
Amanda: Margaret! We are here today to argue about Lady Mary’s romantic interests, since we have very different opinions on the matter. You like Anthony Gillingham. I do not understand why. Could you please explain?
Margaret: I feel like I should just paste a picture of his face here. You’ve seen his face, right? That’s probably my No. 1 reason. No. 2 reason, he’s nice! There’s a reason I refer to the two suitors as “Brown Hair Nice” and “Brown Hair Mean.” (Yeah, it’d be better if someone were blond … ) But seriously, he’s the nicer of the two guys. Who wouldn’t pick nice? And, you know, freakishly handsome?
Amanda: Look, I am not going to argue about the face. Shout-out to Tatiana Maslany, who gets to make out with that face in real life. (She is making all the right choices.) But let’s talk about this “nice” thing for a minute. Sure, he’s nice to Mary, since he is sad-puppy-dog, follows-her-everywhere obsessed with her at the moment. Is he so nice to the woman he was engaged to for the better part of the season? I really don’t know! And if you believe in “once a cheater, always a cheater,” then surely you realize that this so-called niceness will eventually run out. Meanwhile, do you know how every single classic romantic comedy begins? With a man and a woman who fucking loathe each other. Brown Hair Mean has this in the bag.
Margaret: Rom-com-wise, that is admittedly tough to argue. Except that Downton already went that route with Matthew — poor, boring Matthew who was so boring and poor and broken-penised that Mary seemed like she’d never come around. Rehashing that with Charles just seem blah to me. (Not that Downton always avoids blah, but we’re talking preferences here.) Plus, Lord Gillingham has a certain rom-com angle, too: Mary’s rejected him a thousand times, and he keeps coming back for more. In life, that’s horrendous, but on TV, that’s how we know someone’s devoted. Lest we forget, Matthew was engaged to someone else too (RIP Lavinia, no one liked you). Hmmm, maybe the Matthew rehash is sort of a toss-up.
Amanda: Actually, the Good-for-TV thing is really the only argument I can accept for Gillingham — and that’s because we’ve all seen what happens when Mary ends up with the rom-com love of her life. (Charles = Matthew, in this scenario.) It’s a dead end; all the narrative build-up happens before the marriage, and then there’s nothing left to do but get rid of the husband and start over. That was traumatic enough the first time around. But I can imagine a different situation with Lord Gillingham, just because I can imagine Mary getting so bored with him and his parties and his fake–Sun Also Rises act that she starts seeing someone else. While married. Maybe she would even start seeing Charles Blake while married. Downton is due for another affair at some point.
Margaret: I actually would be super down for that. What’s been a bummer about both Charles and Lord Gillingham is that they’re both kind of boring. Mary herself is wearing on my last nerve, because while her flirty petulance is one thing in 1912, ten years have elapsed since then. Enough time for an ENTIRE WORLD WAR. And a ton of other stuff. And yet, here’s Mary Mary Quite Contrary and Kinda Rude All the Time, Like, Give People a Break Already. I don’t think Charles and Lord G bring out particularly different sides of her, the way at one point it seemed like Mr. Pamuk and Matthew did. I guess I am now rooting for either threeways or adultery or adultery that turns into threeways. Because otherwise, what can I root for?
Amanda: Progress! And Mary Learning Her Lesson! Both of which are conveniently introduced by Charles Blake, Pig-Master and Anti-Estate (but still secretly rich, because this is Downton) Government Guy. He’s good for her! Or he challenges her and the show in ways that Gillingham doesn’t, anyway.
Margaret: He challenges her with his duplicity and obnoxiousness, which is maybe not my favorite way to watch people get challenged, but hey: If you have to cheat, cheat with a rakish pig farmer. He probably knows how to do things.