Last night’s two-hour episode of Downton Abbey finally gave us the long-awaited marriage between Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley. And when we say “long-awaited,” we really mean it. Because, according to the show, eight years have passed since Matthew and Mary met. Eight years! For a show that’s constantly referencing how much everything is changing, it sure would be nice if anything actually, you know, changed.
Season one starts in 1912 and runs through August 1914; season two jumps to 1916 and runs through 1919; and this season begins in 1920. And yet Lady Edith is still swooning after Old Mr. Deadhand Sir Anthony, who has been kicking around since season one. Daisy is still a 15-year-old scold vessel into which everyone pours his or her servant-y disdain. Thomas is still as bitter as ever. Carson is still easily scandalized. Isobel still finds Downton life kind of baffling. Oh, people seem more comfortable with telephones, and there are no doubt subtle but incredibly accurate changes to hemlines and necklines or whatever, but without the current-events clues, it would be pretty much impossible to tell how much time had transpired.
The solution isn’t goofy prosthetics or for Matthew to suddenly be bald or Cora to have a fancy cane — perish the thought. But every Big Thing on Downton, including all of World War I, only disrupts things briefly; everything returns to normal, and we’re right back at the beginning, with a haughty but enchanting Mary and a rigid but enchanted Matthew. (Who we’re supposed to believe never boned even though they’ve been engaged on and off for six full years. Yes, things were different then. But … come on.) No one’s going to change, and no one’s going to age, and broken penises take as long to resolve themselves as international conflicts do. This is just the Downton way. The only true measure of time is the rings of O’Brien’s bangs.