Feb 22, 2011

Oh to be as blameless as Bates the valet

After an appropriately strict diet of one-episode-per-week, my wife and I finally fell off the wagon in a big way and wolfed down the last three episodes of Downton Abbey in one sitting last night, spurred on — we told ourselves — by the pure adrenaline rush of storytelling with which Julian Fellowes brought his redoubtable saga to a close. We came away from the whole thing dizzy with admiration for the Austen-like astringency of Mary; touched by the Ishiguroish exterior behind which Bates and Anna must keep their passion tamped down; but above all struck by the dexterity with which Fellowes contrives to have Bates's good name repeatedly blackened in episode after episode, only to cleanse it again with a dense weave of extenuating circumstances so extensive that Bates is compelled, if only by modesty alone, to lift not a finger to defend himself, leaving it to others to draw back the veil in an act of dramatic ex-machina vindication which reveals to all and sundry the state of pure blamelessness that forms the bedrock of his character. How strong an impression this made on both my wife and I, reminding us perhaps of the deep reserves of blamelessness that greet us when we gaze into the well of our own goodly souls, so often besmirched by the misunderstandings and outright misreadings of others, yet somehow lacking the third-act vindication on which Bates has come to rely. We try and play that role for one another of course — Anna to the other's Bates — although truth be told, neither of us is possessed of the patience to allow the process to play out in its entirety, the urge to toot our own horn, or defend our actions from the dolts and fools who would dare 'understand' us, cutting in somewhere between breakfast and the front door. We are, like most modern folk, too well defended by the deep moats of irony, the arrow slits of our own postmodern knowingness, to allow the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune much in the way of ingress. It will henceforth be a belated New Year's resolution to allow a much deeper mountain of false charges to accumulate at my door before brushing them to one side, taking care in turn not to incriminate my accusers, but allowing a blush to creep up their cheeks of its own accord, and placing all my faith in the same Jeevesian benificence that rules the roost and keeps the fates in balance at Downton Abbey.


  1. Having watched the series on "Masterpiece Theater," which broadcast it in four 1-1/2 blocks, I uncharitably and unjustly assumed that you had "fallen off the wagon" after only one episode, and therefore were still somewhat lacking in the Batesian restraint to which you aspire. The enormity of my misapprehension was, however, revealed by a quick trip to Wikipedia, and I stand abashed and in awe anew at your stoic forbearance.

  2. That's right. We were watching the original British episodes via Itunes and kept up the one-a-week regimen for a full tour weeks before we snapped. A regimen of cold showers and porridge helped keep the appetites at bay — but it was the prospect of Bates's romance with Anna that finally did us in.