A Look to the Past, Spartacus: Vengeance and Downton Abbey: Season 2

Two shows that I blogged about earlier, in great anticipation, have completed their installments and I am left with mixed feelings, so I thought I would share.

SPOILER ALERT

Overall, the second season of Downton Abbey was a disappointment. My greatest difficulty with this installment was the writing rather than the performances. It was cluttered with far too many subplots and moved at a break neck pace. This was at the expense of character and relationship development. Consequently, a part of me stopped caring.

There were too many instances when the characters served the plot that simply rang false. The characters behaved in a fashion that was incongruous with the characters I thought I knew. The writing required more to convince me; there was inadequate explanation/justification for uncharacteristic behaviour. The most egregious example that springs to mind is Lord Crawley. The thought of the Earl making a pass at a housemaid required a better set up. The other disappointment was Lady Sybil chucking it all for Branson. Not exactly a shocker, but I wish the writing could have lingered on the evolution of that romantic relationship. Both are sympathetic, but from such different worlds. As it stands, my pragmatic brain wants to scream, “How do you know you are in love (as opposed to just infatuated) with him, you hardly know him and you certainly haven’t lived his lifestyle to know you can stand it for more than a few months.” Of course, this realization may be reserved for Season 3 and I may be too impatient. The plotting was awfully hasty. An inordinate amount of time was wasted on trivial subplots that detracted from all the reasons I enjoyed the first season. There was a plot involving a knocked up maid (who cares) and another plot involving the possible resurrection of the presumed deceased Patrick, the original heir to the estate, and Aunt Rosamund’s conniving boyfriend and maid. Seriously dude (writer Julian Fellowes, I mean) we could care less about these people. We want to know more about the Crawley’s and their staff , those wonderful characters that won us over in before war broke out. I would have also enjoyed more productive time watching affection between Mary and Matthew grow. Although back in season 1, Matthew had proposed to Mary, he seemed to do it partly out of duty, rather than great affection. At the end of season 1, they were estranged due to a misunderstanding. Season 2 did not put enough effort into rebuilding that relationship, especially when they were subsequently betrothed to others. Mr. Bates’ villainous wife and that entire plot line was too cartoonish for my liking.

Perhaps I ask too much. In truth, all was not bad. I did like the way Thomas evolved. His character arc rang true and at times he was sympathetic, which makes for a great villain. I enjoyed the softening of O’Brien’s character, in response to her guilty conscious. I didn’t mind the Daisy and William marriage charade. I loved Sir Richard Carlisle’s self made brute and I enjoyed the return of some happiness in Lady Edith’s life in the form of Sir Anthony Strallan. And of course I must not forget the Dowager Countess, played exquisitely by Maggie Smith. She brings the most fun to this viewing experience. The other actors do a fine job portraying their characters as written. And the scenery is simply stunning in the English countryside. The war scenes were better than I expected.

The goodwill “Downton Abbey” achieved via its stellar 1st season is enough for me to continue watching, if only to hope that it can be pulled out of the fire. But that won’t last if the writing continues to be stretched thin over too many ridiculously soapy plots at the cost of character development.

Considering “Spartacus: Vengeance” had the unenviable task of recasting the title role, I approached the 3 rd season with some degree of trepidation. Both previous installments were “origin stories” and these tend to be the most compelling tales. Sustaining good stories beyond this point has been the Achilles heel for many promising shows (cough, cough, Heroes, cough). However, due to its stellar pedigree on the production side, I dared to be hopeful. Overall I enjoyed the season. The villains were diabolical but complex; there was lots of scheming and backstabbing. Spartacus evolved as a leader and managed to navigate a motley crew with different priorities. The strategic developments in the struggle for freedom were interesting and morally complex. Of course the level of violence and nudity was no surprise, this time round. I especially enjoyed the return of Gannicus, if only for the twinkle in his eye. Not many guys can work that hairstyle either, a feat unto itself.

Of course, I do have a few beefs. It took me a while to warm up to the recasting of Naevia. Indeed, it took longer than it took me to warm up to Liam McIntyre as Spartacus, who did a fine job. However, I was not convinced by her metamorphosis from catatonic PTSD victim to warrior woman. Ashur deserved more, in the end. I was sad to say goodbye to Mira, she was such a strong supporting female (I would have traded her for Naevia in a heartbeat) but her death served the climax well.

By the end of the season, there was redemption (always satisfying), but the body count was high. I am looking forward to the next installment.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: 2011 – 2012 TV Season Wrap Up – part 2 « What is Ann Watching?

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