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TV Talk: FILM CRIT HULK VS DOWNTON ABBEY 2.03

Hulk smash sociological view of popular PBS drama (and Golden Globe winner).

TV Talk: FILM CRIT HULK VS DOWNTON ABBEY 2.03

DOWNTON ABBEY IS A SHOW ABOUT PEOPLE HOW PEOPLE ARE BOTH BAD AND GOOD.

THAT MAY SEEM ENORMOUSLY SIMPLE, BUT HULK WOULD LIKE TO SUGGEST IT IS NOT. IN FACT, HULK THINK THAT CREATING A SHOW LIKE THAT IS THE OPPOSITE OF SIMPLE. FOR ANY PIECE OF NARRATIVE TO SHOWCASE A SINGLE, FULLY-REALIZED PERSON, LET ALONE AN ENTIRE CAST FULL OF THEM, IS A BORDERLINE MIRACLE. BECAUSE THIS KIND OF BAD/GOOD WRITING ISN'T SO MUCH ABOUT AN "ARC" BUT MORE ABOUT DEPTH. IT WANTS TO EXPLORE THE WAYS IN WHICH PEOPLE ARE KIND AND THE WAYS IN WHICH THEY ARE CRUEL. THE WAYS THEY CONNECT AND THE WAYS THEY DO NOT. HULK NOT KNOW ABOUT YOU, BUT WHEN HULK MEETS A PERSON ON THE SCREEN, HULK WANTS TO COME TO KNOW ALL OF THEM. HULK DOES NOT WANT TO JUST SEE MONSTER OR THE IDOL, THE HERO OR THE DULLARD. IF WE WANT TO BELIEVE THESE ACTORS APPEARING ON A SCREEN ARE ACTUALLY PEOPLE, THEN THEY HAVE TO BE MORE THOSE ARCHETYPES. AND TO BE THAT THERE HAS TO BE SOMETHING MORE. EVEN AT THE FURTHEST REACHES OF THE HUMAN SPECTRUM, THERE ARE KILLERS WHO ARE KIND TO THEIR CHILDREN AND CHILD-ABUSERS WHO ARE KIND TO STRANGERS. PEOPLE HAVE FRONTS, PATHOLOGIES, ENTIRE BEHAVIORS. AND WE WANT TO SEE THEIR TOTALITY. WE WANT TO SEE THEM BEING HUMAN.

PEOPLE CONSTANTLY MISUNDERSTAND THE MOTIVE BEHIND ART WANTING TO HUMANIZE BEHAVIOR. IT IS NOT TO MAKE THE BEHAVIOR OKAY, NOT IN THE SLIGHTEST. NOR IS IT TO SIMPLY MAKE THE AUDIENCE FEEL BAD AND SYMPATHIZE. THE REASON TO HUMANIZE A CHARACTER IS TO UNDERSTAND. TO UNDERSTAND WHY SOMEONE ONE DO SUCH A HORRID THING, OR THINK A CERTAIN CRUEL WAY. IT IS TO EXPRESS TO THE AUDIENCE HOW THESE SITUATIONS OCCUR, AND WHY. IT MAYBE EVEN HELPS US IN THE AUDIENCE TO RECOGNIZE THOSE INCLINATIONS IN OURSELVES. AND TO THOSE WHO ARGUE WE NEED HEROES AND ARCHETYPES AS EXAMPLES, HULK WOULD ARGUE THAT A BIT OF A MISGUIDED IDEA. HULK THINKS THAT IT IS THE MOST HUMAN AND NUANCED KINDS OF HEROISM THAT SPEAK TO US MOST DEEPLY. WE DON'T REALLY NEED THE KIND OF HEROISM THAT IS BLINDING IN IT'S SAINTLY GOODNESS, BUT THE KIND OF HEROISM WE CAN UNDERSTAND. THE SMALL GESTURES AND KINDNESS THAT MAKE US HUMAN. AND IF ART, IN ALL IT'S VARYING FORMS, ACCOUNTS TO BEING THE QUEST FOR UNDERSTANDING THEN THERE IS A WAY THAT THE FULL-SPECTRUM EXPLORATION OF A CHARACTER MAKES PERFECT SENSE.

HULK BELIEVES THAT DOWNTON ABBEY CARES DEEPLY ABOUT THIS APPROACH.

IT SEEKS TO EXPLORE THE FULL RANGE OF HUMAN BEINGS. NO MATTER WHAT CLASS, STATUS, PRIVILEGE, NAIVETE, IT ASKS ONE SIMPLE QUESTION OF EACH OF THEM. WHAT MAKES THEM GOOD? AND WHAT MAKES THEM BAD? AND FROM THEIR IT EXPLORES THESE PEOPLE WITH CARE, FAIRNESS, AND JOY. HULK WOULD GO SO FAR AS TO SUGGEST THAT IT DOES ONE OF THE BEST JOBS A TELEVISION SHOW HAS EVER IN DONE, IN EXPLORING OUR HUMAN CAPACITY FOR BEING BOTH BAD AND GOOD.

... IT JUST SO HAPPENS TO BE A STUFFY LITTLE BRITISH PERIOD DRAMA.

DO NOT MISTAKE HULK IN THE SLIGHTEST. THIS IS NOT TO IMPLY HULK NOT LOVE THE PROVERBIAL SHIT OUT OF STUFFY PERIOD DRAMA. IN FACT, HULK ONCE WENT FOR SOME TIME TALKING ABOUT THE WONDERS OF THE GENRE IN RELATION TO THIS VERY SHOW ITSELF. SHORT VERSION: THE RESERVED APPROACH TO BRITISH PERIOD DRAMA GIVES US THE VERY THING THAT BOMBASTIC AMERICAN STORYTELLING LACKS IN TWO DISTINCT WAYS. THE FIRST, BY EXPLORING CHARACTERS WHO KEEP THEIR EMOTIONS BENEATH THE SURFACE AND THE SECOND, BY REACHING BACK TO THE NEEDS OF OUR PRE-COLONIAL AMERICAN PSYCHE... OKAY THAT SECOND PART TAKES WAY MORE EXPLAINING THAT SO EITHER READ THE LONG VERSION OR LET'S JUST GO WITH A "TRUST HULK."

ANYCRAP, THE SHOW IS GREAT. AND IF YOU READING THIS IT MEANS YOU THINK THE SHOW IS GREAT TOO. IT ALSO MEANS THAT YOU PROBABLY ALREADY WATCHED THIS EPISODE, SO FORGIVE HULK FOR PLAYING AROUND WITH THE FORMAT AND PRESENTING A BIT OF AN A-TRADITIONAL EPISODE RECAP (AND DO LET HULK KNOW IF YOU LIKE THE APPROACH). AND LASTLY, PLEASE NOTE THAT HULK NOT SEEN THE WHOLE SEASON, HULK JUST WATCHED IT ON PBS LAST NIGHT LIKE YA'LL DID.

SO LET'S HAVE SOME FUN. HULK THANK.

THE 5 MOST INTERESTING THINGS ABOUT DOWNTON ABBEY'S EPISODE #2.3

1. "[She's] never at her most righteous than when she is in the wrong." - LADY VIOLET

THE QUOTE ABOVE CONCERNS THE WOEFUL, MEDDLESOME PSYCHE OF AUNT ROSAMUND, BUT PERHAPS NOTHING SPEAKS TO HULK'S OVERALL THEORY OF THE GOOD / BAD EXPLORATION OF THE SHOW QUITE LIKE THESE WORDS. AND THIS WEEK, THE SPECTRUM OF HUMAN KINDNESS BELONGS TO LADY EDITH. LAST WEEK HAD US CALLING FOR HER INSUFFERABLE LITTLE S HEAD AFTER SHE REFUSED TO HELP CARSON BECAUSE THERE WAS SOMETHING WAS SPILLED ON HER DRESS. NOT TO MENTION THE FACT SHE HAPHAZARDLY SEDUCED THE MARRIED FARMER DOWN THE HILL (AS PATTON OSWALT GLORIOUSLY TWEETED: "Edith just threw down in the 1916 version of Russ Meyer's Supervixens."). BUT TONIGHT'S EPISODE HELPED REINFORCE THAT SHE HAS NOT EXACTLY THE VEDA PIERCE WE THOUGHT SHE MIGHT BE.

WHAT EDITH IS, AND MAY ALWAYS BE, IS SIMPLY THE OVERLOOKED MIDDLE CHILD. EVEN THOUGH HER WRITING TO THE TURKISH AMBASSADOR LAST SEASON WAS A REAL DIVIDING LINE FROM WHICH SOME VIEWERS WHO MAY NEVER (AND PERHAPS SHOULD NEVER) FORGIVE HER, THE SHOW HAS ALWAYS TAKEN CAREFUL CARE TO SHOW THE LENGTHS THAT THIS SEEMINGLY BENIGN YOUNG WOMAN WOULD GO TO, BUT ALSO BE PUT THROUGH. WHY IS EDITH SO DAMN INCONSIDERATE? IT'S SIMPLY BECAUSE THE WHOLE WORLD IS SO DAMN INCONSIDERATE OF HER. THE WORD ITSELF, IMPLYING "LACKING CONSIDERATION" SEEMS SO APT. SHE IS AN AFTERTHOUGHT EMBODIED. HULK EVEN THINKS THAT WE FORGET HOW NON-OFFENSIVE SHE WAS AT THE START. WE FORGET HOW MUCH OF THIS NEW, JADED EDITH HAS BEEN BORN FROM CIRCUMSTANCE. THINK TO LAST SEASON'S CONVERSATION BETWEEN DAD AND MOMMY GRANTHAM, WHO POINT-BLANK ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR LACK HOPE FOR EDITH AND DON'T EVEN SEEM TO CARE SAID HOPELESSNESS. THEY DON'T EVEN SEEM TO GAGE HER RESOURCEFULNESS. THEY'RE SURPRISED BY EVERY SUITOR. THEY FAIL TO SEE THAT SHE'S SMART. ATTENTIVE. AWARE. THEY HONESTLY JUST DON'T REALLY GIVE A FUCK ABOUT EDITH, DO THEY? NOT WITH MARY IN NEED OF MARRIAGE AND SYBIL OFF TRYING TO SAVE THE WORLD. EDITH IS SIMPLY THE UN-CONSIDERED. AND BECAUSE OF THAT SHE'S ALWAYS TRIED TO BREAK OUT OF THAT IN DIFFERENT WAYS, HELPING ONE PERSON, HURTING ANOTHER. IT'S ALL KIND OF "CHAOTIC NEUTRAL" THING TO USE THE PARLANCE OF A D+D ALIGNMENT CHART. BUT IN TONIGHT'S EPISODE WE GOT TO SEE THAT GOOD SIDE OF THE SPECTRUM FROM EDITH AGAIN. EVEN IF IT'S LARGELY MOTIVATED SYBIL HOGGING "THE MORAL HIGH GROUND," IT NONE THE LESS PRODUCED SOMETHING KIND AND HUMAN. AND HER REWARD? A SIMPLE TOAST AT DINNER. A CONSIDERATION. IT IS SO MUCH OF WHAT MIDDLE CHILD WANTS... THE QUESTION SIMPLY BECOMES WHERE DOES IT GO FROM THERE? HAS SHE BEEN TOO DAMAGED?

2. THE PATH TO HELL...

WE BELIEVED MR. BATES LAST TIME REGARDING HIS DIVORCE / MARRIAGE PLAN WITH ANNA AND HE SEEMED RATHER CLEAR OF "WHAT HIS WIFE WANTED"... BUT HULK OBVIOUSLY WORRIES ABOUT THIS GO ROUND. IS MR. BATES BEING A FOOL ONCE AGAIN? THERE IS NEW-PLAN STRIKES HULK AS RATHER CONFUSED AND PERHAPS A WEE BIG DESPERATE. IT JUST SEEMS LIKE THIS ONE IS GOING TO GO DARK PLACES. BUT HONESTLY, GIVEN BATES PREVIOUS OUTBURST, IT MAY END WITH HIS DEAR WIFEY GETTING HER HEAD BASHED IN OR SOMETHING. HULK NOT FEELING OPTIMISTIC ABOUT THE FUTURE OF MR. BATES... BUT GOOD ON HIM FOR REFUSING ANNA'S "CAN WE PRETTY PLEASE HAVE SEX NOW?" ADVANCE... GOOD IS A RELATIVE TERM.

3. THE ETHOS & PATHOS OF LADY MARY

IT MAY SEEM STRANGE TO SOME THAT LADY MARY WOULD BE SO KIND TO LAVINIA. WHY IS SHE SO TRUST-WORTHY WITH HER SECRETS AND NOT DIVULGING BACK TO MATTHEW? SOME MAY CREDIT THIS TO HER COMMENT "WE'RE NOT SO UNLIKE" AN OBVIOUS NOD TO HER OWN INDISCRETIONS AND RUEFUL PAST, BUT HULK WOULD LIKE TO SUGGEST TWO DEEPER TRUTHS ABOUT LADY MARY. THE FIRST IS THAT SHE LOVES MATTHEW. SHE LOVES HIM AND PART OF THAT IS NO DESTROYING HIS PERCEIVED HAPPINESS. SHE MAY NOT FULLY UNDERSTAND IT, BUT IT'S THE KIND OF ADULT LOVE WHERE YOU REALIZE YOU ARE NOT THE CENTER OF IT. IT IS NOT THE KIND OF LOVE THAT BECAUSE YOU FEEL IT SO POWERFULLY YOU THINK IS OWED TO YOU. THAT IS JUVENILE LOVE. ADULT LOVE GOES FURTHER INTO UNDERSTANDING WHAT A HUMAN BEING REALLY WANTS, AND LOVING THEM ENOUGH TO GIVE IT TO THEM. AND THE SECOND, DEEPER TRUTH IS MORE LOGICAL AND A BIT LESS GRANDIOSE: THAT PART MARY INSTINCTIVELY KNOWS IF SHE WERE TO TELL MATTHEW, IF SHE WERE TO RUIN HIS MARRIAGE FOR HER OWN BENEFIT, THAT IT WOULD BE PRECISELY THE KIND OF THING THAT WOULD MAKE HIM NEVER LOVE HER BACK. (THERE'S ALSO A SECRET, THIRD, PLOT-BASED REASON AND THAT HULK THINKS THAT MATTHEW ALREADY KNOWS ABOUT LAVINIA'S PAST AND DOESN'T CARE). MARY HAS REALLY SEEMED TO COME INTO A SAD, WISE PLACE... BUT PERHAPS KILLING A TURKISH AMABASSADOR WITH YOUR VIRGINITY WILL DO THAT.

4. THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING!

AND SO WE HAVE MR. CHAUFFEUR BRANSON GUY MENTIONING THE FIRST BREATH OF THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION. HE SPEAKS TO THE OBVIOUS IMPORTANCE OF THE EVENT, BUT HE IS CERTAINLY A LOT LESS ACCURATE IN NOTING THAT THE CZAR AND HIS FAMILY WILL BE SAFE... A LOT LESS ACCURATE. BUT THE MENTION HAS HULK RATHER CURIOUS HOW MUCH THE SHOW WILL EXPLORE THE FALLOUT OF THE REVOLUTION. FOR ONE, RUSSIAN HISTORY A BIT OF SOFT-SPOT FOR HULK, AND TWO, THE EFFECTS OF THE REVOLUTION WERE DEEPLY FELT AMONGST THE UPPER CRUST ALL OVER EUROPE. ESPECIALLY IN ENGLAND, WHERE THE ENTIRE IDEA OF THE PEASANT AND WORKING CLASSES RISING UP TO MURDER THE ARISTOCRACY AND TAKE CONTROL OF THE GOVERNMENT, SEEMED BOTH INCONCEIVABLE AND REAL ENOUGH TO FRIGHTEN THEM DOWN TO THEIR BONES. SO HULK VERY CURIOUS HOW THE EVENT WILL MANIFEST ITSELF IN THE SHOW. WILL IT SPEAK VOLUMES ABOUT THE STAKES OF CLASS IN DOWNTON? OR WILL IT SIMPLY BE ANOTHER WORLD-EVENT THAT THE ABBEY FEELS LIKE IT CAN KEEP AT ARMS LENGTH?

5. THE GROWING... "AMERICANIZATION?"

SO THIS IS THE BIG ONE. DID ANYONE REALLY NOTICE THAT THE PACE OF THIS SEASON HAS... HASTENED? PERHAPS IT'S ALL VERY INTENTIONAL, WHAT WITH THE CHANGES IN THE WAR AND SUCH, BUT ONE OF THE THINGS HULK LOVED ABOUT LAST SEASON WAS HOW CAREFUL AND DELIBERATE THE PLOTTING WAS. THINGS OFTEN SEEMED TO BE A BIT OF A SLOW BURN, EVEN WITH A FEW SUDDEN EVENTS HERE AND THERE. BUT THE FIRST 3 EPISODES OF THIS SEASON OF DOWNTON CAN BE CHARACTERIZED BY A SUDDEN, PROBLEMATIC IMMEDIACY. LAST WEEK IT WAS BATES PROPOSAL, THEN THE SUDDEN APPEARANCE OF VERA, THEN THE SUDDEN REVERSAL OF BATES, THEN HIS DISAPPEARING FOR GOOD. AND THEN THOMAS MEETS A BLIND SOLDIER, THEY SHARE CONTACT, WE LEARN TO FEEL OKAY FOR THOMAS, THEN THE DUDE KILLS HIMSELF. ALL THE SCENES FELT VERY BING. BANG. BOOM. NOW EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT! SO TO SPEAK. THIS STUFF USED TO BURN OVER THE COURSE OF A FEW EPISODES. NOW IT FEELS LIKE EVERYTHING IS A FEW SCENES.

TONIGHT WE GOT A BIT OF THAT ONCE AGAIN. BRANSON IS REJECTED BY THE ARMY, SUDDENLY TALKING ABOUT HIS BROTHER WHO WAS KILLED, AND WOULDN'T YOU KNOW BUT THE SAME OFFICER WHO KILLED HIM HAPPENS TO NOW BE VISITING DOWNTON AS A FAMILY GUEST, AND THEN SETS UP THIS QUASI-HITCHOCKIAN SEQUENCE (WELL, FOR DOWNTON AT LEAST) WHERE IT SEEMS LIKE BRANSON IS GOING TO KILL THE GUEST IN RETRIBUTION. BUT THEN IT TURNS OUT HE WAS GOING TO... DOUSE HIM IN SOME GROSS STUFF? ... HULK HAVE NO IDEA WHY HE'D DO THAT EXACTLY AS SEEMING RETRIBUTION, ESPECIALLY CONCERNING THE LEVEL OF FUCKING MALEVOLENCE HE WAS SPORTING BEFOREHAND, BUT THE FIRST PROBLEM WAS JUST HOW INCREDIBLY NEW AND RUSHED THE WHOLE THING FELT. BUT THE BIGGER PROBLEM IS THE IDEA THAT THE SHOW WOULD ENGAGE IN A "CINEMATIC JOKE" WHERE THEY PLAYED UP A GENRE CONVENTION OF SUSPENSEFUL CINEMATIC LANGUAGE TO THEN UNDERCUT IT WITH ANOTHER, FUNNIER(?) REALITY SEEMED... WELL IT JUST SEEMED FUCKING WEIRD. NOT ONLY WEIRD IN AND OF ITSELF, BUT TOTALLY FELT OUT OF PLACE FOR THE SHOW. IT FELT COMPLETELY ALIEN TO EVERYTHING FROM SERIES I. IT ALL SPEAKS TO THE IDEA THAT THE FIRST THREE EPISODES THAT HAVE BEEN RATHER BIG, BOMBBASTIC AND DARE HULK SAY IT, BUT ... VERY AMERICAN FEELING.

WHILE THERE STILL MUCH TO BE ADMIRED AND HULK HAVE GREAT FAITH IN THE SHOW GOING FORWARD, HULK HAT TO ADMIT THAT THE AMERICANIZATION DOESN'T FEEL LIKE A GOOD THING... NOT ONE BIT... OUR OWN LACK OF COMFORT WITH THE SHOW'S CHANGES MAY BE THE VERY POINT.

LINGERING QUESTIONS/COMMENTS/CONCERNS:

-HOW DID BATES DISAPPEAR SO QUICKLY? HE HAS A CANE, RIGHT? IS HE SECRETLY BATMAN? HULK THINKS HE'S SECRETLY BATMAN.

-CARSON GETS LINE-DELIVERY OF THE NIGHT FOR "YES, MADAM" WHEN LADY VIOLET TALKS ABOUT THEIR "MIXING."

-IS HULK CRAZY OR DID WW1 OFFICERS GET A LOT OF TIME OFF TO COME TO THE HOME FRONT? HULK PRETTY SURE THAT WASN'T REALLY THE CASE. AND IF THAT WAS THE CASE WHY ARE THEY SO OKAY GOING BACK AFTER? HULK NOT SURE WHY WE HAVEN'T GOTTEN SO MUCH INTO THE THINGS MATTHEW HAS SEEN AND DONE/ HE JUST COMES BACK AND IS ALL CORDIAL AND FLIRTY. PERHAPS IN DUE TIME? IT JUST SEEM SO WEIRD GIVEN HOW KEEN THEY ARE TO SHOW HOW HARROWING IT HAS BEEN FOR OTHERS.

-THE SCENE WHERE MRS. PATMORE BASICALLY ENGAGES THOMAS FOR DAISY IS GUTTING... THIS WHOLE THING IS GOING TO GO RATHER POORLY, ISN'T IT?

-ETHEL CONTINUES TO PUT HER BEST SAUCY-HARLOT FACE FORWARD... THE MOVEMBER SOLIDER WAITS TO BE TUCKED (NOTE: THAT WAS AN ENTRENDRE).

-HULK TALKS ABOUT THE NUANCE OF CHARACTER, RANGE, AND SOCIAL CONSCIOUS OF THE SHOW ALL THE TIME WHICH MEANS THAT, ODDLY ENOUGH, THE SHOW REMINDS HULK A GREAT DEAL OF THE WIRE... THIS MAY SEEM SILLY WHEN SOMETIME THE PRIMARY CONCERN IS HOW THEY WILL NOT HAVE A FOOTMAN FOR DINNER SERVICE, BUT IT MAKES TOTAL SENSE IN TERMS OF SOCIOLOGY AND CHARACTER.

-HULK MAY NOT BE UP ON AS MANY OF THE COMMENTS TODAY, BUT HULK WILL MAKE POINT GET TO IT. IT'S JUST HULK HAS A FEW MEETINGS. AND HULK HAS A FEW MEETINGS, HULK MEANS HULK HAS TO DRINK BEER AND FINALLY BEAT SKYRIM. LEVEL 55!

<3 HULK

Film Crit Hulk's photo About the Author: FILM CRIT HULK WAS CREATED IN A CHAOTIC LAB EXPERIMENT INVOLVING GAMMA RADIATION, TELEPODS, AND THE GHOST OF PAULINE KAEL. NOW HULK HAVE DEEP AND ABIDING LOVE CINEMA.
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