Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Downton Abbey and life's interference with art

Caution: spoiler alerts here for Downton Abbey fans who haven't yet watched all of Season 3!

So those of you who have seen the end of Season 3 know that at the very end of the episode, one of the main characters makes a sudden, permanent exit. (I'll leave the spoiling at this level.) I was appalled by this fresh assault of tragedy for the household. How could they do this to us loyal viewers?

My wife, who had been keeping silent about the shape of things to come at Downton after getting an unfortunate spoiler hint on Facebook, turned to the internet after the show to find out why this had happened. The answer, it turned out, was that the actor who played the character in question had decided to leave the show. Since he wouldn't be back, they had to find a way to take him out of the action permanently, and the alternatives (a distant voyage, for instance) might have been even more awkward.

Now that doesn't explain why this character went off the scene at the end of the last episode of the season, leaving everyone to put themselves back together emotionally without any support from the show. The reason for that, it turns out, is that British soap operas traditionally remove characters in the Christmas episode, which was what this one had been when it was first broadcast in the U.K. (Really, what can you say?)

But back to the show. The reason for the character leaving was that the actor -- an actual living human being -- wanted to take his career in a different direction. But I don't have any particular connection to that actor. I do feel very much engaged with the show. Yeats once asked how we can tell the dancer from the dance. Here it's clear what the difference between the actor and the play is, but as a viewer I'm annoyed that the actor got in the way of the art!

This is either a sign of the power of art and narrative, or an indication that I should get out and jog more.

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