Rejoin the Crawley family for a sixth and final season of the award-winning Downton Abbey, featuring intimately interlaced stories centered on the English country estate. The beloved cast includes Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Elizabeth McGovern, Jim Carter, Joanne Froggatt, and many others.
As the Crawley family limps into the 20th Century, likewise their series, 'Downton Abbey' limps towards its finale. The sixth season is, indeed, the final season of the much-beloved show about English aristocrats and the people who served them.
The sixth season suffers from one-writer fatigue. Creator Julian Fellowes takes it upon himself to pen each episode. What ends up becoming increasingly clear as the season wears on is that there are a myriad number of storylines that may have gotten the axe had more people had a say in what was going on. It's clear that Fellowes is in love with inconsequential characters and storylines that feel oddly shoehorned into the series' final season. It's the only explanation for why the show takes time out of its precious season-long goodbye to check in on the servants of the household of the Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith). Mr. Spratt (Jeremy Swift) and Miss Denker (Sue Johnston) are given amounts of screen time that seem ludicrously large when you take into account the limited number of episodes and the vast amount of beloved character storylines the final season must address. And don't worry, the irony that we spent the biggest paragraph in this review discussing those two isn't lost on me.
Perhaps more annoying than the fact that Fellowes insists on following up on unimportant characters, is that this season – maybe more than others – feels like it's playing it a little too safe. Many characters are thrust into perilous situations only to be saved by convenient happenstance. Conflict begins and ends in episodes without changing the status quo much, if at all.
The sixth season seems to exist so we can watch our favorite characters dawdle about, while engaging in rather uneventful scenarios. Though, to be fair, 'Downton Abbey' has on the whole been quite risk adverse. It's happy with most of its characters and doesn't want them going anywhere. Sure they've killed off one or two notable faces, but on the whole the show has been reluctant to jettison any of its mainstays.
So, as season six opens a grim future hangs over the estate. The aristocracy of England is being dissolved. Earl (Hugh Bonneville) and Lady (Elizabeth McGovern) Grantham find themselves attending estate auctions of well-known lords. It's a perilous time for large estates and so-called “great families.” Mary (Michelle Dockery) still hasn't found love, but hasn't given up on tormenting her unfortunate sister Edith (Laura Carmichael). Edith is the head of a magazine in London and is finding out that being a female boss in the '20s is no easy task. The Dowager Countess and Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton) are at odds over what to do about the village hospital. It's a fight that inexplicably causes an almost comical rift between the family.
Downstairs Anna (Joanne Froggatt) mysteriously still calls her husband “Mr. Bates.” She's also cosmically doomed by the universe to be constantly sad and relentlessly tortured by bad luck. Anna and Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) are still keeping secrets from each other, because that's just what they do. Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier) continues to awkwardly throw himself at his co-workers in hopes someone will relent and be his friend. It's possible that Barrow's lot in life is even more pathetic than Anna's and that's saying something. Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) and Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) finally tie the knot. An emboldened Daisy (Sophie McShera) finds various ways to sabotage herself in front of Lady Crawley. Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) provides even more deft comedic relief. And finally – I think – Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle) appoints himself protector of Miss Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) when she's called to testify in court.
I suppose if you're a big fan of the show, the sixth season will go down smooth with minimal complaints. Fellowes' writing consistently plays it safe by rescuing his characters before any real consequences can develop.
I've enjoyed the series run of 'Downton Abbey' the same way I enjoy sipping a mojito on a warm summer evening. It's predictable and cozy. Sometimes that's all you need. Even if the sixth season magnifies the series' faults, it's still a decent send off.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a 3-disc set, each disc being 50GB. Inside their standard keepcase each disc is housed in its own hub. The nine final episodes are spread across the three discs, with the third disc also housing the special features. This release comes with a cardboard slipcover.
Mirroring the 1080p presentation we were provided with the fifth season, the sixth season is stellar most of the time, but does show weaknesses from time to time.
For the most part, especially in well-lit scenes, season six provides a lushly detailed picture that easily conveys the opulence of the Grantham estate. Outside the rolling green hills are pristine. Individual grass blades are visible, as are tree leaves. The various textures of silk dresses and wool suits are almost tangible. Color is balanced and strong.
The same problem that arose in the fifth season release strikes again here. Dark areas contain visible noise. It's not a new problem with high-def releases of this series. The black areas in turn don't get to approaching true black. They waver a bit, sometimes shimmer. Shadows are a little crushing at times. It's a small problem, as most of the show takes place under bright enough lights to hide the problem. Though, those nighttime and lower light scenes do show signs of persistent noise.
Like its predecessors, season six comes to Blu-ray with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that does its job, but underwhelms.
As was an issue in season five, over-prioritization of sound effects is cumbersome. Tinkling jewelry, clanking silverware, and creaking floors are all given the same level of credence that dialogue is. This causes strange scenes where soft-spoken characters like Lady Crawley are almost drowned out by the ruffling of her clothes and jingling of her necklace.
The show's recognizable soundtrack is given the most priority as it booms out of the speakers, especially during the show's opening credit roll. While I still think that the show could easily utilize a surround sound mix that's not the reason for the lower score. It's simply that even after season five they're still giving priority to unimportant sounds that consistently drown out or hamper dialogue. And with only 2 channels providing the sound, that's just not going to cut it.
Farewell to Highclere Castle (HD, 7 min.) – A promo-style goodbye as cast and crew recall fond memories of filming in the now world-famous English castle.
Changing Times at Downton (HD, 14 min.) – A look at the various characters and storylines in season six and the changes that are brought upon them by the changing times.
The Cars of Downton (HD, 11 min.) – A throwaway discussion about the various automobiles that are featured in this season.
Season six plays it safe and easily resolves many boiling conflicts far too easy. Fellowes seemingly enjoys following along storylines that only serve to syphon precious final-season time away from beloved mainstays. It's a strange season and yet it still retains that indelible 'Downton Abbey' quality. That feeling that you can just curl up and watch it, relishing its predictability. The video is strong despite some issues. The audio still harbors the issues that were mentioned in the season five review. Seeing that we're in the final season of a six-season show, this release is merely for fans only.