TV

Downton Abbey and enduring tragedy together

Elijah Davidson

It's possible, given that Downton Abbey is a British television show re-aired across the pond for American audiences, that you already know the events of Season 4, which premieres on BBC America Sunday.

If you are like me though, you haven't gone in search of spoilers on Wikipedia or elsewhere. Part of the fun of watching the show is not knowing what's going to happen. An even larger part of the fun is discussing each episode's surprises with others who also didn't know what was going to happen until it happened. Downton Abbey, like other cinematic stories, is best experienced in real time, with others.

Yet we do know some things that are going to happen, don't we? Since the series explores the ways the past century's Big Events affect the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants, we all know what's going to be impacting the Downton denizens in the near future.

These characters have already survived one World War and they're now living in a time of roaring prosperity, but soon that economic upswing will nosedive into a global depression of great proportions. That will give birth to yet another World War, which will radically change the power structures of the world. England will survive, but the aristocracy on which Downton is founded will never look the same. All of this might not happen in the upcoming season of the show, but it's coming.

Tragedy portends on a global scale, but tragedy is nothing new to Downton. Whether it’s due to the demands of historic circumstance or the need for narrative punch, Downton Abbey has consistently tried its characters and audience with tragedy. Last season had more than its share. This season will too, I suspect, and we're going to live through it together.

God has read the Wikipedia article on the coming season.

Together is the only way to endure trial and tragedy. That's part of what Christ told the disciples at the Last Supper. Christ promised them persecution and He also promised them they'd never be alone. He promised the Holy Spirit. He exhorted them to hold close to each other. When Christ prays for them, He prays that He will be in them as His Father is in Him so that they will be as one. To oversimplify a very long section of John, Christ says, "There will be trials. Let's all stick together."

Across Scripture, we see a God who has foreknowledge. God has read the Wikipedia article on the coming season. And yet we also see a God who responds to situations in time. God watches the show each week and commiserates with us around the water cooler at work the following Monday morning. Why is that?

I think it's because God wants to be in relationship with us. The great I AM is present with us in the midst of trial. We all get through it together, and God is part of our together. God is there with us on the couch on Sunday nights and not just with us in the pews on Sunday morning. God is there when our lives are visited by tragedy of the kind we've seen on Downton Abbey, and the kind Downton will never show.

Every season of Downton Abbey ends with a Christmas special, which might seem a bit odd for those of us watching stateside, long after Christmas has past. I actually like that. No matter what tragedies have befallen the Downton community, in the end, there is peace, there is joy, there is hope. That's a vision that will keep me tuning in for many seasons to come.

Topics: TV, Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure