Downton Abbey, fiction and the obligation to fans

[This post contains a massive spoiler for the finale of Season 3 of “Downton Abbey.”  If you haven’t seen the whole episode, stop now.]

[Also, it contains spoilers for seasons 2 and 3 of “Torchwood.”  But those came out ages ago, so you probably don’t care about them any longer.  Assuming you did in the first place.]

[But seriously.  If you haven’t seen the last episode of the third season of “Downton,” now’s the time to stop reading.]

[Still here?  Fine.]

I knew it was coming.  Right at the beginning of the new season of “Downton Abbey,” I naively Googled “Dan Stevens” (*insert obligatory “har-de-har-har” double entendre about wanting to Google Dan Stevens*) and the link to the very first hit loudly blared something along the lines of “‘Downton’ Actor Talks About His Character Getting Killed.”  Thus for weeks I’ve just been watching and waiting for Matthew to kick the bucket.

So perhaps it was the advance notice that blunted my reaction to his demise at the end of last night’s episode.  In any case, I took it with kind of a shrug.  The Better Half, on the other hand, was pissed off.

Before I go on about that, though, let me briefly recount those bits of the episode that I liked.  I loved the lady’s maid in Scotland trying to out O’Brien O’Brien, and getting royally O’Briened as a result.  (I also kind of like that the show has pretty obviously decided that Molesley is going to be the running butt of jokes.)  I loved the scene with Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore (easily my two favorite characters at this point) after the fair.  And I will admit to getting a little bit choked up when Jimmy told Thomas that they could be friends.

So there was that.  But obviously the big kicker was Matthew lying dead at the side of the road.  And the Better Half was having none of it.

If I were to presume to summarize his objection, it would be that it’s a pretty shitty thing to do to fans of your show when you kill of not one but two major characters in the course of one season.  Over at Slate, they’re asking is “Downton” is the cruelest show on television.  He clearly thinks so.  And he thinks people who watch the show deserve a certain amount of consideration from its creators.

Me?  I’m not so sure.

I had a very similar reaction a few years ago when we watched the entire run of “Torchwood” (which is, for the unfamiliar, kind of like “Dr. Who” but a lot darker).  At the end of the second season, two major characters get killed off in one episode.  And at the end of the third season, another one dies unceremoniously.  And it pissed the ever-living daylights out of me, particularly when Ianto was killed in a stupid scene obviously written for the express purpose of having him die and no other.  I felt like there was some kind of contract that a work of fiction makes with its (in this case) viewers, and that “Torchwood” had broken it.

But the more I thought about it, the more I began to question that idea.  Do our fictions owe us anything?  Do we have a right to expect a certain degree of consideration for our feelings?  Or is art there for us to receive and interpret, but not dictate?  Does it vary if the fiction is a light entertainment vs a serious one?  (I remember thinking “Burn After Reading” was far more nasty than it really had any need to be.)

Whether or not the creators of fiction have any obligation to consider the feelings of its viewers is, of course, a different question than whether or not it’s a good idea.  I agree with them over at Slate that killing off two of the most likeable characters was probably a bad idea, and viewers may stop watching because they just don’t care any longer.  But that’s not quite the same as being owed something.

Again, I’ve known this was coming for some time, so it’s impossible to know now how I’d have felt if I’d been surprised.  Maybe I’d be swearing off the show like the Better Half was.  Who knows?  But I don’t know if I have a right to expect more pleasant stories.  (Ones that are less lazy, on the other hand, I think we do have a right to expect.  Enough already with the too-tidy storyline conclusions, writers.)

What do you think?

[Update:  It seems the question about “Downton” in particular is mooted, since Dan Stevens apparently wanted to leave the show and he’s not an indentured servant.  So the writers are off the hook.  But I’m still curious what thoughts people have about the questions I pose.]

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. I, too, saw the story and was waiting for the accident. I’m glad there was warning, too, or I think I’d have had too much a shock. That said, for such a ‘hot’ show, there was a distinct lack of spark going on; I rooted for Mary and Matthew when they couldn’t manage to get together a lot more then as a married couple.

    I’m intrigued by the juxtaposition of Sybil and cousin Rose. Sybil seems to me a symbol of the 1800’s version of the modern woman — all honor and responsibility; everything good, none of the bad (except that bit about dying in child birth). Rose? She’s a flapper. She drinks. She wants to flaunt her sexuality. She argues with her parents, wants to cut free rather then please. Sybil, even at her worst — falling in love with a member of the staff — wanted to please.

    I’m still rather stunned at Jimmy’s acceptance of friendship after asking Thomas why he was following him; it was a predatory following, and Jimmy seemed comfortable with that?

    But my biggest question is how there got to be so damned many people in the servant class, since by the lights of this show, it’s only the lords and ladies that have families and raise their progeny. The one servant baby we’ve seen even went to the lord’s house. Very puzzling, that.

    But my favorite romance is the comfortable, easy one that’s not even viewed as a romance between Mrs. Hughes and Carson. True and enduring love between those two.

    • I disagree with your reading of the Thomas/Jimmy storyline. I don’t think Thomas was following Jimmy in a predatory way. After all the fallout when he made a move the last time, and how perilously close he came to utter ruin, I don’t think Thomas would be so foolish as to try to make another move on Jimmy, even drunk. No, I bought his story, even the unsaid bits — he loves Jimmy, saw that he was not only drunk but flashing his money around after pissing off a bunch of the local toughs, and wanted to keep an eye on him.

      And I think Jimmy, who was goaded into making such a fuss by O’Brien, was ready to forgive him. As I mentioned above, it was one of the moments that I found genuinely moving.

      • I do like you’re interpretation better; but the “why do you think?” response from Thomas when Jimmy asked just gave me pause — it certainly could be read either way. I agree, Jimmy was ready to forgive, more so after the attack, the discovery someone truly had his back. I love the way it twisted ‘manly,’ in all honesty; Thomas, who always runs risk of being as less then a man, had the courage to defend and protect; and Jimmy the man ran; a revealing that people are always more complicated then our stereotypes of people.

        No matter the reading of it; it was some of the best the show’s offered to date, and I loved it.

          • I read it that way too, Russell. Because I love you I want whats best for you even if I can’t BE with you…plus you were being so bleeding stupid anyone could see you were asking for trouble

  2. Well…if people are this upset at the relatively prosaic bodycount in Downton, I can only imagine what they’ll do to HBO after the next season of GoT comes out.

  3. On a less pithy note, I think on one hand entertainment does have a responsibility to not cheat the audience. And cheating the audience can come in multiple forms. It can come from whimsical, even arbitrary decisions to kill off characters ala Torchwood or the even more dangerous Spooks (MI5 for the yanks) or on the other hand in decisions to never ever kill off a favorite character in spite of the situation probably calling for it.

    I think in Downton‘s case the fact that the two offings happened so shortly and possibly motivated by actor career considerations more than story might make things close on the cheating side. Surely there were better ways to write Matthew out, or even coax Dan Stevens into a recurring role where he could be written off without the sudden gut punch.

    • Nob, he’d protected, provided, and procreated.

      Isn’t that all they needed him for?

      A new romance is called for. That’s how soaps work.

    • And on a more serious note, I love John Irving’s exploration of why it’s crucial to mistreat or kill characters in the essay from his memoir Trying to Save Piggy Sneed. Surprised to find it online in the WaPo archives.

      • Oh it’s perfectly fine to kill or maim characters. And for that matter I don’t disagree with the basic idea. I do find it troubling when it’s used as some sort of post hoc justification for terrible writing.

  4. I remember reading a really well-written article about fans’ sense of betrayal, with I believe “Lost” serving as the focal point. Many fans, myself included, were frustrated and disappointed in how the series was wrapped up. “Betrayal” was a word commonly thrown around. The writer of the piece argued, quite well, that the writers and the work owe us nothing, so to feel betrayed is to take a really perverse and entitled perception to the relationship between art and consumer. It was really interesting and I’ll see if I can pull it up. I thought it missed some of the more pointed criticisms of “Lost”, namely that the writers A.) said in interviews that certain theories were absolutely not the case only to reveal that they kinda sorta were but in a slightly different way than fans had proposed them so it was okay for them to quasi-lie and B.) said via the show that certain characters/plot devices/story lines were really crucial and integral only to abandon them when they couldn’t be tied up neatly and then went so far as to blame fans for getting so wrapped up in those things on their own.

    But the broader point on the expectations that fans have for art was a really interesting one and seems in line with what you are arguing here.

    • Lost was a great example of the creators getting caught up in their own bullshit and and hype. The reimagined Battlestar Galactica is another, and I’m rather afraid that with the recent two books, A Song of Ice and Fire is turning into that, too.

      • The two latest books of A Song of Ice and Fire are making me think GRRM’s gotten a little too caught up in the politics and lost track of the central plot. The first book started with the Others, Starks, and dire wolves and ended with dragons – the Ice and Fire of the series title. When you’ve got an entire book (A Feast for Crows) that doesn’t deal with either, then focus has been lost. And Dance with Dragons could have been a lot tighter as well.

        It’s been a progressive thing, though. The first book was the best in the series, and had by far the most rapidly-progressing character and plot arcs.

        • I don’t even think the problem is politics. I think the biggest problem is that GRRM’s biggest shtick is tragic horrible events. He keeps amping those up to the point where, in the end, you end up not giving a damn of what’s happening.

      • Dude, BG was some of the best TV ever produced, let alone sci-fi. I’ll admit I was sort of bummed out by the finale at first, but over time I’ve come to realize that that feeling is more about my disappointment around the simple fact that it ended more than how it ended.

        It was space opera on a grand scale built around a Big Idea. Good stuff unless, I suppose, you don’t like that kind of stuff.

        • I love BSG too, but that ending went off the rails. “Tbq qvq vg” vf whfg abg n fngvfslvat qrabhrzrag qenzngvpnyyl. Naq gur vqrn gung gur erznvavat, CGFQ-fpneerq uhznaf jbhyq ibyhagnevyl tvir hc gurve grpu vf ynhtunoyr.

          Naq qvq gurl vagreoerrq jvgu gur cevzngrf ba Rnegu fhccbfrqyl? Gung jnf gur vzcyvpngvba V gubhtug, ohg fhpu n cnvevat frrzf hayvxryl gb or sregvyr, naq naljnl n orggre fgbel jnf EVTUG GURER (whfg znxr gur Pbybavny/Plyba uloevq yvar vagb gur Ubzb Fncvraf gung fubjrq hc naq bhg-pbzcrgrq gur angvir Arnaqregunyf).

    • The problem with “Lost” was that the audience figured out the twist before the end of the first episode–“oh, it’s one of those stories where it turns out they were dead all along”–and the writers were all “no, no! That’s not the story at all! It’s, um, about this conspiracy, right? And they’re, like, time-travel, and secret experiments, and…um…okay fine whatever, you guys were right, they were dead all along.”

      • I always imagine that pitch meeting went something like:
        “Okay guys, we need to end this series, what was the punchline?”

        “Well, I’ve just printed out a list of popular theories, should we pick from the list?”

      • I wouldn’t have minded if they used the story to throw folks off the trail… but when the creators/writers came right out and said, “No, they’re not dead, it’s not purgatory,” and then they ended it the way it was and said, “Well, they weren’t all dead right away and we wouldn’t necessarily call a religious-symbol-filled room in a church where everyone went after dying and before moving on ‘purgatory,'” you just deserve a punch in the face.

        • Lost was just one long string of McGuffins. It deserves comparison to The Matrix series: as awful as the last two were, at least they made an honest attempt to complete the story.

  5. I think the actress who played Sybil quit, too. So no one may have had much choice in the obligation to fans.

    All I know is, from this point forward, my interest in the show, which had been waning somewhat, has dropped dramatically.

    • The problem is that there are lots of ways to keep the characters alive without seeing them. Matthew could easily move to London to manage the estate’s investments, and Sybil could have moved to Dublin with her husband, though that is a bit harder to believe than the first option.

      I do admit that Sybil’s made sense with the story arcs so far. It was a nice bit of drama to see the doc v doc battle over her and it established a lot of good plot points to follow. Matthew’s passing? Meh. A little too sudden and a little too “we have until next season to consider it” for my tastes.

    • Rose, you’ve been very quiet of late. I hope all’s well with your world.

    • I liked Matthew quite a bit in the first season, found him terribly written in the second, and thought he was underserved in the third. Pretty much the same thing I thought about Bates. Which annoyed me no end since they were my two favorite characters in the first season and then they were sort of plot flotsam from then til now.

      I don’t blame the guy for wanting to be done with it. He’s generally out-acted his material.

      If they can turn the character of Mary around from having her be someone who does things that make the plot move forward into someone who does things for some sort of actual human reason, I think season four could be a big recovery.

      This whole season was quite muddled. The death of Sybil was the only really good dramatic moment in the family part of the storyline. There are some interesting moments in the servants’ quarters, though.

  6. Hrm. Whenever I have thought about this issue, it’s been about endings.

    For example, I’ve never seen No Country For Old Men because, I understand, it spends the entire movie building up to one particular thing and then… wait. Nope. A different choice is made and an explanation is given as to why that choice was made. It’s like hearing a song that begins a certain way… but never resolves the chord at the end.

    When it comes to ongoing series, part of the fundamental problem is that whenever you resolve one set of notes, you pretty much have to have another tune lined up *OR* you have to make consessions to the producer who keeps yelling about “syndication”… which means that you pretty much have to make each show capable of being enjoyed as a standalone. That is as likely (if not more likely) to create storyline problems just as much as the whole “characters are played by actors” thing.

    • Oh, but to answer the question about the obligation to fans, there is a simple dynamic that helps make sure that the obligations are met insofar as people who continue to feel like they are being mistreated as an audience will eventually stop showing up.

      This has the downside of most shows catering to a fairly low common denominator, of course, (and resulting in series that have shows that reward you exactly as much for catching them at 2AM in a hotel in Burbank on The Rerun Channel as catching them first run).

      Blessedly, the internet has actually done a good job of aggregating people and creating audiences to allow for enough people to show up to make it worthwhile to make a show like, oh, The Wire. Or, of course, Downton Abbey.

  7. I can’t think of a logical justification for the idea that creators of fiction have an inherent obligation to their readers. We have a choice as to whether we want to watch/read what they create; if they make decisions that cause us to want to stop watching/reading it, then that’s bad for everyone concerned (they have less of an audience, and less money; the viewers/readers have one less thing to enjoy), but they haven’t defaulted on any obligation. Which isn’t to say we can’t be disappointed when the quality of a work we love, or at least enjoy, declines over time to the point that we don’t like it anymore. It’s consistent to say that writers don’t have an obligation to fans, but it’s still justified for fans to be upset over poor writing.

    Artistically, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with killing off major characters so long as it serves a good purpose and makes an effective conclusion to their character arc. HBO’s less shy about doing it than other channels (e.g., the you-know-what that probably everyone already knows about in Season 1 of Game of Thrones). Killing someone off for shock value is bad writing.

    (I do think that creators of adaptations have some substantial moral obligations to the original creators – not just the rights-holders – of the work they’re adapting, and that wrecking someone else’s characters or destroying the ethical themes of their work in an adaptation is wrong. But that’s another question.)

    • After reading Kazzy’s comments I’ll add that I do think writers have an obligation not to outright lie to their fans.

  8. I’m going to take a turn to play doctor.

    I diagnosis your better half as having an acute case of “Over-Indulgiencia” and prescribe a liberal dose of anything by Jos Whedon.

    Seriously. This is the guy (Whedon) who wanted to make a separate title sequence for Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s first episode so that he could, in the first episode, kill off a title character.

    I would also suggest a follow up regimen of my own thoughts on hamfisted story telling vis a vis The Hunger Games (Movie):

    As to the death of Matthew… honestly it ~had~ to happen for there to be any real financial tension next season. Granthom put it best “Everything’s going so well now with Mathew running the money and Branson handling the affairs, and there’s a nanny for baby Cybil and .. and…”

    In short next season would treat us to a series of yawns after yawns of the upper crust whining about some trivial matter to which we have no connection.

    By killing of Matthew they have revived the “how do we pay for things?” kind of story arc that ~real~ people can relate to. Sure we don’t have it solved by having our upper middle class sons-in-law bail us out with a massive inheritance, but we can imagine at least…

    • I love me some Joss Whedon, but I do think his obvious glee in bumping off sympathetic characters has veered from a strength to, if not outright weakness, a tic.

      • I may never forgive him for offing Wash. “I’m a leaf on the wind: watch how I – ugh!”

        Nah, that’s not true: I’ll totally forgive him, but I’m holding a deep-seated grudge.

        • I totally agree about Wash. I also think the ending of “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” is awfully, awfully bleak for an entertainment that had been so light-hearted up until then.

          I am willing to forgive the former, however, because of how incredibly kick-ass the next scene in “Serenity” is. The Reavers give me the howling fantods, and watching River Tam lay efficient waste to the lot of them was incredibly satisfying on so many levels.

          • Huh, I kinda like (well you know what I mean) Wash’s death. Likeable character, killed almost accidentally; not heroically sacrificing himself, not slain face to face by the Big Bad so as to function as a “hero’s revenge-quest-motivator”. Just a guy, doing his job, and killed anyway, because that’s what happens sometimes in dangerous situations (and even not-dangerous ones.)

            I thought it was a semi-realistic death, random in the chaos of battle, and it was refreshing for that reason.

          • I didn’t really mind Wash’s death…I mean it was shocking, you felt bad for Zoe and you did wonder if he wasn’t going to just kill off the entire cast eventually, but in hindsight with the whole movie and how he got speared, well….it was a good cinematic death.

          • I agree wholeheartedly; it was a great, anticlimactic death: no rising music, no cataclysmic clashing of blades or hail of gunfire. It was very human.

            But I looooooved him! I absolutely adore Alan Tudyk in everything and Wash was such a lovely, Hawaiian shirt-wearing space-pilot. So I feel a little petulant about it.

  9. As a former artist type person with enough involvement in the theatre/performing arts world to know how it operates (good and bad), I don’t get this kind of fandom rage at shows at all. Though I am also not really part of comics/geek culture anymore and even when I was nerd rage boggled me.

    I agree with you on Art is there for people to receive and interpret but not dictate. Artists create the art and should not be beholden to the audience. If anything that feeling is going to make artists want to screw you more.

    You don’t have to like everything a creator or writer does obviously.

    Actors don’t want to be tied to a role forever. That can be deadly for their careers. This happens in TV more than anything else. Can we see the actors from Friends as anything but their character’s on that show? Jennifer Anniston will always be Rachel even as she does other things.

    • Considering what she was getting paid by the end of that show I’m afraid my sympathy for her carreer is kinda, you know, non-existant.

      • It is more than pay for actors. Actors want to be known for many roles or able to play many roles. They don’t want to be typecast especially if they are women who face serious age discrimination as they get older in the profession.

          • Arthur Conan Doyle (who killed off Holmes because he wanted to be known for his historical novels, but eventually gave up and brought him back.)

          • Some but not all. And those men managed to turn their iconic roles in ways that are highly financially lucrative.

            What if you were uncastable because of an iconic role and also not able to really bank on it for whatever reason?

            Someone like Daniel J. Travanti (Captain Furillo) on Hill Street Blues. IMDB says he has been in stuff constantly but most of it seems like bit parts here and there. Everyone seems Travanti as Furillo but there are not Hill Street Blues conventions and subcultures like there is a Star Trek subculture.

            Also as much as I love Leonard Nimoy, he is not a great actor. Patrick Stewart is a great actor and has done other things before and since Jean-Luc Piccard. Besides being Professor X, he has also continued to do Shakespeare in the theatre (I saw him in MacBeth) and smaller roles that are not very Jean-Luc Goddard like. For example, he played a gay interior designer in the movie Jeffrey. Small role but very different from Jean-Luc Giddard.

          • Mike,

            I guess my sympathy is more naturally with the artist than the fan.

          • New Dealer,

            I’m often amazed that fans so separate the artist from the artist’s work; as if they’re two separate entities, and the artist was only a vehicle for the art, not the creator of the art. In some circles (you should read the threads hating on knit designers on Ravelry,) there’s an active effort to diminish the artist.

            It goes hand in hand with the ‘natural talent’ commentary; totally ignoring and wiping out the effort required to make something look easy. Yes, Prince is a natural talent, and yes, Prince probably has spent the equivalent of many years in a room by himself shredding to seem like a natural talent. But let’s give the talent, not the effort, credit.

            Peeving an audience by opting out to pursue other challenges might, in that light, also ruin your career by destroying the good will they hold for you, trapping you in the same roll like some real-life version of Groundhog Day.

          • Doc,

            I didn’t even realize it until you pointed it out.

            I guess the French New Wave is the place for me.

            Though I’ve always preferred Truffaut over Goddard.

        • I understand it, but I think Anisten is a bad example. I’d happy to take 12 million a season to not have a career afterwards….

  10. “But the more I thought about it, the more I began to question that idea. Do our fictions owe us anything? Do we have a right to expect a certain degree of consideration for our feelings? Or is art there for us to receive and interpret, but not dictate? Does it vary if the fiction is a light entertainment vs a serious one? (I remember thinking “Burn After Reading” was far more nasty than it really had any need to be.)”

  11. First intelligent discussion of killing off characters I’ve read today. I wasn’t bothered by the deaths since the series is a melodrama and I find the writing clumsy and lazy.
    Off topic, does anyone know when Thomas recovered use of his hand? I thought it was permanently injured in the war. Also, does anyone know the background about the Downton servants being called Crawley by the Scottish servants?

    • Well, everything I know about the name thing I learned from “Gosford Park,” so take it with as much salt as you need. However, for visiting servants in a different house, the servants take the name of the person they serve. Hence “Crawley” for Anna because she serves Mary Crawley, “Grantham” for O’Brien because she serves the Countess of Grantham, etc etc etc.

  12. Matthew’s death didn’t piss me off so much as the timing: right after the birth of his son, when everyone’s happy, and at the end of the season. It just seemed like a needless, emotionally manipulative dramatic twist. Such a boring, lazy way for the writers to finish off the character.

  13. I’ve been a HUGE Downton Abbey fan, I can’t even begin to explain how much I loved it and Mary & Matthew. I probably invested too much in it, so when Matthew died I was heartbroken. And I decided to quit watching the show. Not only because Matthew isn’t there anymore, but because I don’t want to see something I loved so much sinking. I’d rather keep the good memory of it.
    Downton has a fantastic cast, great costumes and scenography, and these things have always managed to hide his faults, aka writing. In S1 the soapy elements were less evident, but since the fake Patrick appeared I knew they had lost it. But since Mary and Matthew were going to be endgame, and I liked the characters, I overlooked all the faults.
    I’ve seen S1 and S2 several times. S3? Once, and this tells how much I liked it. The season was too dramatic, sometimes pointless, all the storylines could have been better explored, instead they were quickly resolved. Or deus ex machina happened.
    When Sybil died, I thought, well it was a great scene and it opens new scenarios to the show, but these scenarios were not really explored. The actress wanted to leave the show to pursue other things, so this is how they resolved it. Still I think, they could have send S&B back to Ireland. The actor playing Branson would have “lost” his job, but hey, isn’t this the first time? And after S2, I think all the Downton actors are well placed to do other things.
    Also Dan Stevens wanted to leave the show, and the reasons are many (like wanting to pursue other things). His death was foreshadowed in such a stupid way all the through the episode, and it seemed almost silly to me. And then he died, undeservedly, all alone in a ditch, in such a stupid way. And now we have two young kids who were born the day they lost a parent. Hah!
    Do I blame the actors for leaving the show after fullfilling their 3 years contract? Do I have the right to be mad at them and judging them? Do they own me something? I don’t really know.
    I was a bit disappointed they wanted to leave, and if the writing had been better, I wished they had stayed, I also think they did nothing wrong. I’d rather not see Sybil, and Matthew than see them in a show that’s going downhill (again, this is just my humble opinion on it).
    My motto in this matter is: Actor’s responsability ends when writer’s responsability begins.
    I also think the show should have ended with S3, because I don’t how much they can still tell. I would have wanted a S4 only if I had been sure that Matthew would have become Earl (meaning Robert should have died, as sad as it sounds).
    Well, I don’t know what was the point of this, did I try to answer your question or just ramble. What it’s true is that I’m left with a bittersweet taste about Downton Abbey and it’s just a tv show!

  14. Not sure of the details, nut my understanding is that British TV just operates on a much looser actor-retention convention than do shows in the States. I’m not sure if it’s differences in contracts or just in expectations, but I guess in Britain they’ll start shows only having at most a two-season understanding with even the most central actors. Lots of shows don’t go longer than that, and you never know which ones will, so maybe production companies don’t want to offer any more commitment than just what they have to to get the talent they want on board just to get the thing off the ground. (This is all conjectural interpolation from the basic situation that I’ve vaguely heard about, so perhaps someone knows better exactly what the particulars are.) I’m not sure exactly why it’s different here, but I get the feeling that maybe Hollywood has so much more budding talent to pluck that it’s much easier to get willing long-term commitments, while in Britain they’re always trying for a limited amount of (mostly stage-trained) talent? Not sure.

    Anyway, if the broad outline of that is true, it could mean that fans’ expectations are conditioned differently on each side of the pond, which would produce greater reactions to the story developments that are forced by the British convention. That’s not to say that these things would go over easy for British TV fans, but they might be somewhat more prepared for and used to it. Also: stiff upper lips & all that. The Blitz. Whatnot.

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