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BuzzFeed: "Downton Abbey Season 5 Begins With A Jolt"

Julian Fellowes’ costume drama begins its fifth year with a slew of domestic intrigues in place, as well as some new tensions. WARNING: Minor spoilers ahead!

At BuzzFeed, you can read my latest feature, "Downton Abbey Season 5 Begins With A Jolt," in which I review the fifth season premiere of Downton Abbey, which launches on ITV in the U.K. (Sorry, U.S. readers!)

Period drama Downton Abbey had begun to show signs of wear and tear, particularly in its fourth season, where the creakiness of the subplots began to match that of the house’s ancient stairs.

It was, simply put, not the best year for the drama, which had come off the narrative highs of its third season, including the highly emotional deaths of two linchpin characters, Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) and Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay). But, in its fourth, Downton sagged into overt melodrama with storylines involving murder, blackmail, and the shocking and highly controversial rape of Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt). For a series that once had such great promise and potential, it felt like the life had been sucked out of the show somewhat as it was forced to restructure in light of those two high-profile departures.

Resurrecting my crackpot theory that odd-numbered seasons of Downton Abbey are far superior to their even-numbered counterparts (I’m looking at you, Season 2!), the fifth season opener of Julian Fellowes’ period drama — which airs Sept. 21 on ITV in the U.K. and Jan. 4, 2015, on PBS’s Masterpiece in the U.S. — offers a reinvigorated Downton, one full of downstairs intrigues and domestic drama. The first episode back is a bit of a whirling dervish: There are so many subplots that it’s almost impossible to account for all of them.

But rather than feel overwhelming, there’s a particularly pleasing rhythm to all of this narrative dance work, with scenes that are short on time but long on significance. Long-simmering plots come to the boil. The ongoing love triangle between Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), Lord Gillingham (Tom Cullen), and Charles Blake (Julian Ovenden) twists in a most unexpected direction, at least by the standards of the time. (It’s 1924, after all.) The relationship between James (Ed Speleers) and Lady Anstruther (a particularly aptly cast Anna Chancellor) is explored with clarity, humor, and a potential resolution. Isobel (Penelope Wilton) and Violet (Maggie Smith) are once again at odds — their temporary cease-fire marred by a new twist in their rivalry, this time over Isobel’s romantic prospects.

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