Downton Abbey is still our favorite show, but I have to say that it's creeping a little too close to pure soap opera this year. The Sybil-Branson love story borders on a cliché, rich girl falling for poor man with overtones of overcoming unjust class differences, blah, blah, blah. The Anna-Bates story, meanwhile, has the most unbelievable villain -- Bates' evil ex-wife, Vera -- whose machinations are keeping the sweet maid from marrying the long-suffering butler. Do men who are so fundamentally wise and decent as Bates really marry harpies like Vera? Well, maybe, but I generally think men who are decent tend to gravitate toward decent women. (It's very much like the illogic at the center of Pride and Prejudice, where an entirely witless ditz of a mother somehow manages to have a brilliant, common-sensical daughter like Elizabeth. Doesn't often happen in real life.) They could have written the Anna-Bates story so differently, and to much more meaningful effect.
Somewhat similarly, Thomas and O'Brien are far too evil to be believable, though the writers have tried to humanize them this year. And sister Edith is one of the more interesting characters and has seemed to grow a bit this year, but they never do much with her.
The upshot is that, while I still like the show, I like it more for what I imagine it could have been, rather than for what it has actually turned out to be.
One highlight has been the performance of Michelle Dockery as the somewhat doomed beautiful sister, Mary Crawley, who appears to have lost her true love, Matthew, first to her own pride and indecision, then to the war, then to a different woman, and now to Matthew's war wound, which has turned him into a cripple. The Mary-Matthew love story is also soap opera, but it works because the two leads are so good. Here's Dockery in the show:
And here, of course, she is in her civvies: