So, while Brits have already watched the entire fourth season of “Downton Abbey” (the eight episodes plus a Christmas special began way back on Sept. 22 across the pond), American fans are finally getting a chance to catch up — the show returns stateside on Sun. Jan. 5 (9:00 p.m. on PBS). The real question is, of course, whether or not fans have been able to dodge the spoilers, which have been harder to avoid than zombies in “The Walking Dead.”
Really, the U.K. media and fan sites for “Downton Abbey” have been pretty thoughtful, aware that Americans might stumble upon links without realizing they’re about to know more than they care to know. But just in checking a few details to write this item, I’ve had to click frantically away from pages offering rundowns of the entire season (some helpfully advertising “spoilers below,” some not). I’m not sure it matters too much at this point, as one of the major plot points of the season has already been blown for me — and by a coworker, no less. This will be the second season I approach with gritted teeth, braced for a plot twist that I will not be able to judge accurately. It’s hard to say something seemed obvious if, well, you actually knew it was coming.
Of course, spoilers are just part of the deal when you watch almost any television on delay in the 21st century, whether that be a networking decision or your own choice to DVR or wait for DVD releases (and let’s not even get into the spoilers that hit the Internet before a show has aired anywhere). Some people actively seek out spoilers, wanting to know every possible twist long before it arrives. Especially in the case of cliff-hangers, waiting many, many months (or even years) for another season can seem like a cruel punishment. Just getting an answer as to who survived or who didn’t can sometimes be a relief so you can start thinking about other things, like schoolwork or, you know, your job. There’s a reason why people click on the headlines that say SPOILERS AHEAD.
Personally, I don’t. Knowing what was coming in the (okay, this is only a spoiler if you haven’t seen last season, so I guess this is an itty bitty spoiler and a vague one at that) death-centric season three may have kept me on the edge of my seat during episodes that weren’t particularly fraught, but I became so fixated on the “when is THAT going to happen” element I perhaps missed nuances and moments that might have been more meaningful. Given the soapy elements of “Downton Abbey,” big plot twists are big with a capital B. The element of surprise is key, if you ask me. Of course, whether or not you know why or how a character leaves, when we find out an actor hasn’t renewed his or her contract (news that used to stay strictly in the trades but is now everywhere instantly), we pretty much know the gig is up, at least to some degree.
I’m not sure what the cure for spoilers might be (avoiding the Internet isn’t practical, and muffling your friends and coworkers with a palm over the mouth before a plot twist bubbles out can lead to legal problems and HR intervention), but short of a memory eraser a la “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” we’re stuck with them. For some shows, I’m not sure it matters. I still enjoy “Downton” whether or not I know a plot twist is afoot. But I’m happier living in ignorance.
I keep hoping that the BBC will synch up U.K. and U.S. premiere dates, but it hasn’t happened yet. Until then, I guess I’ll just keep one eye closed when I type “Downton Abbey” into Google. What about you?
Have you avoided spoilers? Do you care about spoilers? Are you looking forward to the new season of “Downton Abbey” (and, hey, no spoilers in the comments, either).