Evaluating Mr. Molesley’s Time as Footman

Note: this article contains spoilers for the rest of season six. American viewers will want to wait a few weeks before reading this article. To jump directly to the spoiler-free section of the site, please click on “American recaps.”  

While many hearts broke for Lady Mary following Matthew’s tragic death, my sympathies belonged to his valet. I spent the break between series three and four fearful for the departure of Downton’s great cricket champion. Thankfully, this did not come to fruition though the solution was less than ideal. Since Mr. Molesley has moved on to bigger and Joseph Molesley and  John Bates in Downton Abbeybetter things in the Downton schoolhouse, I wanted to take a look at his time as England’s oldest footman.

I’ve long referred to the necessity for Molesley to be a footman as the “Molesley Dilemma.” It is ridiculous and rather implausible that a trained butler/valet would spend three years of his life working as a footman, unable to find any better job anywhere else. We the viewer know that Molesley is at Downton because the show can’t afford to lose the highly talented Kevin Doyle, but I don’t think that Julian Fellowes ever made much of an effort to explain why the character needed to be there.

The first problem came about in the first episode of series four. Unable to procure employment, the down and out Molesley returns to Crawley House to ask the grieving Isobel Crawley for his old job back. A job he lost mind you, because Lord Grantham decided that Alfred wasn’t good enough to be Matthew’s valet. Now, we can kind of accept that a grieving mother may not have any use for a butler. Except for one problem. She’d take in the down and out Charles Grigg in the same episode! Hypocrisy? At least a little bit, though Isobel did try to have Molesley killed at the start of series two. It’s not as if Molesley’s wages wouldn’t be paid by the big house anyway.

Which isn’t to say that I’m sad that Molesley didn’t return to Crawley House. He belongs in the big house, not as Ethel part two. There just isn’t a reason given why this solution to his character’s problem is cast away so flippantly.10920913_386667598161605_2445611695898046982_n-1

This problem surfaces again in series six. Barrow spends the entire series interviewing for jobs. Why isn’t Molesley looking for other work? It isn’t even mentioned once. We can accept that Molesley doesn’t want to leave and that he isn’t being pushed out. Molesley is also a fifty year old man with presumably zero savings. Once again the audience has a different lens to view the situation. There were hints that he would become a teacher in series five. That doesn’t excuse why he doesn’t once consider looking at other positions before he’s handed a job as a teacher.

This wouldn’t bug me if there wasn’t such as easy explanation. Molesley could’ve simply said that he wanted to stay at Downton to be close to his father. A solution could’ve been had in a few simple lines. It’s hard to look at this situation as anything other than lazy storytelling.

I’ve never been particularly appreciative of the humor surrounding Molesley’s position either, particularly from Carson. The butler forced Molesley and others to beg for a position clearly beneath his skillset. How stupid/insensitive is old Charlie anyway? This surfaced again in series five when Jimmy departed and we were treated to that “first footman” bit as if Molesley’s position should be a source of humor. As Patmore noted when Joseph was working as a delivery boy, “there’s no shame in hard work.” Seeing people take jobs that they’re overqualified for because they need to survive should be inspiring, not humorous.

Of course that can be seen as making a mountain out of a mole(sley) hill. I’m okay with that. Downton is a show about change. There were plenty of people in service who had to take plenty of undesirable jobs because their positions no longer existed. As a show, Downton only seemed concerned about that when it was convenient to the plot. Barrow cannot find other work in series two and throughout much of series six (and is also faced with the need to depart in series three), but Jimmy gets another job in two seconds after he’s caught in bed with Lady Anstruther. A little consistency would be nice.

Ultimately, it’s hard to argue that Molesley didn’t benefit from his fall from grace as a character. His relationship with Baxter would look quite different if he was still a valet with secure employment for the rest of his working days. My only problem is that it wouldn’t have taken much more to fully flesh out his predicament.

Molesley’s time as a footman was an unfortunate necessity for the show. Kevin Doyle ran with the opportunity and used to it further endear the character to the audience. I certainly wouldn’t have written this article if he hadn’t done such a marvelous job. Naturally, this affection leads one to want the best for Downton’s most versatile servant, a character who always offered kindness even when he knew he’d received none in return.


Reconsidering Sarah O’Brien

“Her ladyship’s soap,” tells us all we need to know about Sarah O’Brien, doesn’t it? After all, who really missed Cora’s scheming lady’s maid? Besides Cora of course. Alfred seemed rather indifferent to the disappearance of his aunt and protector against the evil Mr. Barrow.

While Edith and Isobel have their detractors, it’s hard to argue that O’Brien isn’t the most disliked regular character on Downton Abbey (with the possible exception of Ethel). No one else on the show left soap on the ground to remove potential heirs from the equation. Something about writing O’Brien off simply 024-downton-abbey-theredlist-1because of the soap incident doesn’t sit right with me.

Is it murder? I don’t think the show thinks it is. Why? She was never punished for it. Characters in fiction don’t get to escape the guilt of murder scot-free, or by risking Spanish flu.

Beyond that, it’s ridiculous to assume that O’Brien could’ve placed the soap in such a way that it would guarantee a miscarriage. She also tried to stop it as it was happening, remarking that such was not in her character. If you want to hate her for ensuring that Matthew would remain the heir, fine, but O’Brien is actually a very complex character.

If you look at O’Brien’s relationship with Thomas, you might think that it simply came to be because the two were chain smoking villains. That’s really not all there is to the story. While, I suspect that she genuinely cared for Barrow, at least until series three, it was actually likely the other characters’ fault that the two were brought together.

Carson and Hughes are extremely picky as to whom they spend recreational time with. Carson only likes to hang out with Mrs. Hughes, treating Molesley like pure garbage even though the two are likely closest in age of the male servants. He’s happy when Bates comes back for some strange reason, but the two don’t spend any real recreational time together. It doesn’t appear that Carson would ever invite Bates to go fishing in ponds for limp correctors.

Hughes is a bit more complex due to the presence of Patmore, who is under her command even though the two don’t really work together, at least after Mrs. Bird lead the kitchen revolution to give Beryl control of her own pantry. The two are clearly friends. Hughes also plays a maternal role to Anna, Daisy, and to a lesser extent, Gwen.

Where does O’Brien fit into this? Hughes has her confidant in Patmore and as lady’s maid, she’s above the others, though she does participate in eavesdropping with Anna and Gwen precisely one time. Who is supposed to be O’Brien’s friend?

You could argue that she brought that upon herself with her abrasive personality. Except she’s nice to Mr. Lang. Maybe that’s loneliness, or maybe the other characters just didn’t give her a chance.

There’s also the fact that she did have a part to play. The show needed a villain and O’Brien and Barrow’s schemes played a large part in the show’s success. Problem is whereas Barrow is highly regarded by many fans, myself included, O’Brien is despised. Is that fair?

From everything we know about O’Brien, she’s a woman who’s fiercely loyal to those who show kindness to her. We see this in her interaction with Cora, Barrow, and Alfred. She’s someone who isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty to benefit the people she cares about, especially if it means that Bates find himself lying in the dirt.

With that in mind, we can sort of blame Hughes for their distant relationship. Hughes had a friend and didn’t need O’Brien. It doesn’t make sense that O’Brien would be intentionally hostile to her boss. It makes much more sense that she was lonely and jealous of her relationship with Patmore.

I wanted to start and end my evaluation of O’Brien with the soap because that really was her defining moment. From everything she’d heard, Cora was replacing her. Cora even talked about it directly to her. This was all one big misunderstanding and while I won’t excuse what she did with the soap, I do understand where she was coming from.

The aristocracy often sent servants packing and at that time, it wasn’t always easy to find other work. O’Brien felt she was faced with losing her livelihood and she lashed out because of it. Wrong, yes. Human, yes. Cora essentially controlled her entire existence and from her perspective, was flaunting it right in front of her. To write O’Brien off completely because of the soap feels wrong.

Her biggest flaw appears to be her lack of likability. She wasn’t very nice to Molesley when he feared for his own job during the “Matthew doesn’t need a valet for all of one episode” debacle. She lacks Barrow’s wit, which endears him to the audience. I wouldn’t say she’s more a villain than Barrow, but her shorter tenure on the show didn’t allow her to be as complex as he grew to be.

It’s hard to really say she wasn’t missed either. Even if she isn’t that well liked as a character, series four and five weren’t great. Could that be because there wasn’t one epic O’Brien/Barrow showdown to end their feud once and for all? I’m not sure we can rule that out.

These points may not make you like O’Brien and that’s okay. She isn’t a very likable character, though certainly more so than the insufferable Mr. Bates. To write her off simply because of her ladyship’s soap ignores her considerable contributions to the success of Downton.

I Hate Mr. Bates

I recently rewatched most of Downton Abbey in preparation for season six, which starts a week from today. Being known for its soap operatic value, one shouldn’t step into Highclere Castle expecting plots that make sense or robust character development. Julian Fellowes doesn’t hit his mark every time, but there’s certainly a reason why the recent trailer tugs at many people’s heartstrings and it’s not just because of the music. It’s because we’ve grown to love these characters.

There’s one man I used to love (as one loves a fictional character) once upon a time, but that affection has vanished. Like many, I started to feel it in season four and that continued as questions regarding his morality surfaced yet again. As you probably gathered from the title of this article, I am, of course, referring to Mr. Bates.

At first glance, he’s a tough guy to hate. Misery seems to follow him everywhere, tracking him by the sound of his cane thumping on Downton’s creaky floors and yet, he’s a pretty decent guy. He gave Molesley some money and saved Barrow from ruin at the hands of O’Brien/Jimmy. So why hate his Lordship’s valet?

The Mr. Green plotline has been almost universally panned. Many articles have been penned about how Fellowes has no ideas what to do with either Bates. I’ve found that the problem goes even beyond Mr. Green. To put it simply, Mr. Bates is terrible.

I’ve gotten into several arguments regarding the Bates/Barrow feud. People say I’m terrible for taking Thomas’ side, usually because they forget what’s important. It’s not about who’s the most morally altruistic person. It’s about who’s fun to watch.

There’s a scene in season five where Barrow acknowledges the simple fact that the two do not like each other. This gave me a bit of an “aha” moment as I too realized that I don’t like Mr. Bates either. In season three, I was firmly on team #freeBates. Now when I watch season three, I usually skip his scenes (along with Edith’s, which makes it easier for me to keep watching the same show over and over).

Think about how many episodes of the show feature a happy Mr. Bates. He’s sad when he first gets there because no one likes him. He spends the rest of season one feuding with the O’Brien/Barrow dream team and sad about his leg. We also find out he was in trouble for being a thief, which was the first red flag.

Season two brings even more bad news. We find out he has a wife who he doesn’t like. He has a brief moment of happiness when he marries Anna, but then he goes to jail, where he spends most of season three.

He’s happy for a little bit at the end of season three and the beginning of season four, though we find out that he’s also a forger in addition to being a thief. What a standup guy. No one can blame him for being moody after Anna’s horrifically unnecessary rape, but he pretty much spends the rest of the show moping around.

The reason for this sadness is simple. He has nothing else to do. Fellowes never tried to give him any storyline that didn’t involve horrible things happening to him. It got boring. I left the #freeBates team in favor of #killBates. At least then, Molesley could take his place as valet.

Downton Abbey is a drama. We expect characters to endure hardships. It’s generally considered reasonable to expect to be given a reason to like the character as well.

Bates and Barrow contrast well in this regard. Both are generally pretty moody and we know why. Bates is a crippled creep and Barrow is gay at a time when that was not only completely unacceptable, it was criminal.

Their unpleasantness manifests itself in different ways. Barrow takes his anger out on others while Bates is just a grump. We can probably assume that Bates is the better person (unless he actually killed Mr. Green or more gruesome details about his past turn up), but what does that really matter?

As a character, Bates lacks depth. Even his romance with Anna seemed a bit rushed. More importantly, he doesn’t make for good television.

Reports for season six suggest that not everyone will have a happy ending. It’s hard to tell where Bates will fit into this. One would think Fellowes would throw a curveball and let him limp off into the sunset with Anna on his arm. Problem is, I don’t care.

Character Study: Sir Richard Carlisle

It’s not particularly hard to see why season two of Downton Abbey is often considered the best. The World War One plotline was perfectly executed and gave the show a feeling of being more than just a soap opera about rich people’s problems (not that there’s anything wrong with that). It wouldn’t be fair to solely credit the plotline for this delightfulness as the new characters played an important role in the success of the season.

At first glance, it’s easy to write off Sir Richard Carlisle as purely villainous. He certainly ended his season long arc as the bad guy. When you look at the newspaper mogul’s tenure as a whole, you see that there was more to him than just his perpetual rudeness.

Iain Glen was tasked with a difficult job in portraying Sir Richard. Julian Fellowes never tried very hard to convince the viewers that Sir Richard actually stood a shot at taking Mary away from Downton. His proposal to Lady Mary ranks among the least romantic courtships in the history of television and most of the characters expressed doubt that Mary would actually go through with marrying him.

Sir Richard was a necessary evil. It was important to prolong the inevitable marriage of Mary and Matthew. This is how television works. With that in mind, it could’ve been easy to not care about Sir Richard as it was always clear that he wasn’t going to be around for very long.

It seems kind of surprising that Sir Richard proposed in episode two, his first appearance, and managed to hang around for the whole season in a completely loveless engagement (though Sir Richard was absent for episodes three and four). Early on, he proved his use by tracking down Vera Bates and saving Mary from public embarrassment had the first Mrs. Bates revealed her transgressions with the Turkish gentleman.

The difficulty with Sir Richard was that he needed to not be sympathetic to prevent the audience side from siding with him over Mary or from too closely resembling Lavinia Swire, who was conveniently killed, off allowing Matthew to save face with the viewers. Mary herself isn’t particularly likable. Sir Richard needed to be more despicable than her, but not excessively tedious to the point that he wouldn’t be able to hang around for the duration of the season. This balance was no easy task.

When you think about it, Sir Richard’s crimes weren’t really all that bad. He had some shady business with the Swire’s early on and his attempt at spying on Lady Mary was foolish, but neither act should really condemn him as a character. It was pretty clear that Mary did not love him and we weren’t really given an alternative motive for his failed efforts to recruit Anna for some espionage other than a genuine desire to please his fiancé.

It was perfectly reasonable of Sir Richard to be concerned about Mary’s proximity to Matthew. She once loved Matthew but she never loved Sir Richard. If you were in Sir Richard’s shoes, wouldn’t you be a tad concerned about your fiancé hanging around her ex?

Carlisle’s big crimes were that he was rude and that nobody liked him. Other than that, he was perfectly respectable and a great fit for Lady Mary. Sir Richard’s status as a self-made man likely made him respectable to many viewers, which is a testament to Fellowes’ writing. It would have been easy to create a villainous character for Mary to fool around with for a season before finally giving in to her love of Matthew, but the more challenging route paid off.

Instead, Sir Richard was given depth. Iain Glen has a knack for playing sketchy knights (he also plays Ser Jorah on Game of Thrones, another man who lusts after a girl he can’t have) and with Sir Richard, he portrayed a character who had a clear and finite purpose, but was surprisingly entertaining to watch.

I suspect that Fellowes had Sir Richard in mind when he created the character of Miss Sarah Bunting. Like Sir Richard, Miss Bunting was an odious character who clearly wasn’t going to be around for very long, but that didn’t mean that she wasn’t given depth and a couple redeeming qualities. Perhaps they would’ve been perfect for each other.

Sir Richard came and played his part on a show he was never going to be part of for very long. To some, he might be a character that you love to hate or just plain hate without any love at all (like his relationship with Mary). As for me, I liked him. He was perfect for Mary, but that’s not what was best for the show.

Next on Character Study, we’ll look at Ally McBeal’s Ling Woo 

Downton Abbey Should Call It Quits After Season Six

I’ve been re-watching old Downton Abbey episodes quite a bit lately. This is partially because I’ve been in a bit of a rut with new shows, but also because DA is one of my all time favorites (surprise, surprise). With all the talk of Maggie Smith leaving after next season, I thought it would be a good time to chime in with my own thoughts.

People have been quick to challenge the legitimacy of the sources, but I’d be pretty shocked if it wasn’t true. The Dowager Countess is quite old. Maggie Smith makes comments about this all the time. It would be comical to keep her character around for another two season, especially when you consider that DA typically jumps ahead a few years with each season.

While the Dowager plays more of a secondary role, she’s easily the show’s signature character. Lady Violet’s witticisms and facials reactions to the threats on the status quo for the aristocracy are a major reason why the show stands above all the other period dramas in terms of popularity. The cast has seen a significant overhaul in its five seasons, but to lose a core character this late in the show’s run would be hard to stomach. Which is why it should not outlive her.

Downton Abbey is frequently referred to as a soap opera, mostly because of its often melodramatic storylines. It’s important to note that while many of the plots are silly, DA plot progression is the polar opposite of a typical soap opera. DA is all about change whereas soap operas fight to preserve the status quo.

It’s no secret that DA has been on a downward slide for some time. The death of Matthew is often blamed for this, which I’ve explored in previous articles. From a critical perspective, one could argue that season one was the high point (Metacritic supports this, though its hardly unanimous elsewhere). I’d personally go with season two, though that’s not really a knock on season three. World War One was just more interesting than guilt, death, and prison.

It would be unfair to criticize season four for the inevitable scrambling that came as a result of Matthew’s death, but there have been three plotlines that have dragged on for the two seasons with shoddy resolutions: Mary’s courtship, Tom’s departure (if you subscribe to the belief that he’s not actually leaving the show), and Mr. Green’s death. I wasn’t in love with the Edith pregnancy storyline, but at least it wrapped itself up.

The common strands that tied seasons four and five closer together than any other two seasons presents an interesting question for the future. What now? With most of the servants preparing for their retirements, it feels like the end is nigh.

Most shows aren’t designed to go on forever, especially British ones which are often known for their brevity. Six seasons isn’t necessarily the standard run, but it’s not uncommon either. When shows go on longer, it’s often at the insistence of the network and almost always decline further in quality.

This has already happened with Downton. Season five might have been better than season four, but it doesn’t come close to the first three. That doesn’t mean that a final season can’t be spectacular.

Final seasons often give shows a resurgence, as they allow the creators the ability to wrap things up rather than string them along. Downton’s relatively short seasons give Fellowes the chance to accomplish this along with a few new plots.

Think about what a season seven would look like. Rose is already gone, though we can probably expect her in an episode or two. If this is it for the Dowager, then who’s supposed to make their dinners interesting? With Carson’s advanced aged, who’s going to serve them?

Furthermore, two more seasons brings them dangerously close to World War Two. Fellowes has said repeatedly that the show would not cover it and it isn’t exactly equipped to handle it with no males eligible to serve except for possibly George Crawley, who we don’t even really know, assuming Robert, Thomas, Carson, and Molesley are all too old to enlist.

Downton Abbey set out to tell a story about post Edwardian life for the aristocrats who desperately tried to cling on to their old traditions. It’s accomplished that and in doing so, has become a worldwide phenomenon. That doesn’t change the fact that the story has been told.

I for one, want Downton to go out with a bang. I don’t think it can do that in two seasons. That might have worked if Fellowes hadn’t started preparing for the end halfway through season five, but he didn’t. Just because it could be dragged out for another two seasons doesn’t mean that it should.

The Ramifications of Jimmy’s Departure from Downton Abbey

Note: I have seen all of series five of Downton Abbey, which has two more episodes to go in America. This article does not contain spoilers for those episodes. I recommend reading my article on the implications of Matthew’s death as there’s some overlap in subject matter.

At its core, Downton Abbey has always been about change. Lord Grantham, Lady Violet, and Mr. Carson fight this at nearly every corner, while many of the show’s other characters welcome it. As we’ve seen from five series that cover a twelve year time span, even the British aristocracy cannot escape change. For the most part, that’s a good thing.

The natural progression of this change is a shrinking servant staff as Earls learn to dress themselves and pour their own tea. Nearly every servant, young and old have explored this change in mentality as they ponder their places in the ever changing dynamic. Despite this, we saw the cast expand in series three with the arrivals of Alfred, Jimmy, and Ivy.

Seeing fresh faces at Downton coupled with the new aged business practices of Matthew and Tom breathed new life into the dynamic and suggested that Downton might be able to survive without sacrificing too much of the old world. Downton was hiring, not cutting back. Lord Grantham even created a new position for Thomas Barrow, creating the underbutler position to ensure that he could continue to be the man everyone loves to hate.

The youth movement was short lived. By the end of episode one of series five, Alfred, Ivy, and Jimmy were all gone. No new footmen were hired as Molesley was left to endure the wrath of Carson alone. The kitchen features the occasional character helping out, but Ivy was certainly not replaced from a storyline perspective.

This kind of makes sense. Alfred left to become a chef, aware that there wasn’t much of a future in the service industry for a footman. Seeing Molesley struggle to find work despite having experience as both a butler and a valet must have reinforced that. Ivy similarly jumped ship for a new adventure, traveling to America to serve Cora’s brother Harold. Jimmy was the only one whose departure wasn’t linked to the changing times, having been dismissed after being caught in bed with Lady Anstruther.

Alfred’s departure can be easily explained. He needed to go in order to make room for Molesley, who was without a position at Downton. Linking his leaving to the changing times was an added bonus. Ivy wasn’t exactly in a position where she needed to go, but it’s pretty clear that her character was expendable and likely a waste of screen time. She was boring.

The only departure that didn’t really have an obvious motive belongs to Jimmy. That’s not to say that there wasn’t one. Ivy and Alfred were the two characters he interacted with the most, but there was still Barrow, Daisy, and to a lesser extent Rose. Problem is, there isn’t a lot that could have been done with them from a storyline perspective.

I suppose Jimmy could have had a relationship with Daisy, but that wouldn’t have made much sense. A relationship with Rose would’ve been too similar to Sybil/Tom (not that Fellowes is against repetitive storylines). There are limitations for how much Jimmy could do with Barrow as well. It’s not really hard to see why he was viewed as expendable.

The implications of their departures seem to matter more than the loss of them as characters. Not hiring a new second footman means that Downton has cast aside formality for practicality. They didn’t need two footmen, but does that mean there shouldn’t be two footmen?

A side effect of their departure was that it removed Downton as a future centerpiece of prosperity. The young people moved on and the old people need to make arrangements for retirement. Daisy’s storyline has been all about this, undoubtedly provoked by the departures of her peers.

This is where I think getting rid of Jimmy was a mistake. Even if there wasn’t a clear storyline for him, he was still worth keeping around for the sake of appearances. He made Downton look like less of a retirement community.

Fellowes has had no trouble going long periods of time without giving characters like Patmore and the Bates anything to do. Instead of doing that with Ivy and Jimmy, he sent them away. In doing so, he cast a rather premature spotlight on the inevitable direction Downton is headed toward. We know what’s coming. We just didn’t need to see it this early.

Series 6 is widely considered to be the last for Downton Abbey. My next DA themed article will talk about why that’s a good idea, but it’s important to understand why losing Alfred, Ivy, and Jimmy made series 7 such an improbability. Killing the youth movement sped everything else up, a problem that will be further exacerbated by Rose’s presumed departure as the actress is filming Cinderella. There isn’t much else left to do but wrap things up. I’m not convinced that had to be the case all along.

Analyzing the Impact of Matthew’s Death on Downton Abbey

 Note, while I dislike spoiler notes immensely, as Downton Abbey is currently airing in America, I thought it was polite to note that this article contains minor spoilers through season five as it’s completed its run in England already.

It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since the abrupt car accident took Matthew Crawley away from Downton Abbey at the tail end of the season three Christmas Special. Perhaps it feels longer because of the drop in quality since the heir to Downton left the show. The excellent season five Christmas special shows that DA does have some life left, making now an appropriate time to take a look at how Matthew’s death changed the show.

Downton Abbey, being an ensemble drama, means that it’s hard to argue that Matthew’s death changed the storylines for every single character on the show, even though he was a main character. Matthew didn’t frequently interact with everybody on the show, making it hard to really say that his death impacted everyone equally. You could argue that he might have played a part in Mrs. Patmore’s dead nephew storyline, but you wouldn’t really say that his death altered her arc in any substantial way.

I’ve organized the impact of Matthews’s death on the cast by five tiers. I’m going to exclude Lord Gillingham, Charles Blake, and the rest of Mary’s suitors who were introduced post season three as it’s unlikely they would have been even introduced had Matthew stayed on the show.

Tier 1 (Major): Mary, Molesley

Tier 2 (Secondary): Lord Grantham, Isobel Crawley

Tier 3 (Unknown): Lady Rose, Tom Branson, John Bates, Anna Bates

Tier 4: Everyone else.

Tier 1 is fairly straightforward. Mary’s entire storyline was completely altered because of her husband’s death. No Matthew means no suitors. It’s possible that either Lord Gillingham or Charles Blake could have been introduced in a similar fashion to Simon Bricker, but most of her storylines would be in conjunction with Matthew’s. Maybe she would be a better mother.

Molesley is the other one whose entire storyline was impacted by Matthew’s absence. Matthew’s death caused Molesley’s complete fall from grace, going from valet to second footman. This might have been for the best from a screen time perspective, but he was already comic relief. He might have been in a better positon to court Miss Baxter, but Fellowes has always found ways to screw Molesley. Matthew’s death took much of his dignity, but perhaps it made him more endearing to the audience.

Tier 2 might be a point of debate for some, especially considering that Isobel is Matthew’s mother. But his move to Downton set up Isobel’s relationship with Violet quite nicely and I think that would have happened regardless of whether or not Matthew died. Obviously there were grief moments that wouldn’t have happened, but I don’t think her storyline took the drastic turn that Mary and Molesley experienced.

Lord Grantham fits largely under the same category. Aside from the will stuff, Robert’s storylines would have happened anyway. Matthew would have been involved with the business matters, but you can mostly swap Mary out with him to see what would have happened there. I don’t think Matthew’s death necessarily precluded him from any particular storyline.

We can split up the Tier 3 Unknowns into two categories. Lady Rose and Tom likely experienced slightly larger roles due to Matthew’s death. But I don’t think it’s fair to say that Matthew’s presence would lead to any major changes for either one. Rose could have still come to Downton to represent the younger side of the aristocracy. There was the role of Sybil to be replaced as well, though she was hardly a major character in season three.

Tom is a bit trickier. There’s no denying that he filled some of Matthew’s role, both in Lord Grantham’s eyes and the viewer’s. But would Matthew’s presence prevent his relationship with Miss Bunting or interfere with his desire to move to America? I don’t think so. Matthew meant a great deal to Tom, but his path wasn’t blocked by having a friend and similar (relative) outsider.

As for the Mr. and Mrs. Bates, they seem like an interesting choice to put in the mix considering neither shared much screen time with Matthew. But Matthew’s death lead to Lord Gillingham, which led to Mr. Greene and Anna’s subsequent rape. If Greene hadn’t done it, there’s certainly the possibility that someone else could have. But Matthew’s presence and the need to give him something to do might have cancelled that one out entirely. We don’t know. Hence the unknown.

Which is sort of the same for the rest of the cast. You could say that Matthew might have developed a rapport with Carson, but that’s pure speculation that isn’t really rooted in anything. He could have gotten caught up in a Barrow plot or maybe not.

One element worth speculating on is whether or not Alfred, Ivy, and Jimmy would have left if Matthew hadn’t died. While Matthew didn’t really have anything to do with those three, he was at the forefront of Downton’s “youth movement” in season three, as he and Tom worked with Lord Grantham to modernize things from a business perspective. Entering season six, that youth moment is largely gone, though there’s a new footman in Andy who could bring down the servant’s average age by quite a bit.

One could point to Matthew’s death as indirectly causing Alfred’s departure as Molesley took his place as footman. I wouldn’t say that necessarily needed to be the case and the subsequent departures of Ivy and Jimmy suggest that if that hadn’t have happened, something else might have. Unless you want to make the argument that Matthew’s death elevated the importance of Molesley as a character, rendering some of the servants redundant since there’s only so much screen time to go around.

Which isn’t an unfair point. Matthew’s death took much of the “let’s bring Downton into the modern times” away and instead created a sort of holding pattern that did the show no favors in its lackluster forth season. It’s fair to suggest that the show would have been more business related if for any other reason than it would’ve needed something to take the place of all the grieving over Matthew’s death.

Matthew’s death may not have created much of a visible “void” considering Downton’s large cast, but it had a tremendous impact. Shows like DA tend not to get better with age, but much of the complaints over the past two years fall on Mary’s storylines and the stunting of the plot that was forced by his death. That was avoidable, but it still happened because Dan Stevens wanted off the show before Fellowes could figure out how to adjust properly.