I don’t know about you, but yesterday sure didn’t feel like the end of Downton. Maybe that’s because it was Christmas Day, a time where tears are usually reserved for children who didn’t get a Tickle Me Elmo. Or maybe it’s because the introduction of Henry Talbot as a Downton resident has the series feeling rather fresh on the day of its finale. Perhaps it’s because of all the movie talk. Regardless, it’s generally a good sign when a series hasn’t outworn its welcome.
This episode managed to pull off the seemingly impossible task of providing closure for the entire cast, something that I wasn’t expecting. After all, Fellowes said that not everyone would get a happy ending. It’s hard to say that the audience didn’t get everything it could possibly want out of a ninety-minute finale.
The Edith/Bertie plotline was the dominant storyline, but it didn’t take over the entire episode. Their breakup last episode was a little clumsy and I was happy to see that there wasn’t much of struggle in bringing them together here. “Edith must suffer” has been one of the mantras of the show, but it was time to put that to rest, though I wouldn’t have necessarily objected to a late episode cameo from Sir Anthony Strallan during the “does anyone have any objections” portion of the wedding.
Brancaster Castle was also well incorporated into the story. The past three Christmas Specials have served as “field trips” of sorts with the main characters venturing off to other magnificient estates. Since this was the finale, it would have felt odd to spend so much time away from Downton. A few scenes at Brancaster was just the right amount.
With Lily James’ busy schedule, I wasn’t expecting much more than a cameo from Lady Rose. Instead, she was reinserted back into the narrative as if she’d never left. Having her help Donk understand Cora’s role in the hospital was a great way to put her right back into the action and shows us just how valuable her character was to the show. I’ve said in the past that I don’t think series six necessarily needed her, but having Lily James is always better than not having Lily James.
It was also nice to see Shrimpie, though I’m not sure why he gave the toast at Edith’s reception. Maybe Fellowes wanted to give him more lines? Since he wisely chose not to reintroduce the horrible Susan MacClare into the mix, I won’t hold it against him.
Speaking of insufferable, we got to see Larry Grey again! As much as I hate him, he’s a wonderful villain and gave the Dowager a few opportunities to deliver some final zingers. It would have been nice to see him ruin another dinner, but he made the most of his limited screen time.
The show was wise not to dedicate too much time to the Isobel/Dickie romance as it’s been kind of dragged along this series. Lord Merton is a fairly likable character and it gave proper resolution to Isobel’s story. The whole misdiagnosis bit is more than stale by now, but I suppose that’s okay.
I complained about the Dowager’s plotlines for most of series six, but she was used perfectly in every capacity in this finale. Nearly every line she spoke was a gem and reminds us all of just how important Dame Maggie Smith was to the success of the show. If only she hadn’t been tied up in the silly hospital plot for nearly the whole series. I liked that she made up with Cora at the end, but I’m also glad that their feud wasn’t at the center of the episode.
The Spratt/Denker spat was hilarious right up to its resolution. From his introduction as a saboteur to Molesley right up to his moonlighting as Miss Cassandra Jones, Spratt has been a highlight of the show’s second half. I only wish he’d been in more episodes this series.
Though I wish Molesley had received more screen time (that’s true of every episode), I liked his resolution. We didn’t need to see a Molesley/Baxter romance in this episode. Leaving the door open to one was enough. I’m sure he’ll make a wonderful teacher.
I wasn’t expecting to love Barrow’s resolution and was very pleased that I got my series long wish that he’d become the Downton butler. We’ve seen variations of “Barrow must leave” in four of the six series of the show, yet seeing Master George wish his friend farewell was still as heartfelt as could be. I like that he actually did leave Downton for a bit before returning as well, solidifying the notion that it was truly where he belonged.
This episode deserve a lot of credit for successfully maneuvering around the downstairs situation. Here’s a look at what needed to happen chronologically:
- Barrow needed to have a job in place before Molesley could accept his position as teacher.
- Barrow also needed to depart before Carson’s tremors became unmanageable so that he wouldn’t merely be asked to stay on, possibly creating an awkward underbutler/butler dynamic.
- Tears needed to be shed when Master George said, “goodbye Mr. Barrow.”
- Molesley needed to decided to take the teacher position before he could be considered for the butler position (not that the show has ever cared about Molesley’s professional status). Molesley himself mentioned that he didn’t think he’d ever make butler last episode to Baxter.
- Enough time within a single episode needed to pass before it was clear that Carson had to retire.
I suppose Fellowes was referring to Carson when he said that not everyone would have a happy ending. Problem is, Carson has been insufferable all series. Who cares that he needs to retire? He’s been mean-spirited toward just about everyone besides Donk and Lady Mary for far too long.
Allen Leech has reportedly been unhappy with Tom’s resolution, but I think it was fitting. Branson hasn’t been given much to do this series besides serve as the third wheel in Mary and Henry’s romance. There wasn’t enough time for a romance with Laura Edmunds and that’s okay. I felt the same way about the Daisy/Andy and Mason/Patmore plotlines as well. We had enough romance for one episode.
I do wish that Mary had married Henry earlier in the series, especially since he didn’t appear in the first three episodes. Seeing him in Downton was very enjoyable. I sort of see why it played out this way, but it’s hard to argue that an earlier upstairs shakeup wouldn’t have been an improvement and that spreading out the weddings a little more wouldn’t have been a good thing.
Obligatory Bates mention. I’m happy they got their happy ending. Somewhat disappointed that Bates didn’t kill anyone this series though. Oh well.
I am glad that no one died. While the show went from tons of deaths early on to none at all. A death would’ve taken a lot of screen time and that wouldn’t have been a great note to go out on, unless Larry Grey came to the wedding and started spitting up blood. Can’t have everything.
This episode will likely leave many thinking that the show could have gone on. That’s because it could have. Should it have? Absolutely not.
The best finales leave the audience wanting more. Few shows improve into their seventh series and I doubt Downton would have been the exception. Having an end goal in sight gave focus to series six and this episode gave as much resolution as it could reasonably fit into ninety minutes. I didn’t give letter grades to these episodes, but this finale would’ve been a solid ten out of ten. If that’s not a good note to end on, I don’t know what is.
So we say goodbye to Downton, for now. With all the remakes/follow ups floating around TV these days, I doubt we’ve seen the last of some of these characters. Thank you for following along with me. Just like the Abbey itself, Downton World will go on with recaps of past episodes, memes, and features. We don’t know what the future will hold, but we will face it together!