Downton Abbey Delivers A Perfect Finale

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.3366 (1)

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!

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Downton Abbey Series 6 in Review

The holdup for my review of series 6 as a whole can mostly be blamed on one difficulty I’ve had with Downton’s past eight episodes (plus grad school). I wanted to do a separate article on the series 6 “MVP,” but I had trouble coming up with one who fit the bill, which isn’t to say that everyone was terrible or that the series was bad. This conflict actually summarizes my thoughts on this series as a whole quite well.

The “MVP” candidate field was compromised of four candidates: Edith, Tom, Barrow, and Molesley. The latter two can (sadly) be eliminated simply because they weren’t given enough to do (more on this later). I’d pick Edith if I absolutely had to, but I can’t after what happened in the finale.dowton-abbey-0-1024

Edith’s storylines are defined by tragedy. With her magazine, Edith finally found an environment she could thrive in. For a character I’ve despised since Downton began, I was pleasantly surprised by how Edith carried the show in the first few episodes. Then of course, she had to get sucked into another horrible love plotline.

I can see how the Marigold dilemma made it tempting for Fellowes to want to give her another suitor. She didn’t need one. Most characters this series only had one major storyline and she already had the magazine. This isn’t to say that Bertie Pelham had to be a detriment, but he was. By making Bertie a Marquis and then leaving Edith in a rather hasty manner, Fellowes took the least interesting aspects of Sir Anthony Swire and Charles Blake’s arcs and tossed them right back in the audience’s face. No thanks.

I never bought into the Mary’s malice toward Edith either. Yes, Mary is often jealous and unhappy, but two of them haven’t really taken action against each other since the first series. We’ve seen plenty of sarcastic comments, but that’s about it.

Edith was fun to watch this series, which is rare for her. I almost always skip her scenes when I re-watch the show. I can’t call her the “MVP” when she ended the series in such a typical predictable Edith like fashion. Yes, we need some plot for the Christmas Special, but it didn’t need to be that.

Which takes us to Tom, who shined with every opportunity he was given. Problem was, he wasn’t given many of them. Whereas Edith received two plotlines, Tom had none. I can’t call him the “MVP” either when he didn’t do anything besides remind Mary that she doesn’t need to be unhappy for the rest of her life.

Series 6 had a split that we haven’t really seen Downton implement since series 3. Essentially, this series can be divided into pre-Tom (1-3) and post-Tom (4-8), which isn’t dissimilar from the series 2 World War I split or the Downton is bankrupt spell in series 3. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing either. Shifting the tone a bit helps keep the series fresh. The question we need to ask is whether or not this series needed that at all.

I’ve said it in previous recaps and I’ll say it again. Tom leaving was a mistake. It accomplished nothing and forced the show into a bizarre holding pattern until he returned. If Fellowes absolutely had to have Tom leave to reassure his loyalty to the Crawleys, fine, but he could have come back after the first episode, especially since the Carson/Hughes wedding was drawn out longer than it needed to be. Three was a waste.

But wait! You may be wondering, didn’t I say that episode 2 might be best episode of the post Matthew era? I still think that’s true, but I think the first few episodes created a strain on the rest of the series that ultimately proved problematic with a certain plotline we all wanted to see.

There was one man everyone wanted to see since his appearance in the series 5 Christmas special. Why did it take until the fourth episode to give us Henry Talbot? I’ve speculated that Matthew Goode’s busy schedule may have been to blame, but he didn’t really have a lot going on in 2015 for that to have been a problem.

The romance felt rushed when it didn’t have to be. Tom played a useful role in the courtship process, which also shows why he shouldn’t have left in the first place. Five episodes wasn’t really enough time for them to become reacquainted, fall in love, and then marry when you think about how stretched out her relationships with Matthew and Tony/Charles (counting them as one) were. I get that maybe Fellowes didn’t want the final series to just be about Mary’s love life, but what alternative did he really put forth?

The hospital plotline was pretty underwhelming. There haven’t been many storylines that have involved the majority of the cast and there’s a reason for that. Downton is a show that thrives when its plotlines are diversified, which allows it to endure a few stinkers. I wouldn’t necessarily call the whole plotline a stinker, but it went on for far too long.

Beyond that, who looked good coming out of the hospital resolution? Cora was as unlikable as ever going behind the Dowager’s back, but even Lady Violet looked pretty petty refusing to give up control just because she hates change. Donk’s projectile blood spurting didn’t even really play a role in it at all in its resolution. The story shouldn’t have gone on longer than two or three episodes.

I don’t think there was a moment that fans looked forward to more than the Carson/Hughes wedding. Unfortunately, Carson decided to turn into the most unlikable character on the whole show, behaving nastily to just about everyone he interacts with. I loved the way Mrs. Hughes handled him, but the actual romance was sorely lacking throughout the series. I constantly found myself wondering why they were even together beyond the canned “it’s what the fans want.”

Oh Barrow. I mostly loved him this series, aside from his nastiness with Gwen, which seemed out of character by this point in the show. I dreaded the inevitable suicide, but felt that it was handled with grace by all the characters. Barrow’s hesitance to leave Downton shows the struggle that many in service had to endure, forced out of places that were their homes in every way except for the physical deed to the property. My only problem was that it was a little drawn out and prevented him from doing anything else this series. He could have done more with Master George!

The Mr. Mason storyline served as a nice contrast to Barrow’s struggles. I loved how he was integrated into this series after pretty much only making cameo appearances in previous series. He shows that while that way of life changes, it does so gradually and that there are happy endings.

The Mr. Mason farm dilemma also allowed Daisy to really come into her own. Her interactions with Cora were among my favorite of the series as they put Lady Grantham in her place and allowed Downton to do the right thing by one of its own. I didn’t care for her outburst at Mrs. Patmore, but the three of them plus Andy and Molesley have formed a refreshing dynamic in the show that I wasn’t expecting.

The Bates weren’t terrible, but it would have been nice to have them involved in something that wasn’t pure misery. Oh well. At least there wasn’t another murder.

I wish we’d seen more Molesley, especially while Barrow was looking for other employment. The show oddly ignored the elephant of the room of the 50 year old footman at a time, though Kevin Doyle shined with whatever he was given. Seeing him come into his own as a teacher was my favorite moment of the series.

Regarding Molesley and Baxter, I think Fellowes made the right decision not forcing a romantic pairing. I like that they’re “friends” in a way that doesn’t necessarily preclude them from taking it further. We’ll see what happens with the Special, but I won’t be disappointed if the two don’t get together.

Spratt and Denker have quietly become two of the best supporting characters in the series and I was disappointed to see their frequent absences. Denker only appeared in half the episodes and Spratt only did her one better. Considering how delightful their scenes were, this was a shame, especially when the insufferable Lady Rosamund bested her series high by two episodes (making the safe assumption that she appears in the finale).

The best part of the series is perhaps the fact that Downton isn’t closing. We know what’s coming for big houses, but we don’t need to see the end in 1925 just because the show is ending. The series lacked the depressing tone that I was worried about after watching that sad trailer back in August.

I could go on for another thousand words, but ultimately I did enjoy series 6 immensely. Having a clear end goal in sight helped focus the show and this has clearly been the best series of the post-Matthew era. The pacing problems prevented it from being the best series, which I genuinely think it could have been, but this has been a very satisfying conclusion to the show.

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.