‘Downton Abbey’ ends on a solid, if predictable note

The hype surrounding the finale of Downton Abbey was preposterous – the kind of overblown affair that would seem right at home on a big three network, but not on PBS. Before the final episode, PBS aired something called “BAFTA Celebrates Downton Abbey,” which ended being a self-congratulatory televised circle jerk. I’m not sure what was more tiresome: listening to everyone gush about how important Downton Abbey is, or having to sit through Julian Ovendon (Charles Blake) warble some old-timey ballad. It all led to the final episode of Downton Abbey.

The episode felt like every series final ever. Story lines were wrapped up, babies were born, folks were wed, old friends came back. Julian Fellowes must have felt some kind of crush, tying up the story arcs of a cast as huge as Downton, so it’s understandable that some characters – like Mrs. Patmore and Baxter were essentially treated like after-thoughts. With just an hour and a half to bring the show to a close, Fellowes did what was expected: he married off Lady Edith to Bertie, despite her being an unwed mum and career gal, and despite his mom (a wry Patricia Hodge) being initially against the whole thing. When Fellowes was basking in his fabulosity during the BAFTA thing, he mentioned being accosted by a fan who begged him to let Edith be happy. I’m glad Edith got a happy ending, though I’m not so sure a wedding was necessary to make her happy: after all, she had a kid, she had a great job, a few bucks in the bank, I’m not so sure a man was necessary to “complete that picture. Edith was really the show’s main vehicle to show the shifting attitudes towards women in English society. Even more so than Sybil (who died in the third series), Edith lived the life of a feminist (That is a feminist who was white, rich, and had loads of privilege). As Edith marched down the aisle, serenely, in her wedding gown, I thought back to the last time we saw Edith in a wedding gown – she was getting married to Gregson, who jilted her – and I had a sneaky feeling that maybe Fellowes would upend the convention of the “happy ending” and reveal that Bertie’s married, or a thief, or gay – something. But when the old county vicar croaks, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” we knew it was for good.

Mary and Henry also have a happy ending – she’s pregnant and he’s going into business with Tom, opening a used car lot. Yup, a used car lot. I know, I scratched my head over that one, too. When as a “fun surprise” Tom and Henry dragged Mary (eyes closed) to their new place of business, her shock looked like being pissed (well, let’s face it, even when she smiles, Lady Mary looks upset). I was hoping she’d be pissed. Not because he’s opening a used car lot, but because he’s doing all this shit without talking to her first (it is her family’s money that’s bankrolling this venture). But no, this is a new Mary – a new, more tolerant Mary. So she’s happy and announces that Tom’s going to be a daddy.

There are more doings in the upstairs bit of Downton. Robert is annoyed at how busy Cora has become. Apparently, he was hoping that Cora would be content, wandering the halls of Downton, with nothing to do. Instead, she’s running the hospital, and apparently doing a good job of it, from the briefest of brief snippet in which Robert spies Cora holding court while the poor people of the village fret over their health care. This was Julian Fellowes’ moment to finally rehabilitate Cora’s image, undo all the damage he’s done to her in the past four seasons, turning her from a sparkling and witty peacock, thumbing her nose at musty convention into a simpering, doe-eyed sycophant. And he mostly fails, because we don’t actually see Cora do much work. We’re promised that she’s very busy and Robert’s piqued at her rushing off to the hospital, even missing Edith’s choosing of the flowers for the wedding (they’d make anything into a thing there), and we’re to understand that Cora’s found her calling: playing Lady Bountiful to her village of poors. But Robert’s impressed, as is his mama, Violet (more on her later), and Violet and Cora share a lovely moment in which they bury the hatchet over that stupid hospital tug-of-war that never was interesting, and Violet concedes her status as matriarch of Downton to Cora.

But it’s not just the upstairs people that have something going. The servants of Downton are also buy feeling all that change that people have been bleating on about for the show’s whole six seasons. Barrows leaves Downton after his suicide attempt, to live and work for an ancient couple who only keep a staff of three (the horror!). Barrows is an interesting character, and I’ll tell you why: ever since the beginning of the show Fellowes seemed to be on Barrows’ side, despite his evil doings. It’s amazing to think that the Barrows of the sixth series, all kind and gooey is the same guy who just a few seasons ago purposely let a dog get lost in the forest so that he could find her and be the hero. But we’re to understand that everything Barrows did, he did because he was misunderstood and unloved. It would’ve been too much for him to find someone – I’m glad that Fellowes resisted that temptation – and even though his character got a happy ending (he returns to Downton as head butler), it’s still a sad existence because the guy will be a confirmed bachelor his whole life. It’s not like there are any gay bars in the village, and homosexuality won’t be decriminalized for another forty years, so Barrows life will be probably end as Carson’s did, dedicated to the running of Downton Abbey (though we don’t know how long the family will be able to hold on to a lumbering estate like that).

Daisy decides to move in with Mr. Mason, and starts up a romance with Andy. Mrs. Patmore has been making eyes at Mr. Mason, so though she was a mother figure to Daisy throughout the years, it looks like eventually, she’ll actually be her mother (or at least her mother-in-law). There is no talk of her B&B, nor do we know anything about Daisy’s future – will she be a teacher? Will she stay a cook? That’s all left in the air, and it’s too bad because Daisy’s growth and development was interesting.

The biggest downstairs news is that Carson has “the palsy” and cannot function in the same way. Though his physical ailments trouble him most, there’s also the issue of the revolving door that suddenly sprung up in the servant’s hall. It feels like everybody’s gone, leaving poor Carson to figure out how to run things on his own. The tidy way in which Carson is left as an overseer of some kind, while Barrows steps in as Butler is nice – but again, telegraphed, and predictable.

The other downstairs story involves the most tiresome couple of the shows history: Anna and Bates. Anna was once my favorite character, but she was dragged down by the gloomy, grumpy, dour Bates. Thankfully, his presence in the final episode would constitute a friendly cameo. Anna, on the other hand, in the grand tradition of series finales, has her baby. She goes into labor in Mary’s room, and in a fun twist, it’s Mary that undresses Anna – I did like that reversal, and laughed. When Bates wafted in view, I was worried that Fellowes would do something consistent like having Anna or the baby die in childbirth, with Bates taking it all in majestically and being all manly and martyr-like – but thankfully, none of that.

Of course, the real reason to watch any episode of Downton Abbey is to see what kind of fuckery Violet gets herself into. She loves stirring the shit, and she brought an extra-large sized paddle for this episode. First, she and Isobel band together to rescue poor Lord Merton from his awful family. Lord Merton was supposed to be dying, and Isobel was hoping to share his final days with him as a wedded couple. His evil daughter-in-law was having none of that, locking away the poor man in a closet somewhere. That is until our dynamic duo just rocked up to his estate, raised all kinds of hell, and exposed Merton’s shitty family for what they really are. In fact, Violet looked so pissed, I thought she was going to swing her walking stick and brain Merton’s god awful kids.

But Violet isn’t done yet. She also gets to stick it to Denker, who found out that Spratt is Edith’s Agony Aunt. Denker is sure that Violet will disapprove of Spratt’s new side business, and “lets” the secret slip with the subtly of a sledgehammer. But as always, Violet doesn’t like to be told how to feel, and instead of firing Spratt, she giggles at his advice, and promises to  seek his council when it’s time to choose her next outfit (who knew Spratt was a ‘mo?).

All in all, the show’s ending was satisfying, but entirely predictable. But then again, that’s what Downton Abbey has always been.

Some random thoughts:

  • It was nice to see Atticus and Rose
  • Moseley becomes a school teacher and leaves Downton. His future with Baxter is unclear.
  • I loved how Barrows became friends with Anna and Baxter, and was sad for him when he left. Those two were able to look beyond his viperish ways (though I don’t know how – he tried to get Anna’s husband fired and he threatened Baxter with blackmail, but what’s a little dastardly evil-doing among old friends?)
  • Apparently, there might be a Downton Abbey film and a prequel that shows how Robert and Cora got hitched – very interesting.

 

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