Thursday, February 21, 2013

downton abbey is a cruel mistress

Everyone who's interested has already watched the season finale of Downton Abbey, in all of its "Who Shot J.R.?" glory. Yes, folks, that was a heckuva cliffhanger. Not so much considering the fate of Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), who we (sob) saw dead at the side of the road. The real suspense for next season involves the rest of the Downton crew. How will Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) handle being a 1920s-era single mom? Will she sink into a deep depression and ignore her newborn son? Will she become a dedicated mom to honor her dead husband? Will she go off the rails and become a flapper with a vengeance? Will she ever be nice to her sister, poor Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael)?

But Mary is hardly the only one who will be affected by Matthew's death. Will Downton revert to his progeny, or is their another far-flung relative to cause problems on the horizon? Only show creator Julian Fellowes knows for sure. What about all of Matthew's modernistic designs for the estate? Will Tom Branson (Allen Leech) and his father-in-law the Earl (Hugh Bonneville) manage to carry on with his plans? That is, without killing each other? There are plenty of other cliffhangers too. Edith is considering surrendering her virtue to a married man. She truly is the most thoroughly modern Crawley. Cousin Rose (Lily James) is on her way to Downton as a ward of sorts, and will certainly keep the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) and her aunt, Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern), busy trying to prevent her getting into too much trouble. Good luck with that, ladies.

Hello, and goodbye
Anyone who has internet access had probably heard that Dan Stevens was leaving the show. Even if one assiduously avoids spoilers, there were only a few ways this could be accomplished; by shipping the character off somewhere, re-casting, or killing him off. Suddenly Downton Abbey is treading on Game of Thrones territory, with two major characters gone this season — Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) also wanted out at the end of her three-year contract.

What I found most annoying about Matthew's fate, apart from the cheap theatrics of it all, was how it minimized some really nice moments that happened earlier in the episode. Viewers may have been a little bored or confused at first by the Crawleys' trip to Scotland, but the payoff was well worth it. They got to see Molesley (Kevin Doyle) drunk dance, O'Brien possibly secure a new post for herself in India (Siobhan Finneran has also been rumored to be leaving the show), and most importantly, see the Earl realize how good exactly he has it at Downton, as he learned his friend "Shrimpie" (father of Rose, played by Peter Egan) was losing the family manse and going to live out his days in an Indian outpost with a wife (Phoebe Nicholls) he doesn't love who doesn't love him. Back at Downton, the local fair attended by the (mostly) downstairs crowd afforded some both amusing and touching interactions between characters, and continued Thomas's story in an interesting way. Part stalker, part hero, he may have finally found a way to connect to his crush, James (Edward Speleers) — by being his friend. Rob-James Collier was very touching when he asked the young footman if that was a possibility. Thomas has certainly gone from a character you love to hate to one you might not want to admit it, but are starting to love.

Scenes like that are what make Downton Abbey addictive. Matthew's shocking demise may get everyone talking, but what will keep me tuning in next season are the changing times and how they continue to affect the characters, upstairs and down. I will miss Matthew, too. Sigh.
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