‘Downton Abbey’ season finale tugs at viewers’ heartstrings
Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 00:02
Sir Elton John famously sang, “Don’t go breaking my heart.” Unfortunately for me and the rest of the world’s “Downton Abbey” fans, the damage has already been done.
The season three finale of PBS’s “Downton Abbey” aired Sunday night, sending folks on this side of the Atlantic into a frenzy. Needless to say, creator/writer Julian Fellowes did quite a number on viewers’ heartstrings.
If you’re a big fan, and by “big fan” I mean an Anglophile that torrented the season as it aired in the United Kingdom like myself, you already knew what was coming.
The majority of the two-hour finale took place in the Scottish Highlands, one year after the events of the penultimate episode. The whole family, minus Branson, made their northern exodus, visiting the home of the Dowager’s Countess’s niece, Susan, and her husband, Shrimpy. The Crawleys’ expedition to the “Land of the Scots” included bagpipes, reel dancing, bagpipes, hunting and more bagpipes.
Various family outings ensued—hunting trips, tented luncheons and swanky parties. Basically, normal Downton activities placed in a more “rustic,” tartan-decorated setting. Mary tried to carefully romp about the Highlands with the newest Downton heir in her belly, the Dowager Countess spat a few acidic one-liners at Shrimpy’s demanding wife and Edith remained dowdy and eternally awkward in her pursuit of a 90-year-old creeptastic man who does not love her.
Back at Downton, the staff stuck to their typical household duties under Carson’s watchful eye with a few exceptions. Jimmy and Alfred got some R and R on one of the Crawley’s sofas; Thomas found solace within the house after his late night game of musical bedrooms; Carson spent some quality time with baby Sybil; Edna, the predatory house maid, kissed the newly widowed, “up-stairs” Branson and Mrs. Hughes rescued Ms. Patimore from a wily suitor.
The biggest, most dramatic, gut-wrenching turn, however, came with the death of the beloved Matthew Crawley, Downton’s quintessential white knight.
While gleefully driving back to Downton after the birth of his son, Matthew has a collision with another car, killing him instantly. Although Matthew’s death was not a complete surprise since actor Dan Stevens publicly announced last year that he was leaving the show to pursue other acting endeavors, the manner in which he was “let go” was dishearteningly arbitrary and sadistically short on screen time. How could you do this, Julian Fellowes? Have you no decency, sir?
Viewers got maybe a whopping 45 seconds of bitter thematic foreshadowing before dearest Matthew met his tragic end. Bottom line: Matthew’s death just felt wrong. The season’s theme of the arrival of a child and an expiration of a parent seems morbidly melodramatic and unnecessary.
Matthew’s death will ultimately cast a pall over the highly anticipated fourth season, including short-changing his son of a father and denying Mary the great love story that we all wanted to flourish. Lady Sybil’s bright, modern spirit is absent in a post-1920s world that is anything but progressive.
In a way, season three of “Downton Abbey” acted as a microcosm of the 1920s crammed into one season. If season three had a “theme,” it appeared to be one of progression, change and modernity; however, characters that pushed such modernity—namely Sybil with her feminist ideals and Matthew with his modern plan for Downton, met their great demise, a ultimate sacrifice of an era that could not last.
The depths of a post-World War I Britain had the Crawleys face their rough patches but ultimately triumph, seeming as if there was no end to the family’s good fortune... until there was a definite end to their good fortune, all with one sudden, devastating crash.