“Why can’t men ever paint themselves out of a corner?” – Downton Abbey Christmas Special 6×09
This is it. The very last Downton episode, and the very last post I will write about it. *tear*
Carson is having some trouble with tremors in his hand, and it begins to interfere with his duties as butler. He tries to hide it at first, but eventually even the Earl notices that he can’t continue his work anymore. Carson simply calls it the “palsy” and says it runs in his family, but what it is is probably the early signs of Parkinson’s disease.
Meanwhile, Barrow is recovering from his suicide attempt in the last episode. Downton is downsizing, so an under butler is superfluous and he has to leave soon. He finds a new job in a smaller household and resolves to be a better person. It’s not like he miraculously became an angel because of that experience, but he’s softening a little bit and is nicer to his fellow servants, especially Anna, Baxter, and Andrew, who saved him. Barrow was never really evil to begin with, wasn’t he? It’s true that he did try to get rid of Bates in Series 1, but apart from that, he was really only a troubled soul. His goodbye scene with the Granthams was emotional and superbly played by Rob Collier. And if Bates himself can forgive him, it must mean he’s a good fellow deep down.
But it turns out that he absolutely hates his new job and misses Downton badly. He is invited back to the Abbey for a *grand event*, and this is where fate steps in. Carson can no longer serve the guests, and the newly-reformed Barrow tries to be helpful. Robert sees all this and realizes that the solution for everyone is staring him in the face. He offers Carson a job as overseer of the staff, and Barrow will run the day to day operations as the butler! He’s finally made it! Carson was a bit of a bitch to Barrow throughout his last days at Downton, but in this poignant moment, Carson admits that Barrow has actually changed and that he can turn over the reins to him because after all, he (Carson) trained him.
The resolution of Barrow’s storyline is easily one of the most satisfying elements of this finale. A large part of that is Rob Collier’s acting. He shows all the contradictions of Barrow – his manipulative nature, his insecurities, humility, and the goodness that he tries so hard to keep hidden.
It’s just sad that Carson became a caricature of himself these last few episodes. They focused on his almost fanatical devotion to Mary and the family, what with his contempt for Anna having the gall to give birth in Lady Mary’s room. He suddenly and inexplicably became an old curmudgeon.
Oh right, Anna gave birth to a boy! After the seemingly endless drama that is the Bates’ life, it looks like they will finally live like normal people. Molesley, meanwhile, is set to become a full-time teacher, and there are also hints that he and Baxter may end up together. Good for them! Molesley started out as a bit of a spineless whiner, but he eventually developed into a lovable, empathetic character. There are hints that Mrs. Patmore will also start a romance with Mr. Mason, and it’s nice to know that she and Daisy will still have that mother-daughter relationship. That has to be one of my favorite things about the show, and episodes that focused on their relationship were the most emotional. The show tried to make Daisy grow up and be independent with her pursuit of a better life and her studies, but it only made her a giant twit who abandoned the one relationship that made her someone you root for.
Meanwhile, poor Branson is reduced to useless one-liners. It’s like after Sybil died, they had no use for his character anymore. He turned out to be nothing but a reflection of Sybil’s revolutionary views and the show didn’t really develop his character fully. Luckily for him there is romance on the horizon. Miss Edmunds seems like a strong, self-assured woman without being abrasive. It’s funny how her character seems more fully fleshed out in her few appearances than Branson’s ever was. She is everything the show wanted Miss Bunting to be – remember her? Thank God Branson didn’t end up with her!
But the absolute best part of all this? Lady Edith finally, finally gets her happy ending! And I tell you, I was kept in suspense until the last minute. It all started with what she thought was a dinner with Aunt Rosamund at The Ritz, but it turned out to be just a ploy for Bertie to see her. And who arranged everything? You’ll never guess. Or maybe you will. It’s that nasty, jealous, scheming MBM! I thought in that last episode that the only way she could redeem herself is by somehow undoing her vile machinations and getting Bertie and Edith back together, and it seems she did. But don’t think that it makes her a nice person now, because it doesn’t. It just evens everything out on the scale of bitchiness she inhabits.
Anyway, in a rather emotional and dramatic dinner scene, Bertie admits to Edith that he was a wuss for leaving (which he was). Edith is still justifiably angry at him, but Harry Hadden-Paton does a really great job as Bertie, with his barely held back tears complete with trembling lip. Good job, Bertie! It’s a good enough job that Edith takes him back. Robert and Cora are over the moon when they find out, and Robert expresses his unrestrained happiness with a very restrained “Hurrah.” I must say though, when he was about to tell Cora the news, her first reaction of “She’s pregnant again?” was a bit off-putting and out of character for someone like Cora to say. She’d always been supportive of Edith and the one who always saw the best in her often overlooked daughter, so that line did not seem funny or amusing at all.
So we finally meet Edith’s future mother-in-law, and boy is she a pill. All about morals and honor and all that. Edith is in big trouble. But she’s finally learned the importance of honesty so she comes clean to Mrs. Pelham, who even calls her damaged goods! (Not to her face, but to Bertie). We are kept wondering if she will still announce the engagement, but with a timely reminder by Robert that she will lose her son forever if she doesn’t accept it, she finally agrees and makes the happy announcement.
Cut to the church, but are we relaxed now? No! Because Anna (who still hasn’t given birth at the time) is hinting that she feels uncomfortable with the heat, and all I’m thinking is that Anna, of all people, will find a way to ruin Edith’s big moment! Fortunately for all concerned, it was just a red herring, and Edith is finally married. Hurrah! Sighs of relief all around.
I saw Julian Ovenden at the SAG Awards, when the cast of Downton Abbey accepted their award for Outstanding Ensemble in a Drama Series (Allen Leech looked fit!). I completely forgot about him and how he was in Series 4 (as Charles Blake) when the storyline was all about how MBM had a horde of suitors. Remember him? There was that whole fiasco with the pigs being dehydrated or running away or something like that, and he helped MBM get them back in the pen. And that’s when it hit me: he should have ended up with MBM instead of that Novocaine-addled mechanic. Blake and MBM had more chemistry in that scene than MBM and the mechanic in a whole season. Although if you think about it, Blake was far too good for her anyway. And maybe Fellowes thought that having both MBM and Edith end up with men from their pasts would be repetitive. I’ve expressed all my anger about the MBM-mechanic pairing in my last Downton post, so I can let this go. The important thing is EDITH’S HAPPY ENDING.
Another happy ending involves Isobel and Lord Merton (she finally admits she loves him when she thinks he’s about to die from pernicious anemia, but guess what, he’s not really sick so they get married! Dr. Clarkson is the one who breaks the happy news about Lord Merton’s non-fatal condition to the couple, and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the poor guy who almost proposed to Isobel even after she kept bullying him at the hospital.)
The episode (and the series) ends on New Year’s Eve, with everyone ready to start their new life. It’s so apt that the final scenes play out as they all sing Auld Lang Syne.
The Christmas special was everything a Downton fan could have hoped for, with everything neatly tied up in a big red bow. Closure everywhere, and a lot of it was something we saw coming from a mile away. I watched it a few days after Christmas, and I finally got the magic of this thing called the Christmas special. As we grow older, Christmas tends to lessen in stature and it becomes just another holiday to endure (or is that just me?). But watching this extremely satisfying wrap-up to a wonderful series made me feel like a kid again and brought back memories of waking up early on Christmas morning ready to play with all my gifts. So this is why the British treasure their Doctor Who Christmas specials!
Downton Abbey was my gateway drug to BBC dramas, and the whole show has felt as comforting as sipping hot tea in your jammies in bed on a cold day. I can’t remember sticking with a show for all seasons and not ending up hating everyone on it (all that is reserved for MBM). It ended just when it should, with no dragging it on until it just sucked. I’m sad that I won’t see Dame Maggie and hear her snarky comments again, but who’s stopping me from rewatching everything from the first episode? I’m going back to that feeling of, “What is this Downton Abbey thing everyone’s talking about, and am I even gonna like it?”