Dear Downton: Don’t Screw Up the Carson–Mrs. Hughes Story Line Next Season

Part EightSunday, February 23, 20149 – 11pm ET on MASTERPIECE on PBSLady Rose meets the Prince of Wales and faces a dilemma. Trouble also plagues Cora’s mother and brother, Edith, and almost everyone else atDownton Abbey.Shown from left to right: Phyllis Logan as Mrs. Hughes as Jim Carter as Mr. Carson(C) Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2013 for MASTERPIECEThis image may be used only in the direct promotion of MASTERPIECE CLASSIC. No other rights are granted. All rights are reserved. Editorial use only. USE ON THIRD PARTY SITES SUCH AS FACEBOOK AND TWITTER IS NOT ALLOWED.
Lady Rose meets the Prince of Wales and faces a dilemma. Trouble also plagues Cora’s mother and brother, Edith, and almost everyone else at Downton Abbey. Photo: Nick Briggs/Carnival Films

I am not a monster, so the last scene of this season’s Downton Abbey finale filled me — momentarily, anyway — with joy. Carson, the severe but soft-hearted butler, and Mrs. Hughes, the matronly housekeeper, seemed finally ready to acknowledge what we at home had known for years: They loooove each other, and they both deserve a little happiness after a lifetime spent making sure that other people’s silver is polished properly. The two old friends held hands, waded into the ocean, said some suggestive (for the 1920s) things to each other; their co-workers looked on approvingly. It was sweet and well-earned, an uncharacteristic ending to a season filled with random love stories and an unnecessary (not to mention upsetting) rape — which is why the alarm bells started ringing even as I watched it.

When people fall in love on Downton Abbey, one of them dies. Or disappears. Or gets charged with murder. Or maybe actually does murder someone, depending on how much faith you put in train stubs found in coat pockets. The point is: The worst thing that can happen on Downton Abbey, aside from dressing wrong for dinner, is a happy relationship. The show flings people together, only to un-fling them apart two episodes later through tragic circumstances; a declaration of affection is akin to a death sentence, or at least a season spent saying ridiculous things and moping in corners. This is fine, usually, since match-making is in the show’s basic costume-drama DNA (what else do people talk about in drawing rooms, besides whether two people will get married?). But it is one thing to repeatedly jilt an unliked rich girl (sorry, Edith), and it is another to ruin the long-held hopes of Carson and Mrs. Hughes, two decent characters who have nowhere else to go.

We’ve already seen what happens when the two well-meaning servants fall in love too quickly: jail sentences, unwanted sex scenes, whole episodes about letters. (I will stop dissing the Anna and Bates plotlines when the show figures out how to spin them off quietly and leave us be.) Carson and Mrs. Hughes are even more crucial to the show at this point — they’re the parent figures; the institutional memory; the proof that a life in service can mean something, both to the house and to the servant him or herself. If they’re miserable, then Downton — the estate, and the show — can’t function.

Downton already suffers from a lack of steadiness, and to drag its two most beloved characters into the fray (with late-onset alcoholism? Secret former spouses? Cancer, again?) would ruin whatever balance there is left. So for the sake of the television show, I hope that Downton skips the melodrama just this once. And for the sake of Carson and Mrs. Hughes, I hope they get to make out all day long in the butler’s office until they retire. They deserve it.

Downton Abbey: Don’t Screw Up Carson-Hughes