“With any luck, they’ll be happy enough. Which is the English version of a happy ending.” — The Dowager Countess
The last Downton Abbey of season six — and, also, my dear friends, the last Downton Abbey ever — provides more than the English version of a happy ending. It’s an ending that’s happy by any standard.
In keeping with the Downton tradition of making the Christmas episodes as celebratory as possible, this most final of finales is a supersized parade of new beginnings, fresh starts and, with one exception, pure joy. No matter how frustrated viewers may have felt in recent seasons — the show spent too much time on rapist-murder mysteries and whatever the hell Denker was doing — it was impossible to watch this last episode with anything other than a full heart and warm affection. This show will be deeply missed.
Did the finale have its flaws? Of course. This wouldn’t be Downton Abbey without plotlines that feel a tad rushed, a certain degree of predictability, and dialogue that reflects the show’s central themes with all the delicacy of a ball-peen hammer. On the rushed side of things: Poor Carson’s Parkinson’s Disease (or the palsy, as he called it) progresses awfully quickly, doesn’t it? And Henry and Tom get their car shop up and running faster than you can say, “Let me discuss it with our pig-man.” (Did you honestly think I’d write my last recap without working in that gem of a phrase? Please.)
Then, the most on-the-nose conversation of all time unfolds between Cora and Robert, when they basically announce that everyone in the family is happy (as if we couldn’t see that for ourselves) and that everything in their lives will be super-hunky-dory-golly-gumdrops for the foreseeable future. “I think the more adaptable we are, the more chance we have of getting through,” Cora tells her husband. In an odd coincidence, that’s also the exact opposite of Donald Trump’s campaign strategy.
There aren’t many surprises in this finale, either. I predicted several of the things that actually wound up happening in this preview piece, and I swear on a stack of Septimus Spratt’s advice columns that I didn’t watch the finale until after I made my guesses. Then again, forecasting Downton Abbey developments has never been rocket science (or any other kind of science, for that matter). Furthermore, I’d say that most fans didn’t necessarily want this finale to be unpredictable. We just wanted to see all our lords, ladies, butlers, and maids in happy and fulfilling places in their lives. That’s certainly what we got. Like Robert says, as though he’s speaking for us: “What more can we ask?”
Let’s just revel in how thoroughly Downton this episode is. It doubles down on its own Downton-ness, and then multiplies that figure by ten. It is Downton Abbey as told by Stefon. It has everything: upstairs bedrooms invaded by members of the working class (via Daisy, and via Anna’s unexpected labor); members of the downstairs staff being puzzled by modern conveniences (A hairdryer? Whaaaaat?); the Crawleys conversing with other rich, white people who are way more uptight than they are (nice to meet you, Mrs. Pelham); the diagnosis of not one, but two, potentially debilitating diseases; scheming behind other people’s backs, albeit for nice reasons (nice work arranging that dinner for Edith, Mary); cutting away from extremely dramatic conversations so we can’t see them occur (we shall never know what Edith actually said to Mrs. Pelham); the longest, grand-dining-roomiest dining-room table in Downton Abbey history, courtesy of the Bertie/Edith engagement-announcement party; everyone on the staff being rude to Thomas, for old time’s sake; Carson saying sexist shit, also for old time’s sake (“I still find it odd that a woman in her condition is still working as a lady’s maid.” Fine, Carson, then give her decent maternity leave); a lavish wedding; a life-altering haircut; oodles of gorgeous dresses and headbands; and, of course, the Dowager Countess dropping her final drops of knowledge on us. “Don’t be mysterious. It’s the last resort of people with no secrets.” So true, Granny. So true.
There were so many scenes and moments that I loved in this finale that I feel compelled to make a list. Let’s jump right into it.
Pretty much everything that involves Edith
You knew there was no way Julian Fellowes would end the series with Edith thinking of herself as a “spinster,” to use her word. Even though it would have been gutsy and subversive for her to live alone and work in London while raising her daughter, the fact that Edith expresses a willingness to do just that tells us her feminist credibility card is in full working order. She deserves to be with Bertie, and happily, she gets to be.
I loved that the two people most responsible for helping the union along were Mary and Robert, who once showed Edith the least amount of respect. At this point, Robert is basically the president of the Lady Edith Crawley — pardon me, that’s Edith Pelham, Marchioness of Hexham — Fan Club. I actually guffawed when he got mad at Cora for implying she might not make the trip to the Pelhams: “This is your second child, who’s hardly had a day’s happiness in the last ten years!” An exaggeration, yes. But all those references to past events — the altar jilting, the time Edith nearly died in a house fire of her own making — were reminders that, well, Robert was only hyperbolizing a little bit.
More stuff I loved about Edith’s story line: the way Bertie gets choked up when he tells Edith he’d “done a very bad job” of living without her; Edith’s unimpeachable honesty with her future mother-in-law, who probably would have been much less forgiving, but since they needed to get to the altar in under 90 minutes, whatever; and most of all, the way she finally gets the chance to glide down the stairs, looking as gauzy and beautiful and adored by her father as Mary did the day she married Matthew. It was perfect.
“We have a son, John.”
When Anna Bates said that line to her husband while cradling their newborn … yeah, I got teary. It was a significant moment, not only because these two finally have a family after years and years of seemingly endless suffering, but also because — as far as I can tell — a baby got delivered on Downton Abbey and it didn’t result in anyone’s death. Think about it: Sybil delivers Sybbie, dies in childbirth. Mary delivers George, Matthew dies in a car accident. Edith has Marigold, and the missing Matthew Gregson is eventually found dead. It’s as though Julian Fellowes takes “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away” literally, like a one-for-one deal. But this time, it all goes smoothly. It is also notable that Anna had the child in all the comforts of Mary’s upstairs bedroom — the final symbolic proof that there is no divide between upstairs and down.
The exit and triumphant return of Thomas Barrow
On the one hand, it is ridiculous that Thomas was permitted to give notice. With Molesley clearly on his way out and Carson’s health problems, it was obvious they were going to need Thomas before he even walked out the Downton door. But having him leave gives everyone the opportunity to issue heartfelt farewells — oh my God, who else basically died when Master George said, “Good-bye, Mistew Bawwow?” — and gives the audience the chance to rejoice when Thomas, who has officially transformed into Nice Thomas, gets to come back. It’s too bad that the changing of guards happens because of Carson’s illness. But it felt very right.
Isobel Crawley, savior of Lord Merton
It makes total sense that the only thing that would finally force Isobel to admit her feelings and marry Lord Merton is a medical emergency. Also, after watching the way Lord Merton is treated by his new daughter-in-law, I feel like I should have ranked Amelia higher on this list.
One last Patmore freak-out
This finale would not have felt complete if Patmore hadn’t lost her grip over a massive amount of food that needed to be made. (In this case, for Edith’s wedding.) And Daisy’s response when Patmore insists that there could be no mistakes was classic: “I don’t think people ever want mistakes, Mrs. Patmore. They just happen.”
The unbearable hotness of Andy Parker
Who knew that Andy was hot? Daisy sure didn’t until she goes to Mr. Mason’s and sprouts a thought bubble that says, “Wow, Andy looks awfully rugged when he’s got fewer clothes on and is hammering nails into things.” Clearly, the idea of nails and being hammered stirs something within her, which is why she attempts to give herself a very ill-advised cut-and-blow-dry. Fortunately, Anna helps her achieve the second chic-est bob in Downton history — Mary is the chief owner of all bob bragging rights in perpetuity — and now she’s well on her way to having her first real boyfriend. Cheers, Daisy.
How the Dowager Countess and Henry react to Spratt’s column
The way Dame Maggie Smith reads Spratt’s advice column and starts laughing while Denker just stands there, looking confused — well, it is just magical. And who can blame her for reveling in Spratt’s prose? After all, he is “full of ideas when it comes to combining comfort and elegance.” As for Henry, I didn’t even know he’d known Spratt well enough to understand how crazy it is for him to dispense advice in a woman’s magazine. But that’s what I love about Henry Talbot. He just gets it.
The return of Shrimpy and Rose and Atticus
It is fitting for some of the regular characters to return, and nice to hear that Rose and Atticus have their own daughter. Although it seems kind of strange that they left the child back in America, during the holidays no less, just because their nanny insisted. I sincerely hope their nanny is not this woman.
Mary’s pregnancy (and insistence on not stealing Edith’s thunder)
I’m not sure if I imagined it, but it seemed Mary was even more gleeful about having a child with Henry than she was with Matthew. Even more satisfying was her insistence that they keep the news private so as not to steal Edith’s thunder on her wedding day. I was never optimistic about a permanently good relationship between Mary and Edith — a more polite one, maybe, but not really good. But this episode changed my mind about that. Henry and Edith seem to genuinely enjoy each other’s company in a way she and Matthew did not, and I see him as a potential bridge between sisters.
Pretty soon, all the Crawley couples and their kids — by the way, Laura Edmunds caught the bouquet at the wedding, which means she and Tom will be married within a week — will soon spend their Friday nights hanging out at Talbot & Branson Motors, just throwing back brews and doing staged readings of Spratt’s columns.
Carson and Mrs. Hughes finally call each other by their first names
“We can make a go of it, Charlie, and I definitely mean to try. Happy new year.”
“Happy new year, Elsie.”
Yeah, that got to me. So did the singing of “Auld Lang Syne,” which made me wish, more so than any other Christmas episode, that we actually got to see this in December rather than the yuletideless first week of March.
But that’s a quibble, and there’s no need for those right now. Downton Abbey ends on a perfectly lovely note, and it gave us a final season that was as engaging as it’s ever been, especially in its final stretch of episodes.
The last words of the series were, of course, reserved for the woman who always gets the last word: the Dowager Countess.
Isobel: “We’re going forward into the future, not back into the past.”
The Dowager Countess: “If only we had the choice.”
For six seasons, Downton Abbey gave us the choice to go back into the past, and we happily chose to make the journey. In the afterglow of this finale, that decision seems well worth it to me.
On a more personal note, I just want to say what a joy it’s been to write about this show and discuss it with all of you. I will miss it very much.
And now, I suppose there’s only one thing left to say.
Good-bye, Mistew Bawwow.