Season 2 of Downton Abbey drew to a close as the household ushered in a new decade with hunting, dancing and a Ouija board. Wait, what? Yes, the parlor game panchettes (or in the US, “Ouija board”) was popular by the 1920’s, but made for an odd plot device in this otherwise excellent finale.
Warning: spoilers ahead
Where to begin? Episode 6 left us in the spring of 1919, so approximately eight months or so have passed in “Downton time.” Lady Sybil is married to Branson and living in Ireland, and gasp! is already pregnant, and it sounds like Robert is going to cave to Cora’s demand that she not be kept from her grandchild, so we’ll likely see Sybil again next season (I really missed her during the Christmas episode). Lady Mary is becoming increasingly agitated by Sir Richard and his constant “when can we set a date, already?” question. Mr. Bates is on trial for his life, casting a gloomy shadow over Anna’s world. Thomas and O’Brien are up to their scheming once again. And Aunt Rosamund comes to visit, bringing her lady’s maid with her and another Ethel-like sub-plot that seemed almost entirely unnecessary (other than to highlight how many of the British aristocracy had serious financial troubles after the war–but wasn’t that point already hammered home when Richard and Mary were searching for an estate?).
Let’s start with the dominating plots of the show. First, Mr. Bates’s trial. For a man who uses his words sparingly, Bates certainly managed to utter some choice phrases that did not come off well in the courtroom when O’Brien, Mrs. Hughes, and Lord Grantham were forced to repeat them. Anna’s strangled scream after the guilty verdict is pronounced was heartbreaking, as was Bates’s haggard face as he’s dragged off to meet his maker. But news later comes that is in Mr. Bates’s favor–some of the details call into question the case for a premeditated murder, reducing his sentence to life imprisonment rather than hanging. Now there is a chance of proving his innocence–which means this plot will be spilling over into the third season. Makes me wonder if perhaps Sir Richard may have to testify, as he heard Mrs. Bates make a very clear threat against her husband after she learned she had been paid off for the Pamuk story.
The other main plot had a (thankfully) much happier ending. The Matthew & Mary “will they/won’t they?” dance seems to have come to an end. At least, I hope so. I won’t feel at ease until I see those two at the altar, exchanging vows and pronounced husband and wife. Matthew and Mary are miserable for most of the episode, Matthew due to his insistence on honoring Lavinia’s memory (even though that’s not how she wanted it honored), and Mary dealing with her abrasive, controlling fiancee. The only time the two do seem happy (shockingly enough), is when they are together.
Finally, finally, they begin to listen to outside advice. After learning of the Pamuk scandal, Lord Robert tells his daughter to break with Carlisle, as a month’s worth of scandal is not worth a lifetime of unhappiness. Mary then receives similar advice from Matthew (I bet that was an awkward confession–too bad they cut away and only came back to show Matthew’s reaction). Now that Mary’s decided to give Sir Richard the boot (good riddance–though I’m sure we’ll see him again next season), the only thing standing in the way is Matthew, who is still unconvinced that the Spanish flu killed Lavinia rather than the kiss he shared with Mary. Cousin Isobel at last makes herself truly useful by telling her son that no one his age should be unhappy, and if he believes there is a way to change that, and doesn’t do it, well, the war has simply taught him nothing.
Lord Robert seems to give Matthew the final push by telling him he did nothing dishonorable and was a man of his word as he had every intention of marrying Lavinia. Robert adds that Matthew should not blame himself for feelings he cannot control (I suppose he speaks from experience after the “Jane affair”). Lavinia makes a final appearance from beyond the grave, sending her blessing through the Ouija board, to Anna and Daisy’s surprise (does this mean Lavinia’s spirit now haunts the halls of Downton?)
So, after waiting for two agonizing seasons, we finally get the fairytale scene we’ve been waiting for: Matthew down on one knee, asking Mary to be his wife, who very happily accepts. A perfect ending to the second season (now please, Julian Fellowes, please let them get married and have lots of babies and live happily ever after…please?)
There were several other great sub-plots featured in this episode. Lady Edith goes after her love interest from the first series, Sir Anthony Strallen. It was awfully nice of Lady Violet to set up a reunion between the two (which she then quickly discouraged after realizing his arm was lame–really Granny? Almost all of the eligible bachelors are dead from the war or maimed in some way or another. Let Edith have her happiness where she can find it).
Thanks to the Ouija board’s urging, Daisy pays a long overdue call to her father-in-law on the farm. In a poignant scene Daisy finally wraps her mind around the fact that William thought she was special, and that he wanted his father to have someone to call family after he passed away. And now Daisy has a rational guiding voice to listen to, which prompts her to ask for a promotion in the kitchen.
It was nice to see some of the old-school plotting and scheming by Thomas this episode. But stealing a man’s dog? That’s just wrong. And then to be rewarded for it with a trial run as his valet? What sort of lesson is that to teach? At least we see Thomas showing some concern for the dog’s absence when he finds her missing from the shed he locked her in. Still, you know a scheme is particularly underhanded when it garners O’Brien’s disapproval (even though it hatched from her own advice).
So that’s a wrap for season 2! I really found this to be one of the best episodes of the season, with more focus on the principal characters. I also liked the “lighter” parts thrown in, such as “the game” (aka charades) and the servants dancing with the family members (Mrs. Patmore’s face was priceless while dancing with Matthew). What did you think? Did the finale live up to all the Downton hype? Any predictions for next season?