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Downton Abbey Season 4, ep. 2 recap

Mary & Anthony

At the end of last night’s episode of Downton Abbey, I honestly didn’t know how I was going to approach today’s recap.  Episode 2 depicted a brutal act of violence on one of the most beloved characters, making all other plot lines seem insignificant and petty by comparison.  It was a jarring note that was sharply out of tune with what Downton Abbey fans expect from the show each week.  Yes, we were dealt some emotional blows last season with the loss of two major characters, but there was something about this plot twist that seemed so terribly out of place with the rest of the series.

That being said, I will still recap the episode, leaving my personal thoughts on “that BIG thing that happened” for the end.

Warning: Huge, major spoilers ahead!

This week’s episode begins with a house party at Downton, one that makes old-fashioned Robert remember the good ol’ days before the war.  The purpose of the party is to help cheer Mary up and continue to bring her back around into society.  Anthony “Tony” Foyle (Lord Gillingham), an old family friend, seems to have been invited solely for that purpose.  Even though he’s nearly engaged to a wealthy heiress, he doesn’t do much to hide his new-found fancy for Mary.

Mary & Anthony 2

This causes Mary to go into self-reflection mode, as she tells Anthony that Matthew changed her, and she wonders if she wouldn’t be stronger now if she had been the person she was before Matthew.  But later (after she sees Matthew’s old gramophone while dancing with Anthony), she tells Anna she doesn’t know if she is more in mourning for Matthew or for the person she was when she was with him.  Hopefully Mary will soon find her footing in her Matthew-less world.

Edith & Gregson

Michael Gregson is dragged out to Downton by Edith, who wants her father to get to know him better.  Gregson tries to catch Robert, but as we all know, he’s pretty good at the whole avoidance thing.  Robert is also in his usual “let’s throw money down the drain!” form and loses a tidy little sum to another house guest, Terence Sampson.  Gregson at last endears himself to Edith’s Papa when he uses some old tricks to outsmart Sampson the card sharp, and wins back all of Robert’s money.  So now that Robert likes Gregson, we can anticipate that Fellowes will likely place a new obstacle in Edith and Gregson’s way (besides the whole divorce thing).  Because happy endings just aren’t what he’s about these days.

The other house guest, Sir John Bullock, sets his cap at Rose, and we see them interact a bit, but to me it was mostly background noise as I was trying to keep up with everything else that was going on. (Plus Rose still isn’t my favorite….why the heck didn’t she ask Mary if it was okay to use Matthew’s old gramophone?  Typical teenager.)

Rose

Amidst all this, Tom is feeling like a white-tie-clad fish out of water.  The Dowager tries to help him fit in, but he’s bad at the small talk, he doesn’t know the proper way to address people, and frankly, he has nothing in common with them.  If Matthew had been around, I’m sure he would have kept Tom company and helped ease him into these sorts of situations (since they were once new to Matthew as well), but without him there, Tom’s adrift.  So, cue Edna!  What is this woman’s end game, exactly?  Does she actually like Tom?  Or does she just enjoy messing with his head?  I’m going with the latter.  At the end of the episode, she brings him a huge tumbler of whiskey, suggests he take it to bed with him, and then decides to join them.  Without asking.  Given the scene that took place right before this one, I couldn’t help but think there was some sort of horrible theme Fellowes was trying to inject into the episode.

The big upstairs event of the house party was the performance of opera singer Nellie Melba (portrayed by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa), who Lord Robert and Carson could not figure out where to place (given what happened at the end of the episode, doesn’t this seem so immaterial?).  She’s above a servant, but below a house guest.  Oh, what to do?  In the end Cora solves the problem for them by becoming furious at Robert and inviting Dame Melba down to dinner, where she and Robert bond over a shared love of claret.  Crisis averted.

Robert & Dame Melba

While Mary seems to be coming out of her mourning, Isobel is still mired with grief.  Penelope Wilton’s portrayal of the grieving mother was in top form this episode.  The dinner scene in which she sees Mary laughing was wonderfully done.  She knows it’s not fair to think Mary might grieve for her son forever, but at the same time Isobel is having trouble moving on.

Isobel

While everyone’s having a grand time remembering the good ol’ days upstairs, it’s frantic chaos downstairs to make sure the house party is pulled off successfully.  There are visiting valets and maids, though not as many as Carson would like to see (apparently he has yet to accept the newsflash that many aristocrats are feeling the post-war financial crunch), so that means some of the downstairs staff have to attend to the guests.  But no one is feeling the strain more than Mrs. Patmore, who has a panic attack  while preparing the big dinner and Alfred jumps in to make the sauces (yay, Alfred! For once your character had something else to do besides pining over Ivy!).

Mrs Patmore

But even with all the craziness happening downstairs (Jimmy sprains his wrist while twisting a jar to impress Ivy!  Oh, when will the hi-jinks end?), Lord Gillingham’s valet, Green, still finds time to strike up some friendly card games with the downstairs staff, and takes an instant interest in Anna, something Bates is none too happy about.  But Anna, being the kind, trusting creature that she is, thinks it’s completely harmless.  It turns out to be anything but.  While the entire Downton staff are upstairs attending the performance of Dame Melba, Anna goes downstairs for some headache powder.  There she is cornered by Green and subsequently beaten and raped.  No one is downstairs to hear her screams.  Mrs. Hughes later finds her, huddled shaking in a corner.  Anna begs Mrs. Hughes to keep what she’s seen a secret.  Anna fears that Bates will go after Green and land himself in jail once more.  She makes up a flimsy excuse to Bates, saying the bruises were a result of fainting and smacking her head against the sink as she went down.  She refuses to walk home with him, and goes out into the darkness, crying quietly.

I have no idea where this storyline is going, but Bates is bound to put two and two together and figure out what happened.  I will just be interested to see if he finds out from Anna, or if he figures it out himself.  But whatever happens, I have no doubt this event will put a great strain on Bates and Anna’s relationship.

For my part, Downton Abbey has always been a wonderful escape, and while I’m not saying rape is a subject that shouldn’t be discussed or to pretend it never happened in the past, the violent act just felt so out of character for the show.  Depending on how they move forward with this, I am concerned about Fellowes’s motives for doing this.  Was it just for shock value, or will it have a major, long-lasting (and seemingly devastating) effect on the character?  And will that effect be realistic and true to the period?  Of one thing I’m certain, Downton has taken a seriously dark turn, and there’s no going back now.

I had some other thoughts about last night’s episode, and I think that Edwardian Promenade covered them very well.  Here’s the link to the recap: http://www.edwardianpromenade.com/downton-abbey/downton-abbey-season-4-episode-2-recap-downtonpbs/

What did you think about the episode and the shocking turn of events?

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Downton Abbey Season 4, ep. 1 recap

Matthew's grave

Warning: Spoilers ahead for season 4, episode 1

After last season’s devastating finale, we’ve spent a year waiting to see how the characters of Downton Abbey would move forward without its leading man and heir, Matthew Crawley.  The season 4 premiere picks up 6 months after Matthew’s untimely demise, and at a crossroads for Mary.  As the wise Dowager Countess tells her, she must choose between either death or life.  And while she spends the first half of the episode in a grief-stricken fog, in the second half we see Mary rejoining the land of the living.  Welcome back, Mary, and welcome back, Downton Abbey!

I found the majority of last night’s premiere to be a delight.  The actors were in top form, the storylines (for the most part) engaging.  There was so much going on in last night’s episode, I’m going to mainly focus on the highlights.

Mary

Upstairs the house is divided over how Mary should handle her grief.  Wait, let me correct that: everyone but Robert thinks it’s time Mary move on and perhaps take an interest in something other than staring out the window and…well, just staring in general.  But Robert thinks she should go on wallowing in her grief, and in the meantime he’ll just reclaim the reins and run the estate.  After two really wonderful scenes between Mary and the Dowager and Mary and Carson (really, those two scenes stole the show for me), Mary finally comes around to the idea that it’s time to rebuild her life.  Good thing Mary thinks of Carson as a second father, because she certainly doesn’t receive much support from her dear Papa when she expresses an interest in running Downton.  We got emotional whiplash, watching Robert go from telling everyone to handle Mary with kid gloves to giving her a very public verbal smack down about how she doesn’t know anything about managing a farm.

Mary and Tom

But not to worry, because Branson, er, Tom, is ready to teach Mary Estate Running 101 (that’s, right: a former chauffeur/revolutionary teaching a lord’s daughter about farming).  Mary is somewhat doubtful (and rightfully so because of the aforementioned reasons) about whether or not she can do this.  But Matthew reaches from beyond the grave to instill some confidence in her with yet another convenient dead-character-letter, a plot device I think Fellowes should patent at this point (first there was Reggie Swire, then Lavinia, and I swear if Sybil hadn’t been suffering from eclampsyia she would have penned one too, though she had more time to talk to everyone about her wishes before she died, so I guess it wasn’t necessary).  While I was preparing for a good eye roll, the letter was actually kind of nice, contrived as it was.  Recall how, in season 1, Matthew really wasn’t pleased about inheriting Downton Abbey and Cora’s fortune along with it.  He thought its rightful heir was Mary.  So, in a nice “full circle” wrap-up, Matthew proclaims that Mary should be the sole heiress of his fortune, and that she must take charge.  Now, why he wrote the note and then stuck it in a random book in his office, I don’t know.  But look, he kept the good luck charm Mary gave him during the war!  Seeing that was the closest I came to tearing up during the episode.

Mary with stuffed dog

I’m excited to see how Mary rebuilds her life, and it sounds like the old Mary we knew from season 1 is returning, and she’s going to need that backbone if she wants to successfully take on her stubborn Papa.

Edith and Michael Gregson

Meanwhile, Edith frequently escapes to London to see her married editor, Michael Gregson.  Her transformation is obvious by the clothing choices she makes.  She’s become stylish and seems so full of life when she’s around Gregson (but then, compared to Mary, it doesn’t take much to accomplish this).  Gregson tells Edith he’s come up with a way for them to be together–he can get a divorce if he becomes a German citizen!  Great idea, Gregson!  I’m sure nothing can go wrong there.  Right?

Rose

And then we have Rose.  I knew she was going to get on my nerves, I just knew it.  I’m trying to like her, I really am.  But she’s that annoying added-in character whose only purpose seems to be to show us the youthful side of the “Roaring 20s.”  Her bedroom is a stark contrast to Mary’s, with the gramophone playing, the magazines spread out on the bed.  She’s a young, hip teenager!  She wants to party.  And so she does, roping Anna into going to a dance hall with her, where she proceeds to have two men get into a fist fight over her.  And in the one “headdesk” moment of the night for me, when the guy she danced with visits Downton to see her, she comes out in a maid’s outfit (since that was her alibi at the dance hall), to tell him that she is engaged to someone else…but she of course must kiss him before he goes.  Oh, Rose, you little rebel.

Rose

Speaking of Rose, apparently her mother decided that it was a fair trade to give Cora her annoying daughter in exchange for Cora’s lady’s maid we love to hate, O’Brien.  I’ll admit it, I wasn’t that sad to see her go (yeah, I said it).  Her plot line last year was so boring as she slowly set the trap for Thomas.  Longest. Revenge scheme. Ever.  But I didn’t really care for the treatment of her departure.  She just runs away, “like a thief in the night.”  What about the loyalty, O’Brien?  You weren’t willing to let anybody hurt her ladyship after the Great Soap Incident.  Seemed slightly out of character, though O’Brien was always looking out for herself.  And in her place, who should we have step into the role of Conniving Lady’s Maid 2.0 but Edna Braithwaite, the former housemaid who forced Branson, er, Tom, to tears during the season 3 finale by making him feel ashamed of who he had become.  Thomas already has his hooks in her, and actually schemes with her to frame Anna, ANNA!, of all people, for a blouse Edna ruined.  Seriously, Thomas?  You want to go after the nicest person downstairs, the one who is married to a man who was accused of murder and spent a year in jail?  You want to go there?  Okay, well…I guess we’ll find out how that works for you.

Edna

No Edna, you don’t look at all villainous grinning by the fire like that.

When Thomas isn’t manipulating Edna, he’s working his magic on Lady Cora regarding Nanny West.  Not liking the way the nanny treats him like a servant, Thomas gives a tip to her ladyship that Nanny West isn’t taking proper care of the children.  Turns out Thomas’s malign meddling is for the best, as we learn Nanny West is neglecting baby Sybbie because she is the daughter of the former chauffeur, going so far as to call her a “crossbreed”.  Cora catches her in the act and immediately dismisses her.  She’s grateful to Thomas for the information, gratitude I’m sure Thomas will find a way to work in his favor.

Cora catches Nanny West

Cora listening in on Nanny West

Elsewhere downstairs, we still have the most awkward love square ever happening.  Ivy loves Jimmy, Alfred loves Ivy, and Daisy loves Alfred.  And they all know it!  So Ivy, when Jimmy asks you to go to the pub and gets you squiffy, it’s because he’s bored and this is his idea of fun.  Not because he likes you.  Come on!  I’m still rooting for Daisy, though.  She got compliments from the Dowager for her electric mixer mousse!  She could really go places with that kind of endorsement!

Daisy

Also downstairs, Mr. Carson receives a letter from the second half of his Cheerful Charlies act, Charlie Grigg.  A man he has no desire to hear from, because, as we find out, he stole his love, Alice, away from him.  But Mrs. Hughes, being the benign meddler that she is, goes and visits him in the poor house.  Carson is furious and blusters about, but Mrs. Hughes, undeterred, goes to Isobel Crawley for assistance.  In the process, she helps pull Isobel from her grief by giving her a taste of the work she used to do and love.  Isobel takes in Mr. Grigg and helps him find a job and get back on his feet.  Before he leaves, Carson speaks with Charlie, who tells him Alice admitted later that she made a mistake, that she should have chosen Carson.  If she had, Carson’s entire life would have had a very different trajectory.  Downton without Carson?  I don’t want to think about that.

The Cheerful Charlies make amends

The Cheerful Charlies make amends

That leaves us with our happily married, contented, Mr. and Mrs. Bates.  Things are rosy in the garden for them for now (which worries me, because we know how Fellowes feels about happy couples…).  The two decide they want to help Mr. Molesley, who has not found another job since the death of his former employer.  Because Molesley refuses straight-up charity, Bates decides to put into practice some of his learned-in-jail skills, and forges Molesley’s name on a letter stating he had lent money to Bates.  Molesley gratefully accepts the “repayment,” and we are left to wonder what he’s going to do when it runs out.

Bates & Molesley

A befuddled Molesley accepts money from Bates

There was a lot to digest in episode 1, being a two-hour block.  And as usual, it served mainly to set up the character arcs for the season, which I am very excited to see play out.  Next week it looks like the Crawleys are hosting a party, Downton style.

What did you all think of episode 1?  Did it live up to your expectations, and was it worth the wait?

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Downton Abbey, Season 3: Season Finale

castle

The season finale of Downton Abbey originally aired as the Christmas special in the UK.  A time for families to gather round the telly with a nice cup of  hot cocoa or egg nog, or whatever the Brits’ drink of choice is on Christmas night.  Ready to watch a nice warm and fuzzy Christmas episode of Downton, hopefully with an equally warm and fuzzy ending as last year’s finale.  And then THAT happened.  If I had been the above-mentioned UK viewer watching this on Christmas night, sipping my hot cocoa, the cup and its contents would have been flung at the TV screen.

Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately), I knew THAT was coming because it was almost impossible to not see an internet article about a certain major character leaving the series.  Unfortunate because it tainted the entire episode for me, but fortunate in that I knew not to have anything in my hands that might be thrown when THAT happened.

So, without further ado, let’s recap this episode.  Afterwards I’ll give a review of this season and my thoughts on THAT.

Warning: Major Spoilers for the season finale of Downton Abbey Season 3 ahead! 

It’s one year since the last episode took place, with the lovely cricket match and Lord Grantham’s finally allowing Matthew to implement his big ideas for the estate.  The family is packing up to visit Cousin Shrimpy (Lord Flintshire, who apparently received his unfortunate nickname as part of a nursery game) and his wife Susan and daughter Rose at their Scottish estate.  Apparently this is an annual outing for the Crawley family, even though we’ve never seen or heard mention of it before.  But as Bates explains, they did not go during the war years, and Sybil’s death prevented the excursion the previous year.  Mary is now eight months pregnant, and despite the advice that she should stay home and rest, she insists on going, because it isn’t 1850 anymore, after all.

Mary and Anna

“No one expects me to hide indoors until the baby’s born.”

O’Brien, Bates, Anna, and Molesley accompany the group (as valets and ladies’ maids often traveled with the family), leaving the rest of the servants to tend to Downton, and Tom (who wasn’t invited) while they are away.

At least he has Mrs. Crawley and Isis to keep him company.

At least he has Mrs. Crawley and Isis to keep him company.

Thus began the back-and-forth between picturesque Scotland and things “back home” at Downton that were at times tiresome.  A lot of new characters were introduced this episode that I didn’t give a fig about and were merely used as plot devices to help the main characters come to a better understanding about themselves (namely Tom Branson and Lord Robert).  To avoid further whiplash, I am going to recap the “downstairs at Downton” story first.

The downstairs staff hope that with the family away, they might be allowed a break, but Carson is having none of that.  There’s silver to polish, after all.  But Mrs. Hughes, softy that she is, convinces Carson to allow them time off to go to the fair, IF they get their work done.

Branson and Edna

Meanwhile new maid Edna is disturbing the delicate upstairs-downstairs balance by making her opinions known about Tom’s transformation from chauffeur to estate agent and family member.  She basically starts to stalk Tom, sneaking out and meeting him at the local pub when she overhears he’ll be there, and constantly asking him questions about feeling left out and not fitting in.  Which causes poor Tom to have a bit of an identity crisis (more on that later).

But Edna’s not the only one who is playing fast and loose.  A Mr. Tufton is introduced, a food supplier who takes a shining to Mrs. Patmore’s cooking.  He’s an unabashed flirt and Mrs. Patmore falls for his charms like one of Daisy’s early attempts at making a souffle.  And speaking of Daisy–whatever happened to the story line regarding Mr. Mason and the farm?  That was mentioned and forgotten.  And what about that love polygon?  It seems to have ended for this episode at least, though there is still visible tension between Thomas and Jimmy.

It’s Mr. Tufton who gives the downstairs the notion to attend the fair.  Mrs. Patmore suggests they should all go, though Carson stays behind so his bossy presence doesn’t spoil the fun.  Of course Edna gets Tom to go, even asking him to drive (ugh–I don’t like this girl).

But they aren’t the only ones going to the fair.  Dr. Clarkson invites Mrs. Crawley to go with him, after mentioning that he remembers she was a doctor’s wife.  And for some reason he suddenly decides he’s attracted to  her and perhaps wants to marry her…?  I can’t say this came completely out of left field, but it was odd, and I had always thought that if either of them were interested, it was Isobel, not Dr. Clarkson.  Go figure.

fair

The downstairs crew (plus Branson, no Tom, no, Branson–see, now I’m confused) arrive at the fair, and it soon becomes clear to Mrs. Hughes that Mr. Tufton may have led Mrs. Patmore to the wrong conclusion.  He gooses a girl working in his food supply stall, has ladies feel his bicep, and then she actually sees him kissing a few girls.

Mrs. Hughes seeing a bit more than she'd like of Mr. Tofton's flirtations.

Mrs. Hughes seeing a bit more than she’d like of Mr. Tufton’s flirtations.

Meanwhile the men enter into a tug of war contest, suggested by Jimmy, who appears to be out to make some money.  They win thanks to the last minute addition of Mr. Tufton and Jimmy walks away with a wad of cash which he quickly begins waving around to anyone and everyone while getting drunk at the same time.

daisy and lily

Elsewhere Daisy and Lily are exploring the fair together.  Putting their boy issues aside, they’ve grown to be friends since we last saw them.  It’s nice to see Daisy with someone her own age (rather than Mrs. Patmore) who can help her lighten up a little bit.  Alfred spends most of his time at the food supplier stalls and mentions to Mrs. Hughes that what he should be doing is cooking.  My hope?  One day he’ll wake up and notice Daisy, they’ll marry and live on Mr. Mason’s farm, and sell the food they make from the ingredients they grow.

Two nearly-simultaneous almost-proposals take place over at the refreshment area.  Mr. Tufton continues to compliment Mrs. Patmore’s cooking and thinks that taking orders from a husband would be better than taking them from a family one works for.  And just as Dr. Clarkson asks Isobel if she ever considered remarrying, Isobel very tactfully says that she likes her life the way it is and prevents him from making a fool of himself.

Jimmy and Thomas

Jimmy is still stumbling around like a drunken fool, and for some reason decides to go into the shadows under a bridge so two thugs could threaten him.  Thomas, who was apparently following Jimmy, distracts the aforementioned thugs so Jimmy can get away, taking the beating and mugging intended for him.  After they return to Downton, Jimmy pays Thomas a visit and asks him why he was following him.  Thomas explains that he was looking out for him, and knew he had too much to drink.  Jimmy tells him he can never give him what he wants, which Thomas understands, but would like to be friends.  Jimmy agrees.  Something tells me Jimmy may become Thomas’s new scheming buddy for the next season.

Patmore and Hughes

Now that they’re back home, Mrs. Hughes dishes out some observations she’s made over the course of the week.  First it’s with Mrs. Patmore, where she drops the bad news that Mr. Tufton has a wandering eye.  Much to her relief, Mrs. Patmore caught wind that he might only like her for her cooking, and is happy to hear she has an excuse to send him packing.

Tom and Edna

Next she talks to Tom about the Edna situation.  But not before Edna barges into his room, kisses him, and invites him to meet at the pub the following day (hussy much?).  And she then proceeds to try to disobey an order to get the rooms ready for Lady Mary by telling Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson that she promised to meet Tom Branson for lunch (the impertinence!).  Mrs. Hughes goes to tell Tom they are going to let Edna go.  She speaks frankly, telling him that he let Edna make him ashamed of his new life, that he’s done very well for himself, and Lady Sybil would be so proud of him.  Which prompts poor Tom to begin crying, stating that he just can’t bear to be without her.  To which Mrs. Hughes replies, “You must bear it. And one day I hope, and so would she, that one day you’ll find someone to bear it with you.  But until then be your own master and call your own tune.”  Well said Mrs. Hughes, well said.

Hughes and Branson

Now, we journey to the Highlands…

Scottish estate

When the Crawleys arrive at the Scottish estate (cue the sweeping Scottish themed music we heard every time we switched back to this part of the story) we once again meet bubbly Rose, whose rebellious spirit serves the purpose of reminding Cora of her dearly departed Sybil.  We are introduced to Rose’s parents, and their unhappiness with one another is on display for all to see, which may help explain some of Rose’s behavior.

Lord and Lady Flincher, Rose

The happy family

Edith’s editor, the married Mr. Michael Gregson, travels to Scotland and calls on her at the estate, with hopes of getting to know the family better so that he might get them on his side.  Because he’s in love with Edith, and he’s still pursuing her, despite her reservations that he’s a married man.

Edith and Michael

His arrival brings out Mary’s snark factor, and Edith calls her out on it, wondering why she always has to be so cruel.  This brings Mary to question why Matthew finds her so nice, when nobody else does–a running theme between the Matthew & Mary scenes this episode.  Matthew assures her he knows who she really is, and I do think that Mary shows a certain vulnerability towards him that she doesn’t allow herself with anyone else.

Matthew and Mary

Back to Edith’s latest love interest.  Michael takes his case to Matthew, who says that while he understands his desire to have a life, he can’t consent to his making Edith his mistress.  He promises not to mention his secret to anyone, but suggests that he say his goodbyes to Edith at the Gillies ball.

Anna and Bates

Onto a more successful couple, this episode featured more adorable Anna and Bates scenes.  It’s as if the whole jail sentence thing never happened.  I find the two actors really play well off each other, and some of my favorite scenes from this episode were between them (the picnic, and especially Anna learning how to do a reel to impress her man, who she learns has Scottish blood).

Rose teaches Anna to a reel.

Rose teaches Anna how to dance a reel.

O'Brien

O’Brien with Lady Flintshire and her lady’s maid

There’s also a random side story involving O’Brien and Lady Flintshire’s lady’s maid.  I guess we had to continue the tradition of including random ladies maids in the Christmas specials/season finales who try to stir up trouble (remember Lady Rosamund’s maid from last year?).  This year the jealous lady’s maid tries to make O’Brien drunk, but being the suspicious sort, she quickly recognizes her drink has been spiked.  But that doesn’t stop her from letting Molesley drink it, which leads to some much needed hilarity during the ball.

Molesley dances a drunken reel

Molesley dances a drunken reel

Shrimpie and Robert
Robert finally learns why Shrimpy and his wife are so unhappy.  Besides the fact they “just don’t like each other” (Shrimpy’s words), he has managed to let his estate in Scotland languish and all the money is gone and the place will have to be sold.  He’s basically in the same position Robert would have been in if he had not let Matthew take the reins of the estate.  So at last Robert realizes what a stubborn idiot he’s been and just how much he could have lost had he not listened to his family and finally gone along with their idea for modernizing the estate.

Michael and Edith

Edith comes to her own realization during the ball (apparently reeling causes people to have revelations?).  After hearing that Matthew disapproves of any sort of relationship between she and Michael, Edith decides that she will see him again after all.  Oh, Edith, you just never want your love life to be straightforward and simple, do you?

Mary

Mary, who has made multiple mentions of being jostled around on all the various Highlands excursions, decides she just can’t resist dancing a reel, one of her favorite pastimes (which we only learn about this episode).  Afterwards she decides it might be best for her to go home, but she insists Matthew stay so as not to alarm anyone and break up the party (oh Mary, even pregnant you’re as pragmatic as ever).  She and Anna head home on the train and as soon as they arrive at the station Mary informs her she needs to go straight to the hospital.

Mary and Anna at train station

Cora has a heart to heart with Lady Flincher

Cora has a heart to heart with Lady Flintshire

Before leaving, Lady Flintshire asks Cora if she and Robert would let Rose stay at Downton while she and Shrimpy try to sort out their future.  Shrimpy wants his daughter to know what it’s like to be in a loving home, and Cora is more than happy to help.  Which means it looks like we’ll be seeing more of Rose (replacement Sybil?) in the future of the show.

Mary in hospital

Back at the hospital, Isobel has arrived to be with Mary while Anna returns to Downton to get clothes for Mary and to order Matthew’s car be brought to the station so he can drive straight to the hospital when he gets there.  Mary needs Matthew, telling her mother-in-law she feels only “half herself” without him (can I just mention–Mary goes through labor just as I thought she would, very stoically).

Mary, Matthew and baby

Mary gives birth to a baby boy, thus securing the line of succession.  Matthew arrives and is bursting with pride (really,  he says he feels like he’s swallowed a box of fireworks).  He tells Mary he knows she will be a wonderful mother, because he knows what a wonderful woman she is, and how he falls more in love with her everyday.  She says she’ll remind him of that the next time she puts a scratch on the car.  One of the best Matthew and Mary scenes yet.  Everything seems to be perfect in their little world at that moment.

Mary, Matthew and baby again

Cora and Robert

The ecstatic grandparents

And so, as Matthew races home to share the good news with the family, Robert reflects on how strange life is, how uncertain everything seemed at one point, and how now he has two healthy heirs and a thriving estate, and he wonders what he’s done to deserve it.  To which Lady Violet responds, “I agree, but we don’t always get our just deserts.”

Matthew

And then the unimaginable happens.  Matthew, who just moments before was grinning from ear to ear, is dead, killed in a car accident.  The scene cuts away to Mary, still holding their baby, still smiling with contentment.  And then the episode ends.

Mary and baby

Up until the finale of the show, I really did enjoy season 3 of Downton Abbey.  It was a bit slow to start, but the last few episodes were really well done, almost up to season 1 standards.  I liked how the focus returned to the family dynamics upstairs, and I thought that the stories downstairs (aside from the love polygon) were thoughtfully played out.  But the finale bothered me on a number of levels.  I hated how overly-dramatic they made Matthew’s death.  Not the death itself, but the scenes and lines being said around it.  It was as if I could see Julian Fellowes, script in hand, trying to figure out the absolute worst place he could possibly insert the image of Matthew lying lifeless underneath his car and said “Yes, it should go right here, right after Mary says that Matthew needs to wait his turn to see the baby, but little does she know, he’ll never see the baby again, because he’s dead.”  I mean, come on.  The only thing worse would be if he had been racing to the hospital and died on the way there and never got to see the baby.  Instead of making me cry (like with Lady Sybil’s death), it made me irritated, because I could see how hard Fellowes worked to fit in images of Matthew at the places he thought would most likely make us cry.  I think he would have been better served to have just showed the result of the accident, rather than trying to work it in around scenes of the happy family, blissfully ignorant of what had happened. (Update: since writing this I watched the finale a second time, and darn if I didn’t tear up–but it still makes me  irritated!)

But here’s the real reason the finale bothered me so much.  I know I read somewhere that Julian Fellowes originally had a three-season arc in mind for Downton Abbey.  And we saw that arc play out–we saw the estate in all its glory before the war, we saw how the war had a major impact on the country and on estates like Downton, and we saw how the post-war world forced many such estates to be broken down and sold off, and that the old way of doing things had to change in order for those estates to have any chance of survival.  Matthew represented that change, that new order.  Robert represented the old.  That last episode (the one before the finale) demonstrated this so clearly, and was done so well, and I will again state that it seemed the perfect stopping point for the show.

My fear is that now that the original story arc is over, Fellowes is going to scramble to come up with new conflicts and major arcs, and they are going to be ridiculous and not well thought out.  And I’m also concerned that more of the major characters we have come to really take an interest in (like Sybil and Matthew) are going to leave the show, and less interesting characters (like Rose) are going to come in to try and take their place.  I’m just concerned the future of the series might be in trouble, especially now that Matthew is gone.  I’ll admit it–I’m a huge Matthew & Mary fan girl, and without their love story, the show is not going to hold the same level of interest for me.  If the story had finished at the end of the third season, Matthew would not have been killed off (the actors had three-year contracts, and Dan Stevens chose not to renew his, thus forcing Fellowes to write him out).

But, that’s just my opinion on this.  Of course, I’ll still be interested to see what happens next season.  How will Matthew’s death impact the lives of Mary and her family?  Will Tom ever be able to move on, and will he still feel he fits in without Matthew there to support him?  And what will Edith’s future hold, now that she’s going down the slippery slope of entering into an affair with a married man?  Will Daisy ever get her man and take Mr. Mason up on the farm offer?  And will Anna and Bates’s love story continue to be so rosy?

All right, yes, even with the concerns for how the show will move forward, I’ll still watch.

What did you think of the season finale?  And do you feel that the show should have ended with the third season, as originally intended?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Miss any of the other episodes?  Read my episode 1, episode 2, episode 3, episode 4, episode 5, and episode 6 recaps.

And for those of you wanting to hear Dan Stevens talk about leaving the show, The Telegraph has an excellent interview with him which you can read here.

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Filed under Downton Abbey, Period Pieces