Downton Abbey season finale recap: The Long And Winding Road
Oof. How does one even start this recap? (Warning: I’m going to discuss the big news right away, so if you haven’t watched the episode, stop reading.)
Matthew is dead. After Mary gives birth to their child, a son, Matthew takes a joyful drive to the Abbey. The heir to Downton looks absolutely ecstatic as he drives his car down the road. Unfortunately, he’s blissfully unaware of the truck barreling toward him. The next thing we know, he’s lying on the side of the road, crushed under his car, blood pouring down his face. His fate has been sealed.
I have so many feelings that have basically incapacitated me. I really don’t how how I — or we as Downton fans — are supposed to go on. Although we knew, or basically knew, this was coming, it’s still a a huge punch to the gut. First Sybil? Now this? Yes, Dan Stevens didn’t want to sign on for more seasons. And he could not have been written off unless his character died. So in that way — it made sense. Yet, I’m heartbroken for Mary, who doesn’t know what has happened to her beloved, and I mourn the loss of the Matthew-Mary dynamic.
But I suppose we must talk about what happens before the tragedy. Let’s start from the beginning. A year has passed since the last episode, and the staff readies the family for their annual trip to Duneagle Castle in Scotland to visit their cousins Shrimpie and Lady Flintshire. (Why haven’t we seen the trips before? Well, Bates gives us a handy explanation — the Crawleys didn’t go during the war or after Sybil’s death. Plus season 1 was full of random time jumps anyway.)
Mary is eight months pregnant and Matthew doesn’t want her traveling — and neither does her father or Carson. Given Sybil’s fate, can you blame them? Mary stubbornly insists, and the Crawleys — with Molesley, Bates, Anna, and O’Brien in tow — make the journey by train. (Branson, Isobel and the rest of the servants have been left behind.)
During their visit — life is pretty typical of English nobility. The men spend their time stalking, the ladies lunch, they eat fancy dinners and there is even a ball. The late stages of her pregnancy, however, cause Mary much discomfort and she decides to leave Scotland early with Anna. She tells Matthew that he must stay — she doesn’t want to break up the entire party. She and Anna take the last train of the night back to Yorkshire. When they arrive back in Downton, Mary feels the pangs of labor, and goes straight to the hospital. They telephone Donegal, and Matthew and the rest of the family leave as soon as possible.
NEXT: Downton is safe, but Matthew is not
Mary worries that Matthew is not with her, but Isobel comforts her daughter-in-law. Before we know it, Mary has a baby boy, and Matthew is in the hospital room with both of them. Let’s savor their last moments together, shall we?
“My dearest little chap,” Matthew says as he holds his son. “I wonder if he has any idea how much joy he brings with him.”
“Just think, we’ve done our duty. Downton is safe,” Mary says. “Papa must be dancing a jig.”
“I’m dancing a jig,” Matthew exclaims. “I feel like I swallowed a box of fireworks.” (Thank goodness they didn’t decide to kill him off this way.)
Then we get hit over the head with what we’re about to lose. “You are going to be such a wonderful mother,” he tells Mary. “You’re such a wonderful woman.”
“I hope I’m allowed to be your Mary Crawley for all eternity,” Mary adds. “You’ll be my Mary always. Because mine is the true Mary,” Matthew assures his wife. This is brutal to write about.
Matthew lays it on thick. “Right now, I want to tell you that I fall more in love with you every day that passes.”
“I’ll remind you of that next time I scratch the car,” Mary replies.
The exchange continues. “I think I’ve earned a decent kiss,” Mary says. They lock lips. Matthew leaves to speak to the rest of the family.
(In retrospect, their last scene was filled with loving declarations, sprinkled with the perfect amount of Mary’s bitchiness that has defined the cousins since they first met. For that, I’m thankful.)
Then, once Matthew is off, the unspeakable happens. We’ve lost him forever. Nothing will ever be the same again.
I wish I could stop the recap right here, in order to don my best black dress and veil, lock myself away and cry. Alas, I can’t.
NEXT: Everyone who is still alive
Robert and Cora: Considering where they were a few episodes ago — The Earl and Countess of Grantham have come along nicely. And Robert isn’t such a boor, he actually appreciates his wife, and Matthew for saving the estate. “You always knew how lucky we were in Matthew, and now I give thanks for him as I give thanks for my home and my family. And most of all, I give thanks for my wife,” Robert says as he tenderly kisses Cora. Finally, he has some sense.
Shrimpie, Lady Susan Flintshire, and Cousin Rose: The hosts have a rough go of it. You can practically feel how much Shrimpie and Lady Susan hate each other through the TV screen. (This relationship was clearly meant to be juxtaposed against the more loving Robert and Cora. And as a friend of mine said, did we really need to spend so much time on a couple we just met?) Furthermore, Lady Susan and her daughter Rose don’t get a long at all. And their castle — Duneagle — will be sold, since Shrimpie lost most of his fortune. To top it all off, they are moving to India, as Shrimpie must accept an outpost in Bombay. But not Rose, she’s being sent off to Downton, presumably to breathe a little life — too soon? — into season 4.
Edith and SASYB: Sir Anthony Strallan’s younger brother just happens to be visiting Scotland at the same time as the Crawleys. He basically wants Edith to be his mistress, which is gross. The desperate Edith, however, pretty much agrees by the end. Come on Edith, you were filling in the progressive female space left empty by the death of your sister so well. Why do this to yourself?
Mrs. O’Brien and her Scottish Doppelgänger: At first, you think that O’Brien and Susan’s ladysmaid Mrs. Wilkins would become BFFs — if it’s possible for O’Brien to even have a bestie. Their severe looks and rigid ways make them a perfect match. “It’s a treat to have a kindred spirit come to stay,” Flintshire’s ladysmaid says. That fantasy quickly dissolves. When Lady Susan asks Mrs. O’Brien for help, Wilkins is hurt. In turn, Wilkins spikes O’Brien’s drink at the ball. O’Brien being O’Brien, however, knows better than to drink the punch laced with whiskey. She sets it down, but Molesley swoops in and accidentally drinks it all. Oops. Molesley puts on a drunken show, and the rest of the party is amused — as are we.
Anna and Bates: Anna learns to dance in order to surprise Bates while they are in Scotland. Seriously.
Branson and Edna: Branson has adapted to his new life as Downton’s agent quite well, but there are those who make him feel ashamed. Specifically, the new housemaid, Edna. Edna likes Branson, and she berates him for being a traitor to his class. She even kisses him — which gets her fired. Branson feels responsible for Edna, but Mrs. Hughes assures him that Edna wasn’t suited for this lifestyle.
Isobel and Dr. Clarkson: Dr. Clarkson gets thisclose to asking Isobel to marry him. Isobel discreetly stops him — allowing the good Doctor to retain his dignity. My only question is this — why wouldn’t Isobel want to him for a husband? He’s a good looking doctor, she’s a good looking widow and a former nurse to boot. It makes sense to me. Alas, it’s not to be.
Mrs. Patmore and her fancyman: Mrs. Patmore has a new food supplier. He becomes enchanted by her cooking, and asks her to marry him. But Mrs. Patmore finds out that he just wants her for her skills in the kitchen, and she turns him down. Another old-people romance has been killed before it even begun.
Thomas and Jimmy: All the servants travel to a fair in Thirsk, where Jimmy drinks a little too much and ends up being attacked by some locals. Thomas, who had been following Jimmy, stands up for his unrequited love, and gets the crap beaten out of him. This valiant — and yet somewhat creepy — act allows the two to form a friendship.
Daisy and Ivy: There isn’t really much to talk about with them, except for the fact that they have turned into friends. Daisy must be over Alfred.
And now for the Dowager Countess’ best quotes:
Well I know he’s housebroken, more or less, but I don’t want freedom to go to his head.
Oh dear, you flatter me, which is just as it should be.
Edith, dear. Stop fascinating that young man and come make a four at bridge.
My dear, no one will accuse me of being modern, but even I can see it’s not a crime to be young.
That is the thing about nature. There’s so much of it.
But then, we don’t always get our just deserts.
That’s it for this season, my fellow Downton Abbey lovers. Was this “Journey to the Highlands” particularly boring to you, save for the end? How are we supposed to watch old episodes, knowing that Matthew dies? Will Downton ever be the same? Will we?
The war is over, but intrigue, crisis, romance, and change still grip the beloved estate.