Downton Abbey series finale recap
Perfectly pleasant and pleasantly perfect, the ending was what we all hoped
The series finale of Downton Abbey — even typing that phrase still makes my heart hurt — was never going to be about the question of what would happen. When a show is this beloved for this long, the ending becomes all about what needs to happen.
In that sense, the final episode of Downton Abbey was deeply satisfying. Anna didn’t get arrested for murder again. Neither did Bates. Barrow appears to have turned a new leaf. A couple characters got sick — but not that sick — and everyone is married or about to pair up. It was just about as tidy as tidy finales go, but who cares? These are characters we love, and this is what they deserved. I don’t mean “love” in the sense that we like them strongly. A good show can create that emotion between the viewers and the fictional characters on the screen, and Downton Abbey knew exactly how to do that and how to manage that feeling.
But let’s dive into the episode. We won’t have another opportunity to do so. [Weeps]
There was simply no way that Downton Abbey would end with one of its central characters having done something as atrocious as what Mary did and then immediately getting married to the man of her dreams. Yes, Mary and Edith partially buried the hatchet before the former tied the knot, but she has a long way to go if she wants to be seen as anything but reprehensible when the credits roll.
That means helping to fix what she’s broken, and thankfully, Mary actually has a plan, a pretty good one at that. It’s the classic Downton dinner switcheroo. Oh, Edith, you thought you were getting dinner with Lady Rosamund? Guess again! The new Marquess of Hexham just happens to be waiting for Edith to take a seat. Their conversation is at first tense. Edith is mad at Bertie, somehow. If I remember correctly, she was the one who almost tricked him into marrying her. Sure, Bertie did basically sprint away from Downton once he found out about Marigold, but I think Edith may have to take the blame for this one.
“Would you believe me if I said I couldn’t live without you?” Bertie asks, which is both sweet and a very good line. The hang-up for Edith is that essentially nothing has changed from before. Bertie insists that his perspective on the situation has shifted, but there’s still the issue of his mother. “If we tell her, we’ll have to break with her,” he tells Edith, which isn’t ideal. Based on how all matters concerning Marigold have been mostly blundered from the second she came into this world, I could never imagine Edith allowing that secret to remain driving (herself!) into the sunset with Bertie and her daughter.
With the engagement finally in place, everyone is once more off to Brancaster Castle to make the thing official, and all signs are pointing to another showdown like the one that Rose had with her mother before the wedding. The fact that Mrs. Pelham’s new vision for Brancaster as a communal pillar of morality — heavily hinting that Bertie’s cousin was gay — is certainly not a good sign. Because an “emphasis on morality” usually just means hating on folks.
In the grand scheme of the finale, Mrs. Pelham’s prejudice are just the last hurdle that Edith must clear in order to prove her growth as a person. Since Edith won’t ever get to redo her courtship with Bertie and be open with him from the start, her soon-to-be mother-in-law is a decent do-over to come clean about her “sordid revelations.” The road to the truth is bumpy — and Mrs. Pelham has good points to make about what is societally expected from Bertie — but ultimately, it’s Edith’s honesty and integrity (and a little push from Robert) that wins over the new in-law.
See, Rose’s mom. Acceptance isn’t that hard.
NEXT: Is that pernicious anemia? Or are you just happy to see me?
While the finale spent a lot of its running time on happy endings for characters who completely deserved them (and some who didn’t: DAISY), the hour and a half managed to pack in a good amount of drama, a lot of which stemmed from another bad Downton medical diagnosis, which is one of the series’ longest running traditions.
Is it any wonder why York wanted to take over some of the hospitals up there? Has any character received a correct diagnosis straight away?
The victim of the final example of malpractice was Lord Merton, who in hindsight is probably really happy about the whole situation. Though it ends up working out really well for him, the ordeal was quite fraught there for a moment.
Having put her foot down about wanting to hear directly from Larry Grey about an invitation to his wedding, Isobel is decidedly off Dickie Merton when the episode begins, but he has a revelation. And the right kind of revelation has a funny way of endearing people to you. It turns out that Lord Merton has a particularly bad type of anemia, which will kill him. This is very bad news for anyone who is fond of Lord Merton, but very good news for terrible couples who wish that the old man would just die already.
Amelia Cruikshank and Larry Grey are terrible. They essentially block all access to Lord Merton and stop Isobel from seeing him. Or attempt to stop anyway. She gets to Dickie very easily and takes him away from those miserable people. Now Isobel is free to care for a man she really does care for and comfort him in his final days.
That was the plan at least. The thing is, Dickie never even starts to fade. The pernicious anemia should have made quick work of him, but he’s actually stronger than ever. It’s almost as if the whole thing was a ruse to get Isobel to soften on him. Not that I would ever accuse Lord Merton of something so Larry Grey-like, but he is the jackass’ father. Either way, Dr. Clarkson double checks the blood work, and would you look at that! Lord Merton isn’t going to die! And I know I keep giving him a hard time, but there are two good reasons for that. 1) I really do like Lord Merton and simply misplace my affection. 2) I’m a Clarkson-Isobel shipper and always will be.
The other “heavy” storyline of the finale was actually the solution to an adjacent problem. After months spent poring over the classifieds, Barrow has finally landed a job. It’s not the best gig, but the house is close enough to Downton for visits. This seems like a tidy way to wrap up Barrow’s story line, right?
Wrong! Tidy simply does not suffice in the Downton Abbey finale. There had to be a way to get Mr. Barrow back into the house, so that little Georgy can say “Mr. Barrow” all of the time.
Enter Mr. Carson and “The Palsy.”
Now Charlie Carson hasn’t had the best season. His relationship with Mrs. Hughes has been difficult to be excited about pretty much since he proposed, so maybe this was a way to gain back some sympathy. But, man, it wasn’t fun to see Carson lose his temper. Why wouldn’t he? Service has been his life for a very long time, and now a tremor in his hands have made him physically useless. At first the symptoms were subtle. If you go back and watch some early scenes from this episode (and I believe it’s also in the previous), this has been in front of us for a little while.
NEXT: You get a happy ending, and you get a happy ending…
But really, the second that Carson began to falter at his job, the solution hit us all in the face. Of course, Barrow had to come back. The two strands tied together so nicely into a bow that it was the only story line that felt the slight bit inorganic, and that’s saying a lot for a finale that was chock-full o’ happy endings.
Here’s a quick rundown before some final thoughts on the series.
Anna and Bates
A baby! Finally, the Bateses are a real family, and everyone can stop blaming themselves for this or that and wallowing in misery. Mr. Green is dead, and neither of them had to kill him. And Anna got to lay up in Mary’s bed. Win-win-win. (Just to be clear, that second “win” was a murder.)
Daisy and Andy
Did we really need these two to pair up before the show ended? I was going to leave that as a hypothetical question, but I can unequivocally say “no.” We did not need Andrew and Daisy to be romantically linked. Both of them seem to forget that there are other people in the world. Their options are not limited to the one person you see every day who is roughly your age. There are lots of fish in the village.
Mrs. Patmore and Mr. Mason
Now, here is a farm-based romance that I can get behind. Both are very deserving of love and nice; neither has settled for the first person available to him or her. This is love.
Tom and Henry
So remember when Mary was conflicted about her feelings for Henry because of her history with cars? And then remember when they got married without discussing the matter further, at least on camera? Well, conveniently it turns out that Henry has decided to stop racing all together, which is terribly lucky for Mary. This way she doesn’t have to force him. It’s great when these things work out.
But now there’s the matter of what he’ll do with all of that free time? You know who else has free time at Downton? Tom! And what does Tom also love? Cars! Now you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Why don’t they open up a used car dealership?” Well, that’s exactly what they do!
All of Us
Rose came back! And she brought Atticus. The return may have been the best gift that Downton could have given us — short of bringing back Sybil, I guess — but it was still much appreciated.
NEXT: Let’s wrap it all up
So what was it all about? Now having seen the finale, I stand by what I said in last week’s recap about the purpose of this kind of story. The writers got a lot of the theme work out of the way in the penultimate hour, leaving plenty of time for a quasi-normal episode that wrapped things up and yet still managed to feel like Downton.
Though the finale didn’t go heavy on the “meaning of it all,” we did see the sentiment Edith shared with Mary about their unbreakable bond acted out in how these story lines concluded. Everyone in the abbey solidified their ties to someone else or a group of others. The Bateses have a family, and they can create their own memories, ones that aren’t necessarily tied to the house. Barrow, having seen the error in his ways, can return to the only home he’s known.
Most importantly, Edith has found her equal, someone will to accept her as she is. This is Downton‘s ultimate happy ending, and it’s well deserved. She’s been through enough for the sake of keeping the show exciting.
So go ahead, Edith. Treat yo’ self!
Before you go, make sure to read TV critic Jeff Jensen’s review of the series finale.