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Shocking 'Downton' finale: will the show survive?
February 18, 2013 - April Diodato
Season three of “Downton Abbey” has been wilder than an illicit, secret jaunt to a Roaring '20s jazz club with Lady Rose. There have been so many twists and turns, much elation and heartbreak, haughtiness and delightful, witty quips from the Dowager Countess. And, for viewers in the U.S., it's been particularly difficult to avoid having it all spoiled before watching the drama unfold on PBS several months after it aired in the U.K. (It is possible to download the episodes and watch them early, but I prefer savoring them. I need some spectacular Sunday programming to get me through the depths of winter).
I'm going to be discussing the shocking season finale, so if you have yet to view it – and have made it thus far unspoiled – avert your eyes.
The conclusion of season three aired as a Christmas special in the U.K., and many viewers considered their holidays ruined after one of the main characters unexpectedly met a tragic end in the show's final seconds. In fact, the finale ruffled so many feathers, the network had to issue a response to the onslaught of angry letters from "Downton" fans, demanding an explanation for what happened.
Matthew Crawley is no more, and apparently, it's thanks to Dan Stevens, the actor who played him. Stevens was ready to move on to new opportunities – greener pastures, he must hope, but only time will tell – and didn't want to renew his contract for another season.
“But why kill him off?” the livid viewers asked.
According to Executive Producer Gareth Neame, the Crawleys' marriage was solid, so it would not be believable for the couple to suddenly become estranged. To those who preferred that Matthew and Lady Mary be written out of the show, disappearing happily together into the sunset, he reasoned that Lady Mary is the heart of “Downton Abbey.” I read many comments from outraged viewers who believed that the Crawleys' relationship was actually the heart of the show, and they vowed to not only stop watching, but to boycott all of Stevens' future projects for ruining “Downton.”
Many are left wondering if the show will be able to survive the untimely deaths of two main characters in one season – both due to the actors deciding not to renew their contracts. First, Lady Sybil succumbed to complications shortly after the birth of her child partway through the season; now, Matthew has perished in a car accident immediately following his first visit with his wife and their newborn son. As a viewer, I wasn't particularly thrilled about either development – especially Sybil's death, which completely blindsided me and, I felt, was even more heartbreaking than Matthew's. She might have been my favorite of the three sisters, although I now enjoy Lady Edith's character more since they have actually given her things to do after Sybil's demise.
After careful consideration, I think “Downton” will be fine and, perhaps, better off. What else could each of the characters done if they had lived? They were both happily married and frankly, turmoil keeps things lively at the Abbey. Sybil's death caused many interesting developments for several other characters, especially for Branson, Lady Edith, and Lord and Lady Grantham. Matthew had already been put through the wringer – his courtship with Lady Mary had been rife with difficulties, he went off to war and was wounded, was told he'd never walk again and then, suddenly, he was fine; his fiance died shortly after she caught him cheating, he was wracked with guilt after inheriting a fortune from her father, complicating matters early in his marriage to Mary. After helping to save Downton, Matthew had served his purpose. I'm OK with his character's departure.
I only take issue with the way Matthew was hastily ousted just before the credits began to roll. It all seemed a bit silly and contrived, with Matthew gleefully careening down the road, not a care in the world, gazing at the clouds without a single glance at the road. He's a father, hurrah! Everything is grand! What could possibly go wrong? His impending death was made all the more obvious as we listened to the Dowager Countess leading a discussion about how crazy life can be sometimes while all of this was going on. And how!
“This is happening! This is really happening!” I shouted incredulously as we caught a glimpse of another car heading straight for Matthew's on what was apparently an extremely dangerous, one-lane road, making it quite imperative for Matthew to be cautious despite his unbridled joyousness. And just like that, we see him lying under the car, blood streaming down his face. The end. Credits. Come on! I suppose his send-off was just as melodramatic as his character arc.
I do look forward to what season four at “Downton” will bring. Lady Mary's attempt at finding a suitor willing to put up with her “horrid” attitude (which I always find entertaining) will be undoubtedly tragic. Lady Edith will either be wrapped up in her doomed affair with her editor or will have found yet another impossible relationship to obsess over. Lady Rose will be stirring things up at the Abbey, donning decadent '20s frocks and headpieces while absconding to jazz clubs in London (I hope). Bates and Anna will be adorable together. O'Brien will be deliciously wicked and amuse herself with even more diabolical schemes. Lord Grantham will be a stick in the mud. The Dowager Countess will continue to play everyone like pieces on her own personal chess board while making wisecracks with the greatest of ease.
The residents of the Abbey will find a way to carry on, no matter what happens. That's what “Downton” is all about: no matter what changes – the times, the staff, the romances – things are never really different, especially with so many sticklers for tradition around to ensure it. Frankly, as long as the Dowager Countess is still alive and kicking, “Downton” will survive. Forget Mary; she's the true heart of the show.