'Downton Abbey' Finale Recap: Death Comes to Downton
'Downton Abbey' Finale Recap: Death Comes to Downton
Morgan Glennon
Morgan Glennon
Contributing Writer, BuddyTV
In the season 3 finale of Downton Abbey, the Crawleys visit Scotland while the downstairs servants get into trouble. But the biggest shocker of all is the last minute death of yet another beloved character.

This season of Downton Abbey has been at times downright brutal when it comes to mercilessly killing off characters we know and love.

Formerly, it might have felt like the Crawley family was untouchable. Up until season 3, all the major deaths were downstairs staff and inconvenient love interests. Indeed, the show pretzeled its way out of ridiculous situations in the hope of keeping our favorites alive, healthy and together. (Remember Matthew's miraculously healing spine?)

You'd think the season with the World War would be a bloodier one, but this season's theme of change meant not even the aristocratic family at the heart of the show was safe. Now we can add another family member to the body count: Matthew.

The weird thing about this episode, which originally aired on Christmas in the UK (Merry Christmas! We got you Mrs. Patmore in a flossy blouse and the death of your favorite character!) is that the bulk of the episode feels vastly different than the last few minutes. While the last few minutes are heavy-handed and, frankly, rage-inducing, up until Matthew hops into his car this is one of my favorite episodes of the season.

So let's leave aside the Matthew Crawley of it all for one second. The episode nicely brings together a lot of the plotlines from the season, while allowing the cast to let loose and actually have some fun. It's especially nice to see the downstairs staff outside of Downton enjoying themselves.

But what the episode really brings home is those who don't evolve with the times are soon left behind by them. Robert's friend doesn't have a Matthew or Branson in his ear annoying him about modernizing, and as a result he loses his estate. It's, in fact, this post-war period in which many of the great country estates were lost, and the show has done a good job at showing how necessary and difficult it was to change with the times.

The Mary and Matthew of It All

I usually leave this section for last, but what happens with Matthew is such a huge part of the horrible rage I feel towards this episode. Also, I just realized this will be the last ever Mary and Matthew section of my recap and I'm getting another case of the sads. I need chocolate, stat!

Many of you probably know, but actor Dan Stevens decided not to sign on for any additional seasons of Downton Abbey. Apparently, Stevens wouldn't even agree to come back occasionally. So showrunner Julian Fellowes found himself in a bind: just how do you write off one half of your happy, in-love power couple?

His answer is to just kill off Matthew. Fellowes was obviously in a corner and I feel like there's arguments to be made on either side about whether there was something he could have done differently to save Matthew. Perhaps a post abroad? Anything besides killing him off would have been great.

As it is, the denouement of the episode feels extremely weak and tacked on. I'm not sure if negotiations were going down to the wire and Fellowes thought he might still be able to convince Stevens to stick around.

Certainly, the scene of Matthew's death feels like an afterthought. It's as if filming was wrapping up and they realized they had to write Matthew off.  "Whoops, I think we forgot to kill Matthew! Hey do we have a budget left for a car accident? No? Okay, let's just squirt some ketchup on his face. That's a wrap!"

His fatal car accident comes right after he sees his son and heir to Downton safely delivered. Is it possible for someone to be born on this show without someone else dying? We learned about the circle of life in The Lion King. We get it, Downton Abbey, we get it.

Before this heartbreaking moment that undoubtedly is causing many a Downton fan to throw a crumpet or teacup at the TV, Mary and Matthew spend the episode being super adorable. Or more like Matthew spends the episode being super adorable, while Mary's pregnancy hormones turn her even more prickly than usual.

She wonders why he even thinks she's a nice person at all. "Because I've seen you naked," Matthew says, which is probably one of the most realistic moments in this episode.

Matthew tells Mary that he knows she has a soft side way, way, way underneath her ice-cold exterior. Mary tells him she hopes she can always see herself through his perspective. This is especially sad knowing what is about to happen. Is this setting up a storyline for next season where Mary reverts back to the cold and calculating woman she was pre-Matthew? We'll have to wait and see.

What will the show be like without Matthew Crawley and the Mary and Matthew relationship, which has been one of the cornerstones since the first season? Who knows. The choice to kill off Matthew certainly wasn't one made for a creative reason as much as a practical one. Hopefully the show can rebound from killing off one half of our favorite couple. Right now, I'm not so sure.

(What is assured is that no dude should really go near Mary with a 10-foot pole. Her love is deadly.)


Taking the upstairs cast out of Downton Abbey and into a Scottish castle is a fun change of pace. There, they see Rose once again, the only person on this show who knows the age of flappers and jazz music is about to begin.

Rose has a complicated relationship with her parents, who also have a complicated relationship with each other. Her parents decide to stiff upper lip through their monetary problems and their mutual hatred because no one in proper society gets divorced. But they do manage to foist off problem-child Rose on the Crawleys. Enjoy!

I don't love Rose yet, but I do think she opens a lot of interesting storyline potential. As a girl significantly younger than Edith and Mary, Rose can take the show into the turbulent 1920s.

Meanwhile, Edith's newspaper paramour comes to visit and Mary makes a bunch of jokes about how he is poor. Matthew, always the good wing-bro, takes him out fishing and retells his crazy wife tale of woe. If you tell Edith some sad sob story, she will pretty much immediately fall in love with you.

Matthew tells the editor it's not a good idea for him to see Edith because of the whole "crazy wife" thing, which makes Edith decide that she is 100% into this relationship. "Did someone just tell me something was a terrible idea, liable to end in tears and humiliation? I want to go to there!"


Off in the country, O'Brien unsurprisingly gets into a fight with another lady's maid because she is the worst. This is all worth it because it directly leads to Molesey getting crazy drunk and pulling out his superior dances moves. "Wee!" he cries as he cuts a rug around the dance floor. Molesey might not be good at cricket, but look at him move. He's majestic. He moves like a beautiful, super-drunk ballerina.

Back at Downton, a new food deliveryman starts hitting on Mrs. Patmore. This is delightful because it means more Mrs. Patmore screentime, which is always an A+ in my book. She even gets to wear a different outfit for once.

Everyone from downstairs (minus Carson) goes down to the village carnival to enjoy these so-called "lives" they apparently can have when they don't need to spend 12 hours a day polishing silver. So this is what fresh air and sunshine feel like? It burns!

Mrs. Hughes notices Mrs. Patmore's fella is actually a huge flirt who is, in his own words, "in love with love." The combination of Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore is always a great duo, as they are often the ones in the house with the most common sense. This season, they've had a lot of togetherness time and it's always fun to watch. Mrs. Patmore is actually relieved when she realizes she shouldn't say yes to the marriage proposal and the two have a big laugh about it.

Meanwhile, there's a new maid all about getting above her station, which means her spirit must be crushed. How come on Downton Abbey only the men are allowed to rise above their humble stations (Matthew, Branson) while the women end up fired or knocked up or as prostitutes? (Or all three -- Ethel really hit downtrodden bingo.) I guess it's a reflection of the times, but still, uncool.

The new maid (whose name I didn't even bother to remember, as it's so obvious she's on her way out) sets her eyes on Branson. She keeps trying to tell Branson to hang out downstairs and eat dinner with the rest of the servants. This causes Branson to wonder if he's been ignoring his roots or whatever. There is shirtless kissing involved, but the moral of the story seems to be that Branson should be happy to be upstairs where he's allowed to sit down on the sofa cushions.

Elsewhere, things are still awkward with Thomas and Jimmy on account of all the gayness. Jimmy, unsurprisingly, acts like an idiot at the fair. He gets drunk, waves his money around, shouts, "Someone, please rob me, I'll be walking under the secluded murder bridge in about five minutes!" and then is surprised when someone jumps him.

Thomas comes to his rescue, and for his efforts Jimmy runs away and lets him get beat up. Great job, Jimmy! I never thought someone would make Thomas "I kidnapped your dog for fun" Barrow look like a standup guy.

Back at home, the two have a conversation where Thomas tells Jimmy he has feelings for him but he knows they can only be friends. Then Jimmy apologizes for the beating and reads him the paper, which is quite literally the least he can do.

Lastly, is there anything cuter than Carson taking baby Sybil on a tour of Downton? My heart, it melts. Now that the show has killed Matthew and Mary, my new favorite couple is Carson and Mrs. Hughes.

What did you think of the Downton Abbey season 3 finale? Are you looking forward to more Rose or have you not warmed up to her? How mad are you about Matthew's death on a scale of 'pretty mad' to 'boiling rage'? Will you be watching next season? Let's all form a circle and cry in the comments!

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(Image courtesy of PBS)