The series finale of Downton Abbey is full of happy endings, like any good romance should be. There’s a wedding, a baby, another pregnancy, a few new career paths and a few budding romances. Even Mary and Edith finally bury the hatchet, possibly for good. If you were looking to the Downton Abbey finale for anything other than saccharine sweetness and “happily ever after,” you’re really coming to the wrong show.
Everything ends a bit too neatly, and yet I have so much affection for these characters after six years of often-implausible soap opera theatrics that I find myself crying happy tears over the ending anyway. From a critical point-of-view, the finale is one big, sappy hug to the audience. It’s a thanks for watching and an assurance that everyone at Downton, even the suicidal butlers, would be just fine.
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Whether the finale works for you personally probably has as much to do with your own personal tastes, how much you’ve come to care about the characters over the years and how you feel about unambiguously, unpretentiously happy endings. The words, “And they all lived happily ever after” could have come scrolling across the screen before the end credits and it certainly wouldn’t have been out of place in this episode. And yet, that is exactly what I wanted from a Downton Abbey series finale.
If I can’t have the servants rise up and set the house on fire or something equally dramatic and out of left field, I’ll take a wholly happy ending where all my favorites ride off into the sunset with a smile. Cheesy? Absolutely. But satisfying? Oh man, this finale is so very satisfying.
Perhaps that’s because, Emmys aside, Downton Abbey gave up being a “prestige drama” seasons ago, possibly around the season where Matthew jumped out of a wheelchair like someone who had just attended a faith healing.
By season 6, this show had settled comfortably into the soapy, entertaining melodrama it had always been underneath the refined layers of British period piece. That show, the one with the over-the-top drama, is the one that wins out in the finale. Downton Abbey ultimately knew what the audience wanted in the final hour, which is happiness for our favorite characters, and it delivers in spades.
Cheesy? Sure. Rushed? Some of the storylines absolutely are. But is it the perfect ending for Downton Abbey? I would say without a doubt it is. I honestly couldn’t have hoped for a better ending, even in my more jaded moments.
I’m really going to miss spending time with the residents of Downton Abbey, the Crawleys and their servants, even if the show was probably past its expiration date. Those characters were fully-fleshed individuals who you could often love and hate in the very same scene. I’ll miss the characters most of all, but at least this end to their story feels hopeful, uplifting and as loving and messy as the Crawley family themselves.
This is a super-sized episode, so there’s tons of story to get through. Firstly, Isobel is a little confused when she gets an invitation to tea at the Greys, only to discover they’ve made off to London without telling her. Violet immediately knows something fishy is going on because she’s like a wizened Nancy Drew, but meaner. Isobel eventually learns that poor Dickie Merton has pernicious anemia, which was apparently something you could die from back in 1925.
A second opinion from Doctor Clarkson just confirms the diagnosis, leading Isobel to realize that she’s in love with Lord Merton. “So I guess my happy ending is that I just get to stick around here, being a small-town doctor? Cool, bros. Cool story,” Clarkson says, trudging off into the sunset alone with his doctor’s bag.
Isobel and Violet stage a hilarious break-in at the Grey residency to get Merton away from his horrible family. His future daughter-in-law was happy to be rid of Lord Merton when he was going to be some old guy she had to take care of, but now that he’s at “death’s door,” she’s more than happy to care for him. “I can’t wait until you die and we have all your stuff!” she says happily.
Lord Merton finally tells his garbage fire of a son that he is the worst and marches out of the house to go move in with Isobel and eventually marry her. Later, Doctor Clarkson lets the pair know that Merton is going to live because he’s only got an iron deficiency. Isobel and Merton are over-the-moon with happiness and Doctor Clarkson just kind of awkwardly slinks away as they mack literally an inch in front of his face. Poor Clarkson.
Elsewhere, Branson is still trying to convince Mary and Henry to adopt him into a Three’s Company living situation, so in love with Henry Talbot is he. “Branson, thanks for being overly involved in my love life, but you have to stop sneaking in our window at night and drawing my husband as he sleeps. It’s starting to get weird.”
Henry says that the brutal and pointless death by fire of his friend Charlie has made him reevaluate riding cars at top speed around a track in 1925 before airbags were invented. He’s giving up racing, but he’s not quite sure what to do next. Branson starts quietly sobbing in the corner, as Mary lets out a sigh of relief.
Eventually, Branson and Henry decide that they’re going to open an auto repair and used car dealership, which officially means that Mary is the wife of a used car dealer and Edith is the Marchioness of Hexham, which is pretty great karma for the way Mary has treated Edith for her entire life.
Branson could not be happier, surrounded by his family, cool cars and his best bro. Henry is even more excited when he learns that Mary is pregnant and they’ll be adding another baby to the family.
Perhaps the most dramatically tense storyline of the episode involves Edith’s relationship with Bertie, which goes through a huge roller coaster ride over the course of the two-hour finale. Edith starts the episode on a trip to London with Henry, as she’s decided to move there on a more permanent basis.
Once there, she’s invited out to dinner with Rosamund, which is just a smokescreen to get her in the same room with Bertie, who wants to apologize for being a jerk after she was kind of a liar. Bertie proposes again and Edith wants to know a million things, like what about his judgmental mother and what about what other people might say? But Bertie just cares about spending the rest of his life with her, so eventually she lets down her guard and says yes. Finally, something happy has happened to Edith. I spent the rest of the episode waiting for a piano to fall out of the sky and onto her head or something.
Edith is even more shocked when she learns that the whole plot was put on by Mary, who realized that perhaps Bertie was regretting his decision but was too big a chicken to do anything about it. Mary: terrifying men into doing what she wants since 1912!
Mary affectionately tells Edith that since they’re biologically stuck with each other, perhaps they should make more of an effort to be less horrible to each other. You can tell this sentence is both a relief and also a physically painful thing for Mary to say. Mary’s general disdain for Edith has finally taken on a more affectionate, sisterly hue.
At Brancaster Castle, things get off on a tense foot with Bertie’s mother when she starts in immediately about making the estate the moral center of the universe or whatever. “How do you feel about bastard children?” Edith says, smooth as ever. Edith can’t keep the secret anymore because she’s tired of lying, and it looks pretty bad at first.
Bertie’s mother seems unwilling to accept Edith’s truthful confession and wants Bertie to break it off with her. At the dinner table, she refuses to let Bertie announce their wedding news, until Robert whispers to her that if she doesn’t she’ll lose him forever.
After that, she makes an amazing about-face on Edith and seems to welcome her into the family with open arms. There’s no part of this storyline that’s realistic at all, but since it was rushed into the last episode, I’ll just accept the happy ending without too much complaining.
As the holidays roll around, it’s officially time for Edith and Bertie’s wedding. Even Robert can’t quite believe that Edith is so lucky, that the guy is actually not going to leave her at the altar or knock her up and die, and that no pianos have fallen out of the sky and onto her head. “Golly gumdrops!”
Rose and Atticus arrive for the wedding, just in case (like me) you had honestly forgotten Rose was a character that used to be on this show. They have a lovely little girl now and they’re apparently the kind of parents who have to go around forcing everyone to look at baby pictures, which honestly seems about right.
It’s a good thing Rose is around too because she’s the only one to force Robert to realize he’s once again being a man-baby about Cora working in the hospital. Violet and Robert are way more similar than I think either of them realize.
Rose takes Robert to Cora’s hospital meeting where he can see her kicking ass and taking names like the bad-ass boss lady that she is. Later, he explains to Cora that he just missed her and that he’s terribly proud of her for all the work she’s accomplishing. Cora is touched because Robert is usually a child when it comes to her working at all, and their marriage seems stronger than ever.
Edith looks amazing in her wedding dress, the wedding goes off without a hitch and no lightning falls from the sky to light anyone on fire, much to everyone’s amazement. Edith and Bertie ride off into the sunset, Isobel and Merton are happy, Branson gets his flirt on with Edith’s editor Laura (who catches the bouquet, of course), and Mary and Henry are happy and pregnant. Everything and everyone upstairs ends the series very happy indeed.
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Downstairs, there’s a little bit more drama than upstairs, although most of it ends just as happily. First off, in the storyline I care least about, Daisy is once again being awful for no apparent reason, this time to Andy. Mrs. Patmore tells her a true thing, which is that she only likes people when they don’t at all like her, but then she’s over them as soon as they show an interest. She just likes the dudes who are hard to get.
Daisy finally starts to realize that she actually maybe can’t do better than Andy, and also he’s nice, but it seems like it might already be too late because Andy seems over her nonsense. When she grabs Mary’s hairdryer and tries to Felicity her hair, it goes terribly wrong and Andy laughs at her. But her new swanky 1920s hairdo is not only super flattering, it also leads Daisy to finally tell Andy that she might be ready for something more between them when she moves to Mr. Mason’s farm.
Elsewhere, Thomas has used his brush with death to turn over a new leaf and finally does find himself a new job outside of Downton. Of course, because Thomas is cursed, the job is super boring. I guess once you’re used to a house where you might at any time be called upon to carry a dead body down a hallway after a sex-murder, everything else is really going to pale in comparison.
The one bittersweet storyline in the whole series finale belongs to poor Mr. Carson, who finds that he’s developing the same “palsy” as his father and his grandfather did before him. With his shaking hands, he can no longer pour alcohol and must be sent out to pasture to be shot. (Well, one almost imagines this is the fate that Carson might have preferred.)
It’s only fitting that in the final episode we would get a few final, touching Mary and Carson scenes, and these ones are very impactful. Mary tells Carson that she can’t imagine the estate without him around to see after it, but he can’t imagine that the new butler they hire will want him helping with the big events. It’s obvious that Mary can’t imagine Downton without Carson, and Carson is heartbroken at the very idea of leaving Downton behind.
Thankfully, there is a useful Deus Ex Machina waiting in the wings that I’m pretty sure everyone could see from a mile off. First, Molesley is offered a full-time job and a cottage down by the school and he accepts. That leaves the house now short a footman. Then with the news of Carson’s condition, it’s obvious the house is going to need a new butler. Perhaps a butler that’s familiar with the house, and the family and wouldn’t mind Carson popping in from time-to-time with lectures about proper decorum. Perhaps a butler like … Thomas!
That’s right, Thomas is the new butler at Downton Abbey! It was obvious from a mile away, and yet it’s still satisfying to see it happen. Thomas’ whole journey over the course of the series was feeling like he was too good for service and feeling like he was trapped in his position.
And yet this season especially, he’s learned that he actually does love Downton, the crazy family and the equally crazy servants. Downton is Thomas’ true home, as much as it was for Carson before him. And for a gay man during an inhospitable time, finding a real home to belong to is probably the happiest ending Thomas could have hoped for.
Finally, while helping Lady Mary with something upstairs, Anna goes into labor and delivers her baby in Mary’s bed, much to Carson’s horror. It’s fitting that at the end of this particular period, when the lines between working class and upper class have started to blur, Anna would end up giving birth in Mary’s bed. Anna and Mr. Bates are pleased as can be about their son, who might just be the first of many for the future Bates family.
So all’s well that ends well at Downton Abbey. I’ll miss these characters, and these actors and the beautiful, lush scenery. But we’ll always have this happiest of happy endings to put a smile on our faces when we remember Downton.
Elsewhere Around Downton…
— Spratt and Denker are still at it in the finale and it gives us our one bit of purely catty fun. Spratt get a full page advice column in Edith’s magazine, and Denker finally figures out what he’s up to. She outs him to Violet, who thinks it’s absolutely hilarious and says she’ll have to start going to Spratt for all her advice. Ha!
— Baxter decides not to go see her gross ex-boyfriend in jail. So … that storyline was literally just completely useless then? Awesome.
— Besides Thomas and Violet and Doctor Clarkson, does anyone else in this finale end up alone? Even Mrs. Patmore and Mr. Mason end up making love eyes at each other. Downton Abbey should open the house as a matchmaking service.
— One last witty Dowager Countess one-liner before we go: Rosamund asks Violet what makes the English the way they are. “Opinions differ,” Violet explains. “Some say our history. But I blame the weather.” Perhaps I’ll miss Maggie Smith’s barbs most of all.
What did you think of the series finale? Was it everything you wanted it to be? Are you happy that everyone ended up paired off or did you think it was too neat? Sound off in the comments!
(Image courtesy of PBS)