Downton Abbey‘s Christmas Special, which serves as the PBS version’s finale, is always about scale and spectacle. The Crawleys travel to a castle somewhere, there are scandals and schemes, but also ultimately toasts and marriage proposals. Season Five’s finale was no different, and while it wasn’t perhaps the best season finale the show has ever had (thanks mostly to the Anna/Bates nonsense), there were still some moments that are sure to become Downton classics (the proposal!)
The overarching feeling for this finale, though, was one of comfort. Things were cozy for most of the finale, and revolved around spritely conversations, and some of the best banter the show has maybe ever had. Interactions felt casual and real — nothing particularly interesting happened around, say, Robert’s revelation of his ulcer, or the hunting trip, but it was comfortable in the way it would be if we were actually there.
For those of us who continue to watch Downton, I hazard to say it’s because we enjoy being a part of the Crawley household. This finale truly had a fly-on-the-wall feeling that didn’t attempt (except in one particularly egregious case) to be anything more than the chronicle of a family, and their staff, going about their regular business.
Let’s start with the nicest bits: Rose being appreciated by Lord Sinderby (thanks to her quick thinking once his mistress arrived), Molesley and Baxter hunting through York pubs for 6 months to #FreeBates (Part 2), Robert and Branson each sweetly confronting Edith about Marigold’s parentage, Thomas actually being called upon and sanctioned to use his evil talents, “Everyone Love Branson” (except for Sowell, who came to be polite, anyway), the hunting trip flirtations, and of course, Mr. Carson proposing marriage (and a future as property magnates) to Mrs. Hughes, who accepted.
To me, the relationship Carson and Hughes have is what Bates and Anna should have been to the show. The two work well together and understand one another like no one else, but they still have their disagreements. Everyone needs them and confides in them, and they are integral to Downton (both the house and the show itself) in every conceivable way. The marriage proposal felt a little out of the blue since there have never been any romantic overtures in their relationship, just a certain tenderness, but it’s also very honest. It doesn’t have to be a Russian prince and an elopement that never happened, but just two people who enjoy each other’s company and have come to rely upon one another in many ways. Beautiful.
Speaking of romance, teasing Matthew Goode as a new love interest for Mary is great fun, especially because he seems to be the first man she’s met lately who is interested in her, but is staid about it (and only gives her a “maybe” about a future meet-up). His interests and his forward declarations of liking her are modern, but his sensibility and countenance are all a throwback, which I think appeals to Mary. Edith even had a nice evening with the Agent, Bertie. He’s someone everyone feels a bit sorry for … seems like it could be a good match!
As for the geriatric set: though the Princess being incredibly droll and quite sour was funny, I won’t be sad to see the back of the entire Russian interlude. Not knowing the Dowager’s past exploits, but only getting hints of them, is much better than getting the whole story it seems. As for Isobel and Merton, the whole thing fell flat by the end. His sons are turds, and there’s nothing that can be done about it. There was a nice honesty to Isobel’s decision, but it also all generally felt like a runaround. As for the drama at the Dower house, it’s certainly time for that to end. As Violet herself said, “There’s a point when malice ceases to be amusing, Spratt.” We have reached it.
Though I am loathe to mention the disaster of a plotline that are the Bateses, it must be addressed. Downton simply does not know how to handle happy couples. There are plenty of ways to convey strong emotion without defaulting to tragedy. A pregnancy (since they’ve wanted one for so long, although babies do equal death on the show) or any other kind of delight or triumph could — and should — have taken the place of this whole jail mess. And don’t get me started on the time jump from summer to Christmas, where absolutely nothing seems to have happened in between, except that Anna has been pining away (did Bates not tell her where to find him??) I’m just sick of him falling on his sword when nobody asked him to, and other people having to clean up the mess.
A lot happened in the Season Five finale, but at the same time, it was in that same kind of treading water way most of the season has been. It was sweet and predictable in the best of times, and ridiculous in the worst. But doesn’t that just sum Downton up wholly? Or maybe even the very idea of family? Because whatever the show’s faults, we still keep coming back to spend time at Downton, upstairs and down. They are our family — for better or worse.
Episode Rating: ★★★ Good
Season Rating: ★★★ Good
Musings and Miscellanea:
— “Did she take a cake with a file in it?” – Violet regarding Mary visiting Anna in jail.
— Bates: “I’d cut my arm off if I thought it would help.” Thomas: “Well that wouldn’t be sensible Mr. Bates, we can’t have you wobbly at both ends.” (Actually laughed out loud at that one).
— And of course, not only does Anna’s life suck now, but she had an abusive upbringing as well. Wonderful! (/sarcasm)
— “Thank heavens we both have a criminal turn of mind” – Robert to Cora. Adorable.
— The whole Diana episode … what a mess! And it took all of five minutes! Ridiculous.
— Happy to have Michelle Dockery‘s voice finally featured!
— Yay, a gramophone makes things fun and swingin’.
— I absolutely adore the garden where Isobel and Violet were chatting. Gorgeous. I miss summer.
— I’m genuinely surprised that Mary didn’t learn the truth about Marigold in this episode, nor did Baxter and Molesley take their relationship to any next level.
— The Prince: “We’ve lost everything.” The Princess: “Including the will to live …”
— “I will never again receive an immoral proposition from a man. Was I so wrong to savor it?” – Violet.
— “We were the three that should have grown old with her” – Branson, regarding Sybil. Glad they still remember her, whereas Matthew …
— “The sentiment of the greeting is not reflected in the text” – Isobel.
— Does Daisy have a crush on Andy?
— Merry Christmas! (wink). See y’all next year.