The final ever Downton Abbey episode aired on Christmas day, and was quite possibly the most hopeful and optimistic episode in the series’ history.
There were still some loose ends to tie up, and questions to answer, after series 6 came to a close back in November. While we may not have been completely enamored of all of the outcomes in that episode, the Christmas special had a lot of work to do to wrap up Downton Abbey in a satisfactory way.
So, did it do the job?
Goin’ to the chapel…
What’s better than one grand wedding and romance taking up the two-hour long finale, according to Fellowes?
Well, that would be everyone pairing off by the episode’s end — bar Thomas Barrow (we were still hoping for that Charlie Cox cameo, more fool us) or the Dowager Countess — or getting hitched off-screen. No, that really isn’t an exaggeration. There was romance galore to be found in this episode, and it was almost a little unsettling. (We’re used to painful heartbreak and death at Christmastime from Downton, after all.)
The course of true love never did run smooth, however, so there were some obstacles on the way to all those happy endings.
Firstly, the big one. Edith and Bertie reunited at the Ritz, following some well-meaning meddling from Lady Mary and Rosamund, and rekindled their fledgling romance amongst some awkward interruptions from their waiter. With the wedding back on, it was only a matter of time before they hit another bump in the road — it is Edith, after all.
That bump in the road was Bertie’s mother, who was blissfully unaware of Edith’s illegitimate daughter. Seemingly having learnt her lesson with Bertie, Edith decided to come clean to Mrs. Pelham about Marigold, and everything seemed to be going south when their engagement dinner was interrupted by her right before their announcement.
But as this was the last ever episode, they couldn’t allow Edith to bow-out in complete misery, so Mrs. Pelham had a change of heart, giving the union her blessing and commending Edith for her honesty. Edith and Bertie made it down the aisle without any further hiccups, and she finally got the happy ending fans had been wanting since series 6 came to close.
The other wedding of this episode — though it happened off screen — occurred between Lord Merton and Isobel. Sewing the seeds of a potentially tragic end to the couple, Lord Merton was diagnosed with pernicious anemia, much to the advantage of his son and his son’s wife. In an effort to ensure that Lord Merton actually kicked the bucket, his son confined him to his room, but Isobel wasn’t about to give up that easily.
Enlisting the Dowager Countess, the terrible-twosome embarked on a break out and moved Lord Merton in with Isobel. Musing on why she ever ended their relationship — er, might have been something to do with Lord Merton’s sociopathic offspring, Isobel — the two decided to get married, and spend what remaining time Lord Merton had together and happy. But, again, as this was the last ever episode, the doom-and-gloom of Downton past was nowhere to be found, and Lord Merton’s pernicious anemia turned out to be a misdiagnosis.
Other fledgling relationships that were hinted at (but didn’t quite find a resolution) before the episode ended included footman Andy wooing Daisy, Mr. Mason and Mrs. Patmore, and Mr. Molesley and Miss Baxter — the latter of which we’d been hoping would find its feet, as one of the healthiest and sweetest romances on Downton Abbey.
To the end of an era…
Though he tried to conceal the truth from both Mrs. Hughes — who is no fool, Carson, you should’ve known better — and the Crawley family, Carson’s condition started to deteriorate swiftly throughout the episode, though there’d been barely a hint towards it prior to this episode. He was barely able to hold a bottle with his uncontrollable shaking, never mind pour for the family at important dinners and making an awful mess of the tablecloth.
The cause? Palsy, as Carson’s grandfather had called it, and it had removed the aforementioned grandfather and Carson’s father from service. Though, considering Carson’s insistence on keeping his feet planted firmly in the past and tradition, perhaps forced retirement was for the best — both for Carson himself, but also for the changing times a Downton itself.
Carson wasn’t the only one departing Downton, seemingly for good. Mr. Molesley was offered a full-time position teaching at the school, along with a house to go with it, which was received by huge smiles and gleeful noises in my house — well, except for the long-suffering eye rolls from my Dad. Also departing was Thomas Barrow, to a much smaller household, but more on that in just a moment…
And new beginnings!
After drawing a line in the sand with the remaining Downton staff — bar Carson — before leaving for his new household, the divisive Thomas Barrow seemed to be turning over a new leaf following his suicide attempt in series 6. The skeleton staff at the house seem to further isolate him, and it was obvious it wasn’t the right fit for him.
When Barrow returned for Edith’s wedding, and Carson’s condition continued to deteriorate, he stepped in to assist with serving drinks — which lead Lord Grantham and Mary to the perfect solution to all of their problems. Barrow was to return to Downton as its butler. Which, considering the relationship he seems to be forging with Lady Mary’s son, George, looks set to parallel Carson and Lady Mary’s relationship for the new generation. Yeah, we might have something in our eye…
Edith’s wedding also saw the arrival of Anna and Mr. Bates’ child. Anna’s water breaks in Lady Mary’s bedroom, and the pregnancy goes off without a hitch. With the misfortune the Bates’ have suffered in recent seasons, it was more than anyone could ask for.
Much like Edith and Mary, Lady Cora and the Dowager Countess buried the hatchet after all of the hospital drama, and the village and hospital is thriving under Cora’s hands — though there was a minor bump in the road with Robert, regarding how much time Cora was spending there, which a newly returned Lady Rose managed to put a quick-stop too. We missed Lady Rose’s injection of life into this series something terrible.
Also looking to the future, Henry Talbot spent the Christmas special searching for a new livelihood, after giving up racing for good, much to Lady Mary’s delight. Luckily Talbot had Tom Branson at his side, and the two decide to put their passion for cars to good use by going into business together, opening Talbot and Branson Motors. This wasn’t the only new addition to Henry Talbot’s life, as Lady Mary informs him she’s expecting his child.
And so, Downton Abbey ends, with boundless optimism for everyone’s futures. Perhaps not what we’d all have expected, but likely the only way it could have ended everything so neatly. We’ll certainly miss it, our Sunday nights won’t be the same, but these beloved characters will all live on in our thoughts as we theorize about what comes next — and, well, there’s always fanfiction.
How about ‘Downton Abbey’s’ last words?
The inimitable Dowager Countess received the honor of closing out the series with this exchange between herself and Isobel, as they toast to the New Year with champagne.
Dowager Countess: “It makes me smile, the way every year we drink to the future whatever it may bring.”
Isobel: “Well, what else could we drink to? We are going forward to the future, not back into the past.”
Dowager Countess: “If only we had the choice!”