It’s been more than a week and I’m still not over the tragedy that occurred in the Downton Abbey series finale.
I’m talking, of course, about the marriage of Lady Mary Crawley to Henry Talbot.
This romance has been the weirdest and most anti-climactic thing that has ever happened on Downton, mostly because Henry Talbot has the personality of a loaf of bread. He’s not overly sentimental or pathetic or stupid — he’s just blank. He’s nothing. Forgettable. He’s meant to inspire this huge, uncontrollable passion in Mary, to make her crazed and elated and desperately in love, and I just don’t get it. When did this occur, exactly? Their entire relationship seemed to hinge on the fact that he races cars and Mary couldn’t deal with it, which, fair call. But what else do they have?
I can’t remember a single important scene of true chemistry, or bonding, or anything. Many characters — Tom, Violet, Mary herself — talked at length about how Henry Could Be The One and how Love Is All You Need, but it was the ultimate failure of the “show, don’t tell” policy in screenwriting – they showed us nothing to make us believe in Mary and Henry as a couple. They told us plenty, but it sounded hollow and empty with no actions or organic moments to back it up. Talbot is just a man that the writers decided that Mary was going to be in love with, and they failed to prove it to us.
When Mary chose to end it with Talbot, I took her at her word because it made sense for the character. There was nothing to indicate that this man was any more special than the others who’ve courted her and who she always finds a deal-breaker with, and I thought the show was going in another direction for her endgame romance. I was genuinely shocked when the season 6 finale ended in their last-minute wedding. Like, that’s it? That’s the long-awaited moment of Mary finally choosing a new life partner? Over and done with? That guy? At best, they’ve got nothing substantial, and at worst, he causes Mary to look not merely vulnerable, but weak and compromised. I’ve been a huge Matthew Goode fan for over ten years, and I still spent the whole season praying for him to leave this show. Alas.
Downton’s only got the Christmas Special to go, and as much as I’d like a Mary/Talbot annulment wrapped in shiny paper under my tree this year, it’s probably not going to happen. But seriously, even old Mr Mason — or one of his pigs — would have made a better husband for Lady Mary than that personality-free dressmaker’s dummy. It could have been literally anyone else, but here are five Downton Abbey fellows whom I’d have rather seen Mary end up with.
What happened to this guy? He came into Mary’s life to mess around in her business like a Roaring Twenties Ben Wyatt, and we all know how that story ends. Remember all their sexy arguments? Remember when Mary earned his respect by slumming around in the pigsty with him and then cooking him scrambled eggs? Once they stopped being frenemies, he was a great pal who became a real confidante for Mary, and their chemistry was off the charts. Together, they hatched a plot to end her engagement with the well-meaning but basic Tony Gillingham – one that involved kissing. How convenient!
A romance with Blake wouldn’t have had all that nonsense Mary “marrying down” that her relationship with Talbot had — he kept it on the down low, but he’s the heir to a huge estate. He challenged Mary, matched her at every turn, he helped her, he had integrity and was blunt about his feelings for her. She rejected him a bunch of times, and the last we saw of him, he’d shipped off to Poland and Mary was moping around like he was the one who didn’t want her — which was obviously not true. What gives?
Thomas Barrow is one of Downton Abbey’s most complicated — and often hated — characters, but ultimately I need him to get a win sometime soon. Barrow and Mary have a lot in common — something that Mary admits to when she brings George to visit him after his suicide attempt. They’re both ambitious, elegant, troubled, selfish, secretly sensitive creatures who have difficulty controlling their worst impulses and a hard time holding on to happiness. Neither of them are likely to achieve an ideal romantic relationship any time soon — Barrow, as a closeted gay man at a time when such things were a criminal offence, and Mary as a cold widow with impossible standards, so why not just band together for the sake of the small boy? Barrow adores Mary’s son George and George loves him right back. He’d get two doting parents, and Barrow and Mary could have a sexless marriage in which they teach each other all their best manipulation tricks and plot world domination. Unorthodox, but still preferable to Henry Talbot.
The marriage between Carson and Mrs Hughes has been shockingly dysfunctional all season. There was conflict even before their big day — Carson’s idolization of the Crawleys overshadowed what Mrs Hughes wanted for her own wedding, and later in the season he became a whiny manbaby in regards to how his new wife was expected to wait on him. Mrs Hughes had to trick him out of that — there was no true redemption or learning done on Carson’s end. I struggled to understand why the couple even liked each other in private, and fully expected them to end up realizing they’d made a mistake, creating the show’s first downstairs divorce scandal. Carson has proved himself to be Downton Abbey’s most tiresome spouse, but even he would make a better husband for Lady Mary than Henry Talbot does. He’s married to his job, so why not just make that statement literal? He’s more obsessed with her than he is with his actual wife, and would offer her the utmost respect.
The zombified corpse of Matthew Crawley
For the past three years, Downton has been so hung up on throwing new men at Mary that I’d forgotten how lovely and important her relationship with Matthew really was, and how much I miss it. This season, as the show says its goodbyes, his memory has been a little more present. We got a really emotional moment of Mary talking to Matthew at his grave, something she doesn’t do very often, but it was merely to tell him about how she was in love with Henry Talbot. Blahhhhh. Matthew Crawley was a wonderful man and a perfect partner, and I would literally rather see him rise from the grave as a full-on zombie and need to be kept chained up in the potting shed like Ed at the end of Shaun of the Dead than deal with Mary legitimately being married to Talbot. She could be like that woman in the “I Married A Zombie” talk show segment during the end credits! And then Matthew could eat Henry’s brain! That’d put an end to this nonsense.
All jokes aside, I can’t believe this didn’t happen. My colleague Ariana has already waxed lyrical about why Mary and Tom is the Downton romance we deserve, and I agree. When Sybil and Matthew died, I too feared that the show might force Mary and Tom together. The idea was anathema to me. However, here we are four seasons later and I’ve never shipped anything harder.
They’ve grown naturally into best friends and business partners. They are each other’s biggest ally and supporter, and they love each other’s children, and each other’s departed spouses, dearly. They get each other in a way that few other individuals on this show ever have. Downton really tried to push a legitimate “you’re my brother!” thing this season in a way it hasn’t before. I’m not buying it. These two are MFEO and I’m truly shocked that they weren’t endgame. I was waiting all season for Mary to have her big “oh God, it’s you, that’s the reason all these other dudes don’t do it for me” moment, but instead, Tom was relegated to some sort of cheery leprechaun adviser, pushing her towards Talbot just… because? I feel so betrayed.