Previously, on Downton Abbey: Bates (FINALLY) got out of prison, Thomas made a move on the Hottest Footman in Northern England and got shot down, sending the house into a tailspin of drama, Bates saves the day by blackmailing O’Brien with her ladyship’s soap, Matthew and Tom join forces to run the estate, Mary has some unidentified surgery for some unidentified lady problem, Edith finds out Dishy Editor has Mr. Rochester syndrome, and also there’s a cricket match.
How is it possible we’ve reached the end of Series 3 already? It seems like we just started! The finale will take us through a time jump, a trip to Scotland and what’s possibly one of the most shocking moments in Downton to date. Obviously, we’re going to have a lot to talk about. So, let’s go.
Let’s Do the Time Jump Again. Well, at least we made it for 6/7ths of a season without resorting to the same frustrating trope that made so much of Series 2 difficult to watch. This Series 3 finale actually aired as the Christmas special in the UK and I wonder if the time jump forward would be less irritating/easier to swallow if we had had a similar couple month break here in America. As it stands, we’ve jumped things forward a year in the world of the show, but for us it’s only been a week since we were playing cricket and watching Thomas narrowly escape jail, so everything feels a bit extra and awkwardly rushed. Sadly, this is an issue that’s going to plague the entire episode, so you might as well get used to it now. Just know that I too know that as a plot device, it’s pretty lame.
We’re Going Off to Scotland! Our episode begins with all of Downton in an uproar, packing to get the family off on its annual trip to visit Duneagle Castle in Scotland. Anna and O’Brien, who still has managed to not get fired yet, are all atwitter about what to pack the ladies for evening activities. There’s a new housemaid staring wistfully after Tom. Thomas, also surprisingly still unfired, is supervising the packing of the family firearms and still looking wistfully at Jimmy while they work. Seriously, dude, get over it.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Surprise, Mary’s pregnant! This feels a bit like a cheat since we’ve basically gone straight from the season-long boring and apparently quite pointless back and forth about whether Matthew and Mary can even have children at all to boom, pregnant almost instantly, but whatever. Apparently we’re just never going to be told what sort of mystery illness Mary had or what kind of random surgery she had or anything like that, but I guess we’re just going to have to go with it. (I’m apparently way more annoyed by this than I thought – it’s just incredibly lazy storytelling and it’s kind of negatively impacting my enjoyment of a plot twist that I should be so excited about because I love Matthew and Mary and want them to be happy. ARGH, SHOW.)
Team Downstairs on Its Own. Meanwhile, back at Downton, the servants are all having dinner downstairs and Alfred wonders if the family being gone means they might have a bit more free time. Jimmy suggests they all take an outing or something and Carson looks at him as though he has suddenly started speaking Greek. Carson informs everyone that they’re going to clean all the silver and air out all the rooms whilst they have the chance. No one looks excited.
Oh Look Another New Maid. Hurrah. New housemaid Edna – the same one who was staring after Tom earlier – is busily cleaning a room upstairs. We realize its Tom’s room because she’s now creepily staring at a photo of Sybil. (This has a bit of a Single White Female vibe, doesn’t it?) Mrs. Hughes interrupts her and she starts picking up the bedding, asking why Tom wasn’t invited along with the rest of the family to Scotland, and wondering what Lady Flintshire must have thought of an earl’s daughter marrying a chauffeur. Mrs. Hughes says its not her place to wonder. Edna then asks what Lady Sybil was like and says she thinks she could’ve done better, noting that at least Tom’s nice looking, but not much else. Okay, I insta-hate Edna. Yippee.
A bit later, Edna finds Tom still in the dining room. She says it seems sad that he’s been left behind all on his own. Tom says he’s used to it, and Edna agrees that yes, he must be, and that his life is really hard. Tom says don’t worry about him and they introduce themselves properly to each other. I can already tell that I’m going to hate this storyline, whatever it turns out to be, and I feel like I should already be getting the SHUT UP, [CHARACTER] jars ready to go.
Isobel and Dr. Clarkson: Really? For some unfathomable reason, Dr. Clarkson is over at Isobel’s for tea. I suppose without Ethel around anymore Isobel has needed a new project and here we are. This is a bit weird since it’s not like the two of them have had a conversation together since some point in Series 2, but okay. Isobel invites Dr. Clarkson to dinner and the two of them are sort of sweetly flirty and also deathly boring at the same time. If you need a drink or snack break at any point during this episode, I think we’ve just found your opportune moment: anytime these two are onscreen.
Welcome to Scotland: Meet the Flintshires. The Crawleys arrive at the Flintshires stunningly beautiful Scottish castle. (I want to go there.) Cousin Rose is thrilled to see everyone and we finally meet the infamous Shrimpy, who is not at all a small person as you’d think the name would imply. The Flintshires seem all rather unhappy with one another – Shrimpie and Susan bicker incessantly, Susan barks at Rose constantly and Rose seems desperately excited to have someone else in the house to take her mother’s attention off her.
They have dinner accompanied by bagpipes that wander through the dining room and are crazy loud. Apparently this is a Scottish thing, because the bagpipe guy also apparently will wake everyone up in the morning, too. Dinner is really awkward because everyone’s trying to be polite and make conversation – Edith wants to telephone Mr. Rochester, Rose is excited for the ball they’re throwing later in the week – but it’s all overshadowed by Susan, who is basically a black hole of negativity at the end of the table who has some sort of snarky response or put down, every time either her husband or her daughter opens their mouths. She seems a lovely person, obviously.
Tom and Isobel, Just Two Revolutionairies at Dinner. Tom goes to have dinner with Isobel at Crawley House. They talk about how Tom must be lonely or whatever, because obviously now that he’s a widower he’s been forced to shun all human contact. (I mean, honestly, show.) Tom says no, he still knows a lot of people, they’re just all downstairs whilst he’s upstairs and isn’t that just a bucket of first world problems. Isobel being Isobel says that Tom should use this as an opportunity to spend some time with all those downstairs folk. Tom says he doesn’t think Violet would approve of that, but Isobel doesn’t care. Isobel goes off on some weird tangent about Tom’s new identity and how he’s managed a delicate transition as his lifestyle’s changed and since he’s the agent of the estate he can talk to anyone he wants. Oh, whatever, blah blah does Isobel always have to have a project? She’s as bad as Cher from Clueless. Tom goes back to the house and has some further angst because Mrs. Hughes needs his permission as to what rooms all the servants can clean.
Edith is Still Getting Her Jane Eyre On. Edith gets a call from her editor at the Sketch whose real name is apparently Michael Gregston but whom I will be referring to as Mr. Rochester from now on, because of his creepy similarities to a major character from Jane Eyre. Anyway, Mr. Rochester is apparently also going to be in Scotland at the same time as the Crawleys and wants to visit. Edith invites him to dinner. Mary is snide about it, implying that obviously he’ss only interested because he wants access to the castle and their families and the posh opportunities that come with them. The family has an awkward conversation about Edith and her job – Robert wants to know why his paper would want to employ amateurs like his daughter, but Mr. Rochester just responds that it’s more important that they have people writing for them who have something to say.
After dinner, Mr. Rochester tells Edith that he’s been invited to go shooting with Matthew. She wants to know what he’s really doing in Scotland. Mr. Rochester says he wants to get to know her family – and that he hopes that if they know him and like him, they might find it easier to deal with the fact that he’s married, and married to a madwoman at that, and be on his side, because he’s in love with her. This is one of those moments where the time jump really hurts this episode – when last we saw Edith and Mr. Rochester, we’d just learned about his madwoman in the attic problem and seen Edith’s reaction. Now, next time we see them together, it’s a year on. Yeah, it’s been a year. What have they been doing all this time? Are they having a relationship? How have they talked about this? How did we get to them being in love? How has Edith dealt with finding out about his marriage? How did she become okay with being…whatever they are to one another now? That is definitely one of those things that as a viewer I really need to see unfold in order to be able to support, and as it stands it just seems very weird.
Flintshire Family Drama. Whilst they’re “practicing” their shooting (literally I think someone’s job is to aim the gun for them), Shrimpy confesses to Robert that Rose and Susan haven’t been getting along lately. He also tells him that he’s been given an international posting and the whole family will have to go to wherever he’s sent. Susan tells Violet that she’s not at all excited about this news, as she’s convinced wherever it is they’ll be going will be filthy, have bad food and contain no one to talk to. For some unidentified reason Shrimpy and Susan appear to quite dislike each other – they’re sharp and snappish and rude whenever they’re together and they might as well have neon signs flashing I HATE YOU over their heads. In a vague way, this is an interesting plot; in the way that anything is with a sense of history you’re unaware of, because you’re curious about it and what happened in all the time before you saw whatever it is. On the other hand, it’s hard to care about the woes and upset of people we only met five minutes ago, and the show is certainly laying their unhappiness with one another on a bit thick. We’re certainly all sorry that their marriage does not appear to be a happy one, but we aren’t really emotionally invested either.
Bates and Anna come upon Rose while they’re out for a walk. She’s hiding under what appears to be some sort of archway or possibly a troll bridge, furtively smoking a cigarette and crying. Rose says she’s okay, and Anna and Bates promise to not rat her out to her mother. Bates – adorable man – even offers her a peppermint to try and mask the smell of her cigarette. Shrimpy tells Robert that he and Susan don’t like each other very much – and the two of them clash over everything, even the dress Rose wants to wear to the ball. Shrimpy sides with his daughter and yells at Susan to stop making everyone so unhappy all the time. It’s really awkward.
Edna is a Stalker. Having overheard from Mrs. Hughes that Tom was planning to eat lunch at the Gratham Arms, Edna totally stalks him to the pub like a creeper and makes sure she’s there waiting when he arrives. Instead of trying to play it off or anything, Edna admits that she knew Tom would be there and she doesn’t care what the village thinks about her being on a pub in her own. They have another weird conversation about Tom’s elevation in status, centered on why he decided to start dressing like an “upstairs” person. Edna then says that Tom should come down and have dinner with the servants one night, because obviously that’s going to go well.
The next night Edna stalks Tom into the dining room and offers to put his daughter down in the nursery. She then pauses and asks if she can ask Tom something. Because Edna has no personality or character beyond serving as either some sort of golddigger or a stand-in for the life Tom left behind, she just comes right out and asks Tom whether he’s ashamed of who he is now or ashamed of who he was then, and is that why he won’t come down and eat with them. Tom say that no it’s not, and Edna leaves. Seriously? What is the point of this character? Who on earth would not immediately be firing her for behaving like this? And why is she so obsessed with this?
This moment should live on the internet forever, because I can’t believe I’m saying it: Edna makes me miss Ethel. Yup. For real. Edna makes Ethel look multi-faceted, thoughtful and sympathetic by comparison.
This Episode Has a Lot of Boring Bits. It’s unclear whether it’s the time jump, the change in setting or the unique way that the cast is divided up during this episode, but a great deal our Scottish adventure drags terribly. Unfortunately, the season finale is the worst episode of the season, stuffed with pointless plots, random newcomers, and out of character behavior. You’ll notice there are subplots I barely even wrote about, largely because they’re pointless and dull – and not in the way that makes them fun to snark about either. They’re just boring.
All the beautiful shots of Scotland and its gorgeous countryside are lovely. There are even some great individual moments – Cora sympathizing with Susan trying to raise a young daughter full of new ideas and Violet acknowledging that it’s because she misses Sybil, Bates giving a crying Rose a mint so that her mother won’t know she’s been smoking, Anna learning to dance a reel because she thinks Bates might like it – but these are part of subplots that just don’t go anywhere, and that feel like a chore to get through.
Many things happen that aren’t particularly interesting. There are so many shots of the lads out hunting that you start develop a complex about whether one of those rifles is really Chekov’s gun. Mary apparently hates Edith’s Mr. Rochester for no apparent reason other than she just doesn’t like Edith very much. Matthew and Mary are sappy and cute together. Carson is predictably unexcited about the prospect of sending the staff off to a village fair. There’s a whole subplot involving Mrs. Patmore and the new local grocer who seems romantically interested in her but isn’t really, and is only after her because she’s a great cook. Molesley is quite a great dancer. Ivy and Daisy have suddenly become BFFs. There’s the most adorable moment of the season with Carson holding baby Sybil. Oh, and Thomas gets the crap beat out of him saving Jimmy from some thugs at the fair and apparently this act is enough to make Jimmy okay with them friends again. Whatever.
Tom’s Existential Crisis Continues. Tom shows up in the Downton kitchen to tell Mrs. Hughes he thought he might come down for supper that night and hang out with them all and catch up. Edna is sitting in the corner, smirking widely, at this. Mrs. Hughes says that of course he’s welcome if he wants to. Thomas points out that it probably won’t be fine once Carson finds out. Carson, as expected, does not approve. Tom sits down to dinner with the servants and Edna makes a tacky joke about maybe Tom can drive them all to the fair the next day.
Tom actually goes to the fair with the lot of them the next day, and Edna hangs all over him. They hold hands on rides and everyone notices their behavior. She comes to see him afterward and tells him what a lovely day she had with him, and that she wants to meet him the next day in the pub. Then she kisses him, whilst Tom stands there like a deer in the headlights, beause this storyline is painfully predictable.
Lady’s Maids Are Horrible Everywhere Apparently. O’Brien is becoming best friends with Susan’s lady’s maid, whose name is apparently unimportant. O’Brien laments that she never gets to travel to anyplace other than London during the Season. Unnamed Lady’s Maid is dreading being sent off to some far corner of the world with the Flintshires, but O’Brien says she could quite fancy something different like that.
Susan’s maid, whose name is apparently actually Wilkins, comes to find O’Brien and tell her that Susan wants to see her. Susan wants to do her hair like Cora’s, and Wilkins is failing at it. O’Brien swoops in to help/suck up, and of course this makes Wilkins angry, because all major ladies’ maids are just some master schemers with anger management issues. Wilkins is angry enough that O’Brien’s shown her up about the hair situation that she spikes her punch at the swanky Gillies Ball. An old hand at such treachery, O’Brien takes one sip of her punch and rejects it, leaving it on a shelf because she’s not falling for anything that stupid. Of course, Molesley comes along and drinks said punch and gets incredibly drunk and makes an idiot of himself. Because, Moseley.
O’Brien also promises to retaliate further, saying she no longer has any loyalty to Wilkins because of what she did. She goes straight to Susan and starts talking, and I’ve got to wonder if this isn’t a potential exit storyline for O’Brien, and we won’t find out once Series 4 start that she’s decided to go be Susan’s maid in India. I’ll be curious to see how that goes, because goodness knows unless they’re going to make her a better person, I’ve no idea what they do with O’Brien next year.
Most Awkward Proposal Ever. Dr. Clarkson comes to dinner with Isobel and while they sit having after dinner drinks they have a strange conversation where he points out that he forgets sometimes that she was once a doctor’s wife herself and that she knows what his life is like. Isobel says its nice to be able to talk without having to explain oneself. There is definitely a weird flirting vibe between them that has completely come out of nowhere and is really uncomfortable.
Dr. Clarkson invites Isobel to the fair with him, because why not. While they’re there, Dr. Clarkson says he’s got something to ask her, fetches them some punch, and then launches into a rambling chat that ends up with him asking her to marry him in a really roundabout and not at all straightforward way. Isobel lets him down gently in an equally roundabout way where she talks about how much she loves her life now and wouldn’t’ want to risk ruining it with change. Where this comes from, since the two of them have never even talked like at all this season, I don’t know. It is basically the definition of filler, as we have wasted three or four scenes on a plot that means nothing and has gone nowhere. What was the point? Yawn.
The Jane Eyre Story Comes Out. Matthew and Mr. Rochester are terrible at hunting, so Matthew invites him to go fishing the next day instead. Mr. Rochester tells Matthew everything about his married status and asks if Lord Grantham would never want him to have a life again because of his issues. Matthew says that he thinks Robert would understand he has to make himself a life somehow, but he doubts that he’d want his daughter involved in it, especially when Mr. Rochester has nothing to offer but a job as his mistress. Mr. Rochester says he loves Edith and he’s offering her that. Matthew snorts and says they’re not in a Walter Scott novel and that Mr. Rochester needs to get real.
Mr. Rochester keeps on whining, claiming that Edith had told him that Matthew was a “freer soul” than that. Matthew says whatever to that, and while Mr. Rochester’s position is tragic, but he’s not letting Edith slide into a life of scandal. He says Mr. Rochester should stay through the ball and use it to tell Edith goodbye properly. However, when Mr. Rochester tries to break this to Edith, but she’s not having it. She says she’s sure about how she feels about him and this won’t be their last evening together. Oh, Edith. There’s just no way this is going to end well.
The Pointless Edna Plot Concludes. Edna tells Mrs. Hughes and Carson that she can’t do some task they’ve asked her to, because she has to have lunch with Tom Branson in the pub in the village. Mr. Carson is shocked and tells Mrs. Hughes she has to go. (Yeessssss.) Mrs. Hughes has to break it to Tom that Edna’s been let go, because she won’t be happy with the work and will unsettle the other maids now that she’s aiming higher. Tom says he didn’t encourage her. Mrs. Hughes says that that’s probably true, but he didn’t exactly discourage her either. She says that Tom let Edna make him ashamed of who he is now. She says he’s done well for himself and that Sybil would be very proud of him. Tom then starts ugly crying and sobbing about how much he misses Sybil and can’t bear to be without her. (This is more affecting when you think about the fact that this is actually more than a year on for Tom, that his grief is still this raw.) I’m not at all convinced that Awful Edna was the way to remind us that Tom still misses Sybil and still exists in a limbo of his own making in the world that is Downton, but at least we’ll never have to see her again. But that’s still a big chunk of my TV viewing life I’m never going to get back. Surely, another plot could have used that airtime.
We’ll Be Seeing More of Rose. It turns out that Shrimpy and Susan are losing Duneagle, precisely because they’ve refused to modernize and adapt the way that Matthew is doing at Downton. Robert is shocked. The question becomes, what to do with their daughter?
It’s decided that Rose will be coming back with the Crawleys to stay at Downton while her parents are off at Shrimpie’s new post in India. Anyway, I’m surprisingly okay with this, because I find the Rose in this episode to be much more fun interesting than the one from last week with her running around to jazz clubs and rebellion, and honestly this is one new character I won’t mind getting to know a bit better. Yes, it reeks a bit of Sybil 2.0 – look at this lovely young lady with her modern ideas and fashions – but, that sort of character is something this show sorely needs and there’s been an absence of it ever since Sybil married Tom and lost so much of herself. This version of Rose seems much more human and likeable than last week’s and I think she’ll be a good addition to the regular cast of Crawleys. She’s a million times better than the last three girls this show has tried to add, so this is already a plus in my book.
So. The Ending. It’s possible that writing about the rest of this episode was more difficult than normal because I knew we’d have to end up here. Mary goes home early from Scotland, and of course she goes into labor. Both Mary and her father and basically everyone at various points talk about how much they love Matthew and his ideas and how important he is to the family, so you can pretty much tell that something horrible is coming and I know this because I’ve watched television before.
Anyway, Matthew rushes home to see Mary, who it turns out is just fine and has given birth to a baby boy. Matthew comes in to see his son and the three of them make the most adorable picture together and they cry and are glowingly joyful. Matthew then tells Mary how much he adores her and their life together and it’s painfully sweet and romantic and oh, look how happy they are. They’re so, so happy and adorable and sweet together – and then Matthew leaves to drive back to Downton to tell the rest of the family the good news and is run off the road and killed. The final shots of the episode – and the season – are Matthew’s body with blood pouring from his head and Mary happily holding their son, ignorant that she is now a widow. Happy Christmas to you too, Julian Fellowes. Sheesh. Can’t imagine how angry UK fans must have been to come from their holiday dinners to that.
It’s hard to talk about the ending, a bit. As episodes go, this one was pretty lackluster. A lot of boring or silly storylines, most of which featured characters we neither knew nor really cared about and we’re only given a minute to see and process the death of a character we all loved, and the end of the signature couple that basically the whole series was built around. Since Mary had a son, the central inheritance question is handled at present, but seriously, what happens to Downton without Matthew? What happens to Mary without Matthew? I’d have given a lot – even though I know it would have left me a sobbing wreck – to have Matthew’s death occur earlier in the episode, so that we could react to it properly, rather than just be left with…that. It feels tacked on, this moment that should have been so important for this episode, because it’s so important to all of us.
I felt a little bit betrayed the first time I watched this, and I imagine a lot of you might as well. Part of me is hurt. I mean, try as I might have to fight it, I loved the Matthew and Mary relationship. They were the heart of the show for me and as a fan, it would have been nice to at least get some emotional space to process all of this – going from literally the happiest, fluffiest, most cuddly sweet moment ever to emotional devastation less than two minutes later felt like a punch in the face. It’s heartbreaking. I fully respect Dan Stevens decision to leave the show, but I can’t really support this method of writing him out. (There will be a longer post about this specific issue tomorrow probably, because this one is already long enough.) I understand that these things happen. It’s not my first time at the rodeo. But this was badly done – for the fans, for the characters, for the showpiece couple and even for Stevens himself, who surely deserved better than that.
I imagine you all have thoughts. Do tell. What did you think of this episode? What did you think of the ending? Sound off in the comments.