Downton Discussion: What You Need to Know About the Series 2 Finale

Downton Abbey Season 2 officially concluded this weekend in wonderful fashion and I hope everyone is officially ready to wail and gnash their teeth with the rest of the world while we wait for updates on Season 3. (As far as I’m aware it’s set to start filming any day now, which is some comfort, I suppose.)

This week’s finale brought us a little bit of everything – and I’m assuming that quite a few of you were possibly screaming over very pleased with the episode’s ending.  So click through and let’s talk about it – the good, the bad, and the somewhat odd. And then we’ll figure out what we’re going to do while we wait for Series 3.

You know, I have to say, I liked this episode a lot, and in many ways it felt like a return to Downton Series 1 form. The pacing was much improved – a lot happened, but the episode as a whole didn’t feel as crammed with one Important Event after another, and we got some of the wonderfully done small moments that often feel just as important, if not more so, than those designated “Big Events.”  Yes, there were some ridiculous moments (that Ouija board subplot is going to bother me for quite a while), but on the whole the episode was enjoyable, satisfying and generally well balanced. And it nicely wrapped up several important plot threads – even one of the series’ biggest – instead of dragging things out further, which is refreshing in a world where so many series don’t ever want to give viewers anything that they want.  

I have to assume that the break between writing Series 2 and the Christmas special let Julian Fellowes get a little bit of his perspective back. I’m hoping it means good things for Series 3. Anyway. Onward. Lots to discuss!

Christmas with the Crawleys. The setting of this episode immediately went a long way toward make me love it – I’m always a sucker for a Christmas episode of anything, and the framing of the holidays lets us get back much of the feeling of early Series 1 Downton – upstairs and downstairs traditions, lots of character moments, gift exchanges, silly family games (charades!), the group New Year’s Day shooting trip – everything about this setup was just perfect. It’s hard to exactly put a hard reason as to why this was just such a refreshing change after the wild sturm und drang of the past week, but, simply, the show felt like itself again, and much more fully so than it has in a while.

Missing in Action: The Sybil Situation. So, Sybil and Branson are officially married (offscreen) and living in Ireland (offscreen) and pregnant (offscreen). Well, okay then. I can’t imagine why anyone thought that might be something that fans might like to see. I know we haven’t seen 90% of their relationship up until this point anyway, so I’m not sure why I expected anything different this time, but for some reason I had hopes. (I really do want to like them, and the feeling that so much of this episode was back on track made me hope that plotline might be as well.) We spend the whole episode without seeing anything of Sybil at all, and it does feel a little bit odd to have the entire storyline basically vanish.  Goodness, I hope they can get this plot together next season.

Edith and Sir Anthony: Well, We’ll See. It’s funny – at the end of Series 1, I feel like we were all busy screaming “Ugh, Edith,” at our televisions, but this year, I am positive that “Oh, poor Edith” has become the general refrain about this character among fans. Because, really. Poor Edith. She’s had a rough year, to be sure, and now that she finally gets a ray of light here at the very end (and well done to Grandmama Violet for pulling that little bit of matchmaking off), her story still gets the shaft. After meeting Sir Anthony again thanks to Violet’s machinations, Edith gets to tell him the truth – that Mary made up the story she told him that effectively ended their relationship – but Anthony says that they can’t see one another again, because he’s too old for her and was injured in the war. Edith’s resolution that she isn’t going to “give up on someone who calls [her] lovely” probably melted all of our hearts – but unfortunately, that’s basically the last we see of her the rest of the episode. I’m not sure why this storyline was dropped so suddenly, but I do hope we get back to this plot soon next season. It’s odd to say so, isn’t it, but I think we’d all like to see Edith get a little bit of happiness now.

More From the Land of Lost Plots. Not to say that I’m sorry at all that Ethel appears to have vanished from the Downton universe completely (I’m not. AT ALL.), but after having to spend weeks on her pointless subplot it would have been nice to just have some throwaway mention of what happened to her character, even if it was just that she wandered off to some other town or left for America or married some stranger we’ve never heard of and will never been seen again.

Most Unexpectedly Amazing Moment of the Night. And no, it’s not what you think – and the squealing about that is coming in a minute anyway. No, it’s the scene where Daisy talks to the Dowager Countess about the William situation; just everything about their interaction was perfect. I would absolutely watch an entire episode (probably even a series) just of the Dowager giving people life advice. Not only would she be hilarious (obviously), but I expect she would be remarkably insightful. Her comments to Daisy were absolutely what most of us have been screaming at the television for weeks. But the big reason this scene worked for me is that it’s exactly what Downton does best – small moments between characters that give us real emotional insight into what their lives are like. It’s a nice reminder that this whole show is really a story about the people that live in this world of Downton, whether they reside upstairs or down, and whatever’s going on around them is really only of secondary importance.  

The Lady Rosamund Storyline: I’m a Bit Torn. On the one hand, it’s unclear why this entire subplot about Lady Rosamund and Lord Hepworth was necessary, even though Nigel Havers is a very entertaining and appealing actor. To be fair, most of us probably don’t care that much about Rosamund in the first place, and I expect quite a few people still blame her for the Matthew/Mary estrangement. But, this is the sort of story that Downton excels at – yes, it’s soapy and the tiniest bit predictable (hands up if you guessed where it was going long before Anna got suspicious of Lady Rosamund’s maid…) – and the character work is so strong that you’re willing to overlook the fact that the particulars of the plot are kind of ridiculous.  The moment that finally got me here was Rosamund’s conversation with Violet, where she admits that she’s not so put off by Lord Hepworth’s obvious fortune-hunting as she probably should be, simply because she’s lonely and is tired of being by herself. Would I have rather had a different storyline get this screentime? Yes. (Suggestions: Sybil, Edith, possibly giving Cora something meaningful to do). But it wasn’t nearly so bad as say, the awful Patrick plot, so that really makes it mostly okay.

Mr. Bates: Still Suffering. Poor Bates and Anna! Mr. Bates trial gets underway and several members of the Downton crew are called to testify – Robert, Mrs. Hughes and O’Brien. All attempt (well, O’Brien less than the others) to keep things pro-Bates but the prosecutor seems to have a great deal of very specific information. Question: How does the prosecutor know all these things from personal conversations and correspondence?  How did they know all of that and not about the letter that O’Brien wrote Vera about Bates returning to Downton? Was some way that Vera could have left something behind that tipped him off? Mr. Bates is convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Anna cries and we all want to hug her. Afterward, the Bates-es have an emotional scene together and we want to hug both of them. Of course, Bates’ sentence is commuted to life in prison at the last moment. Whew. But we still have no idea who actually killed Vera and few clues to help us figure it out. And Anna and Bates really do suffer so prettily. It’s obvious that he didn’t kill Vera – but who did? Who? And how are Anna and Company going to prove it? My personal theory is still that Vera killed herself to frame Bates, but given that the prosecutors seem to have information about every conversation the two of them have ever had, I don’t know how they would have missed anything about that. Ugh, Series 3, get here. Quickly.

The surprise bonus of this storyline is that it demonstrates the real depth of Anna’s bond with Lady Mary. From her special gift at Christmas, to her immediate decision that Anna can come with her if she has to go to America to ride out the scandal of the end of her engagement. The two of them are really friends, in a way that feels legitimate, and that certainly crosses every predetermined social and class line between the two of them. They care about each other – and it’s obviously more than the traditional servant/master relationship. They feel like real friends.

The Ridiculous Ouija Board Plot. What, seriously have I fallen asleep and woken up in Days of Our Lives? We really have a storyline focused on Mrs. Padmore using the board’s supposed “supernatural powers” to convince Daisy to be kind to William’s father? And we’re actually implying that Lavinia’s spirit possessed the Ouija board to let everyone know that she was cool with Matthew and Mary being together now that she’s dead? I mean, I watch a lot of British television, and I understand that Christmas specials are the time when everyone wants to see happiness and joy and have warm fuzzy feelings while drinking eggnog and zoning out after watching the Queen’s Message, but that was just a bit too ridiculous for me. (Especially the uber-cheesey message from beyond the grave bit. I mean, honestly.)

And The Secret Comes Out. Finally, someone bothers to tell both Robert and Matthew about the whole Mr. Pamuk accidentally dying in Mary’s bedroom incident. First, I can’t believe that anyone’s managed to hold on to this secret for six years (I think my math is right there? Someone let me know if it’s not). I mean, SIX YEARS, people. Part of me can’t believe this is still such a crushing thing. The other part is more than a bit shocked by the reactions from both men. I mean, one would assume that Robert might be angrier about his family (actually almost the entire house) keeping this from him for that long and that Matthew might feel betrayed or at least shocked for a bit longer than five minutes.  I mean, I’m glad it’s out in the open and everything, finally, but it seemed so anticlimactic after two seasons of this HUGE SECRET being touted as the ABSOLUTE WORST THING that could have happened to Mary. Because that’s been the real wedge between her and Matthew, hasn’t it? Not Richard, not Lavinia, but Mary’s fear that Matthew would find her “damaged goods” because of her decision about Pamuk. Which is an interesting character beat for her – and for him, too, in lots of ways. Does he care about this? Does he consider it a betrayal? Does it change the way he feels about Mary? Does Matthew’s own reaction to this – especially given that he’s become increasingly more traditional as the series has gone on – say something about the person he’s become now? But, unfortunately, having it come out like this just made it feel like such a non-event, and Matthew is given little to no time to react or reflect. Instead, he was basically over the whole thing in about ten minutes, which seems ludicrous given how much time we’ve all spent angsting about it.  I mean, watching this unfold, I’m not sure why no one bothered to tell either man before right now, given that generally their reactions were both basically the verbal equivalent of a shrug.  I mean, I guess I’m glad it’s over, but now that it is, I don’t know that that the ultimate outcome was worth all the drama surrounding it.

That Said: The Revelation Scene Between Mary and Her Father Was Pitch Perfect. Hugh Bonneville and Michelle Dockery probably did their best work of the season in that scene between Mary and her father after he finds out about Pamuk. When Robert said, “I don't want my daughter to be married to a man who threatens her for ruin. I want a good man. A brave man. Find a cowboy in the middle-west and bring him back to shake us up a bit,” I wanted to hug him too! I loved that, ultimately, even for Robert who is always so motivated by the things one has to do because of who you are, that his primary desire is first that his daughter be happy. And that made me love everything about this moment – and, quite frankly, his reacdtion went a long way to getting me to forgive him about the Jane incident.

Part of me does wonder how duty-bound, always honorable Robert has become quite so progressive so quickly, but, again, it’s one of those moments where the emotional payoff overcomes the fact that I’m not quite sure that we’ve done enough character work to really earn this moment. This show has such a great cast; the reason that this scene works so well is because of the actors involved.

William’s Dad is Awesome (Or, I’m Mostly Ignoring Daisy Today).  I can’t rant anymore about the idiocy of the continued Daisy plot that has her doing nothing but wandering around telling anyone she sees that her marriage to William was a lie and she didn’t love him, so I’m going to handwave that whole segment of this storyline and focus on the bright side. Which is that William’s dad is amazing. Mr. Mason’s calm assessment of Daisy and William’s relationship and his generally awesome nuggets of wisdom about life, love and everything in between are fantastic. I was so relieved when Daisy finally realized that Mr. Mason is a great person who loved his son and really cares about her, and that it’s foolish of her to throw that away so needlessly. When he asked her if she would be his daughter and let him pray for her and just basically care about her? Totally cried, it was so sweet. Add to that the bonus of Mr. Mason making Daily realize that she had been special to William and telling her not to talk back to Mrs. Padmore? Three cheers for William’s dad! I think this is exactly what Daisy needs to finally grow up.

Small sidebar of optimism: Hurrah, Daisy finally told Mrs. Padmore she wants to be an official assistant cook! Maybe this means she’ll get to do something next season beyond clean the fireplaces. It was a small ray of hope in an otherwise poor year for this character, so I’ll take it.

Mary Finally Breaks Her Engagement Off (Or, Shut up, Richard.) I know the character of Richard Carlisle was only ever meant to serve as a roadblock on the road to Mary and Matthew’s happiness, but I so wish that the show hadn’t felt the need to make him such a complete jerk in order to remind us that Matthew is the better choice for her. Of course Matthew’s a better choice for her. We all already think that. It’s pointless to make sure that people in space already know that Richard is completely the wrong match for Mary. It’s obvious.

I had so liked how Richard was initially introduced – tacky, yes; nouveau riche, yes; socially out of his league; yes – but not a monster. He wanted to be with Mary for the prestige her status would bring him, but it was also apparent that he did try to make her happy in his own way. Yes, this usually involved him throwing money at perceived problems, but I don’t think his actions came from an unkind place. He’s not from Mary’s world, but I think that the two of them (well, early season Richard) could have learned to be happy together after a while and there might have been an interesting story here about how a person like Richard (rich by virtue of effort, not birth) would actually exist in the Crawleys’ circle, and how the family would have to adapt to someone from a world that’s motivated by different things than their proscribed social conventions. Unfortunately, that was not to be, as is almost immediately turned into this creepy, overbearing, potentially violent loser – so much so that it’s impossible to see why Mary every agreed to marry him in the first place (which happened well before he knew about her secret).  It’s unnecessary character assassination – I imagine most of us would have cheered his exit from the canvas however it occurred. We didn’t need to be beaten over the head with his character deficiencies quite so aggressively.

The Servants Ball.  I loved loved loved everything about the Servants Ball sequence – and this is actually one of those things I would have loved to see more of throughout the episode. I would rather have watched all the minutiae surrounding this event – how it’s set up, more of the actual interactions/conversation between the upstairs/downstairs partners while they were dancing, anything – than the plot where Lady Rosamund’s maid is secretly seeing her employer’s suitor.  Matthew’s “Crikey” in response to Lord Robert’s request that he dance with O’Brien? Violet dancing with Thomas? Comedy gold, all of it.

The Continuing Saga of Matthew and Mary: And Then I Squealed Like a Twilight Fan. FINALLY FINALLY FINALLY. I’m sorry I’m not super mature and objective about this whole Mary and Matthew situation, but well, I’m not made of stone. Yes, I think they have problems. Yes, I think Matthew has a serious dramatic suffering streak. Yes, I think his reaction to the Pamuk story was sort of out of character for him. Yes, I think Mary is often times shockingly selfish and self-absorbed. Yet, despite all of this, I still root for the two of them so hard and think they’re great together, possibly in a “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” sort of way. Plus, I mean, that last scene. Swoooooon. I just can’t help it. Throw me some sappy Christmas romance and I’m all over it.  I hope you all had suitably embarrassingly happy reactions, if only so I don’t feel quite so alone in this moment.

My only concern here as we look toward Series 3 – looking at the Anna and Bates plot, I fear an executive decision that Matthew and Mary need more roadblocks on their road to happiness. And I’m fairly certain that none most of us want to see that next year – there’s certainly plenty enough going on with the show and its characters which provide other stories to be told besides Mary and Matthew Break Up Again. Personally, I think it would be quite enjoyable to see the next stage of their relationship – they’ve spent so much time angsting about whether they can or should be together that the fact that they’re actually IN a relationship is probably going to be something of an adjustment for them.

And so the wait begins for Series 3. I fully plan to do my best to keep writing about this during our hiatus - but I'd really love to know, how do you all feel about Series 2 now that it's over? What's on your must-have list for next season? And, most importantly, how do you plan to keep youselves occupied while we wait?

 

 

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