TV review: Final season of ‘Downton Abbey’ a bittersweet but fulfilling send-off for fans

mast-da-s6-icon-hiresFans visited the halls of Downton Abbey one last time on Sunday, as PBS Masterpiece aired the final episode of the wildly popular British period drama. Over six seasons, the show has followed a wealthy British family and their servants through the tumultuous start of the twentieth century, as the golden age of the English aristocracy draws to a close. It’s been quite a journey for fans, with plenty of humor, heartbreak, and, at last, some happy endings.

The ending is satisfying but bittersweet for fans, and I think the show runners chose a good time to end the series. They leave us wanting more while recognizing it’s better not to overstay their welcome. If you haven’t ever seen the show, now is the perfect time to schedule a binge-watch, since you won’t have to wait a full year to find out what happens next. (Remember when they — spoiler alert! — killed off Matthew in the final moments of the final episode in season 3, and then we had to spend a full year just thinking about how sad that was before the next season came out? That was the worst.)

Although sometimes I do lovingly refer to “Downton Abbey” as a fancy soap opera, it’s really so much more than that. Yes, there are plenty of secrets, scandals, and I-can’t-believe-that-just-happened moments. However, there is also thoughtful character development (and top-notch acting), and the show takes time to reflect on deeper social themes, such as increasing opportunities for women and members of the “lower class,” who previously had been trapped by their social situation.

It’s fair to say that the final episode concludes in a predictable fashion, although I wouldn’t have it any other way. We’ve been through some tough times at Downton, and we want the characters to go on to happy lives. Still, the show has offered some genuine surprises during its run, and it ended in a way I never would have predicted back when I was watching the first couple seasons. So, without further ado, here are my spoiler-filled thoughts on the end of the series.

I love so many of the characters on this show, but my favorite probably has to be Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery). Although she’s come a long way since season 1, she’s still a flawed character, and that’s what makes her so fascinating. She can be proud, snobbish, and sometimes heartless, but she’s also smart and confident, and capable of more kindness than people give her credit for. I’ve loved watching her mature into an accomplished business woman. She’s had a tumultuous romantic history over the course of the show, but I think she’s chosen wisely in Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode), who is her match in intelligence and wit. I wish we’d gotten to meet Henry a little earlier (he appears only in the final season, aside from a brief appearance in one episode of season 5), and at times, he and Mary’s romance seems a little rushed. Still, I’m glad one of the (many!) weddings at the end of the show is theirs. I also really liked Mary’s unlikely friendship with Tom Branson (Allen Leech), the family’s former chauffeur who married Mary’s late sister, Lady Sybil. It’s a lovely example of barriers between classes breaking down and a family drawing together after a tragedy and building a new future.

One of the most dramatic transformations on the show is middle daughter Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael). She started off as the annoying “other sister” but has developed into a sophisticated modern feminist writer and publishing company owner. She has more than her fair share of tragedy but gets the happy ending she deserves in the final episode. Out of all the men she has loved, I think Bertie Pelham (Harry Hadden-Paton) is the best; he absolutely adores her, and her daughter Marigold.

Fans love “Downton Abbey’s” snappy dialogue, and the best witticisms are usually courtesy of the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) and Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton). The two frenemies end the show as actual friends, and their spirited arguments are often the highlight of any episode. Isobel’s romance with — and subsequent rescue of — the kind-hearted Lord Merton (whose terrible children are arguably some of the nastiest characters on the show) is another nice plot twist.

Another feature I really love about “Downton Abbey” is that while it certainly shows off the grand lifestyle of the English aristocracy, it spends just as much time depicting what life is like for the people living “downstairs.” The servants have hopes, dreams, fears, and loves, just like the wealthy family “upstairs,” but often their social position holds them back. Times are changing, however, and particularly in the last few seasons, we get to see the servants push past barriers. Perhaps the most inspirational and poignant example is Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle). Once a somewhat bumbling valet, we’ve come to see that Molesley is a kind-hearted and intelligent man who never got a chance to achieve his full potential. In the final season, we watch him pursue his dream to become a teacher — and succeed.

There are too many other highlights to count: Anna and Bates having a baby after going through so many trials (finally, they seem to catch a break!); Carson and Mrs. Hughes tying the knot, proving it’s never too late to fall in love; the genuinely heartwarming redemption of Thomas, the servant everyone at Downton once hated; and so many more.

Even though “Downton Abbey” ended well, it’s hard to let go of a show that’s become one of my all-time favorites (I’m still hoping for either a prequel featuring the Dowager Countess or a spin-off with Mary, Edith, and Tom’s children in the World War II era). I’ll miss these characters, and the familiar opening lines of the theme song that start off each episode. I’ll soon be trolling Netflix, looking for another British period drama to fill this void, but I suspect I’ll always love this show best. Sunday nights in winter just aren’t going to be the same without you, Downton!

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