Downton Abbey's Season 3 Finale: Just Deserts?

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Downton Abbey S03E09: “Christmas Special 2012” (or S03E08 “Episode 8,” according to PBS)

And the award for most soul-crushing season-finale ending in TV history goes to... Downton Abbey. A year after Sybil's death, life at Downton pressed on. Tom and the baby had stayed, with Tom taking on a new role as the estate agent. Edith was still writing, even though Daddy still didn't approve. And Mary was happily knocked up. Even Thomas and Jimmy managed to overcome their differences and the damage wrought by O'Brien's manipulation to become pals—all it took was Thomas flinging himself into mortal peril to break through Jimmy's residual ill will over that whole surprise bunk buddies thing.

After a pleasant trip to Scotland and a tense early labor, Mary gave birth to a healthy baby boy... and Matthew flipped his car into a ditch on the way home from the hospital. Who damaged you so thoroughly, Julian Fellowes, that this seemed like the perfect conclusion to the episode that, in England, was billed as the Christmas Special? Happy Holidays, England! I guess?

To further up the resulting angst of Matthew's sudden and startling death, Downton Abbey's Season 3 finale was, itself, a rather cheery time—you know, as far as Downton Abbey goes. The family, sans Tom, headed north to visit relatives at Duneagle and you guys, it was like walking into the Twilight Zone. The MacClare family embodied everything the Crawleys could have become if their worst habits hadn't been kept in check by common sense and fate. Susan and Shrimpie could barely stand one another and Susan in particular seemed to routinely take her misery out on walking-scandal-in-the-making daughter Rose. HI ROSE! I missed your fabulousness.

While Susan and Rose represented everything that Cora and her daughters might have been had Cora not, well, been Cora; Shrimpie was the Bizarro World answer to Robert. A man whose power in his household was unquestioned, uncontested—he ruled over his estate with an iron (though ultimately apathetic) fist, and lacking figures like Tom and Matthew in his life to force him to modernize, he simply didn't... and lost his estate to ruin as a result.

Now, as a modern audience, it's hard to feel too bad for the MacClares; after all, much like the fate that threatened the Crawleys earlier in the season, "losing everything" doesn't exactly mean what the phrase implies to the rest of us. The physical estate will change hands, but the title and all the privilege and power associated with it will live on. Furthermore, as much as moving into a smaller mansion sucks, you're still in a freaking mansion.

Stuck in the middle of all this turmoil was our frizzy-haired sass machine, Rose, whose previous brattiness was notably toned down (slightly) when her cousins came to visit. Mummy was every bit the horrorshow we had reason to believe she was, but even so, managed to have her redeeming qualities. To Susan's credit, she realized she was miserable and she realized how hard she was being on her daughter. Unable or unwilling to change, she made the decision to allow Rose to head to Downton when she and Shrimpie relocated to India. I look forward to Rose's contributions to the family, especially given the total downer Downton Abbey left us wit— HOW COULD YOU DO THAT, MR. FELLOWES??? HAVE YOU NO DECENCY, SIR? AT LONG LAST, HAVE YOU NO SENSE OF DECENCY?

Actually, I guess if we want to be mad at someone, the proper culprit is Dan Stevens, whose decision to leave the series led to the death of his character. But did we have to kill him? Couldn't we just've sent him to the States for business or something? It wouldn't solve the problem of no Matthew, but at least he wouldn't be, you know, dead. I’m grasping at straws here. There are just so many semi-orphaned babies on this show. Furthermore, the number of people who actually think Mary is a nice person is now down to... uh... two? Maybe? I know their lovey-dovey kissy crap was meant to break my heart, and it did, but it also made me laugh because how about instead of constantly telling me that Mary Crawley isn't actually the worst, you SHOW me, writers?

The effect Matthew’s death has on Mary will certainly play a key role when we return to Downton later this year/early next year. It’s hard to say how the loss will change her—she could just as easily reveal to the world that sweetness we heard so much about from Matthew as she could retreat to her stoicism and snobbery in her grief. She won’t be the same Mary, though—that much is a given.

The same can be said of Tom, who was forced to face the drastic changes his life has undergone when a new maid named Edna asked some super-rude questions. My only complaint about Tom’s storyline was that in a way, it felt like we'd already been over many of the issues raised. From his treatment at the hands of his former co-workers following his initial return to Downton after he married Sybil to his brother's antics at Baby Sybil’s christening, Tom has struggled to come to terms with putting his revolutionary past to rest and accept his new privileged lifestyle—without compromising his progressive beliefs.

Edna didn’t ask anything that hadn’t already been asked of Tom. She was just ruder about it and kind of stalkery and awful. The notion of Tom moving on and perhaps eventually re-marrying isn’t a bad idea. The same can be said of Mary. They’re both young and while Downton Abbey has led us to accept that they've lost their TV soulmates, realistically, they each may someday come to terms with their respective losses and look for love and companionship again. That’s fine. But Edna’s approach was just appalling.

“I’m just as good as Mr. Branson.” This is true, and I’m sure Mr. Branson feels the same way, but girl seriously went about things the wrong, wrong, amazingly wrong way. And then she was sacked—justifiably so—and Tom felt bad about it, which was also justified considering, as Mrs. Hughes pointed out, that he didn’t exactly go out of his way to discourage Edna’s advances. Her awkward, floundering, creepy advances. BYE EDNA.

With the exception of Bates and Anna, who were adorable and precious with their picnic and Anna learning how to dance (eee!), this episode was chock full of ill-fitted pairings, like omens that we were too busy giggling over to take seriously. Mrs. Patmore was courted by a new supplier, only to learn that he was a piggish womanizer who was after her... cooking? In a turn that, in my opinion, has been a long time coming, Dr. Clarkson courted Isobel, but gracefully abandoned his plan to formally propose after learning that she was rather fond of their current situation and reluctant to risk ruining it through change. Gregson crashed the party at Mancave Manor and endeared himself to the fam in hopes that it would lead to a solution to his lawfully-wedded-to-a-lunatic problem. Matthew didn’t have a solution and encouraged him to let Edith go, but when Gregson approached her, she seemed more willing to tough it out until things worked out. Crossing my fingers that this doesn’t end with Edith sobbing into her pillows. Again.

With the pain of Sybil’s loss starting to mellow to a manageable dull ache and the estate as a whole riding on a sort of optimistic high thanks to the positive changes Matthew and Tom’s plans brought, Robert reflected on his amazingly good fortune and questioned what he did to deserve such a charmed life. His mother, the Dowager, pointed out that “we don’t always get our just deserts” as Matthew’s car dodged a delivery truck and tumbled down a ravine, forever altering the fabric of a life he was meant to be a part of, a life he only knew due to the tragic loss of the previous Downton heir almost a decade earlier. His death casts a pall over the highly anticipated birth of his child and denies his wife the great love story they were cast in: After years of just missing one another, their happily-ever-after ultimately lasted just over a year... and they spent a good chunk of it bickering over the estate.

In a way, Downton Abbey Season 3 was a microcosm of the 1920s played out over a single year. The Crawleys had their rough patches, but they triumphed, and then it seemed as though there was no end to the family's good fortune... until there was, with one sudden and devastating crash.


What did you think of this episode? And the season as a whole?



NOTES


– Dowager Countess Sass of the Night: On Tom’s estate-sitting duties, “I don’t want the freedom to go to his head.” Poor Tom.

– “We’ve done our duty. Downton is saved.” Oh Mary, it’s a baby, not a business transaction.

– I can’t say that Thomas cleans up nicely, seeing as his work clothes are actually swankier than his play clothes, but damn. That. HAT.

– Thoughts on Rose moving in?

– What do you think we should expect in Season 4? For Mary? For Tom? For the estate?

– What do you HOPE to see in Season 4?

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