If there's one thing over six seasons that "Downton Abbey" loves to do -- and consistently does well -- it's happy endings.
With a few exceptions (World War I breaking out, Matthew's death, Grandma Levinson's heavy sarcasm), "Downton" loves the sound of upbeat notes. And why not? This isn't a series with a tortured and violent antihero or one where we expect bloody beheadings.
"Downton" is a throwback to the pleasant soap operatics of character-driven British series past, where the action is dramatic yet restrained. No one wants to see the characters suffer.
Which is why the series finale of "Downton Abbey" works well. It's a gift to fans and delivers exactly what they wants — as finales should. Yes, not everything is perfect; some of the storylines' resolutions feel stilted or abrupt.
But much of the end, which aired last Christmas in the U.K., feels like downing a warm cup of tea before saying goodbye to old friends.
Literally, the show goes out singing, with unironic sounds of optimism and happiness. You already miss these guys.
Happiness abounds as the episode begins with a family walk (apparently the estate is so monstrous there's sections we haven't seen, like this ginormous lake). Newly Nice Mary is walking arm-in-arm with Henry (more parasols!) behind the group as they hear Edith's resignation to a spinster life.
She's the Only Unhappy One (which she has mostly been through the entire series), but you know that will change, unless the whole goal of the series was to create the saddest character of all time. And it's not enough that Mary is now nice — she still needs to make amends.
The rest is rather predictable, yet exciting to watch. Mary sets Edith up on a surprise date with Bertie; it's clear the two have not spoken since the Marigold Revelation. Oddly, it's Edith who's the most bitter — angry even — though, let's get real, this whole thing is her fault. But who can resist when someone says what Bertie says: "The only thing I'm not ready for is a life without you."
Still, since this involves Edith, there are complications. Mentioned heavily last episode, there's the matter of Bertie's apparently tyrannical mother and the fact that the Marigold situation is pretty damn scandalous, especially for a would-be marchioness.
Speaking of stuffy British titles, it would have helped just a smidge if we had some explanation of what all this means besides the fact that "Edith will outrank us all." A quick study finds that Marquess Bertie is between an earl and a duke in the hierarchy, but I'm not exactly sure what that entirely means. More parades and parties to attend? Fancier uniforms?
Edith announces her engagement and, for the first time in her life, moves quickly to get something done. Robert and Cora head to Brancaster Castle, which looks like Winterfell after it, well, fell. We've been to Brancaster before, but this thing is still intimidating — there's even a yellow drawing room, which implies multiple colored drawing rooms.
We meet Mrs. Pelham and we know There Will Be Trouble. Vaguely, she alludes to Bertie's dead cousin's immorality and says her son and his wife must be perfect angels. So apparently a secret child out of wedlock isn't a good idea, huh? It doesn't help Edith that Bertie is all for hiding the Marigold Conundrum and Robert gives the good fatherly advice of hiding her as well.
But Edith has lied before and won't do it again. We see her go tell Mrs. Pelham about it all, but we don't exactly get to see the conversation, because mystery and suspense. To be fair, Mrs. P doesn't seem too awful, though her clothes are rather ill-fitting. And she does call Edith "damaged goods" while revealing to Bertie that she "doesn't dislike her."
Something that hasn't seemed to change since 1926: A parent saying they "don't dislike" a child's choice for a husband/wife is a big, hard "no."
But we still don't know what to expect at the grand Special Announcement Dinner that follows. Mrs. P gives a toast but only mentions that she's thankful for the guests support as Bertie enters his marquess-dom. "Seriously, we got all dressed up for this?" I can hear the guests saying.
Bertie attempts to announce the engagement, until Mrs. P, at the urging of Robert, steps up and announces the wedding. You see, Mrs. P is impressed that at least this damaged goods of a future daughter-in-law is honest damaged goods, so let's give this marriage thing a go, shall we?
It all seems so rushed. But since this is the final episode to make Edith happy and it's one plot amongst a sea of others, we swiftly move on to an uncontested wedding and countless lines about how unbelievable it is that Edith is both getting married and is happy.
It seems like Edith herself is shocked at this new emotion the normals call "happiness." At one point Edith even says, with considerable disbelief, that "this is really happening." To be fair, I see her point. I kept expecting a sniper to take her out while she was walking the aisle.
But, no. She smiles. A lot. She safely (no sniper!) goes with Bertie on a honeymoon to happyland.
And they all lived happily ever after. And I'm not just talking about Edith and Bertie.
The episode deflty manages to fit in basically everyone else in the cast (even Dr. Clarkson has a brief shining moment — to relay perfect news, of course).
It was great to see Baxter finally decide to free herself from Coyle's lingering grip by refusing to see him in prison (Thomas' advice). Though we never really got to see Baxter's, you know, current pain from her past manifest itself in a physical way, we're to assume she's a woman overcome with sadness. Or something. And Molesley, suddenly the Greatest Teacher to Have Ever Lived, is offered a more classes and a teacher's cottage closer to the school.
Sidenote: Let's start giving all teachers homes, free of charge. It's the least we can do really.
It's also implied that Baxter and Molesley will eventually fall and love and have, like, 10,000 babies. So that's nice.
It's also implied that Daisy will end up with Andy and either have, like, 10,000 babies or raise Mr. Mason's pigs together. After it's clear Andy like-likes Daisy, and after we have to painfully endure her turning down his advances FOR NO REASON other that she thinks she can do better (how?), Daisy oh-so vaguely tells Andy that she has "decided a lot of things" but won't tell him yet.
I mean, why not tell him now? It's the final episode!
The best Daisy-related things of the episode were seeing her royally botch a self-cut new hairdo to impress Andrew (she incorrectly uses a new-fangled invention called a hair dryer) and FINALLY decide to move to Mr. Mason's farm. She took about 10 long years to finally realize she should do that. So, yay, Daisy?!
It's also implied (yes, there were a lot of future implications in this episode) that Mr. Mason and Patmore were going to end up together, so get it, Beryl Patmore! Frolick to your new Mr. Mason life!
Yet another implied (if forced) hook-up is between Branson and Edith's magazine editor, who catches Edith's bouquet as she stands next to Branson. Romantic-comedy stock scene alert!
Because of all of these character resolutions, more significant moments stick out rather awkwardly, like Anna finally giving birth. While watching the previous episode, my fiance turned to me and asked, "Is Anna still pregnant?" which makes sense considering not much has happened to the Bateses recently since they both fought the law and they won. Several episodes ago, we only heard that Anna's faulty-cervix operation probably worked — but nothing since besides a few glimpses of a tiny baby bump.
But after Mary complains to Suddenly Super Pregnant Anna that her hat is too tight, Anna starts going into labor. Or as Mary oh-so calmly and stiff upper lippy says, "Oh. Your waters have broken," as though she was saying, "Oh. The mail is here."
So Anna gives birth to a son in Mary's bedroom. This is about a 34 on a 1-10 Scale of Things That Would Actually Happen in 1920s Rich British People Homes. Ranking 48 on the scale is the baby staying in the nursery with the Rich Children. But no matter — the Bateses are happy. Finally.
Speaking of Mary, she wasn't the center of attention this time, since she and her Resting Bitch Life took up so much time last episode. Here, she finds time to bring Edith back together with Bertie, to which Edith doesn't exactly thank her, and calls Mary a "paradox." Consider some flowers or at least a friendly note next time, Edith.
And Mary spends most of the time concerned about her "down in the dumps" hubby, who confesses that the fiery-inferno death of his racing friend has "somehow" turned him off racing, which is like saying a near-death allergic reaction has "somehow" turned you off eating peanut butter.
So Henry decides to stop racing, but also that he doesn't just want to sit in his rich wife's house and do nothing for the rest of his life. Enter Tom Branson and the Many, Many Hints throughout the season about cars and Branson's interest in them. The two surprise Mary by setting the world record for conceiving and opening a complicated business: Talbot and Branson Motors.
"It's a real-life business!" Tom explains and needs to say since it apparently took mere months for it to become a thing.
Old Angry Mary would have sneered at her husband becoming, in her words, a "second-hand car salesman," even if the business plan includes eventually selling new cars and even producing their own (for the record: Branson basically moved to Boston to do what he could have immediately just done at Downton).
But Newly Unabashedly Pleasant Mary says, "I'm as proud as anyone living," and then promptly whispers into Henry's ear that she's pregnant. It would have been nice to actually hear her say the words, but, then again, we don't even get to see her tell the family, since she insists on waiting until Edith goes on honeymoon. Typically Thunder-Stealing Mary has morphed into Most Considerate Person Living Mary.
Slight Debbie Downer moment: The most ridiculous lines of dialogue came when Henry and Branson were readying their plan. Henry says, "I'm busy reinventing myself," to which Branson responds, "I'm being reinvented, too." Atticus replies that "I like the old models."
This page of the script should have been taken out back and shot.
Moving on, also undergoing a drastic personality transplant is Thomas. Post-suicide attempt, he's granted "breathing room" to find a new job. How exactly was this news relayed? "Well, Thomas, we still don't like you, but since you almost killed yourself, how about two more months to get the hell out of here."
But Thomas finally finds a job as his internal screams that he wants to stay grow louder. Some of the stronger moments of the episode belong to Thomas: thanking Anna, Baxter and Andy for "rescuing him"; taking to heart Anna's advice about thinking about what makes him so sad; saying goodbye to George and telling Carson and Robert that he has learned a lot from them.
It's painful to see him head to his new gig, where there's little other staff to practice his "newly kind Thomas" attitude on and he's working for a 98-year-old gruff man named "Sir Mark," who only opens his mouth to say that he thinks he doesn't want cheese after dinner, and his equally morose wife. Yikes. Most depressing job ever?
It all comes to a lovely conclusion by blending with Carson's equally effective (and heartbreaking) storyline. Quite suddenly, Carson's hands begin to shake, noticeably, while doing things like pouring drinks or grabbing a cup of tea. He tries to play it off — even to his wife — until we see this proud man confess that he has inherited this condition from his father and grandfather, who called it "palsy" (it looks like early stages of Parkinson's).
"I'm done for," he says. Right before Edith's wedding he tells Mary and Robert that he must resign his post, which, to Carson, is the same thing as resigning from life.
You see what's coming, but it doesn't make it less memorable. Thomas, as a guest at the wedding, steps in to help pour champagne when Carson has trouble. Robert finds the solution: Thomas will return to Downton as butler, with Carson stepping down but acting as a sort-of elder-statesman butler consultant." I'm not sure that actually is a thing, but who cares, because it was great to see.
Yes, Carson doesn't get the most conventional of the happy endings. But he gets to stay on at Downton, and finally comes to the realization that the times are changing and that Downton needs to change as well, words I'd never, ever, expect him to say. And, in a touching moment, Robert thanks Carson for his decades of service and how much he has meant to the family.
You can tell just how happy that simple gesture makes Carson. So that was his happy ending.
That's not to say there some underwhelming elements of the episode. Not sure why we were forced to see Robert resent his wife for working a lot at the hospital, then sneaking in on a meeting to simply come to the realization that his wife is wonderful. Haven't we been through this before?
And while it's fun for a second to see Lady Rose come back to share baby photos, was anyone else slightly annoyed by all of the lovey-dovey cheesiness between her and Atticus? Is that what moving to New York does to British people? It was also slightly odd that their baby stayed at home because the nanny was worried about "British germs." I pictured a splat of bacteria with a top hat and cane.
And then there's the dowager. When not dropping typical bon mots like, "Never Let tenderness be a bar to a bit of snooping" and having to take Denker revealing Spratt's double life as a columnist only to be utterly tickled by his writing, she was busy helping Isobel rescue Lord Merton from his evil son and daughter-in-law.
Diagnosed with "pernicious anemia" (gotta love 1920s names for British ailments), Merton was
taken in kidnapped by Evil Son and More Evil Daughter in Law, so that they can care for him in his final moments wait impatiently for him to die so they can inherit his estate. Isobel knows what's up and enlists tough BBF Violet to help.
Isobel not only gets Merton to leave the home, but also announces that she will marry him. Dr. Clarkson later tells him that the anemia isn't pernicious at all, but that Merton simply has iron deficiency. Happy ending!
And no, the dowager doesn't die. Sorry if you had that in your office pool. It wouldn't have been right, and Julian Fellowes would have been tarred and feathered and paraded through the London streets (they still do that in England, right).
Instead, we're treated to more memorable Dowagerisms, like "Why can't men ever paint themselves out of a corner?" and see her praise Cora for her work at the hospital.
We also get to hear her say that she blames "the weather" on English people's general demeanor and that the English version of "happy" is "happy enough." Oh, British people. So reserved!
The final moments are "Downton"-perfect. On New Year's, both the upstairs and downstairs sip champagne as Mrs. Hughes leads a chorus of "Auld Lang Syne."
These people have always felt like old acquaintances. You want to see them happy. Well, "happy enough," anyway.