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'Downton Abbey': What we learned from the finale's happy endings

Spoiler alert: The following column contains plot points, egregious speculation and wild inference related to the widely watched final episode of “Downton Abbey.” It is not meant for those still intending to view the episode or the series. Nor should it be read while strolling the parapets at your new castle as your sister and other relative commoners huddle below.

Now that the shock has worn off of “Downton Abbey” cramming about 83 utterly unsurprising happy endings into its 90-minute finale, along with one subtle bit that might have been a surprise, it is time to compile the lessons of that collection of neatly-tied bows.

Lesson 1. We should all aspire to use “good day” in our daily vocabularies. As the “Downton” denouement demonstrated, the phrase can mean, literally, “Have a fine continuance of your waking hours, person I am happy to have spent a few moments with.” Or it can mean, “Sod off, you meddlesome tart,” as when Amelia said it on two occasions to Isobel. It’s all in the inflection, and the beauty of it is, you do not sound overtly impolite either way.

2. What Daisy did to Andy with her eyes, while actionable on a contemporary college campus, was apparently fine on a Yorkshire farm 90 years ago. But as a fellow who has pounded in nails in a sweaty t-shirt a time or two, I can say that it made me deeply uncomfortable. Also: good for them. Go to it, kids.

3. PBS, discombobulated by the unlikely sensation of having a hit show, knows no shame. Yes, Sunday's finale -- which drew a reported 9.6 million viewers, fourth highest in the show's six seasons -- was blocked out on TV schedules for two hours. Yet when the last snowflakes had fallen on the Abbey, when everybody had been paired off like so much breeding stock, there were still 30 minutes left to go. Enter the two unctuous hosts -- I think the male figure was named Uriah Heep -- trying to get us to donate money. You see, it wasn’t the conclusion to a much-beloved TV series so much as it was a solicitation opportunity.

4. It is difficult to share in the butler Spratt’s delight in his job writing for an ink-on-paper publication. As “Downton” has taught us, sir, time does not stand still. And the Internet is coming.

5. The number of upbeat conclusions for the characters verged on parody, and apparently that’s just fine with “Downton” fans. The consensus after the show ended seemed to be one of satisfaction. And why not? It was an entire sweeps period worth of Big Life Moments crammed, mostly, into one final wedding/New Year’s party.

Edith got her marquess, although the producers lingered teasingly over the “does anyone object” portion of her wedding. Isobel got her lord -- and he wasn’t terminally ill after all! The Dowager Countess got another couple of dozen choice lines as the writers apparently emptied the quiver of everything they’d been saving up: “Why don’t men ever paint themselves out of a corner,” she said, and, “Happy enough, which is the English version of the happy ending.” But producers went well beyond happy enough. Basically, anybody who wanted a baby got one; anybody who wanted a partner got one, or the implication of one; and, yes, Tom and Henry, anybody who wanted a used-car dealership got one.

6. A marquess outranks an earl. It was implied in the show, but I had to look it up just to be sure. Also, a marquess is a guy. 

7. Villainy is just a passing phase. Thomas Barrow, the servant who was a vile schemer most of the way through, is suddenly the butler at Downton, apparently because he was nice to the kids and no one at the Abbey can remember past last Tuesday. Mary, too, who had been a more subtle kind of villain, got to show some semblance of a soul by playing matchmaker for her sister Edith -- and then almost being friendly with her afterward. But Mary does get her comeuppance thanks to Edith's new, higher social standing.

8. That ending was almost avant-garde. Hear me out: The camera pulls back on Downton Abbey in the snow, looking rather obviously like a miniature model. In my most reckless interpretation, I think it was meant to evoke the all-time great finale of the medical series “St. Elsewhere,” which ended on a kid peering into a snow globe containing the hospital of the show’s title. Downton, too, was just a snowflake-clouded figment. Good day.  

sajohnson@tribpub.com
Twitter @stevenkjohnson

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