First of all, I must acknowledge the bad plot line of the season: Mrs. O'Brien's attempt to get her nephew, Alfred, into a higher position. As far as I can tell, her plan was half-baked to begin with — something akin to the Underpants Gnome strategy:
(1) Get Thomas and Jimmy James in bed together, even though Jimmy James is straight
(3) Alfred moves to a higher position.
Interestingly, it almost worked out, but only by pure coincidence which Mrs. O'Brien could not have forseen. Thomas goes to Jimmy James at night, and Alfred just happens to walk in right at the moment when Jimmy James wakes up and almost clobbers Thomas.
Whatever. None of it worked out though because Bates blackmailed O'Brien into dropping the whole scheme with three little words "her ladyship's soap". A nice callback to Season One. Still, the whole thing lacked credibility (including Bates' involvement).
The Season Three final episode did, however, have a nice epilogue to that whole story line. Taking place a year later after the previous episode, we see that Thomas is still making goo-goo eyes at Jimmy James (one would have thought that, after a year, this would have come to a head, but apparently not). But when Thomas rescues Jimmy James from a gang of toughs, and gets severely beaten for it, we see Thomas as pathetic in an admirable way — just barely — and so does Jimmy James, who agrees to be Thomas's friend (but just a friend, dude). We'll see how long that lasts in Season Four, but the only good thing I will say is that it is nice to see a humane side to Thomas. We saw it earlier when Sybil died, too. Oh, I don't like him — he has issues — but it must be tough to be gay in that era. No "it gets better" for the those like Thomas.
Along those lines, I found it some of the dialogue a bit constrained when it comes to Thomas's "outing". I'm not sure how people would have reacted back then to news of a homosexual in their midst. Perhaps some would be like Carson, calling it foul, etc. But I suspect most people would choose not to discuss it at all, rather than either defending it, or criticizing it. I don't know.
Anyway, what else happened last night?
Well, downstairs — not much. Bates is back, and by last night, he was back for a year. Well settled in. Bates and Anna are like the The Office's Jim and Pam — kind of boring once they finally get together. Mrs. Patmore had a shot at romance (good for her!), but the propspect turned out to be a total douche.
And we have a new maid, who set her eyes (rather unsubtlely) on Branson Tom, going so far as to enter his bedroom while he was shirtless (does anybody knock?) and kiss him. She was booted out, of course, but she was there to point the audience to the lingering question of Branson Tom, and just who he is. Branson Tom has come quite a long way this season. Of course, he's been through hell, what with his wife dying and all. But we all remember him as the politically-radical chauffeur who didn't like to dress formally for dinner. Hell, earlier this season, he took part in the burning of someone's estate.
So what's up with you, Branson Tom? Have you gotten to Crowley-ized to remember your roots? Too snooty to dine with the downstairs-ers?
Well, yes and no. There was a wonderful seen with Isobel Crowley and Branson Tom, where she compliments him on the way he has navigated his position with the family. She urges him, however to be true to himself. Branson Tom, to his credit, has found a nice little niche. He is helping modernize the Downton estate, and acted as a good doplimat between Matthew and Lord Grantham. He's not a firebrand revolutionary, but he's still making the world a better place by working within the system. Without the abrasiveness. Not a sellout at all. Good on him. And he's insistent on raising his daughter the way Sybil would have wanted. All in all, a very nice character arc.
And Isobel Crawley had a nice moment last night cockblocking Dr. Clarkson, who was intending to propose to her (didn't see that at all — I thought he disliked her).
But on to the family. In the season finale last night, they weren't even at Downton, for the most part (leaving Tom and the staff to frolic at a fair). They were in the highlands, visiting the Earl of Grantham's cousin, "Shrimpy", as well as Shrimpy's loveless wife, Susan — and their high-living free-spirited troublesome daughter, Rose.
Nice scenery. A lot of hunting and heather and hills. Also showing up for the weekend, for some reason, was Michael Gregson, editor of The Sketch, and Edith's former employer. He comes to Scotland claiming to be on a “sketching and fishing holiday”, but he brought his formal attire, and everyone was like, yeah, riiiiiiight. Edith now likes him because, like Sir Anthony Strallon before him, he has no lips, and the family doesn't think he is good for her.
It was somewhat fascinating to watch this other well-to-do family and their servants. Unlike the Granthams, this Shrimpy family is a real downer. They all hate each other, they hate their servants, and the servants hate them. Susan constantly looks like she just woke from a nap and/or is about to kill herself. I remember the actress, Phoebe Nicholls, from Brideshead Revisited three decades ago, Here she is as Cordelia Flyte, encountering he first agnostic, Charles (Jeremy Irons):
The BIG news, of course, is that Mary had to leave Scotland because all the bouncing around was making her unborn baby upset. Now, you would think after what Sybil went through — dying and all that — Mary, Matthew, and the family in general would take far more precautions when it came to Mary's pregnancy. But apparently not. I half expected Mary to go to a country bar, ride on a mechanical bull for a few minutes, and then get off complaining, "You know, I probably shouldn't have done that."
But it all turned out well. Mary went back down south, and had a baby. It was a boy. Finally Lord Grantham has an heir. And Downton is again saved (assuming Lord Grantham doesn't invest in these Ponzi schemes he has heard so much about).
As a new dad, Matthew is beside himself.
So…. that happened.
Circle of life and all that.
Needless to say, it was kind of shocking. I can only imagine what it was like for the people in Britain — this was the Christmas special! Oh, happiness.
Now, apparently, the producers felt they had to kill Matthew. They weren't able to persuade him to come back for Season Four. And they felt that it wouldn't work if, say, Matthew went away to some foreign land and he and Mary became estranged. After all they went through to get together, the producers didn't think the audience would ever accept them out of love.
If you want to blame somebody, blame Dan Stevens. It turns out he announced he was leaving Downton shortly after Thanksgiving. That's why the otherwise happy Christmas episode had his death "tacked on" at the end. They had to write him out.
So he dies. Fans were screaming everywhere. Slate calls Downton "the cruelest show ever".
Interestingly, much of the final show had shades of previous shows: as one is born, another one dies. We've seen that. A fair. We've seen that. Mosley getting drunk. We've seen that. Edith and Mary bickering. Yes, that again. And Edith making goo-goo eyes and someone inaccessible. Sigh, yes. And one is left to wonder: with two of its more popular characters gone, can Downton Abbey make it through another season?
In a way, we're back to square one. With Rose joining the family, Lord Grantham now has three unwed "daughters" again at Downton. A couple of grandchildren and the estate is intact, but essentially, we're back to square one. Kind of.
The truth is, I'll be watching next season, because I care enough about the remaining charactors. Branson is interesting to me. Edith has gotten interesting to me. Heck, maybe Julian Fellowes will jump ahead 10 years and the grandkids might be interesting. I think the show has one more good season left. And I'll watch.
– Matthew asking Robert, before they embark on their trip to visit "Shrimpy" and his wife: "Dare one ask why he's called 'Shrimpy'?"
— Isobel and Branson discussing whether it's appropriate for Branson to still be on familiar terms with the household staff. Branson doesn't think Violet would approve. "I doubt she approves of the working class learning to read," Isobel replies.
— Mary muses why Matthew seems to be the only member of the family who thinks she's a nice person, and he answers, "Because I've seen you naked, and held you in my arms and I know the real you." Mary says, "Goodness, what a testimonial."
— At a party in Scotland, Moseley again gets drunk (after drinking punch liberally spiked with booze by a malevolent maid) and starts dancing with wild abandon while the Crawleys look on. "They do say there's a wild man inside all of us," Robert says, tolerantly watching Moseley's gyrations. "If only he would stay inside," Violent comments.
— "Hello, my dearest little chap," Matthew says as he holds his infant son for the first time.
– Mary says, "Will I be your Mary Crawley for all eternity?" Um, all of his eternity, I guess.