Downton Abbey: The Final Curtain

Editor’s Note: Minor spoilers of Downton Abbey’s sixth season ahead.

Given it’s genre, style, and period scale, Downton Abbey does not demand a lot from its audience, and in return we do not expect a cluster of story-lines involving explosions, suspense and anything of the supernatural variety. Even Edith at one point during the show’s sixth and final season seems bewildered why people would want to come to the house to look around when an open day for charity is arranged. Edith and other such characters don’t fully grasp the interest we everyday folk could have in their daily lives, the breadth of arbitrary drama of the higher and lower classes in 1925. The truth is, Downton Abbey has captured television audiences from day one, or rather from its fictional depiction starting in 1912. We have sat down in our homes and spent so much time with these good people, balancing the discourse of lifestyles between those that live downstairs and serve, and those that live upstairs, considered the privileged ones.DA2

There have been murmurs that Downton Abbey was becoming rather formulaic, more appropriately losing some audience attention and commitment, over the previous season or so. That the announcement of the final season was met in some circles with a mopped brow and a phew. That is to say, it was a timely decision perhaps. As I have said before audiences are a fickle bunch. We get bored. Perhaps then we can leap into the last ever season of Downton Abbey with a clear attention span, sit back and enjoy with an open mind. Let’s get some none-cynical perspective then. Even incredibly popular shows like Mad Men and Friends had their dips, and ultimately had to close their doors to the public eventually. Shows like The Sopranos and Breaking Bad nailed the final curtains in style and with dignity intact, whereas shows like Dexter and the over-done How I Met Your Mother made a real mess of their final episodes. A shame. I am here to inform you, then, that Downton Abbey‘s final invitation to the grand house is a jolly good success.

Downton Abbey sweeps into the sixth season with a light breeze, continuing perhaps too familiarly where we left off. Although the show has a tendency to stay on safe grounds, you can’t accuse the show-makers of jolting their narrative or production style for the sake of saving itself. Downton Abbey is nothing if not consistent and respectful to its audience. Its drama keeps afloat at a compelling enough, steady pace, and has little reason or right to rock the boat. As season six opens we are gift-wrapped the story strands we just about remember – Carson and Mrs. Hughes getting married; the Green murder still hanging over Anna and Mr. Bates; Lady Mary is unaware of little Marigold’s true status. I could go on, but you know the drill.DA3

As the final episodes roll along, also including a Christmas special more timely to UK audiences, Downton Abbey begins to effectively and gradually tie up the loose ends – though the writing has always been and is now very tightly woven. There’s some new sprinkles of conflict and resolution added here: a recurring worry about economy and that the service industry as they know it is close to an end; characters are introduced to ailments such as the palsy or pernicious anaemia; there’s the opposing inner family intentions for the local hospital becomes a source of squabbling and scowling. So on and so forth.

Bickering and disapproval and general things frowned upon are common and engaging at Downton. There’s mercifully more of the double act that is Isobel and Violet, providing a high level of sarcasm and iron fist mentality. Carson and Robert continue to dampen general conversations with their droll outlooks, though both have good reason to simmer down and wise up here. Even Daisy has her moments, unable to keep her mouth closed she mixes minor, uncontrolled tantrums with an innocent common sense. As for Edith and Mary, the unhealthiest sibling rivalry around, there’s certainly more cat-fights before the redemption.

There’s plenty of love to go around though. Future husbands and wives all over the place. I know, there’s always some form of pairing off in process, but the final season seems to be heading full throttle in true match-making fashion to get as many of these will-they-wont-they suspicions to their rightful conclusion. I won’t give too much away of course, except to say it was obvious race driver Henry would be an object of Mary’s affections this time around – though in true Mary style she is hardly going to make it easy for herself. Edith bumps into an old acquaintance but struggles to completely relax with the Marigold situation hanging over her. Downstairs the wedded couples do allow some light relief, with Mr. Bates and Anna finally getting some good news, and the comic turbulence of the Carson newly weds settling into what will eventually be married bliss. There’s also the chemistry between Molesley and Miss Baxter to keep an eye on, and the more stubborn exchanges between Daisy and Andy. Even Mrs. Pattmore finds she may be on the receiving end of some wooing.

DA9I would implore those following Downton Abbey already to stay tuned. More so I am speaking to those who perhaps thought they had given up on the show. Don’t. The last season is an accomplished farewell on all counts. On most counts. Not always spectacular for sure, but it can not be said the handling of the drama, the wit, the subtle history lessons, be called tedious or unfulfilling. Quite the opposite, Downton Abbey gives us just what we would want from a legacy so ingrained with fine writing, production, characters, cast. Never does it stray, heading forward to a future the very characters themselves are still seemingly wary of.

They needn’t fret, for the closure of Downton Abbey to the TV audience suggests a much more prosperous kind of social triumph for many concerned. I’ll leave it up to you to happily endure the final episodes of what has been a remarkably well-drawn out television production, one you feel you’re going to miss even before you’ve finished watching it. As I myself was close to the end I impulsively put my Emmy hat on, wondering if a loved show with such a complete-feeling season could actually be victorious this year. Given Downton Abbey‘s decent showing historically with the voters so far, as well as their kindness to television goodbyes, it might be a sensible choice. Hats off.

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