Downton Abbey Season 3 Finale
A Reflection on Downton’s Ability to Keep Surprising Us
(Spoilers for Downton Abbey Season 3, Boardwalk Empire Season 2, The Sopranos Season 1, The Wire Season 3)
One of Downton Abbey’s best qualities is the way the setting, the characters, and the soundtrack come together to allow the viewer to settle in and relax for a leisurely hour. From the first notes of the opening credits, the audience can sit back and watch happily. There’s no need to sit on the edge of your seat or frantically try to figure out what’s happening. You may cry out when somebody does something you can’t believe or makes a decision you can’t stand, but you can relax, in a way that’s unique to good old fashioned English dramas.
In contrast, watching new episodes of Boardwalk Empire or the Walking Dead entails constantly waiting for a character to be whacked or eaten. No one is safe, and it’s terrifying. This was always a staple of Pantheon series The Wire or The Sopranos. While these shows still do a wonderful job surprising us(Jimmy Darmody, ‘Big Pussy’ Bonpensiero, Stringer Bell), these deaths leave us thinking, “Well I really shouldn’t be surprised.” Downton Abbey doesn’t exactly give the audience the same feeling of unease.
When Sybil’s character died after childbirth, if anything, it left many of the viewers more at ease thinking, “How could they possible kill off somebody else? We just lost Sybil!” Whether or not you liked the final twist of the Season 3 finale, the last five minutes were beautifully crafted. The final montage becomes so much more evocative during repeat viewings. The lines really sting the second time around, like hearing Matthew referencing a tomorrow that will never come for him, by the time he’s speeding away in his elegant automobile through the beautiful British countryside, one can start to feel the show taking an ominous tone. Edith declares how “wonderful it is the way families keep on rolling,” and of course Maggie Smith’s character ends the season with the line that really brings the ceiling crashing down, “But then we don’t always get our just desserts.”
Downton Abbey will definitely be a show that stands up to repeat viewing and will remain enjoyable as it lives on through Netflix, DVD viewing, etc. As the show ages, Matthew’s screen time will become more poignant, and his character will become more beloved. Ultimately Sybil and Matthew’s deaths won’t affect the way I will begin watching Season 4. As soon as I see Robert’s dog running along beside him I will sink back into my couch and feel at ease. Knowing…wait, believing that every one of my favorite characters, and even my most hated characters (I’m looking at you Thomas) will return, and that’s how Downton Abbey will continue to surprise us.