PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Downton Abbey: Season 6, Episode 9 (Series Finale)

Sean Fennell

Downton Abbey ends its impressive run with a level of sheer joy never before reached in its six seasons.

Downton Abbey

Airtime: Sundays, 10pm
Cast: Laura Carmichael, Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Matthew Goode
Subtitle: Season 6, Episode 9
Network: PBS
Air Date: 2016-03-06

The time is here. Gone are the days we will spend with poor-old Edith (Laura Carmichael), the catty Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith), the jolly and oblivious Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), the old-world curmudgeon Mr. Carson (Jim Carter), and the rest of the ever-so-loved inhabitants of the Downton Estate. It's been one hell of a run. Even Lord Grantham, who hates American slogans about letting go, can hardly admit that the timing doesn't feel right.

Downton Abbeyhas succeeded in something that many shows have tried, and often failed to do: walk the tight rope between what's now known as "prestige drama" and what was once and always will be known as "soap opera". Simply describing these last six years may make this line of delineation difficult to pinpoint. After all, what stereotypically “soap” narrative turn hasn’t this show at least flirted with? We’ve seen unwanted and secret pregnancies, death by birth, death by car crash, rape, murder, attempted suicide, disappearance in a foreign country, and scandal enough to rival any in the Shonda Rhimes universe.

The important distinction to make, however, is more of a feeling than some tangible thing. Through the many twists and turns, through all the sometimes melodramatic plot developments, we’ve felt a connection that somehow went deeper than any surface-level plot. It didn’t matter how many suitors Mary (Michelle Dockery) went through before finding her true love, and it didn’t matter that he had to die to give her a few more; we cared who Mary ended up with because we knew Mary and, like the head butler himself, felt some connection that went deeper than mere gossip.

With all that creator Julian Fellowes has thrown at both the Downton elite and their downstairs brethren, the finale had one essential question to answer: how do all these rollercoaster stories come to an end? Not that we couldn’t see it coming, but Fellowes made the answer emphatically clear during the two-hour finale. Hardship for hardship’s sake can be great television -- as was often the case these last six years -- but seeing all that hardship result in unadulterated happiness makes the whole thing abundantly satisfying.

The one character that needed, more than any, to spend her final moments on screen in a state of pure bliss was Edith -- perhaps the most worn-out punching bag in the Julian Fellowes collection. We've seen her fight tooth and nail for happiness in a world that seems dead-set on giving her nothing but pain and disappointment. No Crawley daughter was safe from her fair share of relationship tragedy, but Edith’s long-lost husband and now un-proposal surely take the cake.

Knowing all this, though, it wasn’t hard to guess that the kind and generally understanding Bertie Pelham (Harry Hadden-Paton) would make his way back into Edith's life. It was, at least, a little surprising that this reunion was authored by none other than the "cold bitch" Mary. After Mary’s display of jealousy, treachery, and out-of-control egotism, she needed some redemption. What better way than to give her a guiding hand in her sister’s happiness? Well done, Fellowes.

From here, all Edith must do is reveal her secret to one more Pelham: Bertie’s mother (Patricia Hodge). After a rocky start, Mrs. Pelham concludes that her honesty, especially when Edith has so much to gain from the marriage, outweighs the fact that she’s "damaged goods". With mother’s blessing and a marriage set in motion, all is well in the world for not-so-poor Edith. Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), Robert, and all the viewers at home can finally breathe a sigh of relief knowing that no further tragedy should befall the Crawley’s middle daughter.

In keeping with our more downtrodden Downton crew, we head downstairs to check on our two struggling butlers: Barrow (Rob James-Collier) and Carson. We know Barrow’s issues (we’ll touch on his later), but it seems Fellowes has one more sudden twist of fate to heap onto us before things end all nice and cheery. In the last couple episodes, we’ve seen Mr. Carson transform from the likable, if ornery, paterfamilias of downstairs life, into a sexist, and still ornery, pig of a husband.

His image needed some help, and nothing repairs image better than sympathy. It all starts with a spill of wine and a trembling cup of tea; we soon learn that Carson has inherited the palsy, a death-sentence to a man who relies on a steady hand. Much to his chagrin, Carson knows he must retire; it’s just too bad that Downton just got rid of their second in command. *cough cough*

So Barrow's set to leave and start his new job in a small house in which, despite his resolve to make more friends than enemies, he finds there none of either to be had. I think you can guess that Thomas doesn't stay here long, seeing as Carson’s new-found disability seems almost a perfect way to bring him back into the fold, this time as the new head butler. We do, however, get some truly quality goodbyes to feast on before we knew just how indefinite will his leave be, with none more heart-wrenching than watching him bid farewell to his biggest fans: young Master George (Oliver Zac Barker) and young Lady Sybbie (Fifi Hart).

The remainder of the downstairs crew were able to arrive at their joyous destinations with far less drama during the finale. Molesley (Kevin Doyle) continues his journey outside of Downton after hearing the news that a fellow teacher is set to leave the school, leaving an opening in a nearby house and some more classes for the new schoolteacher, a duty he thankfully accepts.

Anna (Joanne Froggart) and Bates (Brendan Coyle) seem mercifully immune to heartache; this continues as Anna gives birth to their first child (in Mary’s room), but with surprisingly little in the way of complications, while Edith’s wedding is going on downstairs. Daisy (Sophie McShera) and Andy (Michael Fox) finally get on the same page and realize a life of pig farming can be just as romantic as any other. Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) mercifully stops talking about Peter Coyle -- the man all viewers stop worrying about months ago.

Upstairs, Henry (Matthew Goode) is quite predictably having a difficult time finding meaning in his new life at Downton, which he solves with the help of best friend a guy could ask for: Tom Branson (Allen Leech). Thus, much to the surprising delight of the newly pregnant Mary, "Talbot and Branson Motors" is born. Cora’s spending more and more time at the hospital, much to the chagrin, then delight, of the now stay-at-home grandfather Robert. Isobel (Penelope Wilton) finally finds her way into the arms of Lord Merton (Douglas Reith), although it takes, among other things, pernicious anemia, a battle with the dastardly Ms. Cruikshank (Phoebe Sparrow), and finally a Granny team jail break.

So with all the necessary coupling-off in order -- with hints at more coming after the final whistle (Patmore/Mason, Branson/Editor Evans) -- all that was left was what Downton Abbeyhas always done best; moments that walk right up to the edge of complete melodrama, and some that completely leap off the edge. The show’s two best non-romantic relationships get their due in the form of Mr. Carson and Lord Grantham, who’ve never truly acknowledged are the best friends either of them will ever have. So much of the series has been about change, and these two have always been its staunchest opponents. In the end, they seem to have come to terms with the world and their dwindling place in it.

The same can be said of one-half of the show’s other great friendship, Isobel and Violet Crawley, although it often moved further into frenemy than friends. Their wars, which often took on a good deal of importance throughout the seasons, were always ideological and only sometimes personal, but as the series concludes it seems the two are at peace with this arrangement.

Their final lines together play perfectly as a theme for the whole series, with Isobel admiring the ability to move toward the future, and Violet longing for any other direction in which to head. Downton Abbey was always about living in a past few people ever really inhabited, but it was also about constantly moving forward in a head-long rush towards future. In this final disagreement, the Crawley grandmothers are both right, although I hope that neither would concede.

Six seasons may have been a little much for a show whose scope was as thin as Carson’s mind on pretty much any topic that did not involve service-industry ethics and tradition, but you can hardly blame Fellowes and team for going as far as they could with the characters we all fell in love with so quickly. They constantly put us through the ringer, building happy lives board by board only to burn them all down, but Fellows final mission was the construct an estate where happiness ran free and acceptance reigned. In that Downton Abbeyaccomplished its mission. You will be missed.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.