For the past five years, Downton Abbey kicks off the new year for us North American viewers. For nine Sunday evenings in January and February, I’ve been prodded to get back home in time, or simply stay home so not to miss a Downton episode. Now that I can record the series on my HDTV, I can freely watch The Oscars without dilemma.
Last night’s Finale “A Moorland Holiday” has finally picked up rhythm and grabbed my attention for a too short 1.5 hours.
The time is Autumn of 1924. Rose’s father-in-law, Lord Sinderby, has rented the beautiful Brancaster Castle in Northumberland and invited the Crawley family to a grouse shooting party, a marvellous setting to end the Season. But why would the grumpy and disagreeable in-law want to do that? Probably because every Finale ends with an outing, the best setting for turns in the road, and we’re treated to an exciting ride. It is also the annual Christmas episode for the UK viewers, so we can see how that blessed Festival can join hearts in the Finale.
Last night’s extended Episode has once again confirmed why this annual major TV event is worth all the wait and staying in on Sunday evenings. Why don’t I just buy the DVD’s so not be constrained? No, watching Downton one week at a time together with all the millions of PBS viewers makes this Finale all the more gratifying.
This Episode has redeemed itself from a relatively uneventful Season, which begs the question, why didn’t Mr. Fellowes unleash his ingenuity more often instead of having us wait eight weeks to arrive at this gratifying end? No matter, we are a patient lot. Let’s face it, the Finale is well worth the wait; it rewards us with justifiable twists and turns, ties up all loose ends and gives us a major surprise. It has once again recharged my enthusiasm for the show and even moved me to tears at the rare spot.
If every episode this Season was as rich and juicy as the Finale, Downton could have easily doubled its weekly viewers.
Kudos to director Minkie Spiro who has brought to life Julian Fellowes’ dense and captivating script. She has woven multiple story lines simultaneously, delivered the tensions, characters and conflicts at a flowing pace seamlessly without missing a beat. Both Fellowes and Spiro understand so well our collective psyche, that we in our hearts yearn for poetic justice: embarrassing the nasty, rewarding the good, reconciling the distant, and uniting the lovers… and I’m not just saying Rose and Atticus.
The father-daughter heart-to-heart in which Robert acknowledges Marigold, Edith’s child out of wedlock with Michael Gregson, is most endearing. How often do you hear a father utter these words: “I’m sure I need your forgiveness as much as you need mine.” And yes, he does have his secret of which even Cora is unaware.
Fellowes also ingeniously puts the skills and instincts of Downton’s trademark schemer, their very own Thomas Barrows to good use by letting him meet his equal in Stowell, and let them loose to wrestle and butt heads and finally to have Barrows come up on top, scoring for the visitors. The satisfying gesture is that he is winning the game for his employers and for Tom Branson, a worthy gentleman indeed, giving him his long due respect. Fellowes once again has proven that he is a master of tension at the formal dining table.
As for Anna and Bates, how many more trials and tribulations can a couple go through without having their marriage totally ruined? Fellowes knows when to stop; he is the ultimate puppeteer in the fates of the wrongly accused, but we thank him for leading them through thick and thin and bringing them out unharmed. And we enjoy the vicarious ride.
Rose too has redeemed herself. Looking back to her manipulative scheme in her earlier days, the fling on the town with jazz singer Jack Ross in Season 4 just to spite her mother, to Season 5 helping out the Russian refugees to finding and giving true love. We have seen Rose mature and proven herself considerate, trustworthy and resourceful, gaining favour from a very harsh father-in-law Lord Sinderby. BTW, recognize the man? He’s Uncle Geoffrey in Bridget Jones’s Diary.
And Atticus, don’t you just love that name? He is a good match with the totally transformed Rose. But with their move to America, we are sending them off with this Finale.
The ultimate union though belongs to Carson and Mrs. Hughes, Julian Fellowes once again knows what his viewers want and generously give them what their hearts desire. And Mrs. Hughes, being utterly surprised and most kind to demand Carson do it properly as Matthew and Atticus had done, kneel down and propose. Now that would have been a total shocker.
What falls short is the courtship between Isobel Crawley and Lord Merton, and that’s a shame, for they’d make a lovely pair. Violet Crawley can rest assure that her companion is still around to sharpen the iron in her, for it is not easy to find an equal like Isobel who is ever so ready to counteract her views. The reappearance of Prince Kuragin in her life turns out to be just a fleeting romantic interlude, gratifying still for an octogenarian.
Matthew Goode as Henry Talbot is an excellent prospect for Mary Crawley, why, they get to know each other by confrontations, however mildly put, not unlike Mary’s first encounters with Matthew. Hopefully this introduction would usher in Goode’s full-time presence in the upcoming Season, for here’s one that can make a worthy suitor for Mary. But what’s uncanny is, he’s into cars. And we all know what that passion can lead a man to, as Matthew’s tragic end is still vivid in our collective memory. I’m sure in Mary’s as well.
The heartbreaking event of course is Tom moving from Downton and England with young Sybbie to Massachusetts to help his brother with his auto-business. Again, the automobile seems to be the invention that brings mixed blessings. The most moving scene is the joining of hands of Tom, Mary, and finally Edith, to remember Sybil for a short moment, and Tom soaking in his last presence, storing memory of the room, or is it Fellowes’ way to let us do that, imprinting Allen Leech in our collective memory.
“We’re the three who should have grown old with her… and who knows when we’ll be together again.” I admit, this really hit me, the value of growing up and growing old together, the treasure of one’s peers. I’m not one who easily succumb to emotion, but this scene did it, not just for missing Tom in the future Season, but for all the family to miss seeing little Sybbie grow up.
And now, another year’s wait… You know, Julian, we don’t mind waiting. Let’s have a few more.