The series finale of Downton Abbey was near-flawless, with happy endings pretty much across the board.
In pure Downton fashion, the central event of Downton Abbey Season 6 Episode 9 was a wedding – Edith's. And what a wedding it was! Especially after the rather downtrodden way that Edith had closed out Downton Abbey Season 6 Episode 8.
Of course, it wasn't all sunshine and roses. That would have made things intensely boring. So let's start with the bad.
Probably the most obvious plot point that wasn't wrapped up in a neat bow by the end was Carson's sudden illness. I've been pretty vocal throughout Downton Abbey Season 6 that I've been really displeased with how he's acted.
When it came to his marriage to Mrs. Hughes and those accompanying expectations, he'd basically turned the dial up to 11 with his whole "propriety above all else" shtick.
Turns out, Carson's ornerier-than-usual orneriness may have been partially a result of his decreasing health (a big maybe because that wasn't said outright). His hands had begun to shake badly (and very suddenly), alarming Mrs. Hughes and the Crawleys.
He revealed that he knew exactly what his condition was: "the palsy," which I think is supposed to be Parkinson's disease? Poor Carson.
Being Carson, his chief concern wasn't his own failing health but no longer being able to perform the duties of his position. He is defined by his profession, and happy to be that way.
Luckily, the Crawleys (particularly Mary and Robert) truly love him and consequently Robert came up with a great solution: Barrow, who'd left Downton for another position after essentially being forced out, was asked back to take over as the head butler, with Carson overlooking everything.
This came about after Barrow graciously jumped in to help Carson with serving during Edith's wedding reception.
Obviously, Carson wasn't thrilled about this but it was a far better outcome than the alternative he was considering – tendering his resignation altogether, because what head butler would want the old head butler looking over his shoulder? Thomas was just glad to be back, so he clearly wasn't looking to be picky about ol' eagle-eye Carson hanging around and giving orders.
Thomas admirably did try to make a go of it at his new position. Unfortunately, that position was at a very small house with two ornery old people and only two fellow servants.
All of the servants at Downton tried to play up the positives, but Thomas was clearly not into the new job and its loneliness. Much as he'd experienced friction with his fellow Downton servants, by the end of the series, he'd come around a changed man.
This was largely thanks to his near-death experience following the suicide attempt. Ostensibly, the realization that there were people who cared if he lived or died moved something in him.
Baxter and Barrow's friendship has been one of the most pleasant surprises of this season.
Their bond is genuine and lovely. One of the finale's greatest moments was hearing Barrow return the favor and advise Baxter to put Coyle out of her mind and move on from him completely.
Barrow: Forget about Coyle and your time in prison. You think the strong decision would be to see him but you're wrong. The strong decision is to take away his power over you. Leave him behind, Miss Baxter. Get on with your life. Let that be my parting gift to you.
Baxter: I wonder if you're right.
Barrow: I am right.
I have to say, this new, tempered but still sassy version of Thomas is my favorite. I was thrilled that the finale managed to resolve his storyline, redeeming him and returning him home to Downton where he'd finally get what he'd been angling for since the very beginning of the series – a higher position at the house.
After all of his horrible past moments and flaws, it's safe to say he pretty clearly deserved it by this point.
Because this finale was almost entirely upbeat, Carson's illness was really the only negative. Nearly everything else was a joyful coming-together. And nobody died!
Inspired by Violet's words, Mary decided to put her scheming to good use: she managed to wrangle Bertie and Edith back together, and Bertie proposed to Edith again in record time.
The engagement was back on within the first twenty minutes, which immediately made me nervous. Obviously, with a win for Edith that soon, something had to go wrong to keep the plot churning.
That "something wrong" was Bertie's steadfastly moral mother, who'd been mentioned before but not seen. She wasn't nearly as unbearable as Bertie had made her out to be. Sure, she was pretty judgmental about Bertie's possibly-gay now-dead cousin, the former Marquess of Hexham, and about Edith's big secret.
That said, once Edith confessed (go Edith!), Mrs. Pelham got over all that relatively quickly. With slight urging from Robert at the engagement announcement dinner, she gave her tacit approval of the match, and later confirmed that she admired Edith's commitment to honesty.
To be honest, it was a bit silly that this roadblock was introduced only to be removed so easily, but it seemed like Fellowes & Co. felt that they needed to have at least a little bit of tension, rather than a straight two hours of cheerful things happening to everyone. Which is totally fair.
Though I'd have happily traded Mrs. Pelham drama for extra minutes of Baxter and Molesley making their romance canon and/or more Tom-Laura Edmunds flirtation.
Tom: We like strong women here.
Laura: Do you really?
Tom: I can assure you we like them very much indeed.
Oooh, yes! They were telegraphing this Tom-Laura thing pretty heavily throughout, but from the limited exposure we've gotten to Ms. Edmunds, I kind of adore her, so I'm all for this. She's like the anti-Sarah Bunting. Huzzah!
Despite the silliness of the Mrs. Pelham snafu being resolved in a hurry, the scenes leading up to Edith's wedding were lovely.
Again, it was all going so smoothly and Edith kept talking about how happy she was that I was tensed up, waiting for something extra soapy to happen (my money was on every one of Edith's exes showing up and interrupting the wedding – dead Michael Gregson, elderly Anthony Strallan, maybe-fake Patrick Crawley, all of them).
That didn't happen. Instead, we had a few lovely moments of Edith and her father expressing happiness and shock that she'd managed this happiness right before her walk down the aisle. There were many things I loved about this finale, but perhaps the best part was how thrilled and relieved everyone was for Edith.
Her achieving happiness was the perfect ending point for the show, because it had been a long time coming. It was the last thing that Robert and Cora felt they needed to accomplish as parents. This exchange pretty well encapsulated that idea:
Robert: The estate's safe in Mary's hands with Henry and Tom to help her. Edith has risen from the cinders in the hearth to be kissed by her very own Prince Charming. What more can we ask?
Cora: A long and happy life together, just we two, to watch the children grow. That's all I want.
Robert: And why not? We never know what's coming, of course, who does? But I'd say we have a good chance.
Robert and Cora have had their ups and downs, but they love each other, and now they get to settle and just be grandparents. So emotional.
Mary, meanwhile, discovered that her husband and Tom were going into business with one another, opening a used car shop. The Mary of yesteryear would've found this unbearably pedestrian, but this Mary was just so relieved that Henry would no longer be racing she'd probably have been fine having him be a shoe salesman at this point.
Further underscoring how much Mary had finally grown as a person was her decision not to announce her brand-new pregnancy until after Edith had her moment in the spotlight. It was very un-Mary and therefore a very satisfying thing to hear.
Henry: Will you be best friends now?
Mary: Oh, you're such a sentimentalist.
Henry: But will you?
Mary: Never you mind. We're sisters, and sisters have secrets.
The only thing I could truly have cared less about in this finale was Daisy's happy ending.
She still got one, and it was a pretty obvious one, which was fine. It was just hard to care about it after she spent all season being so dreadfully entitled and annoying.
And to be honest, it's not like she'd improved much in the finale. Mrs. Patmore rightfully called her out on her habit of finding any man who was attracted to her unworthy, only returning their affection once they'd stopped being interested.
Daisy was terrible to Andy for much of the latter half of the season. She was embarrassingly dim at several points in this series finale alone, when he tried to compliment her or spend time with her. Andy deserved so much better than Daisy, but for some inexplicable reason he wanted Daisy, and got her. So that's nice for him, I guess.
The one bright spot was that Daisy finally agreed to move into Mr. Mason's farm. Nothing I love more than a happy old guy, and Mr. Mason is my favorite happy old guy on this show. His flirting with Mrs. Patmore also made my heart soar.
I hope those two fall into a nice, later-in-life relationship, which should be made easier now that Daisy is not actively standing in the way of it.
And speaking of later-in-life relationships: I fully did not expect the show to find time to resolve the Lord Merton-Isobel pairing, but I'm thrilled that they did it the way they did. Personally, I was more of a Dr. Clarkson fan when it came to Isobel's potential beaus, but the friction with Merton's awful, despicable son and daughter-in-law really worked wonders in making me root for these two.
I'm honestly not sure how much of it was me wanting Isobel and Merton together or me wanting Amelia and Larry to get what was coming to them. Those two quickly sky-rocketed to the near-top of my personal Most Despicable Downton Characters list.
The Lord Merton-Isobel storyline was probably the best of the episode. It featured Violet and Isobel working together, which is always great. They have such a fun, dynamic friendship, and Violet is such a firecracker that you can't help but love it when she's sticking up for her friend. They busted down the door of Lord Merton's house to get to him, which was fantastic.
Amelia: This is ridiculous. Father, Mrs. Crawley wants to take you away from your son and your family and kidnap you into marriage. What do you say?
Lord Merton: How perfectly marvelous.
Violet: And who can argue with that?
This exchange, when Isobel finally got ahold of Merton and helped bust him out of that oppressive house, was wonderful.
The cherry on top was Dr. Clarkson's later discovery that Merton had been misdiagnosed and didn't actually have a terminal illness. Isobel's suffered enough loss in her life, so the fact that her happy ending included more years than expected with her new husband was marvelous.
Anna spent the entire finale getting progressively more and more pregnant until she finally had the baby in Mary's bedroom. Her pregnancy and the birth went remarkably smoothly, which indicated that the showrunners realized they'd maybe went a little bit overboard with the Bateses drama in the most recent seasons. Those two definitely deserved a break and got it.
Finally, the series as a whole ended with a reflection on the past and a nod ahead to the oncoming future, as the clock struck midnight, a new year rushed in, and the servants sang "Auld Lang Syne."
It was as perfect a closing moment as one could hope for from a monumental series like this: The reluctant end of an era.
And, naturally, who better to express that bittersweetness than the Dowager Countess, who was granted the final line of dialogue?
Violet: Makes me smile, the way every year we drink to the future, whatever it may bring.
Isobel: Well, what else could we drink to? We're going forward to the future, not back into the past.
Violet: If only we had the choice!
Other thoughts & loose ends:
- It was shocking to be reminded that Isobel is the only family member who doesn't know the truth about Marigold, during that opening morning stroll with the family. Seriously? At this point, why not just tell her?
- Laura Edmunds caught the bouquet at Edith's wedding, so in my head this naturally means she and Tom are married by the following Spring. Any disagreements? No? Good.
- Denker is the worst, Spratt is the best, and Violet purposely needling Denker by praising Spratt for his column rather than firing him was a stroke of pure genius. You could practically see Denker have a rage-aneurysm.
- Robert and Cora resolving that tension over Cora's work at the hospital was a great subplot. I'll never tire of Robert praising Cora and essentially admitting he doesn't deserve someone as great as her (he really doesn't, but alas).
- Little George saying goodbye to Barrow cracked my heart open. So, so cute. George's tiny voice saying "Mr. Barrow" always gets me.
- Rose always struck me as more of a spunky Sybil replacement, so I was never a huge fan of her. She felt very derivative. That said, her presence in the finale was useful, mainly because she served as a device to reconcile Robert and Cora after the hospital debacle.
What did you think of Downton Abbey's last-ever episode? Chime in by commenting below and watch Downton Abbey online here at TV Fanatic to relive the years of fancy British living!
Caralynn Lippo is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.