Downton Dilema

If you haven’t seen the final episode of Season Three, STOP READING NOW. This post is going to be filled with spoilers. Of course, I have to confess that I haven’t seen the whole thing. My sister called last night for my birthday (Thanks, sweetie! Loved hearing from you!) so I was away from the TV for about an hour and probably missed a lot.

However, I really wish I’d missed the last few minutes. What the heck is Julian Fellowes thinking by killing off Matthew? Is he channeling Nicholas Sparks now? Is he so terrified of writing a romance that he asks himself, with machiavellian glee, how he can avoid a dreaded Happily Ever After in the most horrendous way possible?

Now, I must confess in the interests of full disclosure that I have killed off characters before. Sometimes, they were even characters I loved. I wept as I wrote their ends, but the story demanded it and their own actions led to their deaths. But I’ve never accidentally killed a hero, for pity’s sake!

Part of what upset me was the senseless, random manner of Matthew’s death. It reeks of writer desperation. As if Mr. Fellowes is grasping for something, anything that will jerk his viewers from elation over the birth of Mary’s baby  to despair. We’re being manipulated.

I’m a firm believer in cause/effect.  There was no burning need for Matthew to die other than just writer intervention. Downton Abbey is a character-driven piece. For Mr. Fellowes to suddenly yank us in another direction by relying on a shocking plot twist turns his beautifully drawn, “breathing-on-their-own” characters into marionettes, jerking along to the puppetmaster’s whims.

OK. I know there are random bad things that happen in this world. But Downton is fiction. Part of why I love romance is that the scales of justice balance. The good are rewarded. The bad get their comeuppance. And somehow, it all turns out all right.

I guess I feel the same sense of betrayal as when I read my first and only Nicholas Sparks novel (MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE). It felt like a romance. It read like a romance, but then at the last possible moment, he made his hero do something totally out of character and totally stupid so that he’d die. I felt as if I’d been “bait and switched.”

Now it’s your turn. Do you watch Downton Abbey? What are your thoughts?

20 thoughts on “Downton Dilema

  1. Barbara Britton says:

    Hi Mia,

    I knew this was coming. I happened on a UK blog and didn’t realize the series started earlier there than in the US. I called my mom and asked if we’d missed a Christmas special. Major spoiler.

    I was glad Matthew saw the baby. It does seem though that we need a death to add tension when some of the other story lines could be written with more conflict or consequences.

    Here’s looking to next season and hoping we don’t have another year jump.

    1. Mia says:

      But it bothers me that the death was tied to a birth–again!

      And death isn’t the only thing that adds tension to a story line. People make stupid choices and have to pay for them. Edith, for example, is getting ready to make a whopper. Hasn’t she ever read Bronte? The crazy wife thing has been done.

      I also don’t think we’ve seen the last of that burn victim Patrick. I think he’s out trying to round up proof of his identity and once again the succession will be in question.

  2. Marcy W says:

    Just watched the finale tonight; knew that “Matthew” wanted to quit (and I do hope he doesn’t regret this decision ten years from now!), so wasn’t too surprised … actually was pleased he got to see the baby and die happy, was worried he’d die on the way to the hospital. . . and/or that we’d lose more than one major actor. I’ve heard that Maggie Smith would like out, too, and that would change the tone more than Matthew being gone, for me at least.
    Given that actors leave any series, would we rather have DA continue without Dan, or have it stop whenever a major character wants out?? This does give Fellowes a lot of scope for Season 4 and later … Tom Branson is now the only ‘modernize’ guy; will Mary be a good mother, or will she revert and become the selfish unhappy girl she was without the adoring Matthew; and what about his mother?!
    Other than the ending, I enjoyed this finale, especially the Mrs. Patmore/grocer story (I just love her, and the housekeeper!) So how long do we have to wait for Season 4???

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      My DH pointed out to me that this is public television we’re talking about so they probably weren’t paying Dan what he’s worth.

      Oh, I’d hate for Maggie Smith to leave. She’s an absolute jewel! The dowager/Isabel Crawley tit-for-tat friendship is a delight.

      I was a little surprised Isabel didn’t encourage the doctor more. That seemed like a good fit.

  3. Mina De Caro says:

    I had great hopes for season 3…it was much better than the second and as enticing as the first. If you read Dan Steven’s interview with The Telegraph (available on his FB page), you’ll see why Julian Fellowes had no choice but kill him. It was Stevens’ wish to leave the cast, not sure his is a right career move. There are certainly many opportunities to shine for this gorgeous and highly intelligent actor, but maybe none of them will bring him the same massive popularity. Anyway, if you love him and you are addicted to his incredible voice, there are a few audiobooks read by him and he also writes for The Sunday Telegraph and for literary magazine The Junket. I am looking forward to his new historical drama Summer In February, but I will certainly miss him in Downton Abbey.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      I am a sucker for a man with a good voice and Dan certainly has one. I agree with you. I can’t imagine he will find more success than he’d enjoy with Downton.

  4. I had the exact same reaction until I read that the two actors whose characters died this season had decided not to renew their contracts after the initial 3-year obligation. Now I’ve shifted my anger to them. Matthew Crawley had to die because Dan Stevens wants to star on Broadway. On the upside, now that we’ve passed that hurdle of the 3-year contracts ending, presumably they’re done killing beloved characters (for a while, at least).

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      What is Dan Stevens doing on Broadway? (Wondering if I can can talk the DH into a train trip to NY to see whatever it is…)

      1. Lynn says:

        He’s starring in The Heiress with Jessica Chastain.

        I don’t blame him for leaving at all – he has said he prefers live theatre. How much of a challenge could playing Matthew be at this point? His entire role came down to “Robert, we must modernize!” And “Mary darling, you complete me!”

        1. Mia Marlowe says:

          Live theatre is exciting, but it’s grueling work. Bringing something fresh to the same dialogue every day, twice on Saturday requires huge amounts of creative energy.

          However, it sounds like I need to start lobbying for a trip to NYC to see THE HEIRESS.

  5. Sheila M says:

    I agree. I hadn’t seen it before this season, but heard great things. I talked my girlfriend into watching it to and we got so immersed in it and all the great characters. Matthew and Mary seemed to be the only happy people on the show. Hope they don’t start the next season as “A Year Later…” and totally skip over what happened. Pissed off!

    Matthew and Mary loved each other so much. nd all the characters. So disappointed as

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Not only did they love each other dearly, they COMPLETED eath other. Mary will be like an amputee. Half of her will be missing.

  6. I can only HOPE that there is something better on the horizon. I have seen every episode. I got hooked on in a few weeks ago, so we watched all of season one via Netflix, then purchased seasons two and three! (Yes, my DH loves it just as much as I do, lol)

    I was so upset with the ending. You are spot on Mia. It makes absolutely no sense in killing off Matthew. However, I’m holding on to the hope that the writer will justify his decision in season 4.

    Suzan

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      It’s hard to justify a sudden inexplicable death. And I’m afraid Mary will go back to being the rather hateful person she was before Matthew brought out a different side of her.

  7. Mia – I share your writerly outrage. I loved Matthew (and Dan Stevens) and I knew he was leaving the show. But the way in which the character was written out felt like such a cheat. Whereas Sybil’s exit was handled beautifully and provided a great deal of emotional catharsis, this just felt like a writer who was pissed off at an actor and wanted to pay him back royally. I LOVE your Nicholas Sparks analogy by the way, it’s truly the perfect comparison.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      I guess I’m paying the price for not following popular culture news. I had no idea the actor was leaving.

  8. Maria says:

    I watched Seasons 1 & 2 of Downton Abbey and felt that it had good closure with the Christmas special, so I didn’t feel the need to watch Season 3–Note: I wasn’t completely taken with the first 2 seasons anyway, I was actually almost bored. But it felt a little too much like a soap opera to me. And I feel exactly the same about Nicholas Sparks’ books; thanks for putting it so eloquently!

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      My DH calls it a soap opera in fancy dress. The pacing does occasionally seem a tad slow on Downton, but I love it for so many things–the glittering settings, the clothes, the exaggerated manners, and Lady Violet’s zingers!

  9. Natascha says:

    I had read months ago that the actor for portrays Matthew was leaving the series. Fellowes could have definitely written a better death for Matthew.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      I guess I’m always looking for meaning and this death seemed spectacularly meaningless. And since we had a death after a birth with Sybil, it seems a little overdone.

      However, and I’m just playing devil’s advocate, how the rest of the family deals with it will lead to some serious character growth.

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