The most extreme SPOILER WARNING for the finale of Downton Abbey, Season 3.
Really. You've been warned. Here, have a nice, non-spoilery picture from the beginning of the season.
Dear Mr. Fellowes,
Can I call you Julian? Fantastic. Well, Julian, I imagine you anticipated the flak you'd get for the end of season 3. How could you not? I mean, for your British audience, you killed off the show's pivotal character--on Christmas Eve. Yea, Happy Birthday Baby Jesus to you too. (Honestly, I'm surprised that I avoided all the internet spoilers for 2 months before PBS got around to it.)
So hold on, put down your cup of tea, and listen to me for just a second more. I'm not here to yell at you for killing off Matthew Crawley. That better? Honestly, I'm not. As much as I like to think that Doctor Who handles these situations the best way possible, it was designed for longevity, and every other show in the 'verse was not. I'm not going to yell at Dan Stevens, or tell you that you should have forced him to stay on, because that would be silly. I understand that as a producer, when actors move on, your hands are tied. You have to find a way for them to leave the show. And with Matthew Crawley, the only way that the audience (or the actors, or anyone else with a brain) would accept his departure is by death. He can't divorce Mary, or get a foreign posting, or run away, because that's just not him.
I am, admittedly, sad. Heartbroken. But I understand. He had to die. I'm not going to belabor that fact. What I am going to harp upon is the way he died, and the when. Because I was okay with the way Sybil died. In fact, I thought it was beautiful, masterful. Pre-eclampsia is real, and fatal, and the way in which it was done was so tragic and yet so believable. To have Sybil hold her baby, to experience that joy and then snatch it away from us, and then have the whole house reeling with shock and denial and blame was wonderful.
But that was the first time. The second time a parent died shortly after holding their newborn baby, it was cliche. A trope. A horrible, sad, disgusting trope that we all shied away from instinctively. And by car accident? Well, you just used the most cliched method of killing off a character since Henry Ford.
It's funny, because killing off the two universally beloved and good-hearted characters right after each other could be seen as daring. A bold move, as they'd call it in the world of writing. A way to shock the audience, make us reel with grief, make us confront mortality. Except that when a writer does that, they usually have a plan, a masterful idea, a brilliant scene for the character's death. And I'm sorry, but there was no brilliant scene here. Matthew's death was relegated to the last 45 seconds of the episode, and was dominated by the sentimental speech of Lord Grantham's. I got the impression it was supposed to be ironic, the guy finally realizing how lucky and wonderful his life is just as it's falling apart, finally giving thanks for the great cousin he's got just as the man dies.
But that's not how it came off. It came off as rushed, hasty, and messy. Viewers felt cheated, not of Matthew's life, but of any sense of purpose to the show. Someone will probably comment about how death is unpredictable and messy and sudden, how it doesn't come at the right time, how it rarely leaves room for goodbyes. And I'm all ears. I agree. I admire writers who have their characters die without any foreshadowing, who don't make time for a last farewell, who force their readers to face the toughness of the world.
But merely because there are no last parting words does not mean that the audience shouldn't have a chance to say goodbye to a character in their own way. By putting the death in the last 45 seconds, by juxtaposing it with complete happiness and cutting to credits straight afterward, you deprived your audience of any chance to heal, to recover, and to grieve with the characters onscreen. Giving us a glimpse of the rest of the family, or the servants, hearing the news. The funeral. Mary. A reaction, any reaction, would have helped. Instead, we are left to feel cruelly cheated, because in life, we would have been at Matthew Crawley's funeral. That's it.
And while I've got your attention, I do want to compliment you for some things--your mercies, for instance. I was so sure Bates wasn't going to come home, and I was the happiest person when he did. Or the unexpected kindnesses that have been coming lately: all season from Mrs. Hughes, who is my new favorite character, and this last episode from Thomas. I am glad to see him, for the first time, as a real caring person who has a genuine friend.
And a last request: can you please treat Edith well? I've always thought her the best of the Crawley sisters. I was so happy when she got her column. I would love to see more of her being her wonderful independent self, sticking up for her rights, taking up the banner that her younger sister dropped, than to see her getting involved with well-meaning but not available men. Please, give her some self-worth. She deserves it.
Regardless, it's been a good three seasons. I'll be sticking around for the fourth. And I do hope that Mary will be Matthew's Mary Crawley.
P.S. I think I'll go watch some fanvids now to console myself. This one is my favorite so far.