In the final hour of
"Well," replies the dowager countess, with her signature skepticism, "there's a lot at risk. With any luck, they'll be happy enough. That's," she adds with the barest hint of a chuckle, "the English version of a happy ending."
It's a perfect line, delivered impeccably mere moments before Edith (Laura Carmichael), survivor of more trials, betrayals and disappointment than Jane Eyre, is revealed in all her nuptial glory.
It's also complete rot.
If there has ever been a more wantonly happy-ending finale in the history of television, I have never heard of it. No ribbon was left untied, no tea cake unfrosted, no romantic possibility overlooked. Creator Julian Fellowes filled the final hours of his period megahit with such a maelstrom of smiles, tears and loving glances full of promise that it seemed the embodiment of
The soul, she flowed, upstairs and down. Not only did every lovely possibility hinted at during the final season come to fruition, virtually every terrible thing that had ever happened during the series' six seasons was put to rest if not magically undone.
The Job-like Bates (Joanna Frogatt and
Isobel (Penelope Wilton) discovers that her star-crossed suitor, Lord Merton, is dying (sad), she realizes she loves him and marries him (happy). And then it turns out he isn't dying after all!
Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle) becomes a teacher, Miss Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) lets go of her larcenous past, and it's clear they will soon be more than confidantes. Daisy (Sophie McShera) finally fixes her hair (with the aid of an early blow-dryer) and realizes she loves Andy (Michael Fox); even Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) finds romance with Mr. Mason (Paul Coply).
As for Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), well, she is a woman reborn. Having once again found love with Henry (Matthew Goode) and self-respect managing the estate, Lady Mary not only fixes her awful betrayal of Edith, which leads to Edith's wedding, she professes to be happy when Henry becomes a used-car salesman.
This from a woman who all but retched at the thought of marrying a lawyer!
Tom (Allen Leech) goes into business with Henry and is last seen making eyes at Edith's editor, and even the ever-wretched and perpetually scheming Thomas (Rob James-Collier) is allowed to share the joy. Having finally, and reluctantly, left Downton just as he discovered the secret to life — stop being so mean, Thomas — he is brought back in the 11th hour to help, though not replace, Carson (Jim Carter), who has developed "the palsy."
Carson's illness could have been the one blight on the proceedings had it not been A) made abundantly clear that it was limited to shaky hands (so, not Parkinson's) and B) mitigated by Lord Grantham's brainstorm regarding Thomas and his very manly and moving expression of gratitude for Carson's devotion. (Also we know that Mrs. Hughes, played by Phyllis Logan, has been longing for the day when Carson would stop endlessly fretting about those darn Crawleys.)
Oh, and if the egalitarian nature of Downton had not been made clear enough throughout these five years, one of the final images was of his lordship bringing champagne to Mr. and Mrs. Bates, who were ensconced, with the new baby, in Lady Mary's bed.
"The more adaptable we are," Cora says, as they stroll from this only-at-Downton tableau into the new year, "the better chance we have to make it through."
After many similar sentiments about preferring the future to the past — the horrors of WWII are still a few years away after all — the staff begins to sing "Auld Lang Syne," cuing the camera to lovingly retreat from the stately grace of the manor loved by so many, its iconic silhouette softened, just a bit, by the falling snow.
Celebrating all its fairy-tale confectionary without even an attempt to limit the sugar, "Downton Abbey's" final hour was shameless, ridiculous and absolutely glorious.
Still, you could all but hear the dowager's, and Smith's, sigh of relief when she could finally kick off her shoes and get the heck out of that corset.