(I’ll pause a moment so you can wipe the tears from your eyes.)
The newly minted Marchioness of Hexham sums it up best in the closing moments of the finale: “It’s so strange. I feel completely happy, I don’t think I’ve ever felt that before.” And she’s not the only one who goes out on a high note. Edith winds up with the world’s nicest Marquess while her sister and frequent nemesis winds up with the world’s hottest used-car salesman.
Romance has always been a prevalent theme on “Downton Abbey,” but it is seemingly everywhere in this finale, in which characters paired off with such frequency you’d think a meteor was headed straight for Earth in 24 hours. By the end of the 90 minutes, virtually everyone is implicitly or explicitly coupled up, from Edith and Bertie to Daisy and Handy Andy to Mr. Mason and Mrs. Patmore to Branson and Pretty Editor Lady Who Was Obviously Hired Just So Branson Would Have a New Romantic Interest. Even long-standing couples like Cora and Robert are falling in love anew. Had it lasted a full two hours, surely Spratt and Denker would have been making out on the Dowager’s dining room table.
Also, there are babies, lots and lots of babies! Enough for an Anne Geddes calendar. Anna, who’s been even unluckier than Edith, gives birth to a healthy boy (though of course she must suffer one last indignity first when her water breaks all over Mary’s bedroom floor). Mary and Henry find out they’ll be having one of their own, and even new parents Rose and Atticus show up for Edith’s wedding, showing off pictures of baby Victoria.
Even Lord Merton is given new life, in a sense, thanks to a misdiagnosis of pernicious anemia. Believing that her beloved Dickie has only months to live, Isobel decides she loves him, steals him away from his horrible son and daughter-in-law and marries him. Then, as Edith is about to walk down the aisle, Dr. Clarkson, of all people, shares the happy news that, just kidding, Lord Merton is totally not going to die after all. If there’s one lesson I’ve learned from six seasons of “Downton Abbey,” it’s the value of a second opinion.
There is, of course, one rather significant shadow blighting all the happiness: Dear old Carson develops a tremor that makes it impossible to carry on with his duties at Downton (and possibly explains why he’s been so cranky all season long). But even this has an upside, as it means that a chastened Thomas (I suppose I should finally start calling him Barrow) can triumphantly return as butler rather than standing around watching old people skip the cheese course.
And there are some extremely minor hurdles along the road to perfect bliss, so let’s review them, shall we?
First things first: Edith. Thanks to a scheme coordinated by Rosamund, this season’s secret MVP, and a repentant Mary, our Lady of Perpetual Misfortune winds up at the Ritz for dinner with Bertie, last seen crushing her heart into smithereens after he learned The Truth About Marigold.
Thankfully, Bertie seems to have forgotten why he broke up with Edith in the first place and, looking rather adorably upset, tells her over two glasses of bubbly that “the only thing I’m not ready for is a life without you.”
And of course, there’s another challenge she must eliminate before walking down the aisle: Bertie’s scary mother, who despite all the talk of the need for moral probity and obvious disapproval of poor dead Cousin Peter and his “trips to Tangiers,” (ahem) turns out to be considerably less terrifying than she was made out to be. Against everyone’s wishes, Edith tells her The Truth About Marigold, and Mama P. is miffed for, oh, one day. Then she comes around. I guess it runs in the family.
In other developments, Henry and Mary are, as we all knew they would be, content and disgustingly photogenic together. The only cloud on the horizon, if we can even call it that, is that Henry has decided to give up racing, meaning that he doesn’t have much to do except lounge around the house wearing impeccable bespoke suits. For some odd reason, he wants to do more than be the perfect trophy husband, so he and Branson hatch a plot to start a car company -- excuse me, a “going concern.” (I’m extremely tempted to joke about Branson being the “third wheel,” but I’ll refrain.) The icing on the cake? Mary is expecting a little Talbot, news she plans to keep to share with the family once Edith has had her moment in the sun. Change is in the air, indeed.
Also grappling with boredom is Thomas, who finally manages to land a new position at an estate near York and receives a relatively warm send-off from Downton Abbey. Heeding the counsel of Anna and Baxter, Thomas moves on with a healthy determination to make friends. If only there were friends to make: Thomas quickly learns that it’s not 1850 anymore, and, well, there isn’t much to do in his new position except stand around while overdressed old people silently chew their dinner.
And even though Carson’s illness is no doubt heartbreaking, his retirement signals the true end of the Downton way of life, perhaps even more so than if Lord Grantham had been done in by that ulcer. Let’s just be glad he’s got Elsie by his side.
Julian Fellowes, bless him, even manages to work in a few of the silly, quickly digested subplots that have always been a staple of this series. In the great tradition of Downton servants clashing with technology that brought us Mrs. Patmore vs. the fridge and Carson vs. the telephone comes Daisy vs. the hair dryer, a showdown that ends (of course) happily with a fetching new bob. Meanwhile, Denker tries (and fails) yet again to sabotage Spratt, this time by exposing his double life as an advice columnist. Unfortunately for her, Violet is tickled rather than ticked off.
All in all, it’s a bittersweet (but mostly sweet) send-off for a series that has been a gift to television viewers, this one most definitely included, for six extremely entertaining, heartwarming, tearjerking and (occasionally) ludicrous seasons. I for one, am going to miss it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going upstairs to take off my hat.
P.S. This episode included so many wonderful lines it would be a pity not to acknowledge some of them here:
“Oh, I’m full of ideas when it comes to combining comfort and elegance.” — Spratt
“It’s mighty helpful to have the use of a young man’s muscles.” — Mr. Mason
“When reason fails, use force.” — Violet
“I know you resent me, because I’m interesting, because I’m exotic, because I’m attractive.” — Denker
“We’re sisters and sisters have secrets.” — Mary
“Is Daisy interested in men?"" — Handy Andy
“Don’t be mysterious. It’s the last resort of people with no secrets.” — Violet
“I should like to have been married to you. But no man can have everything.” — Lord Merton
Thomas’ first task: ordering a new mattress for Mary’s bedroom. #DowntonPBS #DowntonAbbeyFinale— Tom + Lorenzo® (@tomandlorenzo) March 7, 2016
Oh my goodness Downton family stateside - what an extraordinary journey - thank you for your amazing loyalty and support - just incredible x— Lesley Nicol (@lesley_nicol) March 7, 2016
Gorgeous! And Edith’s wedding tiara doubles as a wifi hotspot. #DowntonAbbey #DowntonPBS— Mrs. Patmore’s Tart (@MrsPatmoresTart) March 7, 2016
The way everyone is getting paired up, I feel like I’ll get matched before this episode ends! #DowntonPBS— Mandi Bierly (@MandiBierly) March 7, 2016
I feel like I KNOW these people. I am bursting at the seams with happiness for everyone at #DowntonAbbey #FarewellDownton— Carly Steet (@Carly1588) March 7, 2016
I wish @masterpiecepbs would launch a webseries that’s just Spratt and Denker attempting to thwart each other daily. -J #DowntonPBS— Heather & Jessica (@fuggirls) March 7, 2016
Follow @MeredithBlake on Twitter.