Who: “Downton Abbey,” aired in the United States on public TV, specifically on PBS, from 2010-2016.
What: “Downton Abbey,” the story of the life and times of a fictional lord, his family, his servants, and his estate in Yorkshire, England, in the early twentieth century (for a more detailed Synopsis, read here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/downtonabbey/synopsis.html).
When: The season six – and series – finale aired on PBS, Sunday, March 6, 2016, at 9:00 PM.
Where: The show is set Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom. The sixth season was set in the mid to late 1920s, the Jazz Age.
Why: I am an Anglophile through and through, and people were gushing about this show; I became one of those people, in fact. I also enjoy Dame Maggie Smith in just about everything, and her turn as the Dowager Countess, Violet Crawley, aficionado of acidic one-liners, is worth the watch alone. I also have a few friends who also became converted gushers, and they joined me around the water cooler for this podcast!
How – as in How Was It? – THOUGHTS
For a recap of season 4, read here.
And to listen to our previous podcast covering Series/Season Five:
Downton Abbey fans: our beloved series has come to an end. This dramatic study of the lushness of the English aristocracy in the early, Edwardian twentieth century, and our collective glimpses into the Crawleys, have come to a close with the airing of the show’s final Christmas special. While the lives of our dear characters above and below stairs were still met with a dash of scandal and uneasy speculation into the status of the upper class – as well as into the overall evolution of the socioeconomic classes in general – as the modern world approached, season/series six served to give fans some satisfyingly happy endings for most of the Abbey residents, even though some of the story lines may have been rushed and even contrived toward the finish line, as noted by some of our panelists.
Speaking of, our returning panelists Kristen (L), Krista, and Stacey joined two new panelists, Spencer and Kristin T., to discuss the finale of Downton for part one of a two-part CPU! series in which Couch Potatoes Unite! says our own protracted goodbye to this lovely drama. In this first part, our panelists delve deep into recapping Downton’s final season, in which several characters found love and/or experienced their dreams coming true before the characters’ and the viewing audience’s eyes. In the second part, which our panel will record when we reconvene in May, CPU!’s Downton Abbey panel will engage in one of our “Looking Back” discussions, during which we will reflect upon Downton Abbey as a whole and whether we think this series will hold up over time or whether it was a bit of lightning in a bottle, appropriate for the first half of the 2010s, even as the show hearkened back 90 years.
In season six, it is fair to say that all of the characters, from the servants’ quarters to the drawing rooms, experienced ups and downs to various degrees of storytelling success as the series wrapped up, though our panel particularly noted that the season suffered from choppy pacing as Mr. Fellowes barreled toward the end of the story he created. Thus, in this chapter “Around the Water Cooler,” or, perhaps, more appropriately, around the tea table, our Downton panel examines each of the main characters and discusses how we felt about the show’s swansong series, including the parting gift of its final Christmas special.
This first part of our two-part Downton goodbye was recorded on April 9, 2016, and there are, without doubt, major spoilers. Give it a listen, and tell us what you think!
This new episode will be something of a rarity for us in this spring season, during which several of our regular panelists are undergoing huge life changes: new jobs, new babies, and various versions of spring breaks. In addition, many of the shows we regularly cover in podcast format will be airing season finales in the next two months, so we’ll be checking into some of our repeat panels with extended show coverage during that time. In the meantime, we have a host of new offerings on our plate, including revisits for How to Get Away with Murder and the X-Files miniseries, a look back at Desperate Housewives, and new panels are also in the works (can someone say Jessica Jones and the DC Television Universe?). You won’t want to miss them!
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Questions, Impressions, and Future Considerations
1) Will Mary (Michelle Dockery) find out about Marigold? Will Mary and Edith (Laura Carmichael) ever reconcile their differences?
ANSWER: Though not one of Mary’s smarter or quicker deductions, she learned via verbal clues from Anna (Joanne Froggatt) as well as through eavesdropping that Marigold is, in fact, Edith’s illegitimate child. In one of Mary’s most predictable and cruelest moments, she then used this information to sabotage Edith’s blossoming relationship with Bertie Pelham, which temporarily derailed Edith’s potential marriage to him. This act of cruelty led to the row of the series, when Edith finally confronted Mary about her constant vitriol, resulting in Edith straightforwardly calling Mary a “bitch.” Though spectacular, this fight, along with Edith’s reluctant attendance at Mary’s pending nuptials to Henry, finally allowed the sisters to reconcile or to, at least, reach some sort of coexistence, which had never before been seen on this show.
2) Will Mary finally settle on a suitor, whether the driver in the Christmas special or someone else? Or, will she finally take solace in her own independence, since she’s been helping to run Downton with her father and brother-in-law, Tom Branson (Allen Leech)?
ANSWER: Mary was reluctant to commit to the driver, Henry, especially when one of Henry’s race car driving friends met his death on the race track. The audience learns that the risk to Henry and the possibility of his own death reminded her too starkly of Matthew (Dan Stevens) and the fact that he lost his life in a car crash at the end of season three. In the end, however, Henry gave up the sport, shaken as he was by the death of his friend, and opened a used car sales business with Tom before the end of the season.
3) Did Branson really take Sybbie and move to America?
ANSWER: He did, but he came back. Tom realized that Downton was his home, which came as a bit of a surprise to him, though not necessarily to the family he left behind and to which he returned.
4) Who really killed Mr. Green? Will the Bates finally be acquitted? Will they be able to have a happy ending?
ANSWER: The culprit was not identified: a passer-by? An acquaintance? We will never know for sure, but the Bates’ (Froggatt, Brendan Coyle) were acquitted. What’s more, Anna, with the help of some procedure proffered by a physician known by Mary that Anna saw in secret, was able to conceive and have a baby. The Bates’ dreams came true.
5) Will Daisy (Sophie McShera) continue her education with Molesley (Kevin Doyle)? Or, will she want to move away as others have to better herself? Or, will she finally consent to run the farm with her father-in-law?
ANSWER: Not only did Daisy continue her studies under the tutelage of Molesley, she took her exams and passed, which led to a career change for Molesley, as he was offered a permanent teaching position at the Abbey school (pending the passage of his own entrance exams). In the end, she decided not to move away but, instead, to move with Mr. Mason to his new farm after nearly endangering his livelihood by challenging the purchasers of the estate that formerly maintained, ensuring his eviction. Fortunately, Downton was in need of a new groundskeeper and pig farmer. Daisy ultimately suffered from a large case of open mouth/insert foot syndrome this season. Also, footman Andy had something of a thing for her, which she reciprocated only after he withdrew his affection for a time. In the end, she, Andy, and Mr. Mason plan to have a happy farm life together raising pigs.
6) Is Barrow (Rob James-Collier) turning over a new leaf?
ANSWER: He was beginning to turn over a new leaf, but at the start of the season, it was too little, too late. Robert (Hugh Bonneville) began to consider cuts to staff again, and he and Carson (Jim Carter) agreed that Barrow, with all of his past exploits to consider and with an eye on other employment, was the candidate ripe for the axing. In fact, they intimated as much to an approval-seeking Barrow at every opportunity, so Barrow made a big show of his job seeking, and Robert and Carson patiently waited for him to make his transfer. Though Barrow temporarily left, the change did not suit him, as he was no longer serving a large household. In addition, the turn in his fortune left him distraught, and he attempted suicide near the end of the season. Fortunately, Anna and Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) were able to find him and call the physician in time, saving his life. This caused a ripple of guilt to mildly agitate Robert and Carson, but Barrow’s temporary departure was on good terms. Barrow was asked back to help at Christmas, and just in time, as Carson developed something he called palsy, which caused him to have tremors in his hands and other extremities. Carson, sadly, was forced into retirement as a result, but Mary was able to convince Robert to consider Barrow for the position of butler, which he was offered and graciously accepted. Barrow had a happy ending! Though, Carson’s was less than joyous.
7) Are Rose (Lily James) and Atticus gone for good?
ANSWER: Well, they were gone to America for most of season six, but they did manage to make it back for Mary and Edith’s weddings. They’ve also had a baby. They left her behind in America.
8) When will the show begin next season? Will we see the effects of the stock market crash of 1929 in the USA, and will it have an effect on Downton, as Cora’s (Elizabeth McGovern) money may very well be tied up in the American markets?
ANSWER: Series six started in 1926, shortly after the events ending series five. The timeline within the show did not advance much during the sixth season, and we certainly did not reach 1929 or see any transatlantic economic effects.
9) Will the Dowager Countess Violet (Maggie Smith) survive the series? Will she or Cousin Isobel (Penelope Wilton) live out their days as best friends, or will they consent to winter courtships in the end?
ANSWER: Violet is hearty, and she remained loyal to Isobel, who ultimately agreed to marry Dickie Merton; in fact, Violet took on Dickie’s horrid daughter-in-law on Isobel’s behalf, after she attempted to ward off Isobel and protect her new found fortune at every turn. Isobel thought Lord Merton’s life was threatened by illness at the time, but, to her credit, she still wanted to marry him when his anemia was ruled to be non-life threatening by the local physician.
10) Where will our family finally land in the end?
- Robert and Cora remained happily married and prepared for their twilight years in their large, slightly emptier nest.
- Cora was elected president of the hospital council, unseating Violet and her unpopular vote to keep Downton’s hospital as is, rather than to merge it with the county hospital from York.
- Mary married Henry and became pregnant. She also reconciled with Edith after maliciously sabotaging Edith’s relationship to Bertie Pelham.
- Edith married Bertie, with his and his domineering mother’s full knowledge of Marigold. What’s more, Bertie inherited a title and land from a distant cousin now deceased; he became marquess, ranking Edith at a higher level of nobility than Robert, an Earl.
- Tom dallied with the editor of Edith’s newspaper and opened a used car sales business with Henry.
- Violet consented begrudgingly to old age and the changing times but remained steadfastly loyal to Isobel, who agreed to marry Dickie Merton.
- Carson and Hughes (Phyllis Logan) entered married life bumpily, with Carson criticizing Hughes’ every domestic move. In the end, though, Carson developed palsy, which signaled the end of his career at Downton and the need for his reliance on his lovable but prickly wife.
- Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) opened her bed and breakfast, though it was temporarily plagued by scandal as a house of ill repute with Downton’s apparently healthy paparazzi. Business recovered, and she also seemed to get on well with Mr. Mason.
- Daisy agreed to move to Mr. Mason’s farm with Andy to raise pigs and passed her exams.
- Molesley became a teacher and continued his flirtation with Baxter. Baxter agreed to testify against the man who raked her into scandal with her former employer, but, in the end, he confessed without her needing to testify.
- The Bates were acquitted. Anna had her baby in Mary’s bed.
- Robert got a new dog.
- Barrow became Downton’s butler to replace Carson.
By consensus of the panel, Downton Abbey still did not maintain the same level of storytelling quality as it did in its first few seasons, but the podcast panel universally enjoyed the show’s final season much more than the fifth season, even as some panelists found the writing contrived and/or the pacing choppier than in other seasons. We collectively continued to find the characters endlessly interesting, eternally English (minus Cora), and the art direction, cinematography, and costumes breathtaking. In the end, our podcast panel felt that most of our characters’ ends made logical sense, even if they were rushed (see: Mary) and were thrilled that they were, for the most part, ultimately happy (except one panelist, who couldn’t turn off the part of his brain that knew, in real life, not all endings are happy; he was not as thrilled as the others). Some panelists even wanted to see an epilogue or time jump to gain a glimpse into the later lives of our characters, and some panelists also saw glimmers of story possibility and loose threads that could serve to be the foundation of a movie or reunion special in the future. In all cases, however, our panelists, your moderator included, feel a certain mixture of elation and satisfaction with the ending and sadness that the journey of this particular program(me) has come to an end.
Downton Abbey has officially ended, but the CPU! Downton Abbey podcast panel is not quite finished! We will be recording a second part to this mini podcast series saying goodbye to Downton, in which we will Look Back at the series as a whole, to be published in early May. Stay tuned, subscribe, like, and follow to keep abreast of that publication, and tell us what you think in the comment forums. What’s more, review us on iTunes or Stitcher Radio, and check out our other podcast episodes related to a growing array of other TV shows! Until then!