Who Am I To Criticize Downton Abbey, But. . .

Do you find yourself in front of your television set on Sunday nights, all set to watch Downton Abbey on PBS Masterpiece Classics? If you do, imagine me sitting in a similar seat, cup of tea in hand, ready to join you.

Downton Abbey***Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen Downton Abbey recently and don’t want to find hints of what’s going on here, read one of my older blogs and save this one until you’re ready.

I’ve been a big Downton Abbey fan from the beginning of the show. I’ve enjoyed this well-researched peek at the upper and serving classes of England from post-Edwardian times through the years leading up to World War II. If Mary, Edith and others didn’t age or change substantially during that period, who was I to quibble? Their hairstyles changed, as did their hemlines. This is fantasy, and that part was easy to overlook.

Also easy to overlook was the cordial, dare I say friendly rapport between the Crawleys and their servants. In reality, historians tell us that servants would have been as invisible as possible, and certainly not as well cared for.

In a recent episode Mary sits at dinner with a young woman visitor, and after the temporary butler snidely points out that the woman was once in service there, haughty Mary is unhappy. She feels as if she’s been made a fool of. Mary, or perhaps someone else at the table, points out that the woman was right there under their noses, but they never exchanged a word or even really looked at her.

Never mind Anna and Bates, Daisy and Mr. Barrow. That snatch of dialogue was as real as any on the show.

Downton has never been a hotbed of drama. There have certainly been dramatic moments. Lady Sybil’s death. The sudden death of Mary’s first lover in her very own bed. Bates in prison. In between spikes of passion and angst, the family and their staff have gone about the business of their lives with good humor and snappy dialogue.

But lately. . .

This final season has been a disappointment. Perhaps the reason is simply that it is the final season, and Julian Fellowes, who created the series, is so busy tying up plot lines, that there is no time for drama. Stories that have spun out over several seasons have ended without fanfare. For instance over seasons Tom, Lady Sybil’s chauffeur husband, has gone from a fiery Irish rebel devoted to social change to the family pussycat. His short-lived trip to America ended recently–most likely because the actor’s other film or TV commitments ended–and he returned back to the Abbey to report that Downton is really his home and the Granthams are his family. I don’t think a single tear was shed anywhere in the universe during this not-so-touching moment.

For a writer of novels, television shows or any other form of fiction, suspense and drama are employed to keep a story moving. Whatever suspense there has been this season has ended in mere moments. Is the Earl of Grantham going to die? Oh, no, he’ll be fine. Will Daisy lose her job? No, because the aristocrats are just too kind not to help her, thereby teaching her a lesson about trusting the upper classes who only have her welfare at heart.

Perhaps, too, Fellowes is simply and understandably tired of the show, of the family, of the milieu, even the history of the era and ready to take on a new challenge. Writers do get tired. Ideas wither on the vine. Series feel finished, and no matter how much the viewers or readers want them to continue, endings are inevitable.

I am properly grateful for this peek into the not-so-realistic past, in a world where my own ancestors were probably delivering fresh vegetables to the back of the house or at best rapping knuckles in the nursery. I’ve loved every moment, but I am sorry the saga is ending with a whimper, not a bang.

I have not, however, noted anyone else complaining. Downton Abbey is now an institution, and viewers and readers and yes, even critics, are so caught up in the spell that an absence of drama or surprises is barely noted.

We’re all saying goodbye in our own way. And yes, I will miss you, Downton. Sunday nights will never be quite the same. Bless you for all those moments of history and entertainment. You deserve to rest on your laurels. I just wish that”rest” had begun after the show was well and truly over.


  1. Peggy Farley on February 10, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    What would you preferred to have occurred?

    • Emilie Richards on February 11, 2016 at 11:03 am

      I love this question! So here’s an idea off the top of my head. Mary gets taken in by a scoundrel from the upper classes, who seems perfect for her in every way. (He has to be very clever because we don’t want to send the message that a woman of that era is too stupid to figure this out by herself.) His biggest detractor is a notorious playboy and Mary can’t abide him. However, in the end, the playboy and EDITH intercept the scoundrel right before he’s about to do something that will destroy Downton forever, thereby setting up a sizzling new romance for Mary and healing the rift between the sisters as the show’s final season ends. Mary learns her lesson. Edith is redeemed as a strong woman and the savior of Downton and rides off into the sunset to edit her own darned magazine. So, okay, Mary looks a little foolish, but she finally gets in touch with her humanity. Meantime Lady Grantham finally explodes, (haven’t you wanted her to just once?) tells everybody to stop bickering about the hospital and get a life and everybody listens, thereby ending that plot thread forever. Remember, off the top of my head.

      • Machelle on February 11, 2016 at 10:15 pm

        I loved that! What else flies out of that wonderful mind ??

  2. Patti on February 10, 2016 at 5:56 pm

    I am happy with the final episodes. I am glad that attention was given to all the characters. I can imagine them happily going off into the sunset. Realistic? Maybe not, but I prefer that to shows that end abruptly or have strange finales.

    I also love The Good Wife and since we just found out that there are only 8 episodes left, I am afraid I will be disappointed with the ending.

    • Emilie Richards on February 11, 2016 at 10:47 am

      I must be one of the few people who has never seen The Good Wife. I look forward to seeing it on Netflix starting with Season One. I do understand why people like happy endings, and so do I. I just want a little more excitement getting there. But every author knows that what works for one reader or viewer doesn’t work for another. Viva la difference, huh?

  3. Martha O'Quinn on February 10, 2016 at 8:45 pm

    Oh Emilie. I see a fantastic book in your future. “After Downton.” There was “Scarlett” after “Gone With the Wind,” “I Have Been Alice” after “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Paris Wife” after Hemingway. Even though I am relishing every word of this last season, I too, am a tad disappointed in the seemingly “happy ever after” solutions to all concerned. I enjoy the occasional ending that leaves me guessing. I can say that I am already a bit upset with Carson’s treatment of his bride and Barrow, and of Daisy’s attitude toward Mrs. Patmore. I can hear the wheels turning! What fun.

    • Emilie Richards on February 11, 2016 at 10:48 am

      It’s always great when a viewer can set her own imagination to work, and it sounds like yours is in full gear.

      • Martha O'Quinn on February 11, 2016 at 5:15 pm

        But you would write the book!

  4. Connie Williamson on February 11, 2016 at 9:37 am

    You didn’t think Lord Grantham spewing blood all over the dining table and dinner guests was dramatic?

    • Emilie Richards on February 11, 2016 at 10:50 am

      My interest was definitely piqued, but it sure seemed odd that nobody seemed very concerned (upper classes didn’t show emotion?) and then he was going to be just fine. So the drama disappeared, although I have not yet seen the next episode. Who knows?

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