I watched Downton Abbey's finale -- the Christmas Special over in the UK -- last night during dinner time. As much of the episode takes place at Duneagel, a Highland's castle in the possession of one of Lord Robert's relatives, it as though we'd returned to the comedy-drama series, Monarch of the Glen (2000-2005), complete with those glen monarch stags, one of which Our Lord Robert successfully bags, thereby demonstrating his manhood has fully recovered from killing his daughter and losing his wife's money. It even can be read as a signal that "Since Old Robert's still got what it takes to be the King, the new, young King must die" element, that the episode executes, I think, rather skillfully, though I hate it because it is so good for again centering the Horrid Mary.
This Monarch of the Glen association with Downton isn't arbitrary whimsy on my part. Julian Fellowes played one of the characters in the Glen series. He was the frenemy of Richard Briers's character, who played the husband of Susan Hampshire's character. I will watch Susan Hampshire, a fountain of bottomless charm, in the very best sense of the word, in anything. By sheer chance it was announced yesterday that Richard Briers had died. Like the entire world, knowing this Christmas Special Downton Abbey was set on a Highlands estate, I was inspired to watch it in Briers' and Susan Hampshire's honor. Monarch of the Glen was absurdly and unexpectedly charming in its first seasons, but by the end of season 4 I quit the series as it turned stupid. The actor-characters I'd so enjoyed had all departed by the end of season 4. Evidently this left the writers without ability to craft a decent seasonal arc or even a decent line of script.
Here is the link to a Q & A with Fellowes addressing Downton Abbey's season 4.
Fellows tells us season four resumes 6 months after this Christmas Special episode's final event.
Q. Was it your decision to dispense with Sybil and Matthew in the same season?
A. No. You see, in America, it’s quite standard for an actor to sign, at the beginning of a series, for five or seven years. The maximum any British agent will allow you to have over an actor is three years. And Jessica and Dan wanted to go. The show had been very, very successful, tremendously so, and they were being offered great opportunities. Don’t think I’m saying it critically – I don’t blame them at all. I can remember when I was a young actor, and I just had this feeling it was time to go to London. I was doing repertory theater in the country, and I resigned halfway through the season. Of course, all my friends and my parents thought I was completely mad. I went up to London and I got a job in a West End show with Hayley Mills. I reminded myself of that when Jessica and Dan said they wanted to go.
I thought, “Well, you can’t be that snippy because on a scaled-down version, that’s exactly what you did.”
Inadvertently or not though, what it looks like is that Matthew Crawley, the resented heir of Downton Abbey due to the entail, performed his role as the perfect gentleman. He marries the horrid Mary thus saving the estate for this generation of Grantham-Crawleys, he further saves the estate by becoming the unexpected heir to a fortune after Our Lord Robert runs the Downton estate into the ground and loses his wife's fortune via very bad business judgment, and he provides these Crawleys via Mary a male heir all within their family -- then immediately dies, his function in the order of things accomplished. Just like the shot Highland stag, dispensable now that he's fulfilled his biological function as the male, to impregnate the does, ensuring species' continuity.
Q. Once you’d made your peace with their departures, how did you decide to handle them narratively?
A.With Jessica, it seemed right to give her a whole episode that was about her death. With Dan, I had hoped that we would have one episode of this fourth season that I’m writing now, so we could have ended the Christmas episode on a happy note – the baby, everything lovely. And then kill him in the first episode of the next series. But he didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want his death to dominate the Christmas special, so that’s why we killed him at the very, very end. In a way I think it works quite well because we begin Series 4 six months later. We don’t have to do funerals and all that stuff. That’s all in the past by then.
G-dang-dayem, what are the consequences of the end of Matthew Crawley? It's going to be ALL ABOUT MARY. So much for Edith getting some of her own.
A.I’m not giving anything away by saying that one of the main themes is the rebuilding of Mary, that Mary has to rebuild her life in a society which is changing. We would see women’s roles in the ’20s as being very much behind women today. But it was a big advance on what it had been 30 years before. And that’s all explored in the show.Worst of all, with Mary as the mother of THE MALE HEIR to Downton Abbey, we're not going to get much more of Branson or his and Sybill's daughter. It's going to be ALL ABOUT MARY ALL THE TIME. Damn, damn, damn.
If I hadn't watched this episode, however, I would have missed one of the most charming and genuine feeling sequence in television, Anna, now our Mrs. Bates, dancing the Reel, with the most attractive foot, ankle and calf ever made visible in those days when decent women covered to the tops of their high top shoes. She-actress was adorable -- and danced so very well, as well as loving the dance.