[Warning: The following contains spoilers from Downton Abbey's Season 5 finale. If you have't watched it yet, don't make Mary scowl disapprovingly at you!]
Downton Abbey is back on track.
On Sunday's Season 5 finale, the British soap delivered an episode that warmed our hearts just like the show used to do in its first couple of seasons. And it's about time! Following the deaths of two main characters in Season 3, the series struggled creatively in Season 4, subjecting fans to Bates and Anna's wretched rape story line, Lady Edith's never-ending bad luck in the love department and Mary's return to her pre-marital coldness. This season was by no means perfect (e.g. killing off loyal dog Isis as a device to solve Mrs. Patmore's nephew plot — unconscionable!), but it did address most of the concerns we had about last year's forced, transitional fourth season.
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And now that the Downton powers that be seem to have their act together, we're hoping they can take the show out on a high note. There, we said it. We want Downton Abbey to end, and preferably sooner rather than later, before the writers have a chance to mess it up again. We're sure this is not a popular opinion, but there can be too much of a good thing, and honestly, if Downton stretched on forever, we'd inevitably have to say farewell to many more of our favorite characters, including Granny, whom we'd probably see die. And that is something we just cannot face. If Downton ends before she does, we'll be able to happily imagine her delivering her deliciously sardonic bon mots into eternity.
Regardless, the series is definitely returning for Season 6, and we feel that one season — or maybe two, at the absolute most — is all that's needed to wrap up matters to our satisfaction. Besides, creator Julian Fellowes is already hard at work developing his American period drama The Gilded Age, so he'll soon have to give up Downton anyway. Set in 1880s New York, the new series could be seen as a prequel of sorts to Downton, perhaps even featuring ancestors of Lady Cora. In all honesty, we're kind of excited to meet our next costume-drama obsession. But before we do that, let's look back at Downton's fifth season and lay out our hopes for the show's future:
Anna and Bates We endured the unforgivable rape of Anna and the fallout of Green's possible murder for two whole seasons, and frankly it was Downton's biggest misstep. Not only did this conflict feel completely manufactured and outrageously insensitive, but it transformed one of the series' most beloved couples into a pair of tedious characters who we dreaded seeing on-screen. By this season's finale, though, Bates' innocence has been all but proven, and things are looking good for Anna as well. All we want for the Bateses now is for them to, at long last, be a normal married couple and have that baby they deserve.
Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes Yes! While Anna and Bates were off being miserable, these two moved into the position of Downton's downstairs darlings. As was first hinted in the Season 4 finale when they held hands at the beach, their congenial but complex work relationship blossomed into a personal relationship this season when, under the guise of securing a retirement situation by purchasing a bed and breakfast that Mrs. Hughes couldn't afford, Mr. Carson then asked her to marry him. The proposal was as stuffy and unvarnished as one would expect from Carson, which made the moment even more perfect. We can't wait to see him struggle with being lovey-dovey while also maintaining the proper demeanor next year.
Lady Edith Poor Edith. Her first love died, she was jilted by her second beau, and finally the true love of her life and baby daddy was killed in a riot in Germany. Perhaps Edith is better off focusing on motherhood, which she seems to be embracing in a way that makes the old-guard nobility uncomfortable. But at least her parents, brother-in-law and Granny are now in on the secret that Marigold is her natural daughter, which will make raising the girl much easier going forward. In the finale, we finally got to see Edith smile, laugh and not wring her hands. What a delight! Although, after witnessing her easy camaraderie with the Brancaster Castle agent, we wonder how any would-be suitors would feel about Marigold. Maybe the best course for Downton to follow is to keep Edith single for now... and maybe just as aware of birth control as Mary is.
Lady Mary It really was quite tiresome how Mary yanked her two suitors around, but we always felt they were rather boring anyway, since they worshipped her too much and weren't a match for her like Matthew was. Enter the dashing Matthew Goode as Henry Talbot, who not only calls her out on scowling at him, but truly awakens her interest in him as a person, not just a boy toy. He's mature, he's sympathetic to her young widowhood (which the other two suitors never really acknowledged to our satisfaction) and he has admirable taste in cars. (And yes, we let out a bit of a squeal when he leaped into that driver's seat.) We haven't heard any word of Goode returning for Season 6 yet, but he's the first thing about Mary's story (besides her snazzy bob) that's we've been excited about in a while.
Tom Branson The former chauffeur stayed true to himself by not dating that horrible teacher, remaining loyal to the Crawleys and then leaving for America. There, we hope he'll finally make something of his progressive spirit, which always felt dampened at the abbey, and expose little Sybbie to a more forward-thinking way of life. Love doesn't seem to be in the cards for him at this point, and we're totally fine with that. Sybil was a hard act to follow, and Tom and her siblings' Christmas farewell to her memory in the finale was as heartbreaking as it was lovely. His move feels right, and we're hoping that he visits the Crawleys next year with opportunities to move their way of life into the next era.
Violet and Isobel For as horribly as Downton Abbey has been treating its younger couples, we're thrilled that its older characters are getting genuinely juicy plots that help us see them as people, not just punchline delivery vehicles. Granny turns out to have had a very close call with scandal in the past, almost having run away with the married Russian prince and abandoning her own family, which fleshes out why she's equally forgiving of her family's foibles and yet holds them to the highest possible standard. If she resisted passionate love for duty, and never regretted it, then why can't they? Cousin Isobel's courtship story line was bittersweet, but even if she never remarries, we're happy that in the end, her friendship with the Dowager Countess was solidified this year.
Thomas Barrow Of all the downstairs folk, Thomas is the one who brings out our best and worst. His struggles with his sexuality have been treated with wonderful compassion, which we appreciate despite the fact that it's probably not historically accurate, but we love him best when he's being bad. The finale gave him the opportunity to do what he does best: sabotage! (And with encouragement from Lady Mary, no less.) What made his revenge on Lord Sinderby and that insufferable snob Stowell even better was that it was also done in defense of the Crawleys, namely Tom Branson. Only Thomas is allowed to sneer at Branson! In the future, we'd love to see him stay with the Crawleys and possibly adopt some sort of pet or dote on a niece or nephew. Although we'd want love for him, it doesn't seem likely, but he has shown a really sweet, tender side when he's mentoring the new servants, and we'd like to see more of that. Perhaps Mr. Carson can groom him for more.
Daisy The former scullery maid-turned-assistant cook has enjoyed one of Downton's most believable and entertaining character evolutions so far, and this year, her commitment to her studies has opened up possibilities that even we hadn't imagined for her before. Like Branson and Gwen before her, we see Daisy escaping servitude and finding her own path toward financial independence. She will inherit Mr. Mason's farm, but we hope she makes that profitable without having to spend time there. Instead, we see her in London or some other big city, with her own shop or other small-business venture. Maybe that will push Alfred to finally see her as a romantic prospect? She did look quite fetching with her new, softer, face-framing hairstyle at Christmas.
What did you think of Season 5? Do you hope to see Downton Abbey continue for several more seasons, or are you OK with it ending after Season 6? Sound off in the comments!