So farewell, dear Downton Abbey. After six seasons of Thomas’s whispered staircase threats, Cora’s perpetually post-spliff expression at everything said to her, and “Poor Edith” maxing out her very own “Indignity” credit card with giveaway babies and lame husbands, the program’s makers will call it a day—and not even the most fearsome Dowager Countess putdown can save them. Or us.
The drama will end, with the final episode of its sixth season, on Christmas Day on ITV in its native U.K.—and, presumably, sometime in late February or early March in the U.S.
Julian Fellowes, the show’s writer, creator, and executive producer, said: “People ask if we knew what was going to happen when we started to make the first series, and the answer is that of course we had no idea.”
Eleven hours more drama to come then. It is the right time to say goodbye. The show hasn’t been the same since dear golden Labrador that Isis was needlessly bumped off, for—so whisperers said, and Hugh Bonneville vehemently denied—sharing the name of a modern-day terrorist organization.
Downton is amiable and its fans steadfast, but even we have been exhausted by the circularity of Lord Grantham’s befuddled impatience with estate business and the crumbling of his status.
There are only a certain number of tense dinners, lost letters, and nervous breakdowns over spilled consommé the most skillful screenwriter can spin dramatic gold from.
As our favorite double act, we could watch Dame Maggie Smith needle Penelope Wilton over and over again on their respective lawn chairs as Violet and Isobel, bitching over the latter’s love life (she has to get together with Dr. Clarkson, not Lord Merton!), but the pots of tea will eventually go cold even for them.
As for how Downton’s six seasons of languid melodrama will end, Gareth Neame, the show’s executive producer, said: “We can promise a final season full of all the usual drama and intrigue, but with the added excitement of discovering how and where they all end up.”
In other words, he ain’t saying anything.
To TVInsider, Neame said: “We’ll begin to see all the questions that people want to know answered. Will Anna and Bates ever get a break? Will Edith ever smile? All these things we can now enjoy seeing what happens to them and where they end up.”
There will be no mass apocalypse or poisoning by one of Mrs. Patmore’s Victoria sponges. “I don’t think we’re going to kill them all, “ Neame said. “The narratives of these fictional people will continue once the camera moves away. They will move on into the future.”
A movie is also possible, he added: “It’s only something we’re contemplating; it’s not a firm plan. But I would say that now we know we’re coming to the end of a television series, which we’re working on all this year. It will end at the end of this year. We are then clear of the TV show, and at that stage we can start thinking about what the movie would be and when we might do it.”
On TV, though, Downton has reached the end of its natural life. Quite apart from Fellowes writing NBC’s forthcoming drama The Gilded Age, Mrs. Patmore is done with baking. She knows Daisy wants to hang her kitchen maid apron up for good, read Sheryl Sandberg, and become a high-flier, and so their japes in the kitchen are done.
There are no men left in England for Lady Mary to scowl at or have sex with. They lie, as one, whimpering in corners in their London clubs lest she appear and make a sneering remark to them or repeat her intention of becoming the sexually liberated Cosmo gal of her time.
The audience will want a happy ending for Mr. and Mrs. Bates, but for the last three seasons they have both been arrested and incarcerated for crimes they did not commit, in a dizzying, repetitive storyline that has defied plausibility as much as it has tried viewers’ patience.
If Fellowes was in an especially perverse mood, the last we’ll see of them is finally, happy, in their garden, before the clump of a policeman’s boot is heard on the path.
Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes are to be married, which is catnip for the writer seeking to put obstacles in their way; please, anything but an incurable disease. Also, do not—as temptation dictates—kill off the Dowager Countess, and if you must, let her last words be a devastating zinger. She must not go quietly.
Fans can take heart that for the occasional deaths that Downton became notorious for—Pamuk’s sex-related one; Matthew’s car-related one—Fellowes is a traditionalist.
The good end well, and the bad do not. But as the relentless punishment heaped upon Edith and the constant hell endured by Mr. and Mrs. Bates show, Fellowes also has a sadistic streak that may also be in reaction to how the show is being watched by its audience.
“How much more can they suffer?” you think while watching these poor people.
“Mwahaha. Just you wait,” says Fellowes, in front of his keyboard.
He is also Downton’s true custodian—its sole writer—and his view of the world, and the proprieties he valorizes of the past, are clearly inscribed in the script. Fellowes is happier writing in sepia than the harsh contours of present day.
There are speeches about the old order changing, of servants becoming more assertive, and the dissolution of barriers, but over and over again, Fellowes keep those barriers in place and the upstairs up and the downstairs down, whatever the friendships, and loyalties and rivalries that flower between them.
Downton is as much antiquated class manifesto as it is rollicking, pleasurable soap opera. And so whatever else happens—the estate in peril again, scandal threatens Lady Mary, Edith flirts with a new disaster, Baxter and Molesley become a sexy private-eye couple—one thing we might expect is a last, gorgeous shot of Lord Grantham, with or without family, out walking again through the grass, as the honeyed walls of Downton sparkle on a summer’s afternoon.
For all its drama and momentary insurrections, for all the talk of changing times, I think Fellowes’s vision of Downton will end with rose-tinted glasses intact, its stout foundation of classes knowing their place, and Fellowes’s old-school notions of moral and social order all reasserted. That being said, if he gives “Poor Edith” a storybook-happy ending I’ll choke on my cucumber sandwich.