As the third season of Downton Abbey finished at eleven o’clock Sunday night that scream you heard was viewers bemoaning the fact that another popular cast member had been killed off. The question that needs to be asked is will the series survive this controversial ending.
With the death of Matthew Crawley the series has killed off perhaps the most likable member of the family. The producers of the show had no real choice, Dan Stevens, the actor who plays Matthew, had advised that he was leaving the show. Faced with having the character off screen, perhaps in Canada for example, and thus rendering the character Lady Mary much less interesting, the choice was made to have Matthew die in a car accident. Still, with the loss just a few weeks ago of the youngest daughter Lady Sybil, this was not expected or anticipated by a large percentage of the fans of the show.
Can the show survive? Certainly. Without a doubt. The Crawley family has lost it’s two most likable members, but the softening of Edith and the struggles of the son-in-law Branson to convert from a member of the staff to a member of the family will provide people for us to cheer for. Maggie Smith, as the Grandmother, is worth the price of admission herself. What has made the series ever interesting is the fact that no character is allowed to be all good or all bad. Each character is flawed in their own way and by allowing this the writers allow their storyline to be very fluid.
The real secret of the success of the show however is what goes on downstairs, the staff of the house seems to be infinitely more interesting than those folks upstairs. When one considers that just this year we have seen Rob James-Collier as Thomas Barrow transform from the most unlikable member of the staff to a sympathetic character shows that the writers have no intention of letting it’s viewers get too comfortable.
Not everything the writers try works. I myself think that the whole Bates accused of murder story was a bit much, and one wonders why O’Brien is just so darn nasty. Still, this is clearly one of the best shows on television and one assumes that in Season Four the producers will take us in directions we do not foresee. The addition of the wild niece to the cast next year will spice things up a bit for certain.
For those who have not seen the show an assumption of stuffiness would be misplaced. Wry humor often permeates the writing. When Carson was confronted with an electric toaster this year and responded ” having an Irish revolutionary in the house was quite enough change for him” one had to laugh. Carson is a treasure. His stuffiness and fight to maintain Victorian morals as the world changes under his feet is, to me, the part of the show I enjoy most. When Lord Grantham dismissed the overwrought reaction by a footman to an unwanted advance from a man by saying ” If I shouted every time somebody tried to kiss me at Eton I would have been hoarse” the producers again inform us not to get too comfortable in our assumptions of the the characters.
This bodes well for the future. Matthew and Sybil will be missed, without a doubt, however the writing on this show is still so far and away beyond what 99 percent of what we are offered on television it is highly likely that by the time the folks from Downton Abbey return next year we will roll out the red carpet and devote our Sunday nights to them again.