SONIA BRAND-FISHER: “Downton Abbey,” you have successfully ripped my heart out, put it back in, ripped it out again, put a cute little bow on it, spritzed it with glitter spray, and put it back in again. It may be over until Season Three, but the Yuletide finale of Season Two of “Downton Abbey” made the tearjerking episodes of the past look like “I Love Lucy” in comparison. Whew! Between Anna’s shriek upon hearing Bates’s death sentence and Matthew’s climactic proposal to Mary, my heart strings tugged and bound me to every second of this final episode.
Anna and Bates’s love is a beautiful thing. There isn’t a single person watching this show who isn’t rooting for them. They weren’t going to kill off Bates, I knew that deep down. And even though he has a life-in-prison sentence, I doubt he’s going to stay there very long into the third season. But those moments of uncertainty, when Bates and Anna were sharing what they thought were their final moments together, during what could have been scenes bordering on melodrama, were played with genuine pathos. There is no sense of the semi-naive tone of the early stages of their love affair. This is a couple who has seen hardship and who is preparing to see more. Anna’s scream at the death sentence for Bates felt emotionally volcanic for the audience, which was driven home by Bates’s defeated, yet unsurprised reaction. Even when good news came 3/4 of the way through the episode that the sentence was reduced to life in prison we, like Anna, were still totally shaken by the whole death sentence scene in the courtroom. Of course we’re happy for the couple, but we’re still not totally okay after being thrown into the depths of sadness like that. As if we weren’t sad enough that the season must eventually end!
Oh, Sybil, come on, I defended you! Don’t go get yourself knocked up yet! You JUST got married! Now you’re making me look bad. Please make your impulsive decisions with some moderation.
And finally, Matthew and Mary, finally together. After some terse words during a Renoirian upper-class shoot, some stern glances at the dinner table, thrown fists between Matthew and Richard Carlisle, a broken vase, and a parting one-liner from Violet, (“ I’m leaving in the morning, Lady Grantham. I doubt we’ll meet again,” “Do you promise?”) a proposal can be made and catharsis can be released. A snowy spin, a lingering kiss, and an elaborate crane shot of Downton Abbey pulling away from us on the edge of our seats marks the end of a very exciting Season Two.
MICHAEL CUMMINGS: For me, five moments from the Season 2 finale of Downton Abbey have stood the test of time from Sunday to, um, the middle of this week.
2. Light sectarianism: I don’t know. Maybe I should have taken less offense when Lord Grantham complained about the possibility of having a “Fenian grandbaby” courtesy of Rebel Lady Sybil and The Chauffeur. Maybe I’ve just become too caught up in Linsensitivity after the Lincident.
3. American Tease: Why, oh why did Lady Mary have to tease us with that promise of an American adventure? I was starting to connect the dots with Legends of the Fall. Matthew fighting Tristan? Such a missed opportunity.
4. High-brow: Bravo to Lady Mary for her casual reference to Tess of the D’Urbervilles. That must be a first in American television (even imported shows) history. And for those who understood it, shame on us. Get our noses out of a book already.
5. Tart tongue: Cousin Violet has given us several reasons to laugh with her quick wit over the first two seasons. The best came in the Season 2 finale when she asked “Do you promise?” in response to Sir Richard Carlisle’s threat to leave for good. Saucy.
HOWARD MEGDAL: It’s official: the normally-astute Jason Diamond could not be more wrong about Downton Abbey as the least-Jewish show in television history. Mr. Bates is a Jewish mother nonpareil, regardless of his actual ethnic background.
His touching jailhouse edict to Anna- “Don’t worry about me, on death row, you go have fun and be happy”- cemented in my mind that Anna and Mr. Bates are perfectly suited to be a couple separated by incarceration. Not that I’m rooting for it to continue, mind you. But they are like fish in water with this particular storyline.
Some other key moments to consider:
Did we think Sir Richard kind of had a point in this episode? Lady Mary couldn’t wait to spend time with Matthew, and made it clear at every turn that she preferred anything to Sir Richard’s company. Not that we don’t understand why, but if they were, in fact, engaged, I can see Sir Richard getting a little bit tired of resolving conflicts with both Mary and an intruding Matthew at the same time. Still, nice to be rid of him- though the fact that we didn’t get to see his actual turn at charades was deeply upsetting.
Meanwhile, how deeply frustrating it is to see Thomas luck into earning Lord Grantham’s trust once again. That he is the true villain of Downton is not in dispute- perhaps Sir Richard is rude, but Thomas puts actual dogs in danger (thanks to the addled mind of O’Brien). Then again, seeing just how carefully Thomas and O’Brien straddle the line between angry servitude and true malevolence is one of the true joys of Downton Abbey.
There’s something about Dan Stevens’ performance that allows me, at any rate, to suspend disbelief over what he overcomes, and take real joy in his successes. Seeing him receive an affirmative answer from Lady Mary was just perfectly executed, both script-wise and emotionally.
As for Lady Sybil, Sonia, cut her a break- she’s happily married! Why shouldn’t she procreate? Poor Branson waited long enough to consummate that marriage.
As for Lady Mary’s American adventure, I guess Shirley MacLaine’s coming to Mecca, rather than the other way around. I cannot wait!
ZOË RICE: The season 2 finale of Downton Abbey was destined to touch its viewers – whether with Anna and Bates, Mary and Matthew, poor William’s dad and guileless Daisy, or even Mary’s genuinely good-natured farewell to Sir Richard. Wherever the characters went during these 90 minutes, I was game to follow raptly. The arch wit was at its archest (I, too, may have to put “Do you promise” on my top ten TV lines of all time), the romance at its swooniest, the villainy reaching even to the animals (the dog, Thomas? Have you no shame??), and the upstairs and downstairs characters interacting to an extent we have rarely seen before. I find I like when up meets down, whether in moral support, in confidence, or in dance.
But beyond the touching moments, there were just so many morsels to savor during the finale. The Pamouk secret is finally out! And after a war, a murder trial, and a scandalous marriage, well, a little lady-lust turns out to be not so bad after all. I imagine I’m not the only one who rewound Matthew’s proposal to Mary and watched it five times. His smile at her acceptance lit up my entire tiny studio apartment. But in the face of all that happiness, I couldn’t help worry – oh dear, what’s next? Will the Canadian Patient return with a claim on Downton? Or will Lavinia’s ghost continue to haunt its halls, spelling out messages on the Ouija board? Indeed, my only solid criticism of the episode was the “May they be happy” message from beyond the grave. We all know Lavinia’s a sap about Matthew’s happiness – good grief, we don’t need her ghost saying so to the servants.
Poor Carson. He may be the last man clinging to the old establishment. Even the Dowager has moved beyond propriety for propriety’s sake, the Irish are coming, and the Earl himself welcomes the idea of some yankee cowboy “shaking things up.” The longtime struggle with change that’s been at the heart of Downton’s thematic soul looks like it’s making an exciting shift to acceptance. Modernization, Downton is nearly ready for you. Come out, come out wherever you are.
Any woman who hasn’t been entirely enchanted by Dan Stevens must be watching a different program. His fight scene with Sir Richard was comedic and heroic at once – like the tumble between Hugh Grant and Colin Firth in Bridget Jones’ Diary. Whenever British men fight, it never looks quite right. And in this case, the couch pillows and the ghastly vase got the worst of it. But oh, no suitor packs more pain and longing into big blue eyes than our Matthew. How are we supposed to wait to see what happens to Matthew and Mary next? How can we be expected to wait for more Dowager Countess bon mots, or Sybil’s baby Crawley, or the evidence in Bates’s favor, or the scandal that may befall the family at Richard’s hands? How? I need an answer!
Better go find my Ouija board.