This evening is both somber and celebratory, for tonight is when the US will watch the series finale of Downton Abbey. I would feel dishonest if I didn’t disclose that I’ve already seen it (we bought the last season on DVD), but not to worry, you won’t find any spoilers here. Despite my foreknowledge of “how it all ends”, I still feel a part of the American fan base’s anticipation for tonight. We’ve seen the Crawleys through six seasons of drama, happiness and heartbreak, and now it’s time to say goodbye.
I first got into Downton Abbey one summer break during college; my mom and I had heard so many wonderful things about it (two seasons had already aired), so we decided to give it a try. After all, we Fishers are quite the Anglophiles! Not surprisingly, my entire family was instantly hooked: we devoured seasons one and two, pouring over every bit of material this fandom offered. Once it was back on air stateside, we religiously spent our Sunday evenings tuned into PBS, crying and laughing, then crying some more (season three, I’m looking at you).
Well done period pieces like Downton Abbey are so remarkable because they make you yearn for the pleasantries of the past yet appreciate the positives of the present. The characters in Downton have much fewer distractions than we do today, and people were much more respectful and dignified. However, the class system was incredibly archaic, and women had little power. Mary is the eldest daughter but cannot inherit anything simply because she’s female — if I was alive back then, I would be in exactly the same position as Mary, as I am the oldest of my sisters and my father would be the one to inherit with no heir. (Unfortunately, he’s not the Earl of Grantham, much to my dismay!) The high quality — in writing, acting, and overall historical accuracy — has solidified Downton as a staple of today’s pop culture despite its presence in the past.
More so than the glamorous costumes or delicious plot lines, I think the thing that I’ll miss most is the familial bond, both in real life and onscreen. Although Downton is set in the early twentieth century, the differences between the Crawley family and our own are not as drastic as they may appear. Three sisters navigate their relationships with one another while dealing with the expectations set by their loved ones and society as a whole. Social issues, economic pitfalls and major events constantly test the members of the household and cause them to evaluate their opinions and values as what they once knew to be normal destructs. An ever-changing world forces each person to adapt and move forward, evolving with the times while keeping true to what they hold dear. Sound familiar? I encounter this sensation each time I travel, including my pilgrimage to the real Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle. By immersing ourselves in the lives of those who’ve come before us, we come to realize that we’re not all that different than we once thought.
So thanks for all the memories, Downton Abbey. We will miss you dearly but hold the (fictional) lives of Mary, Carson, Anna, Edith, Sybil, Robert, Violet, Mr. Bates, Branson, Mrs. Hughes, Thomas, Matthew, Cora, Isobel, Daisy, Molesly, Rose, Andy, Mrs. Pattmore, O’Brien, and so many others in our hearts. But I suppose life must go one, as Maggie Smith’s Lady Violet Crawley would say, “Don’t be defeatist, dear. It’s very middle class.”