As the opening credits roll for the final time, fans are already feeling a tad emotional. But the first scene of this much-anticipated Downton Abbey finale quickly pull us out of our sentimental, festive funk. Because it’s decidedly un-Christmassy at the Abbey.
The sun is shining, the grass is green, Lady Mary is spinning a parasol around her pretty head. As the family take a lazy stroll in the gardens, Edith announces plans to send Marigold to school and reside in London during term-time. “I’m a spinster, aren’t I? And spinsters live alone,” she muses, while Mary looks a little shifty.
She’s got more important things to be thinking about than the fact she destroyed her sister’s latest chance at happiness anyway. Her handsome new husband is down in the dumps. Charlie’s fatal car crash has rather unsurprisingly taken the fun out of driving. He’s directionless and at risk of becoming a trophy husband.
Thomas Barrow might have been given some respite, but he’s found a new job anyway. “It’s time to draw a curtain over the last few months,” he sighs. He’ll be the other side of York, so not too far away, but the staff are surprisingly shaken at the thought of their resident meanie actually leaving for good.
Anna has a visible bump now but she’s insisting she’ll carry on working until the end of her pregnancy. Naturally Carson doesn’t approve because it’s not what he’s used to. That’s a bit of a theme, actually, as meanwhile Henry shakes up cocktails for the Crawleys, in the garden of all places…
Meanwhile, love appears to be in the air below stairs. Andy’s chatting to Daisy but he’s interrupted by Thomas, set on a spot of last-minute meddling. “That’s enough love talk,” he sneers, while Daisy gawps. It’s clear Andy’s got the hots for Daisy – and Patmore thinks Daisy could do a lot worse. “I could do a lot better, ‘n all,” she spits in reply. But the seeds have been planted and Andy sets about wooing the kitchenmaid with all his mediocre mite.
At Violet’s, Isobel is retelling a strange tale. She was unexpectedly asked to take tea at Larry Grey’s only for the invite to be mysteriously retracted. “Never let tenderness be bar to a bit of snooping,” advises the DC sagely as the pair plot. A swift snoop reveals poor Merton’s health has taken a turn for the worse. Bloodtests have exposed a fatal case of Pernicious Anemia. “I’ve had a good innings,” smiles Merton sadly. “I should like to have been married to you,” he says to Isobel, “but no man can have everything”…
Dinner talk at the Abbey turns to the hospital again (must the boredom never cease?) and everyone is terribly engrossed until Carson’s hand quivers and he accidentally pours wine on the tablecloth. He’s awfully upset about it and can’t think what came over him. The Crawley’s barely bat an eyelid but we know a new storyline when we spy one.
The next day Edith secretly drops by the Dower House, but it’s a professional, not social, call. She wants to expand Spratt’s popular column. “Your tips on how to keep your husband happy have gone down particularly well,” she reveals while the Butler puffs with pride.
Edith heads to the Big Smoke, while everyone in Yorkshire concerns themselves with new advances in grooming. A hairdryer arrives at the Abbey for Lady Mary and Denker paints her nails a scandalous shade of ‘Nude’ polish, while in the village Baxter and Mosley discuss the merits of shampoo. The schoolmaster heads over mid-conversation to share some exciting news: one of the teachers is retiring at the end of the term and Moseley can have the post, as well as the cottage which comes with the job.
Meek Moseley is astounded by his big break, but soon gets put back in his place by Carson’s frosty reaction. “Mr Barrow’s going, Mr Moseley’s going. And only Andrew stands between me and Armageddon…” he growls.
In London, Edith and Rosamund are arriving for an awfully fancy dinner at the Ritz. Rosamund says she wants all the gossip on Mary and Henry, but it turns out she doesn’t, not really. Dinner is a set up, Bertie is waiting at the table and Rosamund makes a hasty departure. The surprise is Mary’s doing, a chat with Violet the inspiration. Naturally.
It soon transpires the millionaire Marquis wants Edith back but she’s playing hard ball. Nothing’s changed as far as she’s concerned – Marigold is still a “charming bastard” – and her heart’s bruised.
“Would you believe me if I said I couldn’t live without you?” wails Bertie, sobbing into the Ritz’s extensive wine list. Everyone looks terribly uncomfortable, but it seems to do the trick because moments later Robert receives a call at the Abbey telling him the engagement has been reinstated. “Hurrah!” he bellows.
There are more romantic realisations over at the Dower House, where the DC is dishing out quote after quote. Isobel is desperately upset about Merton’s illness and isn’t sure why. Violet knows, though, sagely saying: “It’s good to be in love whatever age.”
A lovelorn Isobel takes Merton to see Dr Clarkson for a second opinion. It’s still bad news and as the pair wonder off arm in arm, it gets worse. Cunning Crookshanks appears, bundles Merton into a car and hisses at Isobel to back off.
The next time Isobel visits Merton’s palatial abode, she isn’t invited in at all. Crookshanks won’t let her see Merton and slams the door in her face. It’s a terribly shocking turn of affairs and naturally Isobel turns to Violet for advice. “If reason fails, try force!” she cries.
Meanwhile, the Crawleys are heading to Brancaster Castle to officially announce the happy news before Bertie changes his mind again. They meet his mother, the formidable Mrs P (Miranda’s Patricia Hodge), and she’s more than a little frosty. She wants Bertie to be a pillar of moral excellence, someone the unwashed masses can look up to, and he needs a wife who is up to the task. “The last Marquis’s morality was not, what I call, reassuring,” she says (while everyone resists the urge to shout “SUCH fun!”)
Back at the Abbey, Daisy is bemoaning her frumpy reflection in one of Patmore’s pans. “I look the same as I did 10 years ago,” she pouts. Andy attempts to compliment her but is cruelly batted away. The course of true love never did run smooth, and it’s never more true than at Downton.
Upstairs, drama ensues. Carson’s tremor strikes again during dinner while he’s trying to pour Branson’s wine. He is sent downstairs, quite shaken. Mrs Hughes insists he sees a doctor but Carson already knows what ails him and it ended the careers of his father and grandfather before him. “I just have shaky hands. The plain truth is I’m done for,” he quivers.
Lady Mary is so concerned she even ventures below stairs. “If there are changes that need to be made, we mustn’t be afraid to face them,” she tells the Butler.
The next day is Thomas’s last at the Abbey. He is set on being a kinder man in his new position and leaves Downton accordingly. Master George pleads “Please don’t go,” even Carson imparts an encouraging word and everyone’s a little watery eyed as the under butler bids his farewell.
At Brancaster, Edith’s having second thoughts. She’s worried Bertie hasn’t considered the repercussions if Marigold’s true identity is revealed and heads to see Mrs P to fess up before the engagement is officially announced.
Safe to say the confession doesn’t go well. “Edith is damaged goods,” Mrs P spits to her son later, appalled by the Crawley’s “sordid revelations.” But Bertie refuses to be swayed a second time and the engagement dinner goes ahead as planned. The evening is touch and go. But it all ends well, with Mrs P eventually toasting Edith and Bertie. Robert looks like he might vomit blood all over the dinner table again from the stress of it all, while Bertie beams, “Will you bally well kiss me?”
At Downton, Daisy’s on the farm, watching a sweaty Andy hammer nails into the roof with his manly muscles. She’s suddenly rather smitten, but her previous rebuffs have done the trick and he’s no longer interested.
Moseley has decided to take up the offer of the teaching position and the cottage. He’ll move out of the Abbey in a week, leaving Downton with just one footman and a Butler who can’t pour wine, which is a dreadfully concerning prospect.
And Violet has got involved in the Merton fiasco. Her and Violet barge their way into his house to face Crookshanks once and for all. Violet accuses her of hiding her father-in-law away to protect her inheritance and Merton overhears the kerfuffle. He learns the truth and Isobel announces her plans to marry him as soon as can be arranged. “How perfectly marvellous,” he says, popping off to pack his bag and leave his horrid family behind for good.
It’s 29th December 1925. We’ve only ruddy gone and missed Christmas. Preparations are in full swing for Edith and Bertie’s New Year’s Eve wedding and familiar faces are arriving for the ceremony.
Lady Rose and Atticus are back and they’ve had a baby: Victoria Rachel Cora. The new addition isn’t with them because she’s only three months old and the nanny refused to let her travel on a germ-ridden cruise liner, but Rose has pockets full of photographs for everyone to coo over.
There are more changes too: Isobel and Merton have said ‘I do’, Anna is 10 days away from her due date, new teacher Moseley has returned to the Abbey to help out over the holidays, Denker has discovered Spratt’s alter ego and Daisy is majorly mooning over Andy.
And Carson is threatening to hand in his resignation. Everyone has found out he can’t pour wine anymore and he is therefore utterly useless. Robert thinks his decision is all rather drastic and Mary demands he stay to oversee the estate and carry out tasks that don’t involve pouring. But he insists. He’ll leave after the wedding.
Times really are changing. But some things always stay the same because the family all have better things to do than help poor Edith prepare for her wedding…
Tom and Henry take Mary to York and reveal their new venture: Talbot and Branson Motors. Henry has successfully reinvented himself and given Branson a career in cars in the process. It’s a real life business, selling and fixing automobiles. “You’ll be a second hand car salesman?” laughs Mary. “Now is not the time to be snobbish,” chides Branson. “There’s nothing wrong with being married to Mr Rolls or Mr Royce.”
But she’s not really sticking up her nose. She’s learnt the error of her snobby ways, remember. She’s proud and she has some exciting news of her own. She’s pregnant but they have to keep it hush hush. “I don’t want to steal Edith’s thunder,” she insists, which is a sure sign of calmer times to come.
Meanwhile, Cora’s at the hospital while Robert moans about how neglected he feels. Lady Rose, delightful as ever, dishes out a lesson in marital happiness, insisting Robert sees Cora chairing a meeting for himself. They sneak in and it turns out Cora is a charming and confident public speaker. Robert is rather proud. If he wants to keep his wife, says Rose, he must also let her go.
Back at the Abbey, all is ready for Edith’s impending nuptials, so Daisy decides to make some preparations of her own. She snaffles Lady Mary’s newfangled hair drying contraption and, like a toddler left alone with the scissors, hacks away at her locks. The next morning her barnet is a right state. Andy guffaws but is soon silenced when Patmore tells him Daisy’s new do is for his benefit.
Anna comes to the rescue and fixes the horrid hair. “I didn’t know you needed to brush it at the same time as it blew,” cries Daisy. Now she’s got a bob as slicks as Lady Mary’s and Andy thinks she looks like film star Clara Bow.
“Oh Papa, did you ever think we’d get to this day?” asks Edith as she descends the grand staircase like her sister before her. She’s all smiles and layers of lace and the congregation grins as she finally walks down the aisle and gets her happy ending.
The wedding reception is the setting for many a revelation. Mrs P bonds with Marigold, while Branson flirts with the magazine editor, who perhaps prophetically catches Edith’s tossed bouquet.
Denker has revealed all to the DC about Spratt’s new vocation and it’s had far from the desired effect. Violet is now Miss Cassandra Jones’ biggest fan and takes much delight in telling her Butler so. “In future, I shall come to you for advice about my clothes and entertaining,” she grins.
Merton has been feeling suspiciously healthy so Clarkson has run new tests on him. It turns out he’s been misdiagnosed. He was anaemia, but it’s not pernicious, so he’s not going to die. Hooray!
And Carson is trying and failing to pour champagne and he’s terribly angry about it. Thomas, who has returned as a guest for the wedding, jumps to his aid and Robert comes up with a plan. Barrow can be the new Butler and Carson will “steer things, as he’s always done.” He and Hughes can continue to have their cottage and all will be well. Thomas, who happens to hate his new job, is delighted and immediately starts work, while Carson retreats wearily below stairs with his wife on his arm.
In Mary’s room, Anna is discussing hats with Lady Mary when her waters break. “No need to panic!” cries Mary, getting Anna one of her nightgowns. The idea of a maid giving birth in her lady’s bed is terribly out of sorts, but it’s too late as the baby Bates is well on its way.
Downstairs Edith leaves for her honeymoon. “It’s so strange. I feel so completely, completely happy,” she grins. Everyone cheers while Carson watches on, and master and servant share a tender moment. “Downton will be a very different place without you at a helm,” says Robert. “The world is a different place from the way it was, m’Lord, and Downton Abbey must change with it,” Carson replies before shedding a tear as his time as Butler comes to an end.
Upstairs, baby Bates has arrived without drama. “I am a father and I have a son,” tries out Bates, proudly, while Anna, ever pragmatic, discusses childcare options with Mary. She’ll come back to work, putting baby Bates in the Abbey’s nursery with the yet-to-be-born baby Talbot.
Robert and Cora bring the new parents a bottle of champagne, before everyone gathers in the Great Hall to see in the new year. Branson hands out glasses while Violet and Cora finally make their peace. “It’s your kingdom now, your village, your hospital and I think you run it very well,” concedes the DC kindly.
The grandfather clock strikes 12 and if you haven’t cried already, now is the time.
Downstairs, Daisy and Andy are headed towards happiness, and she’s decided to move into the farm with Mr Mason. He is delighted and hopes he’ll be seeing more of Mrs Patmore too, if you know what he means. (Nudge nudge, wink wink.)
Baxter and Moseley smile at each other, Anna and Bates wish their new arrival a Happy New Year and Mrs Hughes and Carson tenderly toast a “different life” before she kicks off a rousing chorus of Auld Lang Syne, which is sure to have any stoically dry-eyed viewers reaching for the tissues.
Upstairs, the couples kiss and we see Edith and Bertie smile serenely on the way to their new life together.
“It makes me smile, the way every year we drink to the future whatever it may bring,” muses the Dowager Countess to Isobel as champagne glasses clink and Christmas lights flicker around them.
“Well, what else could we drink to? We are going forward to the future, not back into the past,” replies Isobel.
“If only we had the choice!” says the DC, who fittingly gets the last word. The pair chuckle and the camera pans away for a final time to a dark and snow-covered Downton Abbey.
It’s sad – our autumnal Sunday nights will never be the same – but it’s not a wrench to say goodbye. Our beloved characters are allowed kind, thoughtful and hopeful endings, and we wouldn’t have wished it any other way.