This semester, my roommate and I quickly formed a Sunday night tradition. We would vow to get our work done by 8 or 9 in order to tune in to PBS for our “Old Lady Nights.” If we had missed it, we would watch the previous week’s Downton Abbey at 8, followed by the new episode at 9 and then the latest episode of Mercy Street at 10. Mercy Street‘s finale and the penultimate Downton episode fell on the first Sunday of our “spring” break, so we weren’t together and didn’t watch either show.
After watching the (anti-climatic) Mercy Street finale during the week thanks to a HDMI cord and a laptop, we were psyched and ready for the very last Downton Abbey episode ever. We had assumed that, like always, the previous episode would air at 8 and we could just catch up that way.
I had just stepped out of the shower when my roommate screeched from the other room, “It’s not on!” When I came out wrapped in my towel, we stared in dismay at the PBS retrospective special playing. When a spoiler-y clip from the previous episode popped up in a montage, we knew that we had to be quick and watch it online.
After the dash to hook up a laptop and call up the episode on PBS’s website, we began the quest to squeeze in an extra-long episode in less than an hour. The clock read about twenty to eight when we began a speed watch of the remaining action, fast-forwarding and stopping at crucial scenes. I Googled an episode summary and skimmed it for us to completely be in the know. Finally, we were good to go for the last hour and a half of Downton.
When that last view of Highclere Castle faded on the screen, I sat on my bed, remarkably calm and unaffected. Certain TV shows make me weep more than I’d like to admit, but this finale didn’t cause a single tear on my part. Even now, I still feel a little indifferent about the show’s ending. Was it well-done? Sure. Satisfying? I mean, everything was pretty wrapped up by the end of the previous episode. Exciting? Ehh…
My infatuation with Downton ended around Season 4, when the gap caused by beloved characters’ deaths or departures was filled by several servants and an eventual “Cousin Oliver” figure. I think I went a season or two without keeping up with the show, and I ended up buying the last three or four episodes of Season 5 to binge-watch before the last season premiered this year.
However, back in its early days, Downton Abbey was a near obsession for me. I began watching it right before the show hit its stride in America, catching the first season when it was still on Netflix and when the second season was airing on PBS. As a senior in high school, I convinced my mother to take me to see The Heiress, a Broadway play Dan Stevens starred in alongside Jessica Chastain. I went on the night of the Season 3 premiere and had a major adrenaline buzz from meeting both stars at the stage door. After doing a Tumblr search of Stevens later that night, I was spoiled by what the UK already knew – Matthew Crawley would die in Season 3, and Stevens had had a less than gracious departure from the show. Maybe that was the initial crack in the foundation for my relationship with Downton.
Although our love affair gradually fizzled out, I never truly lost my sense of loyalty to the show, probably because of my old love for it. Although it was never a big deal if I missed an episode and I had long ago lost any passion for the characters, something always brought me back to watching it. I’m now deeply committed to Call the Midwife, which I realize wouldn’t have gotten such reception in the States if it weren’t for Downton. Look at any recent period piece on PBS, and it has Downton to thank for showing the world that Americans do care about British shows with their shorter seasons and quicker storylines. I firmly believe that the British episode formula allows for more concise and well-organized plots (although Downton was a common offender of stretching out slow, unnecessary stories to keep all characters occupied) and the American entertainment norm of “big and bold” is tested by what PBS produces. So many British dramas coming to the States have Downton to thank.
So, although I don’t know what we’ll do with our Sunday nights now (binge more Call the Midwife?), I bid Downton Abbey a hearty good-bye and thank you. We had our problems with you, but thanks for pulling through in the end.