Monday, March 2, 2015

Christmas at Downton (Wherein Lady Mary Sings Silent Night)

Finally, a "Christmas Episode" that truly deserves to decorate the holiday (even if, we in the US don't get to sing Christmas carols with the Crawleys until Lent)! With last night's 1924 Christmas, season 5 of Downton Abbey came about as close as one can on this sad planet to a happy conclusion.  Only season 3 concluded with any comparable degree of happiness (with Matthew's marriage proposal to Mary and her acceptance), but even that happy scene in the snow was marred by the background of Bates' continued imprisonment. 

True, Tom is still set to leave right after Christmas, and that has to be sad - as he himself and everyone else in the household seems to acknowledge (even and most poignantly - after all they have been through - Lord Grantham himself). Parting is always one of life's true sadnesses, but Tom's parting from Downton is taking place on the best of terms, a true index of how far everyone (Tom included) has come since 1912 - something Lord Grantham himself tacitly acknowledged in his parting speech about Tom. (The tender, if somewhat out of character, homage to the deceased Sybil by Mary, Edith, and tom in their children's nursery on Christmas Eve does seem to signal the definitive end of the tom Branson storyline.)

That said, both Robert and Tom have by now figured out Edith's secret and are OK with it. So Edith finally feels the acceptance she has so long craved from her father, whose ulcer has made him more conscious of his mortality and of the women in his life whom he really does love so very much. Rose has proved her worth to Lord Sinderby, a priggish hypocrite, who has his own past secret to hide, as a result of which the two families can look forward to a much more solid relationship. Anna and Bates are reunited, and have Mosely and Baxter to thank for it - two low-status folks with hearts of gold, who figure out, better than their social betters, that proving someone's innocence may be a good idea. (Unfortunately, the case remains unresolved. So the scriptwriters remain free to inflict more gratuitous pain on the Bateses next season, if they sadistically so choose.)

Tying up the Violet-Kuragin plotline, the Dowager Countess has finally paid back her debt to the Russian Princess and seems fully at peace with the past. As usual, she utters one of the evening's best lines: “I will never again receive an immoral proposal from a man. Was I so wrong to savor it?” And, finally, in a scene that should moisten the eyes of all romantics-at-heart, Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes agree - at long last - to get married. We have been waiting for this all season at least! (Really, this touching replay of Mr. Hudson and Mrs.Bridges has surely taken long enough!) Only poor Isobel is left out, having definitely given up on marrying Lord Merton, given his sons' enmity, but at least she is going on her own terms! (And maybe now she'll give the good local doctor a second look!)

Meanwhile, during the pre-Christmas grouse shooting (what's an aristocratic period-piece without lots of birds being shot out of the sky?), both Mary and Edith have met new men they seem interested in. Henry Talbot just jumps (literally at one point) into the picture. And Mary immediately notices! He's good-looking and clever, way cooler than Tony, and drives  quite the car (although, given what happened to the last car-enthusiast she loved, perhaps that might make Mary think twice!)

Downton Abbey is in part about the broad sweep of societal change in the wake of World War I and the opportunities it gave to some - at the expense of others and of so much else society once valued. But it is also about particular people making their lives make sense against the background of all that change, snatching happiness (often in spite of tremendous grief) where they can find it, in the midst of the changes that puncture holes in everyone's life plans, whatever the historical era. One lesson perhaps, as our characters continue to age, is that, when one learns to come to terms and make peace with one's past (with all its sorrows) some real joy remains possible.

And what more joyful way to end than by singing Christmas carols - especially mary's solo of what I presume must have been the prevailing 1920s British translation of Silent Night.

This was a Downton Christmas to remember - and to cherish - as they (and we) all move on!

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