Laetare Sunday promised to be just a little less joyful this year, the day of Downton Abbey's final episode was due to air. As we knew it had to, Downton's sixth and final season has ended. But what an ending! What a happy ending! What a whole bunch of happy endings actually!
So Lady Mary made up for her life-long mean sister act and and staged a meeting between Bertie and Edith, at which Bertie proposed (again) and Edith accepted (again). Is this really the beginning of a newer, nicer Mary? Is Henry the reason? Already he seems to be changing Mary more even than Matthew ever did. As for Edith, every Downton watcher's fear had to be that the scriptwriter would still find a way to destroy Edith's happiness at the last minute. That fear focused on Bertie's very proper mother, the one remaining obstacle in the way of poor Edith becoming a happy-ever-after Marchioness. Edith overcame that obstacle by actually being honest - something I have consistently said would have helped all the characters find more happiness over the years! But I guess that is a lesson we have to learn only by actually living. And so the series ended with the new Lord and Lady Hexham's lovely New Year's Eve wedding, in which Edith again gets to walk down the grand stairway in her wedding gown into the arms of her (this time) really, really happy father - finally as happy as he was for Mary. Isn't this how fairy-tales are supposed to end, with the unhappy child happily married (and incidentally now outranking everyone else in her family)?
But theirs wasn't the only wedding. Lord Merton's anemia and the unscrupulous behavior of his totally terrible son and daughter-in-law led to Isobel's finally facing up to her love for him - and to a showdown (with Violet's help) in which he literally took him home with her. We didn't get to watch Lord Merton and Isobel finally tie the knot, but what a relief that they finally did!
And Daisy, who has finally decided to move into her father-in-law's farm, finally listened to Mrs. Patmore (who seems likely also to end up at the farm) and gradually came around and responded positively to Andy's romantic attention. That's a romance that was obviously long waiting to happen, but had to pass through Daisy's usual unwillingness to respond the way we want her to.
Meanwhile Mosely, who has accepted a job as full-time teacher, seems to be getting closer to Baxter and she in turn to him. And Tom's flirting with Edith's editor, who conveniently catches the bouquet at the wedding, leaves us imagining yet another post-season union.
Even the longest-lasting marriage in the show - Robert and Cora - also gets a timely boost, when Lady Rose (now a mother herself) takes Robert to see Cora in action running a public meeting at the hospital, and he really appreciates how good she is at her work. Like any couple their age, they have been through a lot together; and now, with Edith happily married, they can look forward to a really happy old age. Hopefully they will live - as we used to say - to see their children's children to the third and even the fourth generation.
On the non-romantic front, Henry and Tom have gone into business together - selling (what else) cars. The only surprise was how quickly it happened. (But things happen a lot quicker when you have only 90 minutes or so left in which to resolve everything!) And Lady Mary not only doesn't mind having a car-salesman for a husband, but she is pregnant again - and actually keeps it secret long enough not to step on Edith's big day!
Then there was Thomas Barrow's transformation. His meanness was always overdone, and I always suspected he was going to become one of the nice guys in the end. I expected he would be hired as Carson's successor, as we watched the staff dwindling over time. So I was temporarily distressed when he took a job elsewhere. But that gave him the opportunity to acknowledge his need to start over as a person, and gave everyone else the opportunity to make peace with him - which makes it easier for him to come back as boss of the house! Along with Bates and Anna, Thomas has suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune for long enough. He returns to Downton a better man, and we can imagine for him if not a fully happy life then at least (in 1926 terms) a fulfilling future.
And, finally Anna gave birth - in Lady Mary's bed no less, and on New Year's Eve no less! The longest suffering couple in the series finally got their well earned reward! And we could contentedly say goodbye to the Bates family not fearing some new legal woe was about to descend on them!
There was just so much happiness in this episode that even when Mrs. Hughes intoned Auld Lang Syne (a song which inevitably tends to evoke a certain sadness), even the pain of parting from these wonderful characters could not diminish the sheer joy of the way the series ended.
Bravo, Downton, for taking us through a turbulent and challenging period of our recent history through the ups and downs of some wonderful people, whom we have gotten to know, respect, and love as if they were real. It may have been ostensibly all about English country-house living in the first quarter of the 20th century, but it was ultimately about what every real story is about - love and loss, family and friendship, struggle and hope. It was about us.