Another brilliant finish to the end of the Downton season. Episode 7 really wrapped up all of the remaining cliffhangers from Season 2. Matthew and Lavinia are blissfully preparing for their wedding, and the Downton estate is littered with bouquets and elegant gifts that have been sent from close family friends. Though Matthew and Lavinia are eagerly anticipating their wedding ceremony, the Spanish flu has also decided to pay a visit to the estate. Little do Matthew and Lavinia know that the sudden flu outbreak will change the future of the Downton family forever.
In the first few minutes of the episode, Mrs. Hughes also learns that Mr. Bryant has changed his mind about Ethel’s baby, Charlie. Mr. and Mrs. Bryant have written a letter to Mrs. Hughes about visiting Charlie and possibly adopting him. Though this seems like good news, Ethel is not prepared to let go of her only son. This becomes quite problematic when Mr. Bryant expresses to Ethel that he wants to raise baby Charlie “as a gentleman, and not as a housemaid’s bastard.” For the first time in several episodes, I actually agree with Mr. Bryant. All season long, Ethel has been nothing but a burden to Mrs. Hughes and the the rest of the Downton family. Major Bryant has been dead for some time now, and it is time for Ethel to move on. I’m actually surprised that Ethel still feels she has the right to raise Charlie, when she has no financial stability to take care of him on her own. Nevertheless, Ethel must decide what type of life she would like her son to lead. He can either lead a life of grief, poverty, and humiliation as a housemaid’s bastard, or he can become well educated, privileged, and marry whomever he chooses.
However, Ethel’s problems seem insignificant compared to the chaos that is going on upstairs. Lady Sybil has invited Branson to tell Lord Grantham that they plan on running away to together. Lord Grantham is furious when he hears about the news, and threatens to cut Lady Sybil off from all financial support. Clearly, Lady Sybil is forced once again to choose between two walks of life. Once she leaves Downton Abbey to become the wife of a middle-class chauffeur, she will never again enjoy the pleasures and luxuries of aristocratic life. Though the Dowager Countess has always admired Lady Sybil’s independence, she too feels that Sybil is making a horrible mistake.
But even Lady Sybil’s astonishing announcement is put on hold when Cora, Carson, and Lavinia each fall sick with the Spanish flu. While everyone is resting upstairs, Matthew and Lady Mary share an elegant dance that is almost impossible to forget. In my favorite scene from the entire season, Matthew finally admits his feelings for Lady Mary. Though Lady Mary jokes that they were a “show that flopped”, the two fall into a passionate kiss that marks a new beginning to their relationship. However, their intimate moment is cut short when Lavinia walks downstairs and catches them in the act. It is not until Lavinia is on her death bed that she calls off the wedding as a result of their indiscretion. Even though this seems like a rather dramatic ending for Matthew and his fiancé, nothing is worse than when Lavinia dies right in front of Lady Mary and Matthew.
Unfortunately, the arrival of the Spanish flu continues to play a central role in this episode as it has now threatened to wipe out some of the most beloved characters on the show. Though Lavinia has passed on, Cora has also fallen violently ill. Mrs. O’Brien has done her best to take care of her, but she feels guilty that she never admitted to causing Cora’s miscarriage in Season 1. Now that Cora’s life is in jeopardy, Lord Grantham also feels bad that he ruined a perfectly good marriage. Though he ends his relationship with Jane, it really bothered me that he paid for her son Freddie to attend Rupert Grammar School. In a way, it’s almost as if he wants to remain a part of Jane’s life. Luckily for Lord Grantham, Cora quickly recovers from the flu and their marriage is saved without Cora having any idea about his affair.
Sadly, even though the rest of the house has recovered from the flu outbreak, Matthew must learn to cope with the death of his beautiful fiancé. This psychological battle becomes painfully evident when Matthew blames himself and Lady Mary for Lavinia’s death. Though Matthew and Lady Mary may have shared a brief moment of bliss, no message is more powerful than when Lady Mary walks away from Lavinia’s funeral with Sir Richard Carlisle. Will Lady Mary ever succumb to her obvious attraction to Matthew? Or will Matthew always believe that their relationship is cursed? These are the questions left unanswered at the end of Season 2.
Since this is my final blog post, I have to admit that I’ve enjoyed reviewing and criticizing Season 1 and Season 2 of Downton Abbey immensely. Though there were times when the show began to feel more like a soap opera than a cerebral drama, I really enjoyed watching the British television series. Now that I’ve carefully watched the development of each character, I can also confidently argue that The Dowager Countess, Carson, and Lady Mary are my favorite characters on the show. Although I think Julian Fellows has many more surprises in store for future seasons of Downton Abbey, I am impressed with his ability to make a tale of English aristocracy entertaining to an American audience. Though this is the final episode of Season 2, make sure you watch the Downton Abbey Christmas Special!