Photo: Giles Keyte, Carnival Film & Television Ltd. for Masterpiece
Season 3 of Downton Abbey has had its ups and downs. And while I think overall this season, which recently ended with an explosive finale that left many declaring they had no plans to tune in for Season 4, was a good one, it ended very badly.
Unless you've been living under a rock or purposefully avoided it, you've heard the major news about the untimely death of Matthew Crawley in the final moments of the episode.
Photo credit: PBS
Unhappy with the storylines his character Matthew has been strapped with over the past three seasons, especially his Season 2 miraculous recovery from a war injury that left him paralyzed, Dan Stevens opted not to renew his contract. This left creator and writer Julian Fellowes with a big issue. The entire premise of Downton Abbey has centered around the entail and how the sinking of the Titanic and the presumed death of the heir to Downton brought Matthew from his solicitor's job to the estate as the next in line to inherit. Lord Grantham, the father of three lovely daughters, but no sons, isn't thrilled with the idea of a country bumpkin like Matthew Crawley inheriting, but if he's going to inherit the estate, then a pairing between Crawley and the oldest daughter, Lady Mary is best. And though they faced many obstacles--the war, Matthew's engagement to Lavinia Swire, the Spanish Flu, fertility issues, and more--Matthew and Mary finally tied the knot at the beginning of Season 3.
Since happiness is so hard to dramatize, according to Fellowes, Matthew and Mary's marriage would be plagued by fights over his ideas to modernize the running of the estate, sticking Mary in the middle of the two men she loves (her husband and her father), Matthew's desire to have children and Mary's desire to wait, and the tragic loss of Lady Sybil after giving birth, which found Mary and Matthew supporting their brother-in-law Tom's desire to see his daughter christened as a Catholic, while Lord Grantham was determined to fight it.
When the dust finally settles during a cricket match, Lord Gratham concedes to Matthew's ideas on how to make Downton self-sustaining and profitable, Tom is in as the estate's new agent, and it looks like Matthew and Mary will finally enjoy wedded bliss and concentrate on doing their duty to produce an heir.
The season finale picks up a year after the cricket match, with the family visiting cousins in Scotland. It was nice to see them in a different environment, but knowing Matthew's death was coming--since Season 3 wrapped up in Britain on Christmas and angry fans started screaming about it more than a month before the season begin in the States--made it less enjoyable.
One of the reasons people--myself included--are so up in arms about Matthew's death, is because it was handled so poorly. Lady Sybil's death, while tragic, was not only realistic, it served a higher purpose. Tom could never grow into the man he will become or prove himself to the family if Sybil was there to push her family into liking him. The rift that occurred between Robert and Cora over Sybil's condition, would not have happened. I partially agree that happy couples are boring--just look at Anna and Bates now--so we need a bit of tension in Robert and Cora's relationship to make their healing and reconciliation a part of their growing together as a couple.
The reused plot of killing off a parent on the day/night of his/her child's birth has also already been done in the case of Lady Sybil a few episodes earlier. Fellowes took the easy way out. Matthew was so blissfully happy at the birth of his son, he's busy thinking of how wonderful life is, his eyes looking into the sky instead of on the one-lane road in front of him where a truck is coming the other way. Really? That's how he meets his end? He survives a war and gets killed because he's too happy? Even an agents' blog I follow is talking about this poorly written ending.
I feel the fans' reactions to Matthew's death will put a lot of pressure on Fellowes to come back with a stellar Season 4. News in recent days has found that all the main characters will be returning. The new season will start six months after Matthew's death, so we won't be subjected to another funeral. Fellowes is calling this season the "rebuilding of Mary," and there is a casting call out for a new love interest (also not sitting well with some fans). I plan to tune in, but if Season 4 doesn't come out strong I don't know if I'll be sticking with it. It will definitely be interesting to see how many viewers tune in as opposed to how many did for the first episode of Season 3.