Downton Abbey – 2012 Christmas Special Review

Well, hello! I hope you all had a lovely holiday season, whatever you celebrated. For me, it was a whirlwind Christmas – with three families to visit (my dad’s, my mom’s, and my fiance’s – I am one away from a Vince Vaughn holiday movie) I was pretty busy, but managed to do everything I wanted. And that includes a late-night Boxing Day viewing of the latest Downton Abbey installment.

This is a review of the Downton Abbey Christmas special that aired in Britain on December 25, 2012. The special has yet to air on PBS as it must follow season three, so I urge you NOT to read this if you have not seen it. Major “spoilers” lie ahead. (i.e., a review of the program.)

A quick Googling suggests that the viewing public was critical of the special, but I really enjoyed it. Did some people really find it boring? It was an hour and a half, and I loved every minute of it.

Now, let’s not bury the lede. The special ended with Matthew Crawley, having just met his newborn son for the first time, getting into an automobile accident on his way back to Downton. When I saw Matthew in the car, I instantly knew what would happen, thanks to reports months ago that the actor Dan Stevens wanted to leave the show. (I think that’s a truly moronic choice, but to each his own.) What else could have been done? Recasting wouldn’t have worked, and sending Matthew abroad forever and always would have been too forced. It’s unfortunate that this had to happen this season, when we just lost Sybil, because it makes the show feel a bit melodramatic. However, I’m OK with it. It was much more common to die young back then. War, disease, childbirth, roads that were built for wagons rather than cars – these all feel like realistic causes of death, even if it is a bit too much to lose two major characters in one season.

I suppose the reason people found the special boring was that, otherwise, it was rather blissful and free of drama. Everyone seemed quite happy. I enjoyed the two storylines, though. Many of the servants were still at Downton, enjoying some free time while the family visited Scotland. Mrs. Patmore had a new suitor, Thomas’s act of selfless bravery helped mend fences between him and Jimmy, and Branson remained alone at the house, struggling to figure out where exactly he fit in. (By the way, how cute is Baby Sybil?)

In Scotland, Lord Grantham finally realized how lucky he was to have Matthew when Shrimpy revealed that he was losing his estate. The modernization had worked, which is what will make Matthew’s death so devastating for the family. For a moment, all was perfect – the estate was surviving and Mary had produced an heir for Matthew. Now, that heir will be very young when he takes over, and without Matthew’s knowledge of running the estate, Downton could again be in trouble.

The character of Rose was introduced a bit hastily in the last episode, but I did like her in this special. Yes, she feels like a bit of a replacement for Sybil. But her disposition is different. Sybil was sweet and kind, and challenged the rules of society through women’s suffrage and marrying below her class. Rose is more fun-loving and wild, and challenges the norms of her society in a different way.

Edith seems to have made up her mind about her married editor, and I look forward to seeing that storyline develop in season four. With the decision to allow Rose to live at Downton and the death of Matthew, we’re in for a lot of change next season. I can’t wait.