Downton Abbey 2012 Christmas Special: They Did What?!

When the Dowager Countess disapproves, you know things are pretty bad. Before I go on further, I’d like to warn everyone that there are MAJOR spoilers ahead so to all die hard Downton Abbey fans who still haven’t seen the Christmas special: “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” This isn’t a review of the episode, but a reaction to a disappointing end to one of television’s beloved characters. Seriously, if you still need to catch up, then please avoid this article because knowing what happens in this episode will only leave you heartbroken for a longer time. Funny how it reminds me of my friends and myself when the endings of Mass Effect 3 were leaked and it affected our perception of the entire game. Anyway, you were warned.

Most headlines regarding the Christmas Special twist had the words “shocker” and “unexpected” in them. However, for many avid followers of Downton Abbey, the twist was hardly a surprise. A few months ago, online publications were speculating on whether or not Dan Stevens would stay on Downton Abbey to play fan favorite Matthew Crawley. This was brought up in light of Stevens’ recent commitment to the Broadway show: “The Heiress” with Jessica Chastain. In addition, there were also rumors floating around that Stevens is currently searching for greener pastures outside of Downton Abbey. When I first read these articles, I comforted myself thinking that this was all hogwash. Granted, everyone from Downton Abbey’s cast is  important. Yet, the character Matthew Crawley holds a more pivotal and integral role in the show. He is the heir of Robert Grantham and the pioneer of change for Downton, but more importantly the other half of one of television’s most loved couples. Matthew and Mary Crawley’s budding romance tickled our hearts since the beginning of the first season. We’ve watched their romance begin, blossom, fail, and reignite among many other things. People have even dubbed Mary and Matthew Crawley as the “Ross and Rachel (from Friends) of British Television.” While I’m not much of a fan of the TV show Friends, I wouldn’t contest the iconic status many fans place on Downton Abbey’s star couple.

Sadly, Dan Stevens has indeed gone on in search for greener pastures outside of the television show that propelled him to stardom. The Christmas special ended with a lifeless and bleeding Matthew lying beside his mangled convertible after an unfortunate car accident. What makes this scene really painful is the fact that it comes right after the birth of his son and we see a very heartwarming scene of Matthew and Mary’s family. The birth painted a picture of hope and promise for their family, yet the ending gave us the exact opposite feeling when we see Matthew suffer his untimely demise. So yeah, you can pretty much expect a punch to the heart by the end of the special. Even if it didn’t come as a complete shock to me, it was still a painful blow.

So, why is everyone so upset? Well, his death just doesn’t make any sense to the whole narrative to the story unlike Sybil’s death. Sure, Sybil died unexpectedly but the audience could see it building up while Matthew just died. The only reason it had to happen was because Stevens was contemplating leaving the show at the end of series three. It was even reported that Julian Fellowes, the writer and creator, wrote the death scene ambiguously on purpose because he was hoping that Stevens would change his mind and stay on board. In addition, his death was also written in a way that it could be easily taken out if Stevens decided to stay early on. It is confirmed though that Dan Stevens is indeed leaving the show. It’s pretty obvious that Matthew Crawley’s storyline in Downton Abbey was never meant to end with a spontaneous death. It kind of feels like a “deus ex machina” plot device in action.

However, I do applaud the writers for choosing not to break the couple up because that totally wouldn’t work anymore considering everything they’ve been through especially with the whole Lavinia incident. With Dan Stevens adamant on exploring other options, It seemed like death seemed like the only way out of the corner. Yet, I feel like recasting the role could have been a real possible solution. Sure, Dan Stevens really made the role memborable but he’s no Leonardo Da Vinci when it comes to acting. I’m sure there are other actors out there who could play the role of Matthew Crawley brilliantly. Liam McIntyre did it when Andy Whitfield passed away. I’m sure the team of Downton Abbey could do a great job in recasting the toll. It’s usually a hit or miss, but it would have been the only solution that doesn’t sacrifice the brilliant narrative Julian Fellowes originally had in mind. It’s sad whenever the story of a beloved film, television show or video game has to suffer solely because of casting problems.

So should people stop watching Downton Abbey? No, Dan Stevens is no Lebron James in a way that he is the lifeline. The entire cast and crew is an explosion of talent. However, this sudden turn of events might leave fans with a bitter taste in their mouth each time they watch an episode of Downton Abbey. It is upsetting, knowing that the plot has been marvellous all throughout and it just had to suffer unnaturally because of one actor’s whims So here’s to hoping they decide to recast the role because the ending does still leave everything ambiguous so anything is possible.

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  1. Completely agree with you there, it was the only way out other than recasting but a complete shock and a real shame seeing as everything that had been building up to that moment (having the child and a family not the death).

  2. Your piece really sums up how I’ve been feeling since watching the Christmas special. With such a lovely show like Downton, its really easy to forget that in reality, the beautiful characters are just actors looking for bigger and better paying roles.

    I’m also upset with the abruptness of Matthew’s death and given the usual time lags between episodes, am concerned that the first episode of season 4 won’t show enough grieving and anguish and heartbreak. And I really hope Julian Fellowes doesn’t decide to have the two newly-single parents hook up out of shared grief and need.

    If the show hasn’t already lost scores of avid viewers because of the suddenness of Matthew’s demise, I think a Mary-Branson hook up will turn off even more viewers, me included.

    Thanks again for your very articulate piece.

  3. Thanks for your responses guys! I’m glad I’m able to write up a piece that Downton fans can be pleased with 🙂

    Anyway, I agree. No Mary-Branson hook up please! I don’t know what will happen to Mary. I fear she’ll have a bittersweet conclusion wherein she’ll be unhappy forever…

    I really wish they recasted the role. The writing was always brilliant.

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