TV

10 life lessons learned by watching ‘Downton Abbey’

This image released by PBS shows Michael Fox as Andy Parker, left, and Sophie McShera as Daisy Mason in a scene from the final season of “Downton Abbey.” The series finale airs in the U.S. on Sunday. (Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE via AP)
This image released by PBS shows Michael Fox as Andy Parker, left, and Sophie McShera as Daisy Mason in a scene from the final season of “Downton Abbey.” The series finale airs in the U.S. on Sunday. (Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE via AP) Associated Press

If I were Lady Mary, I’d steel my jaw and roll my eyes, not wanting to show how rattled I really was.

If I were Mr. Carson, I’d stick my nose straight in the air and exclaim haughtily how uncivilized such an abrupt ending really was.

If I were Daisy, I’d squeal about how unfair it all was, and march my outraged lace-up boots straight to the Masterpiece headquarters to tell them so.

And if I were the Dowager Countess, I’d wave my cane in disgust, smugly mumble something biting and depart on a protest trip to the south of France.

Sadly, I’m just Denise, so there’s nothing I can really do about the fact that “Downton Abbey” will air its season finale on Sunday, except write about it. And maybe cry a little.

The PBS show, created and written by Julian Fellowes, will air its final episode at 8 p.m. Sunday after six seasons, and fans like me will learn the final fate of the aristocratic Crawley family that occupies the titular post-Edwardian British abbey and of their downstairs-dwelling servants, whose lives are not as privileged but just as complex.

The two-hour episode will take place at Christmas, as most “Downton” finales have, and then it will be over. Fans will never forget the characters, the accents, the gorgeous clothes and the proper dinners. And if they’re like me, they’ll also never forget the lessons they picked up along the way.

What lessons? Well, I’ll tell you one that I just learned: If you don’t want to read spoilers about the “Downton Abbey” finale, don’t Google “Downton Abbey finale,” because the episode aired in England on Christmas Day.

Here are 10 other things I learned by faithfully watching “Downton Abbey” all these years:

10. Do not ignore nagging aches and pains: I know medicine has made major advancements since the 1920s, but one of the most horrifically memorable scenes in “Downton’s” long history has reawakened my hypochondria, and it aired just a few weeks ago. Stately Lord Grantham, the head of the Crawley family, had been wincing and grabbing his abdomen for weeks this season. We all knew it was headed somewhere, but I doubt many were prepared for that story line’s resolution: Dressed in a tuxedo, Lord Grantham stands up at a formal dinner complaining that he doesn’t feel right. It looks like he’s falling backward, but instead he lurches forward, spewing blood from his mouth all over the table and his well-dressed family members and guests. The culprit – an untreated hernia. Could that really happen? Does that still happen? What’s that pain in my side? What’s my doctor’s number?

9. On the other hand, do ignore them: I have just recently gotten over the death of Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), the smoldering lead actor who was abruptly killed off the show in season three. Otherwise, I could not discuss this contrary yet just as compelling “Downtown Abbey” lesson. Severely injured in a battle during World War I, Matthew returns to Downton in season two, paralyzed from the waist down. He sulks in a wheelchair for weeks, threatening his true love Lady Mary’s happiness and, quite frankly, mine. But wait! Just when hope seems lost, Matthew ignores his diagnosis, works up all his will and stands up from his wheelchair. He’s wobbly, but he’s standing. And then he walks. A few episodes later, he’s dancing. The war injury also rendered Crawley impotent, but he ignores this diagnosis as well, and by the end of season three, he’s expecting a child with Mary. Doctors? Hogwash! Then he dies.

8. Snobby girls need love, too: Lady Mary, played coolly by Michelle Dockery, was one of those heroines who doubled as a villain. Throughout the series, she was snobby, judgmental and mean to her sister Edith. Yet it was impossible not to love her because of her brains, beauty, spunk and often kind heart. In fact, before the series unforgivably killed Matthew off, he and Mary were the 20th-century British answer to Ross and Rachel. Many of the best moments of the series are centered around somewhat unlovable Mary finding love.

7. Cars are the enemy: We watched “Downton’s” characters adjust to the advent of several technological advancements, including the telephone, the addition of which famously flummoxed proper butler Mr. Carson in season five. But the modern invention that most cursed the Downtonians was the motor vehicle. Our dear Matthew was taken in a horrible car accident, and then this season, the cruel “Downton” writers threw the just-recovered Mary into a romance with a reckless race car driver. Worse, they make her watch a race where her new love’s friend dies in a fiery car wreck.

6. Chauffeurs, however, are your friend: The upstairs/downstairs separation of the two worlds of Downton Abbey were best displayed in the season two romance between independent youngest Crawley daughter Lady Sybil and Tom Branson, the sexy Irish chauffeur she falls for. At first, her family cannot tolerate his lowly birth and lack of social standing and will not accept him. By season six, though, he was a full-fledged member of the family, and he best illustrated that even though they were born into different circumstances, all the inhabitants of Downton were humans equally worthy of love. (And equally worthy of death, apparently, as the evil writers killed Lady Sybil off during childbirth, leaving Tom to care for their newborn. Hurrumph.)

5. Don’t mess with granny: “Downton’s” most watchable character was also its oldest. Dame Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess was the unflappable acid-tongued, quick-witted matriarch of the Crawley family. She was given the best lines of any character in the history of television, and she delivered them expertly. Even if you’ve never seen “Downton,” you won’t regret Googling “Dowager Countess quotes,” an activity that will provide you with hours of entertainment. Among her most memorable lines: “What is a week-end?” and “Don’t be defeatist, dear. It’s very middle class.”

4. Girl power is grand: Even though females didn’t have much power in early-1900s England, the ladies of “Downton Abbey” were consonantly pushing boundaries. Lady Sybil fought for women’s right to vote. Lady Edith became a newspaper columnist, then editor. Lady Mary took over running the estate from her father. Lady Grantham wouldn’t be bossed by her husband and took over the hospital board. Kitchen maid Daisy dreamed of a life outside of service and fought for an education. Not even old-fashioned Granny Grantham could hold them back.

3. Don’t underestimate the ugly duckling: Speaking of Lady Edith, she spent the first half of the series serving as a punching bag for her sister and everyone else. She was less attractive, and every man she expressed interest in either was driven away by her mean sister, dumped her at the altar or disappeared, leaving her pregnant and alone. And she sure didn’t hesitate to whine about it. But as the final season dawned, Lady Edith became a bit of a heroine, using her brains to create a career and snag a rich husband. In one of the most delicious moments in “Downton” history, the writers finally let her tell Mary off in the penultimate episode.

2. Being rich doesn’t make you smart: Despite their wealth, the Crawleys are horrible money managers and lost their entire fortune in a bad investment in season three. They also nearly hyperventilated as they faced the changing times, which seemed to suggest that they may someday no longer have individual lady’s maids in charge of getting them dressed in the morning, before meals and at bedtime. How could they possibly cope?

1. In the end, it’s all about family: Despite the drama – the untimely deaths, name-calling and class hopping – the Crawleys frequently proved that family is what really matters, and the spoilers I accidentally discovered online indicate that theme will carry through the finale. Lady Edith’s lecture to Mary in the last episode that aired, days after their falling out, summarized it well. When Mary asked Edith why she returned for her wedding to the race car driver, Edith replied: “Because, in the end, you’re my sister. One day, only we will remember Sybil, or mama, or papa, or Matthew, or Michael, or granny, or Carson, or any of the others who have peopled our youth, until at last our shared memories will mean more than our mutual dislike.”

Denise Neil: 316-268-6327, @deniseneil

‘Downton Abbey’ series finale

When: 8 p.m. Sunday

Where: KPTS, Channel 8

  Comments