TV review: ‘Downton Abbey’ season 5 ends on a high note

downton-abbey-christmas-special-2014-season-5Another year has come and gone at Downton Abbey, wrapping up with the season 5 finale this past Sunday on PBS. The British drama continues to be an addictive delight, though next season is rumored to be its last.

“Downton Abbey” — about a British noble and his family navigating the tides of social change at the turn of the century — is one of my favorite TV shows. Though it gets some good-natured teasing for being a “glorified soap opera,” it rises above the drama thanks to richly drawn characters, its exploration of relevant social issues of the times, and its often-witty dialogue, many of the best lines belonging to Maggie Smith’s feisty Dowager Countess.

This season, the characters continue adjusting to the changing times. Servants begin to pursue business opportunities — and further their education — outside the abbey. Social rules are bending, and secrets are revealed. The lines between social classes continue to blur still further.

One of my favorite plot lines this season was seeing some of the servants explore their identities beyond the walls of the abbey. Assistant cook Daisy expresses a desire to further her education and think more for herself, and cook Mrs. Patmore, head housekeeper Mrs. Hughes and even the butler Mr. Carson are pursuing business and investment opportunities. This highlights how times are changing — servants want to have dreams and goals of their own; it’s no longer just about promoting the wealthy Crawley family.

Another detail I liked was that many of the romantic plot lines this season involved the older characters. While Hollywood often glorifies the young and in love, it’s never too late to find love or a second chance at happiness. Spoiler alert! Mr. Carson’s proposal to Mrs. Hughes (finally!) was not only the most adorable moment this season, it’s one of my favorite moments of the show, period.

As much as I don’t want “Downton Abbey” to end, I think six seasons is a good number for the show. It’s best to leave fans satisfied but wanting a bit more, rather than complaining the show “jumped the shark.” I’m sad that Allen Leech’s character, the former chauffeur Tom Branson, is (apparently) leaving the show. He’s had one of the best character development arcs on the show, figuring out how to live with the Crawley family after his wife dies. I hope his character will still have some role in the next season (maybe he won’t actually go to America!). I’m really hoping for happy endings for Lady Edith, Anna and Mr. Bates, characters that have all had more than their fair share of tragedy. And it will be interesting to see what happens with Lady Mary. I think I like her new suitor Henry Talbot (played by Matthew Goode); in the past, Mary’s used to men desperate for her attention, so the new character’s aloofness will add a welcome challenge.

It’s sad to think of Downton ending, but I’m happy with how the show’s developed. After it ends, I’d be interested in seeing a World War II era spin-off series featuring the children of Mary, Tom and Edith — or a prequel about the younger days of the Dowager Countess!

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