By Caryn James | James on Screens February 17, 2012 at 2:16PM
Heading into this Sunday’s Christmas-themed finale of Downton Abbey, you might worry that the season would end with another excruciating cliff-hanger. Mary and Matthew are undoubtedly in love, but will the question of their on-and-off and currently still-off engagement be resolved? (Really, only House and Cuddy were more back-and-forth about things.) I won’t give away the resolution, but there is one at the end. The series could have ended there, but this second-season conclusion also sets us up for season 3 - and of course, who knows what might change then?
What we know for sure is that Shirley Maclaine will join the cast next season as Lady Grantham’s mother, and I'll be curious to see whether Cora’s Mom will have conspicuously dyed-red hair (not proper at Downton, surely) and nouveau-riche American manners. Mary’s comments have revealed that her American Granny has houses in New York and Newport, which sounds very Edith Wharton. Either way, a very clever twist and wonderful casting. We can start imagining the Dowager Countess’ reactions now.
Even though Downton has been more melodramatic than ever this season, it has been irresistible melodrama. Last week’s episode, in which the household suffered through the Spanish flu, complete with an unexpected but oh-so-convenient death, was among the season’s best. And as we head into the finale, huge problems trail the family into the holidays. Bates is on trial for his wife’s murder, and we find out the verdict.
The Granthams hand Christmas presents to the servants and even dance with them – they never ignore noblesse oblige - in a party scene that is fascinating for the upstairs-downstairs dynamics. (Lady Grantham dances with Carson in the photo at the left.)
And despite all this soapy drama, Downton has smartly sent the younger generation into modern times. That move was much more convincing when Sybil fell for the chauffeur than when Edith kissed a farmhand. (Edith may feel desperate but she is at heart traditional.)
And Mary, compromised by her own sexual lapse (it is hard to recover your reputation when a Turkish diplomat has died in your bed), has become tethered to the mogul publisher Sir Richard, whose dismissive attitude toward the servants in this clip form the finale marks him as the Scrooge of Downton’s holidays. Will Mary be modern enough to dump him, with or without Matthew?
Take a look at this preview of the gloriously indulgent fantasy of an ending. And if you missed the best Downton mashups and parodies, including video of Maggie Smith delivering the best Dowager Countess lines, you can find them here (with more surely to come during the off-season).