Warning: THIS POST CONTAINS DOWNTON ABBEY SPOILERS. If you haven't finished watching Season 3, please don't read beyond this point!
*waits for the Spoiler Avoiders to leave*
So, this is weird--mostly because Mr. A and I stopped watching TV years ago. We watch movies; we watch British series that we own on DVD; we watch Peter Gabriel's Secret World concert when the spirit moves us. But we don't watch TV. It's not part of our lifestyle anymore.
(Well, there's the NFL. Mr. A will watch his weekly games during the fall. But I am as far away from the TV room as possible during those horrid hours.)
And then, thanks to the wonder that is Apple TV, Mr. A discovered Downton Abbey several months after the first season had aired. We'd never heard of it; we'd missed the hype. And we fell in love with the lush cinematography, the glorious soundtrack, the brilliant writing, and the flawless acting.
We were hooked.
And then, a few nights ago, we watched the final episode of Season 3, and it all went down the toilet.
Hear me out -- this is not a schmoopy, oh-my-gawd-how-could-they-kill-Matthew-I-am-in-love-with-him rant. There was so much foreshadowing in the episodes leading up to this one that it was no great shock. I knew something was going to happen to destroy Mary and Matthew's happy union. And this was certainly the worst possible thing that could have happened.
But, seriously? The melodrama of a violent car crash in the last thirty seconds of what had been a delightful finale is not what I had come to expect from Downton. Now, I know the writers had their hands proverbially tied, since Dan Stevens had announced he'd be leaving the show. And, truly, there wouldn't have been a much more believable way to get rid of him, considering Matthew's undying love for Mary. The writers did what they could.
Which brings us to Dan Stevens himself. Of course he's free to make his own career choices. Of course he had the right not to renew his contract with Downton. But the nagging question is--did he think this through from a fan standpoint? Did it occur to him what a severe impact his decision would have on those who have invested in the show and its characters?
Because I am not invested in the show anymore. I don't even want to go back and watch the old episodes (we own 2 of the seasons), because always the knowledge of what looms ahead for poor Matthew will spoil it for me.
And I'm not your typical fangirl. I'm not swooning on my fainting couch and tearing locks of my hair out. This is a gut-level, tear-free reaction. Because I was just that invested in the characters. They are that well written. They are that well portrayed.
But I can't afford to invest in a show that would foist a sudden, melodramatic, oozing-very-dark-blood death scene, and then fade to black. It was easy to talk myself out of it afterward. Downton Abbey is, in the end, nothing more than a period soap opera. The is-he-dead-or-isn't-he cliff hanger is a longstanding trope.
But you knew he was dead, and so did I. It was the death stare. Nobody loses consciousness with his eyes open; but people do die with their eyes open. So, yeah. As soon as I saw him, I blurted, "Oh, he is so dead." (Which is not quite the same as shrieking, "Oh no! Oh no! Oh nooooo he can't be dead he can't be dead he can't be dead!")
And that was before the ominous, dark blood trailed down his too-white cheek.
Downton has lost my heart. And I'll bet I'm not alone.
So, what does this have to do with being a writer? Well, it's the writers of shows like this who are ultimately making it happen (or not). The best actor in the world isn't going to shine without a stellar script. And Downton's writers were basically told, "Dan's leaving," and they had to go with it. Apparently, they didn't kill him off earlier in the season because they wanted as much time as possible with him. I don't blame them. But the last-minute tragedy was far beyond the anguish of watching Lady Sybil die of eclampsia. (I was wrecked for a week after that episode. But ultimately it worked, and I was able to move on with the series.)
There's no moving on for me after this. (Yes, I'll be watching Season 4. But I'm not looking forward to it; I'm dreading it. I won't let myself stay invested.) I'm not "wrecked" this time. I'm disgusted and deflated.
I'm sure you've all read how J.K. toyed with the idea of killing off Ron Weasley in one of the books. Can you imagine the fan backlash that would have occurred? I'm not saying writers should defer to a fan base over what is best for a story, but it is certainly a consideration. (Once you have a fan base, that is.) You all know that a well-planned character death can be a poignant and necessary thing. But Ron's death would have destroyed a part of what was magical about Harry Potter -- the ne'er-say-die threesome who made it all the way through to the end. We loved them. We loved some of the characters that did die, but we didn't have a Ron Weasley level of investment in those characters.
Imagine if Peeta had died.
Imagine if Sam Gamgee had died.
Life can be hard, and fiction has the power to create in our minds something apart from life. I'd rather leave behind a story or a show with a good feeling. Even if terrible things were part of the story (and a story without terrible things would be boring), I still want to feel hopeful at the end. Relieved that the characters who mattered most are still there.
That's just me, as a reader and as a viewer. Not everyone will react to Downton as I have. Not everyone will feel betrayed enough to disengage their hearts from the show. But for me, the magic is over.
I feel supremely better, having vented. I'm eager to hear your reaction to Matthew's tragic end, and what it means for the future of Downton (and for your emotional state). Please share!