Beware, spoilers afoot! Don’t read on if you haven’t yet watched the conclusion of Downton Abbey and want to remain unspoiled.
Julian Fellowes’ Downton Abbey concluded its PBS run this past weekend. It was a “happy ending,” too happy for some. More specifically, I’d say, Downton Abbey concluded with many happy endings, each a repetition of the same theme.
Again and again, the theme of 1 John 1 was repeated for the characters of Downton.
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
John teaches us that trying to hide secrets from one another, especially our sins, only gives those sins continuing power over us. Confession allows us to reconcile and move towards walking in the light, freed from our past. This theme was played out in storyline after storyline of Downton Abbey’s final season.
Most powerfully, the finale saw the reconciliation of two of the strongest rivalries in the series. In the midst of season one, who would expect the reconciliation of either sisters Edith and Mary or downstairs mainstays Thomas the footman and Bates the valet? Those two pairs each tried to ruin each other.
Edith’s story moved to center stage for the finale. She was tempted to keep covered up her out-of-wedlock child, Marigold. Instead, she was honest with her potential judges. It was only through such honesty that she found full and stable reconciliation.
It was not just on the main stage this theme played out. Butler Spratt found he had nothing to fear from having his secret brought into the light. Isobel found open and vulnerable confrontation was the only path to restoration with her love interest. Mary’s realizations about why she feared a relationship humbled her, enabling her happy ending.
The pattern was repeated again and again. Characters had darkness in their past they were tempted to keep hidden. While they tried to keep it hidden, that darkness directed them away from their happiness. Only by owning that past were they able to move towards a happier future, reconciled with the people who were important to them.
This theme was at its most potent in the story of Thomas. Thomas was a conniving villain much of the show. Though he secretly cherished the friends and family of the abbey, his aloof manner and penchant for insults kept him separated from the others. Only through honestly revealing his sadness and longing was his reconciliation and final exaltation possible.
There is a great deal of irony in the New York Times criticizing British lord of the manor and Downton creator/writer Fellowes for penning an “American” ending. One is tempted to say that it is very “American” for the New York Times to think it knows English writing better than one of the premier English screenwriters. But it’s not a matter of the Atlantic divide here. Fellowes is a practicing Roman Catholic. He believes coming into the light can change the path of a person’s life. It’s heartening to see that faith portrayed on the screen in such vibrancy.