By Margie Reins Smith
“FOR GOD’S SAKE, LOOK WHERE YOU’RE GOING. LOOK AT THE ROAD.
“NO. NO. NO!”
Damn. I KNEW it. Rumor had it somebody was going to die at the end of the third season of PBS’s hit soap“Downton Abbey.” I heard it would be shocking. I hoped it wasn’t Matthew. I also heard that Dan Stevens, the actor who plays Matthew, was in a Broadway play and Julian Fellowes, the writer of Downton Abbey, was obliged to write him out of the series. We already lost the Turkish diplomat (who kicked the bucket in Lady Mary’s bed); Daisy’s devoted love me/love me not husband; Lady Sybil; and Lavinia the Good, Matthew’s fiancée.
Matthew– boyishly handsome Matthew -- was the Grantham family’s most affable, likeable, level-headed member. He connected everybody else in the best ways. He was at the heart of the story – the heir to Downton after Lord Grantham’s immediate heirs went to the bottom of the north Atlantic with the Titanic. It took two seasons to get Matthew and Lady Mary to realize they were meant for each other.
To my mind, Mary should have inherited the whole shebang immediately, being Lord Grantham’s first-born. But no, she wasn’t the correct gender. She was merely the oldest daughter. Marrying cousin Matthew, the legal heir, would solve that messy problem and tie up things quite nicely.
So. Matthew survived the war, paralysis, an engagement to goody-goody Lavinia and a dozen misunderstood conversations with Lady Mary. Mary and Matthew married, finally. She got pregnant, finally. He was thrilled with his new son and heir. He was going to guide the family fortune out of near bankruptcy to prosperity by practicing more modern ideas of estate management.
He loved Mary “more and more every day until the day I die."
“Until the day I . . . .”
He DID die and now we’ll have to wait until next fall to see how everybody adjusts to this startling development. What’s going to happen to Matthew’s mother, Isobel? How will Lady Mary take to single parenting and another year of black dresses. Will she finally get off her high horse and refrain from looking down her aquiline nose at everybody who doesn’t share her views?
I’ve been hooked Downton since the first episode, which I stumbled upon two years ago one Sunday evening while playing with my channel-changer. I’m shaken and saddened by Matthew’s demise, but I won’t quit watching.
I have some other concerns about this story, these impeccably etiquette-savvy upper crusters and their supposedly well-mannered servants.
Doors. Do any of the doors in Downton Abbey have locks? Have any of these genteel aristocrats -- or their staff -- been told that Miss Manners says one should knock politely on a closed door before whipping it open, barging in and finding someone in disarray?
Sometimes the unlocked door sequences turn out OK; sometimes not.
In the first season, when Bates was sick, Anna walked into his room carrying a tray of food. That turned out OK --- in the long run.
Jimmy’s door wasn’t locked and Thomas didn’t consider knocking when he sneaked in one night after being misled (by Nasty O’Brien) about Jimmy’s sexual preference. That did not turn out well.
In last week’s episode the new maid, Edna, walked into Tom’s room while he was changing his clothes. Just barged in! No knock. Then she kissed him. Bad idea. That did not turn out well for her. She barely had time to pack.
Jimmy tapped lightly on Thomas’s door in the last episode – a barely audible “rap rap.” Without waiting for a reply, he walked in. He thanked Thomas for defending him, maybe saving his life. They cleared the air about that (hush hush) “attraction” thing. Thomas is gay, for God’s sake, but apparently homosexuality was illegal in England at the turn of the 20th Century. Thomas and Jimmy talked it out and decided they could be friends, at least. That turned out OK.
I thought these were people who adhered strictly to the rules of etiquette. They get all gussied up in tuxes and silks and the good jewelry for dinner, but charge in to each other’s rooms without second thought.
I love Maggie Smith’s Lady Grantham, the Dowager. I looked up Dowager and learned it’s simply “a dignified, elderly woman.”
The Dowager has some of the best lines in the show, but Smith can take a ho-hum line and enhance it by raising her chin to one side, arching an eyebrow, closing her eyes, and quivering, ever so slightly.
But I digress. Back to poor dead adorable Matthew. I emailed some friends who are also hooked on this sudsy saga. One emailed back: “I have been keening, wailing and beating my breast all night long,” she wrote. “How could they!!”
Stevens (Matthew) is currently on stage in New York playing the part of a fortune hunter in The Heiress, an adaptation of Henry James’ novel, Washington Square.
Stevens was interviewed by Sarah Crompton of The Telegraph about his decision to leave Downton Abbey. “I wanted a chance to do other things,” he said. “It felt like a good time to . . . take a moment. (Downton Abbey) is a very monopolizing job. So there is a strange sense of liberation at the same time as great sadness because I am very, very fond of the show and always will be.”
We were very fond of you, too, Matthew.