WITH SPOILERS: By now, most fans of “Downton Abbey” in the US know what the Brits learned on Christmas Day: Matthew Crawley is most sincerely dead. After seeing his newborn son, Matthew died in automobile accident, on camera, blood pouring out of his head. Series creator Julian Fellowes and the producers took out their most decided unhappiness about actor Dan Stevens leaving them after three seasons. Stevens as much as told us this at the Broadway premiere of “The Heiress” when his rude publicist almost tackled me to get him away.
Stevens had been giving interviews saying he’d brought his family to America and was looking forward to sticking around. He’s walked away from the best show on television on two continents and massive popularity. So what now? Will he follow in the footsteps of George Clooney and make a successful transition to movies? Or will Stevens become the British equivalent of David Caruso, who spurned “NYPD Blue” years ago for a movie career that fizzled immediately? It’s hard to say. Remember Clooney stuck with “ER” for several years before making that full time jump. It was Caruso who left “NYPD Blue” right away.
Stevens might very well have stuck it out for two more seasons of “Downton.” After all, the show only produces a handful of episodes per season–it’s not like he was required to make 22 episodes. And he squandered the good will of fans he was courting for future work.
Mary (Michelle Dockery) won’t be alone for along. Fellowes is already casting for a new love interest, not a husband, but an intermediary fellow. And it wouldn’ surprise anyone if the fifth season endgame brings Mary together with her brother-in-law, Tom Branson, the former chauffeur.
Meanwhile, “Downton” ends season three on a high note otherwise. The double episode was of the highest quality, beautifully shot in Scotland. It resolved many plot points and character interactions in case Fellowes wants to make other changes for Season Four. For one thing, Rose will be back–she’s to this series what Georgina (Lesley Anne Down) was to the original “Upstairs Downstairs.” And you might surmise that Jimmy, the footman, may be gone as his purpose has been fulfilled. The addition of Charles Edwards as Edith’s complicated suitor is perfect, though.
“Downton” advanced one year with this double episode–it may be 1922 or 1923 when the return. It will be the Roaring Twenties, the Jazz Age, Paris in the 20s– lots of material for Fellowes to have fun with. Let’s hope it doesn’t get too modern. Just as Branson once told Sybil he had “mitral valve prolapse” long before it was invented, tonight he offered a few other modern idea–like a “learning curve”– that wasn’t really introduced into the mainstream language until the 1930s. But that’s Branson– always ahead of his time.