Julian Fellowes had his work cut out in the final 90 minutes of this series, with eight sprawling story lines to tie up neatly with a gigantic Christmas-ready bow.
Instead, he threw the gauntlet down with a brand new character, in the form of great-niece Rose, an 18-year-old upstart who "hates London, but loves dancing". Hmmm.
The Dowager’s advice on how to treat the little smart Alec-lette was “keep smiling and never look as if you disapprove" - but that was before Rose announced she was off to the metropolis she claimed to despise, and then did a bunk to that den of iniquity, the Blue Dragon, or “the outer circle of Dante’s inferno” as Matthew Crawley would have it.
Matthew proved his manliness, looking after Rose on the dancefloor of the fabled Blue Dragon
And so, in the dying minutes of this third series, we were at last allowed a bit of nightclub feathers and flapper-dom, a sniff of the 1920s that the Crawley folk had done such a good job of hiding from until now. Strangely for someone with a war-wound who spends half his life in a dressing gown, Matthew knew instinctively how to acquit himself on the dancefloor, while he was coming over all manly and protective to boot.
If only Mary could have seen him in such cavalier stance, because the pair of them were giving the family cause for concern. Mary was just too “tired from London” and busy checking on train times to whip off the dressing gown, but it turned out there was nothing wrong with either of them. How they laughed, and kissed, and prepared to “start making babies”... ewww. Please, no. It’s like watching your parents.
Edith was meant to be keeping an eye on young Rose, but she was distracted with work AND romance. Except her courtly editor Gregson was, in fact, married... to a lunatic. Never mind about that love dilemma to be worried about in the next series, the subtext of this one could have been The Blossoming of the Middle Sister. There was a new worldliness about Edith even in this episode, and definitely a fresh glint in the eye. Great to see.
Mary and Matthew could laugh now
The whole Rose story seemed a little top-heavy for the final episode, considering how many story lines Fellowes had to tie up back at the estate. It only served to illustrate the Dowager’s devotion to the family’s good name, which meant the sending off the pitch of Ethel, happily nearer her boy. Another storyline - tick.
Downstairs, it was all about the continuing decline of Thomas Barrow. Not only was he professionally out in the cold with Mr Bates’ reinstatement, but his fate was in the freezing hands of Jimmy and the shadowy figure of O’Brien.
But where Mr Carson’s compassion couldn’t save him - “I’ve never been called a liberal in my life,” he announced indignantly - the heavy boot of Mr Bates’ goodwill could weigh in instead. He put down the paintbrush in his new house (which was thankful, because he and Mrs Bates were in danger of becoming the new Matthew and Mary, ie married, smug, boring) long enough to threaten O’Brien with her big secret becoming known, which had the desired effect of bringing her straight back in line. What could the big secret be, pray? Oh, my goodness - it was only the fateful soap, making its narrative journey all the way from Series 1 when it caused Lady Grantham’s tragedy at O’Brien’s meddling hands. No wonder she zipped up pronto and Thomas was a free man.
Lady Edith - her blossoming is complete
Except for the machinations of Alfred, who’s been problematic all series, and dobbed him in to two Plods, who made their unexpected arrival on the cricket green just when it looked like everything was working out.
But suddenly, Earl Grantham, who until this point had been bashing his head against the wall of modern-living and spitting feathers over changes to the estate ... “there’s this chap, what’s his name, Ponzi?” he asked hopefully - became one of those progressive Earls that live in the company of Lord Longford and co, persuading Alfred that Thomas, like all of us, deserved a fair chance - just as Branson secured an almighty catch and Matthew persuaded his father-in-law to “give it a go and see what the future holds”.
For Julian Fellowes, the outlook is more certain. After a satisfying conclusion to all things crucial but enough loose ends left dangling, he’ll be busy with Series 4.
Did Downton Abbey leave you wanting more? Let us know, and for the final time (until the Christmas special), here are pictures of all your favourites in action below...