'Masterpiece: Downton Abbey - Season 6'
(Hugh Bonneville, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, Brendan Coyle, Michelle Dockery, et al / 4-Disc DVD / NR / 2016 / PBS)
Overview: Rejoin the Crawley family for a sixth and final season of the award-winning Downton Abbey, featuring intimately interlaced stories centered on the English country estate. The beloved cast includes Hugh Bonneville, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, Brendan Coyle, Michelle Dockery, and many others.
DVD Verdict: Prepare yourselves, all your devoted 'Downton Abbey' fans, for this is (for now, at least) the last time we hear that sweeping intro music on new episodes of your beloved show. The last walk up the grass to Downton with that beautiful blonde Labrador dog in the opening credits. It's so happy to see a new season and so sad to see it end. It's a notoriously difficult challenge to end an iconic series in a way that pleases the most ardent fans. So many loose ends to be tied. So many ways to either triumph, or go astray, while tying loose ends in the few episodes remaining.
Indeed, I am sure many of us have experienced an awkward final season to a favorite show before. So I have to say I am impressed with how they navigated those difficult waters and gave us something wonderful here. I think this season shouldn't be judged by other seasons alone, but also favorably by that same challenge of concluding something we all love so dearly, yet by definition, hate to see end. It is fitting in this case they used a clever device to say goodbye, not just to the series, but to the entire era. More on that device later.
As you already know, but for those that perhaps do not yet, 'Downton Abbey' takes soap opera to a new high, comparable to the classic novels, full of complex characters, good and evil. The acting is nothing short of superb and the sets and costume are so realistic as to transport one back in time. I can hardly wait for each night when I allow myself the pleasure to sit and watch a new episode. This is a series one wishes would never end, although we know full well it has, sadly, just done that!
In my humble opinion, Season 3 was the best, done very well, even better than the two previous seasons; which were themselves masterpieces! And, of course, back then we had one of the major lead characters killed off, which sent waves of uproar, disapproval and general angst around the online communities!
However, this sixth and final season uses an interesting device to morph that period in history that we have become so comfortable within with what we know will eventually happen to these great houses and the people that inhabited them; both upstairs and downstairs. I am referring to these great houses opening to the public to generate revenue as a life line. As a small part of the total story, there is a charity open-house held at Downton Abbey on behalf of the local hospital. Downton Abbey and Highclere Castle hint at becoming one as we see people flow through and peek into the inhabitants' lives and history. The public (though of their time period of course) actually go through and interact with the family.
It is some of the funnier and more poignant moments of season 6. The season as a whole is a farewell, not just to the show, but to that way of life. We see the new world of things like auto racing and career options coming into bloom. Conversely, less prepared estates near Downton are being sold off, piece by piece. We see the affects of these estate failures on both the aristocrats that held them and the servants or tenants that worked there. At Downton also, the staff delves further into their new career options while others, who are not adapting well to changing times, begin to worry about a world that has no place for them.
Upstairs, both Lady Edith and Lady Mary take control of their lives and assert their place managing their own professional endeavors. They both entertain new loves and marriage possibilities. But Lady Edith still has to come to terms with the secret of her child Marigold. One of Lady Mary's new suitors is a gentleman race car driver (darkly ironic given the past). We are introduced to an interesting historical character Neville Chamberlain who is Minister of Health at the time. Violet throws a rather ironic line to him after a dinner party argument.
But, I will leave that for the viewer to pick out and consider the foreshadowing of Chamberlain's future. Perhaps an ironic nod to future events. There is also lots of relationship anecdote provided by Carson and Hughes that is quite funny.
Anyway, and in closing, I thought it was very fitting the way they used this season as a farewell or transition from that world, and not just a farewell to a series. It meshed well. The open house used as a device was brilliant! There are moments where the season has to cover open plot lines and check the boxes we all want resolved (perhaps more in the middle episodes). It's a sentimental season to be sure. Those who really desire to see where each subplot was going will be gratified, if we are patient for the ties. Those averse to a bit of ceremony might be cognizant of it at rare times.
The show does have to take time here and there to check the boxes as necessary to wrap things up. However, just when you think they might follow too many strings, a little curve or conflict is thrown in to keep the season fresh. I admit, there are directions for one or two characters that had me concerned for a bit.
Oh, and for those confused over the mention of "The Holiday Special" from the UK, this is included on this release as the final episode as with previous seasons. The US does not delay the final episode to air over the holidays as they do in the UK, partly because the holidays are already over by the time the show begins airing here in the US. I hope that helps explain that little blip that might have crossed your mind when settling in for this delightful few evenings worth of consecutive viewing delights. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.77:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs that comes with the special features that include:
- Changing Times
- The Cars of Downton Abbey
- Farewell to Highclere
- Bonus Disc includes: 'Indian Summers' Season 1, Episode 1 + 'Grantchester' Season 1, Episode 1 + 'Poldark' Season 1, Episode 1