I'd better state this before you even think about scrolling down - there are spoilers in this post. If you haven't watched the episode, don't read it, even if you have somehow heard the biggest spoiler.
Which really wouldn't be that surprising, as the British papers have been pretty vocal about it. There's almost no way to be an American, on the internet, and remain an unspoiled Downton Abbey Fan. But do try, please!
I'll admit, I was nervous when I heard that this special would be taking place at Rose's house. I hadn't been thrilled with Rose's character during the earlier episodes and wasn't keen on seeing more of her. However, her character was handled well and the actress was given a chance to really prove her acting chops, which turn out to be quite formidable. Plus, her relationship with her parents and theirs with each other was well written, and both her father and mother were well cast. And at the end it becomes quite clear that Rose is about to become a season regular, bringing fresh youth to the show that lost it's most passionate young bloom this year.
Lord and Lady Grantham remain background figures, but do well in very supporting roles. We didn't see nearly enough of Cousin Violet, but her bits, as always, are priceless.
The dialogue faltered at a few places, particularly during Edith's lines, and it seemed strongly to me to be poor writing, not poor acting. Which is a pity because Edith is brilliant when given decent stuff to do. This whole 'mad wife' editor proposing for her to be his mistress storyline is just frustrating. Seriously, Edith?
Anna and Bates finally got a chance to just be sweet and in love... not dealing with manipulations, downstairs politics, or prison sentences. It was a refreshing change, especially to see Anna looking young and happy again.
It was also enjoyable to see the servants having fun as well, although I'm furious with Mrs. Patmore's slimy suitor. Thankfully the lady is made of stronger stuff than to be laid low by his duplicity!
I'm also glad with the resolution of the Thomas/Jimmy storyline. It allowed them both to show their maturity, and reach a compromise wherein they can live in the same house and even have a solid friendship.
Alfred and Daisy should get married and start a restaurant. Just saying.
Edna... I feel like she was only thrown in there to give Branson something to do. Poor Tom. He just sat around being confused the whole episode. Although it was lovely to see him with little Sybbie... though nothing can compare to the cuteness of Carson playing nursemaid!
And now I have to turn to the best and worst of the episode.
Mary was a beautiful, serene, mother-to-be. It was delightful to see her and Matthew together, anticipating the birth of their child. And then, a happy birth, with no complications... a son and heir! All was right with the world. In my mind, I want to think the show ended there. Some storylines unresolved... but with hope for the future.
And then they killed Matthew.
No warning, except that he was driving too fast, and those of us who had heard rumors of Dan Stevens leaving the show got suddenly suspicious...
Let's be honest here. Sure, Dan has a right to go and do what he wants with his career, and three years probably was as long as he wanted to do Downton.
BUT. His character was one of the most central figures, and certainly the most pivotal. If you'd asked me which characters could not, under any circumstances leave the show, I would have answered Matthew or Mary.
For Dan to leave, now, with such a sudden resolution, really leaves the show in a bind. We already lost Sybil, now Matthew is gone, and with it are two of the most beloved, sweet, admirable characters on the show. I have no doubt they can and will carry on with another season or two, but the show will loose some of it's luster, and already has lost fans. I'm not the only viewer who feels that Steven's move shows a lack of consideration for his co-stars, who have to carry on without him.
Of course, they will manage. In real life, people die, and we carry on. Mary will manage, as Branson has (perhaps they even will together, as some fans speculate). Still, to have such a violent, unexpected death on the Christmas Special is jarring and just plain cruel to the fans.
I will keep watching because I care about the other characters. I love them all, and I'm looking forwards to the addition of Rose to the cast. But it's a grim day. I first started watching the show because of Dan Stevens (who I loved in "Sense and Sensibility") and it will be hard to watch a Downton without him.