Wrapping up the Matthew Crawley Storyline
Okay, so the tabloids were right. According to the Telegraph interview, Dan Stevens decided to leave the series in February, when it was first reported that he hadn’t signed up for future seasons. This probably means that Julian Fellowes knew his Matthew Crawley was leaving and decided then to write him out of the story by killing him off rather than recasting.
In retrospect, Season 3 was all about wrapping up the Matthew Crawley storyline. I thought it was a weak season and would have liked to see more strong stories for the other characters. What we got, instead, were closures about Matthew.
l. He gets over his Lavinia guilt and takes her father’s money and then saves the estate, making it possible for the family to stay at Downton.
2. He helps usher Branson into the family (best man, etc.) and then gets him involved in strategizing how to modernize the estate. Finally Robert (via the Dowager) makes Branson the estate manager.So now we don’t need Matthew anymore because we have the money and a manager for the estate.
3. Next Matthew and Mary have to have a baby and settle the succession issue with a new heir. There are a few bumps along the way, but that happens in the CS. I assume (not being up on English inheritance law) that since the baby was born before Matthew died, the baby is now the heir.
4. Matthew spent most of the season telling Mary over and over again that he loved her. Have we ever seen a character’s lines so dominated by professions of love, right up to the last scene with her and the baby? Fellowes must have been making sure that Mary would as a widow know that she had been loved for who she really was, and that will make her a better person. Sure, it would have been nice to have M/M go on to old age together, but with Stevens leaving, Fellowes has done the next best thing, by giving Mary good memories and the knowledge she was loved. Exit Matthew with Mary still whole.
5. Then there is Edith. Throughout Season 3 Matthew was her champion, encouraging her taking on the column, etc. But in the CS he reverted to tradition and became as conservative about her happiness with the can’t-marry-you editor as Robert would be. He told Gregson to call it off. So Matthew is no longer necessary to be Edith’s support. Instead, she goes against him and stands up for what she wants and what she feels. She doesn’t need Matthew any more.
6. Robert and Cora. In the CS Robert states what he’s already come to realize, that Matthew’s plans for the estate were right. So we know that Robert is now on the right track, Cora supports him, all is well with them. Downton will not fail with mismanagement or risky investments by Robert again. Matthew did his job; Robert doesn’t need him anymore.
7. Finally, Isobel. As much as she loved her only son, she has been less in his life in Season 3, and now we see hints that perhaps Dr. Clarkson, as a friend if not as a future husband, will be there for her. She’s not alone in the village.
I wish Matthew hadn’t died alone in a ditch. But looking back at all these plot points in Season 3, it is clear Fellowes was preparing the whole story to absorb that ending. He is as good a writer as the cast says he is. I’m just sorry Dan Stevens didn’t give him a chance to work on a less distressing storyline.
As for Dan? As he said in interviews this fall, “We’ll have to see.” He has a lot of competition in his age bracket for good film roles. And I wonder how Hollywood will rank him after they see all the fan backlash. (It took 10 years or more for David Caruso to recover from leaving Hill Street Blues.) I think Dan has made a big career mistake. But “we’ll have to see.”
Yeah I think in retrospect, it’s been coming all season. The moment Robert starts talking about how he is so grateful for Matthew’s plans, that’s the proverbial nail on the coffin. Or literal. Whatever.