Let's be honest - this series of Downton Abbey hasn't exactly been the lightest we've seen. The Lady Sybil popping-her-clogs episode was basically an hour-long sobfest, and things understandably stayed pretty dark after that. So it was interesting that tonight's finale endeavoured to leave things on a high note - and there was plenty of ridiculous soapery for us all to enjoy, too.
The most enticing storyline remained Thomas and everything to do with him, just because it lent itself so well to silliness (and amazing euphemisms, too, as Miss O'Brien snarks: "I am surprised to find you're a fan of Mr Oscar Wilde" to Bates, who's taken it upon himself to help Thomas after O'Brien's evil scheming.)
Not everything about this made sense, though - Carson had already decided to fire Thomas (conveniently hiding the real reason with Bates's return), but apparently that's not quite enough for Miss O'Brien, so she forces Jimmy to ensure Carson refuses to give Thomas a reference (effectively consigning him to unemployment) by pointing out that if he doesn't, everyone will think he liked being kissed by Mr Barrow.
Sure, fine, this is entertaining enough... but why exactly is O'Brien so determined to completely and utterly ruin Thomas? After all, the tension between them this series came from Thomas's jealousy as Alfred arrived. But O'Brien got what she wanted - Thomas leaving Downton - and so it's hard to understand why exactly she wants to take it so far.
Anyway, everything sorts itself out in the end, because this is the finale and we have to leave things happily. So while at one point I was afraid that things were going to get seriously dark and Thomas was going to 'end it all' (credit where credit's due, Rob James-Collier was pretty damn good this episode), it's Bates to the rescue.
Yep, Bates is still unbearably 'good' (and the less said about the vomit-inducing 'spilling paint on himself' scene with Anna, the better) - seeing Thomas all broken, he feels compelled to help him. While Thomas can barely bring himself to stand up to O'Brien, he does give Bates three little words to make her back down: "Her ladyship's soap". This is another example of Downton doing melodrama well, making it super entertaining.
But while the show goes to pains to display the attitude towards homosexuality at the time (there's lots of talk about it being disgusting and sinful and all that kind of mumbo jumbo), we aren't allowed to dislike the characters too much. So there's a sense of understanding there too, however much Carson insists that he isn't a liberal, thank you very much.
That means that Robert ("If I screamed blue murder every time someone tried to kiss me at Eton I would have gone hoarse in a month") decides to find a new job for Thomas after all. This is admittedly a bit of a cop out, but honestly I'm just kind of glad James-Collier will be around a little longer. And it's oh so gratifying to see Bates sick that he's not getting rid of Thomas.
Of course, the storyline wasn't perfect by any means - and we really didn't need Alfred calling the police, since that was all sorted out within about two minutes (unless it was just for the joy of Hugh Bonneville saying the word "squiffy"). In fact, there did seem to be plenty of unneccessary plots stuck into the instalment, presumably to pad out the baggy 90-minute running time.
For example, everything to do with naughty Lady Rose and her little affair with a married man was completely unnecessary - why introduce a character in the finale, only to send her up to Scotland in disgrace? Sure, it was entertaining enough seeing Lady Rosamund, Edith and Matthew pick their way delicately through a club, but I have absolutely no investment in Rose, and couldn't care less what she's up to. I can only assume that she's being set up for a bigger role next series.
Similarly, why introduce the fact that Edith's beloved editor has a wife, only to resolve it in the very next second with the explanation that his spouse is, of all things, in an asylum? I mean, really? Really?
This was a theme for much of the episode - a lot of the time, it seemed as if the show was just desperate to wrap things up as quickly as possible. So Mary hides that she's going to a fertility doctor until she bumps into Matthew (because apparently there is only one doctor in London, and of course they'd run into each other at the same time.) But anyway, everything's fine and Matthew can quite creepily declare that they can start baby-making. Time for those tingles to make a return.
Elsewhere, Ethel finally makes an exit after Violet's conspiracies come together (and Mrs Bryant offers to let her see her son Charlie if she takes a position nearby). Of course, Violet isn't doing this out of the kindness of her heart but because she wants the fallen woman to stop bringing scandal to her family; anything else is just a bonus.
Maggie Smith is as joyous as ever to watch throughout the episode - everything suddenly gets raised about ten notches when she appears - and she's particularly wonderful when Isobel grumps that she would have sold Charlie to the butcher if it would achieve the same ends. "Happily," she deadpans, "it was not necessary."
And, naturally, after some more indignant and angry outburts, Robert finally agrees to work with Tom and Matthew on changing the way the estate is run (though not before the writers have shoehorned in a reference to Charles Ponzi). Meanwhile, Tom decides to stay at Downton while Sybil grows up and - in a serious case of sledgehammer symbolism - eventually agrees to represent the house in the town's annual cricket match. Still, at least it looks like we'll be getting more Allen Leech.
But yes, we end with cricket, because what could be a more British way of tying loose ends together? Molesley, who's been boasting about his skills all episode, predictably ends up being rubbish. Tom, who's never played, catches someone out. And the season ends with a slow-motion shot of Tom, Robert and Matthew with their arms around each other. I wish I was making this up, because I think the show would struggle to end on a cheesier note - it's not exactly on the level of the war starting or Bates being arrested for murder, is it?
But clearly after a pretty dark series, we needed a light fluffy ending, and that's acceptable enough. Everything's tied up passably, and the Thomas storyline is certainly sufficiently entertaining to keep the momentum of Downton Abbey going. The only question is - what next?
What did you think of the finale of Downton Abbey? Let us know below!