The season finale of “Downton Abbey” has come and gone, and anecdotal evidence suggests that half of America’s TV viewers might never be the same.
What will become of Branson? Is Edith really going to have an affair with a married man? And Matthew—why must Matthew have been killed?!
The social-media outcry at about 11 p.m. Sunday was testament to the explosive, if somewhat perplexing, popularity of “Downton.” How could an English period drama possibly have swept through America so completely in a mere three seasons?
Some fans have joked it’s because “Downton” is a glorified soap opera that feels “classy” because of the English accents. As one friend remarked, “You can almost count it as reading.”
But the truth is that somewhere in that glorious countryside manor, we see a clear reflection of our culture today.
For every wildly unrelatable thing—wearing tails to dinner every night!—there are at least two totally familiar themes: unrequited love, disappointed parents, infertility, family tradition, homosexuality, class struggles.
This past season, perhaps the main theme of “Downton Abbey” was change. Society, culture, technology—all of it was moving faster than many of the abbey dwellers would like to have admitted. Women were redefining themselves, and the gap between rich and poor was starting to narrow in surprising fashion. The old-school English way of Downton was threatened by economics, an immigrant in-law, and new models of thinking about the world.
Any of that sound familiar?
We all like to think we’re special and unique, but in many ways, life a hundred years ago was very much like it is today. What we learn from history, and from “Downton Abbey,” is that resisting change is futile. We have the choice to embrace that change and see the world with new eyes or be left behind, counting our losses.