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'Downton Abbey' series finale: Did it win back the critics?

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(Read caption) 'Downton Abbey' stars Michelle Dockery.

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The final episode of the British TV series “Downton Abbey” aired on March 6, concluding the program that garnered high ratings for PBS. 

“Downton” debuted in the US in 2011 and centered on a high-born English family (portrayed by actors including Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, and Maggie Smith) and those who served them (portrayed by actors including Brendan Coyle, Joanne Froggatt, and Phyllis Logan). 

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The show quickly became a sensation and the most-viewed drama ever for PBS. “Downton” has been nominated for either the outstanding miniseries or movie Emmy Award or the best drama series Emmy Award every year it’s been on the air. 

The series finale ended on a happy note for just about all of the characters. Developments included Crawley sister Edith marrying her romantic interest Bertie and Edith’s mother-in-law learning about Edith’s illegitimate daughter, Marigold, as well as father Robert adjusting to his wife Cora’s new position as the leader of the board at the local hospital. In addition, Barrow, a servant at Downton, briefly went to work at another household but came back to Downton Abbey after the current butler, Carson, leaves his job.

Mary’s former mother-in-law, Mrs. Crawley, made the decision to marry Lord Merton, a family acquaintance, and Mary’s husband, Henry, and her brother-in-law, Tom, decided to start a business for used cars. In addition, maid Anna gave birth. 

Reviewers seem mostly won over by the finale, which mostly avoided any sudden disasters or sad twists. New York Times writer Louis Bayard wrote of the series conclusion, “I think it’s fair to say that [series creator] Julian Fellowes has given us an American happy ending. And why shouldn’t he? Haven’t we loved these foolish Granthams with all the fervor of their countrymen?... Downton Abbey and its residents were no more real than Middle-earth and, in the end, how little that mattered.”

Washington Post writer Joe Heim found the finale “slow and mostly satisfying … There will be some complaints that there was not enough excitement in this last episode ... But ‘Downton Abbey’ was never going to go out with a bang.” 

Meanwhile, Entertainment Weekly critic Jeff Jensen gave the series finale a B grade. “The finale was an unapologetically feel-good send-off that also wasn’t afraid to be blunt about its politics and idealism,” Jensen wrote. “…The finale didn’t have the guts to follow through on the season’s other major tension, the downsizing and liquidating of the estate and the phase-out of the Granthams’ increasingly untenable aristocratic way of life … Still, the wish-fulfillment was frequently clever and satisfying.” 

“Downton” started out as a widely praised program, earning a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for receiving the best reviews for a show in 2010. 

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But it ran for six seasons and, as with just about any show, some plotlines were more criticized than others. Much of the criticism centered around stories involving maid Anna and her husband, valet John Bates, including Anna being sexually assaulted by another servant. 

“One thread stands out as particularly problematic,” Time writer Graeme McMillan wrote of the incident. “What makes her assault so difficult isn’t the crime itself — although it felt as out of place in the normally placid series as Mr. Pamuk’s death-by-seduction in the first season — but its aftermath, and the character the show has emphasized as a result.  From the viewpoint of Downton Abbey, the person who suffered most wasn’t Anna, but her husband Bates.” 

That story led into one in which Bates was suspected of murdering Anna’s attacker and many critics disliked that storyline as well. “’Downton Abbey’ has always had a problem with making sense out of its crime/mystery plotlines, and this entire, now-two-season-spanning story is a prime example,” Vulture writer Jen Chaney wrote of the story. 

However, many reviewers seem to feel that the way plots were concluded in the series finale mostly made up for any missteps along the way. 

“We can now look back with a sort of fondness on that purported Titanic survivor who wandered in and out of the show and left no trace; that less-than-stirring recreation of a World War I battle; Edith dumping her child on the pig farmers; Rose’s jazz-age flirtation; and most everything in these last few seasons involving Anna and Bates,” USA Today critic Robert Bianco wrote of the show’s less popular plotlines. “In ‘Downton’’s case, though, time and Sunday's finale heals most wounds.”