Spoiler alert. Go no further if you don't want to know how Downton Abbey ended.
Because I'm a total sucker for happy endings, the series finale did not disappoint. It was in the best tradition of the fairy tale ending I love: they all lived happily ever after. Best of all, for my fellow nice girls fans out there, Lady Edith finally finished first.
For six years, many of us have identified with the struggles of the middle daughter Edith, wedged between her beautiful, charismatic, and sometimes cruel older sister Mary and her sweet, rebellious, spirited, and dead little sister Sybil. She bore her disappointments stoically: a humiliating jilting at the altar, the disappearance of her lover, and the shame of having borne her daughter, Marigold, out of wedlock. At times, it felt like her own parents, the Earl of Grantham Robert Crawley and his wife Cora were indifferent to Edith and her suffering.
Robert: "Poor old Edith. We never seem to talk about her."
Cora: "I'm afraid Edith will be the one to take care of us in our old age."
So here was the best thing about the series finale: Lady Edith wins. Although she endured six seasons of being called "Poor Edith," and being snubbed and taunted by Lady Mary, it is Edith who has the beautiful wedding and snags the high-status husband, Bertie Pelham, the 7th Marquess of Hexham. And they even love one another as an added bonus.
If that weren't a happy enough ending for folks like me, all loose ends were tied up in a neat, happy bow. Downton Abbey didn't leave me scratching my head like The Sopranos or Lost. Its creator, Julian Fellowes, totally understood his characters and their fans. Thus, Mary is pregnant and even nice; Tom, husband of the late Lady Sybil, seems attracted to Edith's administrative assistant; Isobel marries Lord Merton; Cora reconciles with her deliciously witty mother-in-law Violet (the delightful Maggie Smith); and Robert accepts Cora's work.
And that's only half of the delightfully tidy happy ending. Downstairs, the servants are also treated to the ending they deserve. The much-beleaguered Anna and John Bates have a healthy baby boy. Daisy seems on track to move in with her former father-in-law and marry Andy, and Mrs. Patmore seems ready to accompany them. Molesely leaves service to become a teacher. Even Thomas Barrow, a sly cruel, friendless character for much of the show, becomes kind, beloved, and the future butler of Downton Abbey. And poor Carson, who has to step down as butler because of his sudden onset of "palsy," seems happy enough to be an advisor to Barrow and husband to the eternally wise and patient Mrs. Hughes. Why they even get to have first names: Charlie and Elsie.
Some shows I loved like Parenthood, Six Feet Under, or Breaking Bad ended sadly. While I foresaw and accepted the deaths of beloved (or interesting in the case of Walter White) characters, tears of joy over happiness generally trump tears of sadness in my book. Other endings I thought were perfect included Mad Men, Friday Night Lights, Mash, and even 30 Rock. I felt closure rather than feeling cheated like I did by the last episode of Seinfeld.
Aside from the fact that I watch far too much television, my reaction to the Downton Abbey finale was total satisfaction. I didn't have to wonder about the future of a single character or worry that fate had treated them cruelly. It was a perfect soap opera ending. Characters had suffered many disappointments, but in the end, each of them was rewarded. I guess it's the life lesson that appeals to me so much. Endure, be true to yourself and kind to others, and in the end, you will be rewarded with a happy ending.
Of course, I know that is not how life works. But when my favorite character, the Dowager Countess Violet, proclaims at the end of Edith's wedding to Bertie, "With any luck, they'll be happy enough. Which is the English version of a happy ending," I bid Downton Abbey farewell with a resounding YES.