Many of us struggled with the recently completed second season of costumed PBS/BBC megahit Downton Abbey. And for good reason. It zigzagged relentlessly, introducing subplot after ridiculous subplot, the bandaged Canadian stranger being the lowest blow, an understandable point of no return for some. Perhaps the culprit was the editing for US audiences, who knows, certainly a slower boil in the last few episodes would have gone a long way (though I’m not sure it could have saved the arc entirely).
This is not to say the season was without merit. Julian Fellowes may have been focusing a bit more on Dowager-voiced bon mots this time around, but his dramatic touch did not leave him entirely. That is, his shooting percentage may have declined, but the man can still mix a powerful brew of cathartic grace (without resorting to scandal) when he needs to. Nowhere was this more evident than in the character of Daisy. Her scenes in the finale stole the show from Matthew and Lady Mary and gave us all a worthy reminder of why we fell in love with the series in the first place.
For those who haven’t watched this past season, consider this your spoiler alert.
Ever since Downton began, we have been rooting for Daisy, the clumsy, simple-minded servant girl, and William Mason, the kind, boyish footman who clearly held a candle for her. At first, Daisy doesn’t give him the time of day, but ever so slowly, his sweet demeanor wears her down and she warms toward him. Not to the point where she reciprocates his feelings per se, but certainly to the point where she is no longer avoiding his bright-eyed advances. When William enlists in the British Army (World War I is on) and asks Daisy to marry him, she can’t bring herself to say no. She knows that she’s not quite “there” romantically, but the last thing she wants is for him to go to the front with a broken heart. So with a conflicted conscience, she consents to the engagement, and the writing is on the wall.
William suffers a fatal injury and is brought back to Downton, where the house rallies to fulfill his dying wish; he and Daisy marry a few hours before he succumbs to his wounds. Daisy, again, is deeply reluctant about the whole affair (esp in regard to the widow’s pension she’ll receive from the state) but cannot summon the callousness to assert herself.
In the wake of William’s death, his father, the lonely, grieving Mr. Mason, reaches out to his late son’s bride, in the understandable hopes of establishing some kind of a relationship. The indefatigably honest Daisy, feeling that she married William under false pretenses, runs away. She is plagued with guilt and regret, enough so that she breaks into tears when she is on her own (which the Dowager, in one of the finale’s most touching moments, compassionately addresses). Daisy cannot avoid Mr. Mason forever, however, and eventually accepts an invitation to tea at his humble dwelling. The following scene ensues:
Daisy: You shouldn’t have gone to all this trouble. Not for me. I don’t deserve it. Not when I was only married to William for a few hours.
Mr. Mason: You may not know this Daisy, but William had three brothers and a sister. All dead at birth, or not long after. I think that’s one reason why William married you. So that I wouldn’t be alone. Without you, I’d have no one to pray for. I think William knew that. So will you be my daughter? Let me take you into my heart? Make you special? You’ll have parents of your own of course…
Daisy: I haven’t got any parents. Not like that. I’ve never been special to anyone.
Mr. Mason: Except William.
Daisy: That’s right. I was only ever special to William. Never thought of it like that before.
Mr. Mason: Well, now you’re special to me.
Daisy has done everything she can to stiffarm Mr. Mason. She has clung with all her strength to an understanding of love as quid pro quo, that you can’t receive love from someone who you don’t love equally first. For Daisy, love is a matter of emotional righteousness, if you will, of this feeling for that feeling, and you can hardly blame her. But it is a conception which causes her immense suffering, because ultimately, it blurs her vision. She is entirely caught up with her perception of the situation. When Daisy finally catches a glimpse of how she is perceived, by William and consequently by his father, the scales fall from her eyes. What she thought was going on and what was actually going on were two different things. Mr. Mason is not relating to Daisy on the basis of her emotional righteousness – her feelings of affection – but on the basis of his son’s. And on that basis he wants to adopt her!
This is about as uncanny an illustration of God’s grace as we could hope to find on network television. That God relates to you and me not according to feelings or attributes that we bring to the table, but those that his son brought. As a result we are adopted as children, receiving the same benefit, the same care, the same inheritance, the same love as the Son. It’s profoundly Good News – and no coincidence that Daisy’s final scene of the season finds her standing up for herself in a way that we could have never imagined beforehand. In fact, her change in status from orphan to daughter leads to another change in status, as she becomes a cook’s assistant. In other words, the imputed belovedness bears fruit almost immediately (not that it had to!).
No doubt Fellowes and the Downton crew were not aiming to present a Christian allegory here. They were simply trying to tell the story in a believable way. At least in this instance, they succeeded.