'Downton Abbey' Season 2 Finale: What the Critics are Saying
The buzzworthy U.K. import has yet to set a date for its return, but has signed American actress Shirley MacLaine as its newest cast member.
Downton Abbey's second season drew to a close on Sunday, Feb. 19 with a Crawley Christmas. The two-hour season finale concluded with a Mary-Matthew engagement, a Sir Richard sendoff, the death penalty for Bates and a servants' ball.
The PBS series has been picked up for a third season, which is expected to pick up in the 1920s. American actress Shirley MacLaine has signed on to play Lady Grantham's (Elizabeth McGovern) mother and is just the second American cast member to join the program. The show will likely make its return in the U.K. in September, with a U.S. premiere to follow.
Read below for a sampling of reviews from Sunday's finale. Overall, the critics were pleased with the way showrunner Julian Fellowes and his writers tied up the sophomore season but are conflicted over the season as a whole.
TV Fanatic: The season two finale of Downton Abbey concluded with just about everything we could have wished for. I don't know if at the time they expected it to be the series finale, but we will indeed be blessed with a third.
While a lot happened, there wasn't much to analyze here. Everything was just there to soak in and enjoy.
Entertainment Weekly: The second season of Downton Abbey came to a somewhat merry, certainly satisfying conclusion on Sunday night by wrapping up some subplots and leaving others dangling, tantalizingly. Abbey is, at bottom, a work of pastiche. Creator-writer Julian Fellowes is using literary models that have worked for a long time, freshening them with his vivid characterization and (most of the time) crisply precise dialogue. What Fellowes has done so cannily is to render the servant-master relationship in two distinct modes: His models are Charles Dickens melodrama downstairs, and Anthony Powell archness upstairs.
HitFix: As I wrote back in January, I had a very mixed reaction to Downton season 1, where I loved most everything to do with Mr. Bates and the rest of the servants downstairs and rolled my eyes at most of what was happening upstairs with Lord and Lady Grantham. My reaction to season 2 was equally mixed, and yet weirdly backwards: I took much greater enjoyment out of what was going on with the lords and ladies than I had a year ago (though parts of their stories annoyed me) and suddenly began viewing anything to do with Bates and his Anna as the chore I had to get through to get to the rest.
On the whole, I would say Downton season 2 got more right than it got wrong. But it got enough wrong that a lot of fans I know who couldn't find fault with season 1 are now very nervous about what the next year will bring.
TV Guide: On Masterpiece Classic's always eventful and endlessly enjoyable Downton Abbey, we've (mostly) survived World War I and the Spanish Flu epidemic during this full but fleeting second season. In the great British tradition of leaving us wanting more — if my mailbag is any indication, much more — the series comes to a satisfying, if typically overstuffed, end for now with a two-hour holiday themed episode.
The Guardian: In some ways, Downton season two has been even more enjoyable because it is so (unintentionally?) funny. Even die-hard fans – and I still include myself in this category – have struggled to keep a straight face through 99% of this season.
In the early episodes there was some debate about the season's success. Some still argued (dementedly, in my view) that Downton was just the same as it had always been. But in recent weeks – and certainly since the ludicrous arrival and almost immediate disappearance of Bandaged Patrick, Who Might be the Rightful Heir if Only We Could Be Bothered to Flesh Out This Part of the Script – these voices have gone quiet.
Personally I am torn between feeling utter betrayal and total delight about season two. Which strikes me as a very Downton place to be. Could it be that it is actually better because it is worse?