This article contains spoilers. If you are not caught up on Downton Abbey, and plan to be. Do not read.
When Downton Abbey premiered 5 seasons ago now, it was Bates that seemed to be the heart of the show from the very opening. Bates, the slightly crippled old acquaintance of Lord Grantham, who would do anything at all, he was able to do. Just seemed he was not always up to the task.
But our favorite Earl saw it otherwise and decided to give Bates a try regardless. A break gone his way for once, and there would be many breaks to go against him soon enough.
Bates was kind of the unofficial star of the show. Mary and Matthew might have had the sex appeal, but it was "FREE BATES" t-shirts fans were buying up in droves, when our man was wrongfully imprisoned.
We would of course follow every character. But downstairs it seemed Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes and Daisy and Thomas and Mrs. Patmore and everyone else were just slightly off top billing, to what we wanted. A great love story between Bates and Anna. The younger and very attractive Anna; but hey if anyone deserved to marry above their station, that would be Bates.
But eventually, at least for this viewer, Julian Fellowes seemed to betray us just a bit. Two things were going on at once downstairs. For one, Bates and Anna were and are having so many problems, to the point I feel worn down. But not in a good, I care about all this so much kind of a way. More of a, "jeesh, who is gonna get locked up next? Their new puppy?"
Maybe there is a fine balance in portraying star crossed lovers. And maybe that is what Bates and Anna truly are, and we will be redeemed by good writing in season six. But while Fellowes made my eyes roll at another prison sentence, he has for a while now, been putting together one of the best and most real love stories in any television show. And he has been doing it nearly right under our noses.
Season 4 was a bit of a let down. I think the transition from Matthew's death and where to go next proved difficult for him. Because for a slow plodding show that prides itself on being as fast paced as the times its set in, in season 4 pretty much nothing at all happened of significance.
Until the very last scene.
Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson are walking out on the beach. They walk towards the water together to keep the other steady. Mrs. Hughes puts out her hand.
It is a more loving scene than just about anything you will see in any romantic comedy or Nicholas Sparks' film.
The two respective heads of all things downstairs. Two people that always seem most comfortable in each others company. Whether that is to be exasperated by one another, or agree on how to handle an outdoor luncheon. You know simply being in each others company is preferred to the alternative.
And there is something here not often seen in television shows concerning a potential couple. Not really. Or at least not this well done. And that is genuine respect. Respect that we see Fellowes slowly let build into something more, by so many subtle but also hard to miss touches.
When someone needs to be hired, Carson rarely sounds overly enthusiastic about any prospect. A good word from Mrs. Hughes and cut to the next time we are downstairs; do we need wonder who the new second footman is?
Carson happily singing to himself after a health scare for Mrs. Hughes turns out to be nothing. Mrs. Hughes noticing and smiling.
The only thing that might be more romantic than the notion of growing old together, is the notion of already being there, when you finally find someone.
There are some rumblings that season 6 will be the last for Downton Abbey. Though no one has confirmed that, so it is also likely the key people have not yet decided. But however much time we have left with these characters, I hope they get the send off that they deserve.
That might not mean the send off that feels fair. But life is not fair even for the well to do; a point Fellowes has made for a long time. The season 5 finale seemed so joyful in part, because no one died. Which means we should probably prepare for another season that rivals The Walking Dead, in about 10 months time.
But I hope more than any two characters, they give Carson and Mrs. Hughes what they deserve. And while that may or may not be what we will call a happy ending, I hope it is what they seem to have earned. In the background for those first few episodes, they quickly became the heart of the show.
No matter how attractive Mary and her new man look together, they will never match the chemistry between this butler and this head housekeeper.
Mr. Carson did not get down on one knee to propose. He never referred to her by her first name. He simply stated what he had been showing throughout much of season 5. And in smaller ways all along. That he wanted Mrs. Hughes to be in his future. In her acceptance, Mrs. Hughes called him an "old booby." Which might be my favorite way of saying yes I have ever heard.
Chemistry like that is not made over one season.
It is built throughout a series by strong actors and strong writing.
Please, Mr. Fellowes, keep this up just a little while longer.