Somewhere out there, we like to think there’s an alternate universe where Downton Abbey’s Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) made it home safely from the hospital. A universe where the joyful new father kept his eyes on the road and so didn’t crash head on into a truck. A universe where Matthew didn’t die pinned under a car, face down in a ditch at the end of Season 3.
Sadly for us Downton fans, however, we’re faced with the reality that Matthew did indeed depart (darn you and your big screen opportunities, Dan Stevens!). But what if, just for a moment, we could have it the other way? What if Matthew Crawley hadn’t died?
One thing’s for sure: the series would be completely different. During its previous three seasons, Downton Abbey revolved almost completely around Matthew and Mary’s (Michelle Dockery) romance. We watched them warm up to one another after a frigid first meeting and struggle when other love interests came a-callin' and make it through a world war together, until finally, on one fateful snowy night, Matthew got down on bended knee and asked Mary to be his wife. What was the point of all that if Matthew was just going to die young anyway?
That, friends, is the question Julian Fellowes and Co. attempt to answer during Season 4. This year’s installment centers around a grieving Mary and her struggle to move on with her life. With Matthew gone, the privileged eldest daughter is forced to take on new roles she likely never imagined for herself, namely single mother and inheritor of Downton. As she attempts to juggle these new responsibilities, she’s also inundated with new suitors, begging the question if Mary can ever love again after Matthew.
Of course, if Matthew had made it out of that accident alive, all of this would be radically different. The main conflicts of the current Season 4 would have never existed if our golden English muffin was still around. In fact, what would Julian have done at all? With Matthew and Mary happily squared away with their little heir, where would we have gotten our fix of Downton drama? Could Matthew dying actually have been a good thing for the series?
That’s what the folks over at Downton claim.
“Dan Stevens saying he wants to move on from the show’s arguably that’s a very bad thing for us to have to deal with, but the moment you accept that’s what’s going to happen, you just have to look at the show a different way,” executive producer Gareth Neame tells PBS. “What becomes the worst thing that could happen actually becomes a great opportunity to take stories in a different direction.”
Thanks to Matthew’s sudden departure, Gareth says, “We are spared endless seasons of Mary and Matthew lying in bed talking about what they are going to do today. Instead we have a grieving beautiful young widow who has to build a new life.”
We’re loathe to admit it, but perhaps he has a point. If Matthew had made it, this season’s conflicts would likely have involved verbal fistfights between Matthew and his change resistant father-in-law, the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), about the Abbey — a task much better suited for the cutting wit of Mary. Perhaps, to spice things up if Matthew had lived, Julian would have tossed in some marital troubles between the newlyweds but, honestly, their union dissolving may have been more heartbreaking to watch than the Season 3 Christmas special. Maybe.
Then again, Downton without Matthew is kind of like the Dowager without sarcasm. We still love it but sometimes the whole thing just feels like a shell of its former self. A much less attractive shell of its former self.
So what do you think? Was it actually a good thing Matthew died or would you have preferred he stuck around? We’re all ears. Share your thoughts in the comments below.