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02/17/13

At least we didn't have to watch this on Christmas Day, like the people in England did.

WHAT WE SAW

Ouch. Ouch. Ouch! That HURTS!
Feel like you've been punched in the stomach? That's because you have been. Along with the story and the characters too.

We love Matthew, and we don't want him to die. We love the other characters, and this death will be horrible for them too. But not only that. it doesn't feel right; it's hard to believe. It not only hurts, it's wrong.

WHY IT DIDN'T HAPPEN THAT WAY

Why is this so hard to believe?
After all, death happens, and sometimes out of the blue. it's always in character, isn't it?

Well, yes -- no arguing with that. But then why do we feel so upset, and so set up?

Because the whole season has been like this. Too abrupt, too set up for a later purpose, too manipulated to fit a plot. Which is not the same as the story. The characters aren't going in any of the hundred directions they could, as good complicated personalities, go -- they're going in ways they WOULDN'T go.

We've seen Lord Grantham's character change from someone who tries to be kind, fair, and reasonable, into someone who makes rude remarks about a guest at his table, flinches visibly when asked to be photographed with a priest, and orders his wife and daughters out of his mother-in-law's house. Not to mention putting the kybosh on his daughter's wedding, and worse.

Yes, some men, in that time period, in this time period, in any time period, would do these things easily. But not this particular man.

And then there's Mary. Poor Mary. From going through fire, learning compassion, learning to keep silent when it would be devastating to speak, this year she reverts to her former outspoken nastiness -- except when Matthew asks her not to. how does that work? It doesn't. Except as a horrible set up for losing him.

Mary confides that she's only half a person without Matthew. A sweet thought. It kills you to remember it -- except she's never HAD such a thought, about anyone, in her life.

The story has been forced to walk the plank at swordpoint. I'm not sure whether it's more painful to think about Matthew lying at the side of the road, or the story lying there right next to him.

WHAT REALLY MIGHT HAVE HAPPENED

No one lives forever. But they also don't have to die at the drop of a contract. When an actor leaves a show, something does need to happen but it doesn't have to be this.

So what might have happened, seeing that Dan Stevens didn't renew his contract for next year? Well, he's great, but so is every actor that's ever played Sherlock. Let someone else play him next year.

Or there's the O'Brien path. Siobhan Finneran also has not renewed: did we see an enraged Thomas lunging at her with a knife? No, for some reason she's been saved from the chop, and the way has been paved for her to emigrate along with Lady Shrimpy. Maybe Matthew goes to India too. There's the still somewhat mysterious question of Reggie Swire's other beneficiary, and we know what Matthew's like when something good's landed in his lap -- question it! Be sure it's really fair! Or maybe he's off to Canada, for the same reason, to look into a new claim by the Patrick-impersonator, or his son. Or maybe he's sick.

Or ... a hundred other possibilities, all keeping him in as part of the story. Then, in the following season, if you want to, you can bring him back -- it's not unknown for actors to change their minds after a year -- or you can write him out entirely, slowly and carefully.

WHAT COULD HAPPEN NEXT

The audience is an essential part of any story. The purpose of all that writing, designing and acting, is for the story to be watched. There are many precedents for the audience to feel so strongly that a story's gone wrong, that they write to say so -- and the story comes back.

It's not too late. We can't change what we've seen, but maybe, we can help change what it means. He's there, at the side of the road. If he didn't die, then what? Was he badly hurt, in a coma? Or was it a horrible nightmare, of Mary's, or Lord Grantham's? Maybe we can think of something more graceful than these ideas; whatever it might be, once it's in place, the story can continue in a way that works.

Julian Fellowes wrote this story, and it was wonderful for two years. Let's play our part as the audience: write to him, at viewerservices@itv.com, and tell him what we think.

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