So, farewell then, Matthew Crawley. You were a curious British analog to America’s Magical Negro: the Magical Middle-Class Chap.
In Season 1, you saved Downton Abbey for the Crawley family by having the good sense to steer clear of the Titanic. When you emerged from your humble Mancunian roots, you found love—and a future earlship—on the other side of the Pennines.
In Season 2, you saved Europe from the Hun by fighting in some pathetically unconvincing trenches. Then you saved Lady Mary’s honor by exercising more forgiveness for her dalliance with the Turkish gentleman than any true toff could’ve managed.
In the just-completed season, you saved Downton from Lord Grantham’s bone-headed investment schemes by having the dumb luck to inherit yet another random fortune. (Even you couldn’t save the Swireses.) You saved it again by applying your bourgeois practicality to reform the aristocratic mismanagement of the Downton estate. And then you saved it one last time by fathering a son and heir who will remove the specter of that damned entail once and for all.
No wonder you were too spent to save yourself from that oncoming vehicle!
Indeed, you were such a reliable savior, it’s hard to imagine how Downton Abbey can survive without you. A family that was already reeling from the loss of its kind-hearted rebel is now also robbed of its conscience. And we viewers are left without the character who was most like us: an outsider overwhelmed by Downton’s sweeping scale, reluctantly charmed by its residents, but ultimately pessimistic that this strange anachronism can go on forever.
Julian Fellowes has said that Season 4 will begin six months after your death and will be about “the rebuilding of Mary.” It will surely be a gloomy world of grief and mourning clothes. Downton Abbey has always been low on men, especially upstairs, and with you gone, the show’s Yorkshire village might as well twin with Northampton, Mass.
Matthew Crawley, Esq., you didn’t live long enough to become the 8th Earl of Grantham, but you’ll always be the middle-class earl of our hearts. You spent too much time astride your high horse this season, preaching about the rights and wrongs of accepting inheritances and running estates, but as Seth Stevenson put it, “no scene was entirely hopeless” when you were in it. As I face the long wait for Season 4, I’ll miss the show and this TV Club, but I’ll especially miss you, dear magical Matthew.