With the new season of Downton Abbey set to hit the States (spoiler alert) in January sans one Matthew Crawley, it is time to reflect on the loss of that handsome, blond, blue-eyed lawyer. Much like when you go through a break-up, time has brought perspective and acceptance. Though he charmed his way through the fist season with his earnest, middle-class, go get'em attitude, it quickly became clear that the cousin lawyer could be a bit of a drag. Now that he's dead (and, really, R.I.P.), the show has the room to develop in exciting ways.
Our relationship with Matthew started out well. From the moment he stepped awkwardly into the frame, audiences were drawn to the obvious potential of his and Mary's will-they-won't-they tension. They are in love. They aren't in love. Obstacles! War! Epic teetering even on the eve of their wedding!
However, once they were married and expecting a baby, there really wasn't much more to play with in their relationship. Sure, the Downton creators could have written in a lame subplot about a maid and Matthew (or Mary) down the line, but that's been done and overdone (looking at you, season 2, Lord Grantham). Everyone knows the great television love storylines (Ross and Rachel, Daphne and Niles, Joey-Pacey-Dawson) generally don't pay off until the very last season. Will they or won't they? Turns out they, usually, will.
Now all Matthew Crawley lovers, be honest: once you looked past the gorgeous hair and piercing cerulean gaze, Matthew was probably one of the least interesting characters on the show. Sure, he was pretty, but all the interest invested in him was through Mary. Now she is a woman to follow. Strong, complicated, smart, rebellious, and loyal, both in spirit and birthright. She is the true heir to Downton.
Matthew on the other hand, was kind of … beige. He was handsome. He knew how to spout relevant legal facts. He was a gentleman. He was overly guilty about Lavinia, even after her ghost came back and gave him permission to be happy via a Ouija board (never though I'd ever write a sentence like that in my career).
In essence, there was nothing extremely interesting about him. Once he and Mary had their son, there wasn't anything more to do than kill him off. Aside from the real-life drama that caused Dan Stevens to leave the show, it was clear Matthew was the type to settle into marriage and family, ready to leave drama behind him in the name of stolid Sunday mornings and 1920s sweater vests.
The empty space that is now Matthew Crawley is far more intriguing for the show as a whole. The succession is now thrown into chaos. How will Lord Grantham deal with managing the estate? Who will take over the reigns now that the heir apparent is dead? How can a family recover from two major deaths in barely a year?
Furthermore, now Julian Fellowes can focus in on other characters who not only deserve more screen time, but will react in brilliantly complicated ways to yet another gap in the succession. I would love a Thomas-heavy season. Thomas is a character who you love to hate, and also love to love. The man is as out as a man could be in the early 20th century. He is complex, scheming, an near-sociopathic in his career climbing, and he is not ashamed of who he is. Will he use Matthew's death in some nefarious manner, or will he show one of those rare glimpses of humanity in order to be a sympathetic shoulder for Lord Grantham?
A show sans Matthew also gives a chance for Edith and Mary to become closer. Their relationship's development from sisters in name only to almost friends will no doubt be impacted by this loss. Will it give them a chance to leave the frenemy status behind them once and for all? Or will Edith revert to her whiny, annoying wet-blanket trope and complain, yet again, that this is just another all-about-Mary thing.
What about the love storyline that ran parallel to Matthew and Mary: Anna and Bates? Without their upper class reflection to balance them out, will their relationship just continue to become further mired in drama? Or will they finally be allowed to be the one happy couple of the moment (or at least the season)?
Just thinking of all the potential now that Matthew is gone makes me dizzy with anticipation. Oh, Matthew. You served a purpose. But it's a new season. Goodbye baggage, hello fresh start.