I don’t do well with death on television. It’s why I spend the majority of my time watching Breaking Bad or Homeland incredibly stressed out. It’s why I had to stop watching The Tudors after season 3, and why – while my brain knows it’s a great show – I’m unable to watch most of Game of Thrones. But that’s on me: All of the shows’ premises strongly imply that you shouldn’t get too attached to anyone; anyone’s head could be on a metaphorical or physical chopping block any day now.
But I had no such expectations with Downton Abbey. Here, I thought, was a sweet little show where whole episodes are devoted to such high-stake events as whether everyone was dressed appropriately for dinner. Surely the worst thing that could happen here is a missed connection or a torn hemline. And for two beautiful seasons – save for a wartime death of a secondary character – that’s exactly the show I got.
But then things changed. Oh, how they changed: In the span of just a few quick episodes, two of my three favorite characters died, and eight months later, I’m still not okay with it. I’m so not okay with it, in fact, that I’m unable to read any casting news without getting upset and wanting to block it out. ‘Oh, Mary and Matthew’s baby boy is named George, just like the new prince? Pass! Respected wonderful actor Paul Giamatti is joining the show? Nope! If a friend wants to talk about the program with me, I have to divert the conversation to Under the Dome or Big Brother or some other equally low-stakes summer program. I’m in denial, and I want to stay there.
For both characters, the actors’ personal choices got in the way, which explains why Matthew died even though you could argue that the entire main arc of the show was Matthew eventually becoming the new Lord of Downton. Obviously freak accidents happen in real life, but for it to take place on a typically fairly calm show — and right after the tragic and violent death of Lady Sybil — makes it hard for me to get excited about any future Sunday nights at the Abbey.
I’ve had eight months to move on from two fictional deaths, and I’m still strongly in the ‘Anger and/or Depression stage’ on the grief scale. I honestly don’t think I’m going to watch this season — and by that I mean I won’t watch weekly, but will instead marathon the eight or so episodes over one long lazy weekend. I don’t think my heart can invest again on a week-to-week basis. I want to know about how Mary is doing, what’s going on downstairs, and how Tom is doing with the baby, but I also don’t want to be tricked back into caring. Fool me once, Downton Abbey…
With the fourth season premiere coming up in the U.K. in September, trailers are about to start taking over my social feeds. Tell me: How do you deal? And will you continue to watch Downton when it returns?