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After following the Crawley family's adventures and misadventures throughout the third season of Downton Abbey, the finale did not disappoint. The audience was thrown off kilter with yet another sudden and unexpected death, balanced only slightly by the celebration of the second birth of the season.
The episode, which is timed one year after the last, begins with the family's preparations for their trip to the Scottish highlands to visit family. Rose, the cousin who Matthew saved from shame last episode, and her mother and father live in Duneagle, and the Crawley's have a chance to visit after the war and Sybil's death prevented them from doing so for a few years. The Crawleys, with Anna, Bates, Mrs. O'Brien, and a few others for company, head off on their getaway to indulge in some hunting and beautiful scenery. Only Tom stays behind, for he has never met Duneagle's Shrimpy and Susan and wasn't invited.
There is plenty to keep Tom entertained while the rest of the family is away. This seems to be an episode of incessant courtship, amongst other things. The servants have only so much to keep them busy, and they persuade Carson to let them have fun at the local fair. Tom heads off with them, where he is wooed by new maid Edna on the carousel. Meanwhile, Mrs. Patmore has a suitor of her own by the name of Tufton, although he shows off his sleazy side and she soon realizes he is more interested in her cooking than anything else. Mr. Clarkson is even feeling romantic, as he asks Cousin Isobel if she has ever considered remarrying, to which she replies that a marriage between them (that is what he was hinting at, after all) would only ruin a good friendship. Finally, in a less romantic connection but an endearing one nonetheless, Jimmy finally softens his approach towards Thomas when he steps in and takes a beating to protect Jimmy. He tells Thomas, "I can't give you what you want", but agrees they can be friends.
Meanwhile, in Scotland, there is much less love floating around, at least between Shrimpy and his wife Susan. The marriage is clearly tense, as the two argue over everything and Rose is caught in between. Shrimpy learns he will be sent to Bombay and Susan discusses the possibility of Rose staying at Downton. It is obvious that Susan is stuck in an unhappy marriage and takes the frustration out on those around her, but she ultimately wants her daughter to be happy and Cora is equally happy to take her in when the couple leaves for India.
Edith seems to be experiencing a bit more luck, as her editor "coincidentally" happens to be in the Highlands at the same time as the Crawley family and ends up spending most of the stay with them. He tells Edith that he wanted to meet her family so that they might be more convinced that he and Edith could be together, despite the fact that he is still technically married. Despite his dismayed realization that "society's rules must always be obeyed, no matter what", it doesn't seem like he and Edith will give up on their relationship anytime soon.
Mary, after dancing nearly as hard as drunk Molesley at the Gilly's ball, decides to return home early to be seen by the doctor. As soon as she arrives at the train station, she tells Anna she wants to go to the hospital. Although everyone is a bit worried after Sybil's death, Mary's delivery goes much more smoothly and the heir to Downton is born. Matthew and Mary are thrilled at the arrival of their son, and share a loving and tender moment together before Matthew rushes off to share the good news with the rest of the family. As he speeds home in his car, however, he crashes head on with another vehicle, veers off the road, and is crushed to death.
Although Carson has the most traditional values of all the characters on the show, he can usually be relied upon for some insight into the lives of the Crawleys. Particularly when it comes to the girls he helped raise, Carson believes he has the best interests of the family at heart. That is what makes his declaration "alls well that ends well" upon hearing the news of the successful birth particularly heartbreaking. Even old Mr. Carson can't prevent yet another tragedy at Downton, and things didn't end well in the slightest this time.
Matthews death, in the last few minutes of the episode, sets up Season 4 for a traumatic start. How will Mary and her new son go on without him? Will the Estate crumble without his guidance? Unfortunately, we will have to be as patient as Mr. Carson would surely demand and in order to find out during Season 4.