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PBS Turns The Lights Out At 'Downton Abbey'



And that is the theme from "Downton Abbey." The most popular drama in the history of PBS aired its final new episode on Sunday night. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans got to watch and is here to talk about the show's success and its legacy. Hi Eric.


INSKEEP: And I guess we'd better do a spoiler alert. You're actually going to talk about what was in this final episode for well, how many minutes?

DEGGANS: About four minutes.

INSKEEP: Four minutes or so. So turn the radio to something else but come back if you're desperately worried about missing the finale. So what happened?

DEGGANS: Well, it was a great ending for a show that was about ready to wrap it up after about six seasons. And it still tugged at your heartstrings. I mean, you could tell it was put together for the fans. They had a lot of emotional storylines that they kind of wrapped up on Sunday. We saw the hard-luck sister Edith finally marry a man that she loves, despite the scandal of having a child out of wedlock with somebody else. We saw these long-suffering servants - Anna and John Bates - finally get some joy, and they had a son. And we saw longtime bad guy under-butler Thomas Barrow leave the household after finally learning the value of friendship at the Abbey. And we've even got a clip of that scene where he says goodbye to his employers, the Lord and Lady Grantham. Let's check it out.


ROB JAMES-COLLIER: (As Thomas Barrow) On the contrary, I will begin my new position with a new spirit. And I have you to thank for that.

HUGH BONNEVILLE: (As Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham) I'm glad if on balance it's been rewarding for you.

JAMES-COLLIER: (As Thomas Barrow) I arrived here as a boy. I leave as a man. Please, will you give my best wishes to Lady Edith?

ELIZABETH MCGOVERN: (As Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham) We'll always be so grateful to you for saving her from the fire.

JAMES-COLLIER: (As Thomas Barrow) And it turns out I saved her for better things.

DEGGANS: Every time I hear it, (imitating British accent) I want to talk in an English accent.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

DEGGANS: So that scene highlights two things that I always have found interesting about the show. First, fans know that there's a lot of emotion in this very damaged character of Thomas Barrow. But it sounds very understated if you don't know the show. And Barrow is this character - he started as a villain and he's been redeemed over the course of this series. And by the end of the finale - spoiler alert - he returns as the head butler of Downton Abbey.

INSKEEP: OK, so this show has owned you, Eric Deggans. I can tell just listening to you talk about this. But give me a sense why you think it is that a story about British servants, under-butlers and so forth really captivated people?

DEGGANS: Well, first of all, it's really well-crafted. I mean, it's well-written. The production is lavish. The costumes are amazing. Watching these episodes, you're kind of transported back to a time with a lot of turning points for modern society. So women were getting more independence. We saw these class barriers coming down. And "Downton Abbey" dramatized a lot of that. And we've had some social struggles that we already know end pretty well, right? You know, as opposed to modern life where politics can seem so unpredictable and damaging, we know things are going to improve for working-class people and the women that are shown here. And at its best, it was this great soap opera. I mean, everything from a deathbed wedding to a character dying while seducing a lady in her bedroom happen on this show. And I've got say again, the clothes were awesome. I mean, I wanted that tie that Lord Grantham was wearing on Sunday night.

INSKEEP: Don't you mean (imitating British accent) the clothes were awesome?

DEGGANS: (Imitating British accent) The clothes were awesome.

INSKEEP: There we go (laughter) exactly. Are you saying, Eric, that this show resonated with the present? It touched on issues that people are thinking about now but in a way that was comforting, that didn't feel quite so threatening or terrifying?

DEGGANS: Well, I'm sure people are tired of hearing me say this because I've said it a lot but period pieces are not about the period that they portray. They are about the period in which they're made. So when you look at "Downton Abbey," you always have to sort of think to yourself what are their producers trying to say about right now? And I think what they're trying to say is that even though times seem a little confusing, if you look back to tradition, there can be a way forward. And traditions help people get through it.

INSKEEP: Eric, thanks is always.

DEGGANS: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.