By Brianne Moore
All right, show of hands: how many of you saw the word “goner” stamped on William’s forehead as soon as he started talking about joining up last season? I know I sure did. I did not, however, anticipate his deathbed marriage to Daisy or Matthew’s less deadly but very devastating injury.
Yes, the day some (many?) of us saw coming has come—William is Downton’s big war casualty, and that makes me sad, because he’s one of the few characters I’ve consistently liked and supported throughout the series. But he was just too nice, and not the romantic lead or the villain, so as soon as that bomb blast sent him and Matthew flying, I knew it was just a matter of time.
The blast left William with massive internal injuries, particularly to his lungs (suggesting possible poison gas exposure, which was being used more and more by this point in the war). Bleeding around the lungs (hemothorax) is one of the deadliest types of internal injuries, and something that was probably close to impossible to treat in 1918 (if not flat-out impossible). Poor William.
And poor Matthew, too. The same blast that numbered William’s days injured Matthew’s spine. As Nurse Sybil points out, such a vague diagnosis can mean almost anything, but in Matthew’s case, it apparently means he’ll never walk again or be able to consummate his future marriage to his fiancée, Lavinia. Poor Matthew, and poor Lavinia.
If there’s any silver lining to all these tragedies, it’s that they brought out the best in many of the other characters. The normally class-conscious dowager countess wasted no time throwing her weight around in order to bring William home so he could pass away peacefully in familiar surroundings. She even convinced the reluctant vicar to perform the wedding ceremony and put on a happy face for William’s father, quietly telling the others it was probably best to give him time to come to terms with the inevitable. She turned out to be right about that.
Even Edith and Mary, the two less pleasant Crawley sisters, step up and take their caregiving duties seriously. Mary exhibits a maturity we’ve hardly seen from her until now as she soothes and looks after Matthew and comforts Lavinia, and Edith, who’s really blossomed since Downton became a convalescent hospital, tends sweetly to William and, like her grandmother, pretends to remain optimistic about his condition to make things easier for him.
A sad episode, to be sure, though it was nice to see a few characters start to shine. It’ll be interesting to see where the Matthew story goes—if the heir can’t have an heir himself, would that be a reason to destroy the entail once and for all? Or would that just be the end of Downton as a private house (which is probably inevitable anyway—few large estates remained private homes after World War II)? Or is a miraculous cure on the horizon? What do you think? Share your comments (and your favorite quotes from the Dowager Countess!) in the comments below.