Season 3 is gone and so are two of the most appealing characters, reflecting not the choice of series creators but career moves by young actors, latest in a long list of modestly talented young people who keep overestimating their contributions to a TV triumph.
Julian Fellowes, mastermind of “Downtown,” makes it clear that killing off Lady Sybil and Matthew Crawley was not his idea, that “the actor wanted to leave rather than anyone’s dying just for the sake of the plot…They would both be in the series till the end of it, if it were up to us.”
There is something primal here about young people rejecting nurturing homes to strike out before they are ready, causing pain to those who love them. If precedent is any guide, Jessica Brown-Findlay and Dan Stevens will survive in show biz, but “Downton” will be their high point.
Stevens’ Broadway debut in “The Heiress” is labeled “shiny, well spoken and lacking in discernible undercurrents” by the Times, while Brown-Findlay bears her breasts in a movie “Albatross,” notable for “the clang of cliché.”
Mediocrity has been the fate of their predecessors such as Shelley Long, who prematurely departed “Cheers” to sink without trace, as well as David Caruso, who left “NYPD Blue” for movie stardom but is now back on series TV, playing middle-aged versions of his original role.
In the middle of its long run, Rob Lowe left “West Wing” to star in movies and two other TV series that sank without trace.
As we grieve for Sybil and Matthew’s youthful demise, old age consoles us with Maggie Smith’s return for Season 4. Dame Maggie, who told “60 Minutes” she has never watched “Downton,” will return as a concession to time that has ended her stage career.
Fellowes is auditioning a new life partner for the now-widowed Lady Mary and her baby heir.