This is, of course, not a review, simply a reaction. I think I've done one for each season of the show over the years. Season 1 I didn't care for much, but my attention started coming in during Season 2 and I suppose by Season 3 I was as hooked as everyone else. It's like a gossip show: it's just interesting to watch the characters and speculate about what they will do next.
So I did a lot of speculating in between the fifth and sixth seasons. And a lot of anticipating. But then once it was over, there wasn't anything else to speculate about and nothing more to anticipate (I know there is talk about a movie, but as there are no details yet, that's far off and as yet intangible). And when a show is (in a way) built on speculation and anticipation, is there really any way to tie it up in an ending? Now let's start the spoilers.
I was thinking about Edith and Mary. Edith has a good character arc over the course of the six seasons. She and Mary start off both pretty rude, always quarreling and throwing mud at each other. Edith, after all, is the one who wrote that letter to the Turkish Embassy. But then came WWI, changing everyone's world; Sybil is the one who tells Edith afterward that she is "much nicer than you were before the war." So she has some personal improvement, and then gets her heart broken a couple of times and has to recover from that. Then she meets Michael Gregson and feels like she's just about to get her world right--until it suddenly goes from near perfect to disaster. But she recovers from his loss, brings Marigold to her side, and finds her place working in publishing--and then finds someone she can marry. It's quite a good progression.
Mary, on the other hand, seems to have stayed pretty much the same. She's always been the proud snob and the flirt, loving to get the men chasing after her and then hold them at arm's length. She has her ups and downs, one flirtation after another and one rude word followed by yet another apology. Her telling of Edith's secret (Marigold) was absolutely horrid (yes, Edith should have told Bertie and she should have known that Mary was going to tell him, but that is a different matter). The thing is, Mary has always been like this, doing something wrong and then saying she regrets it. So I have no reason to believe that she is truly "recovered" this time, nor that Henry really is the perfect match for her after she's had so many other suitors (and ones that she seemed to have better chemistry with, too). Henry just seems like he's thrown into the plot to make it neat and tidy, not like he actually makes sense within the story. Her story with him is too hasty and doesn't prove to me that this is "her ending" in the same way that Edith's story had a nice, tidy ending.
So that's Edith and Mary. I like that we've not only seem so many of the servants leave but have also seen what they have gone on to do. The return of Gwen from Season 1 was welcome and also informative on how quickly some things were changing at this time, dependent often on very small things. There's Mrs. Patmore's hotel (with a hilarious scandal), Molesley's teaching (very gratifying after all the trouble he's had), and Daisy's plans to align herself more with Mr. Mason (if she loses/leaves her position at Downton, she can probably live the rest of her life as a farmer, bringing her to the 1970's at the latest I would guess). And after Thomas's struggles, it was nice to see that he's found and appreciated the place he has at Downton even though he hasn't always been kind to the people around him--and now that he admits that and does genuinely try and do better, he has a more permanent place there. Because what with all the staff downsizing, if Downton remains a home, it will always need a butler or at least some sort of head of staff; so Thomas is probably set for life, too.
I almost wished that we had seen something drastic happen to Downton. Like the family no longer lives there and they turn it into some other type of business or something. But that's too boring, in a way, isn't it? We already know that that happened to many of these houses. But some remained with the families. And one of the ways that they remained was through opening themselves to the public for tours--so seeing that happen to Downton for the first time really was seeing reality portrayed in fiction. That really was the future--and is the present. Downton can always remain if it, like the actual Highclere, is willing to make certain allowances like this. So seeing that happen was perhaps one of the biggest moments in the whole show.
I'm a little disappointed by certain elements of the story (like Mary) that I thought were wrapped up too hastily or unrealistically. But otherwise these six seasons really have covered quite a bit of ground and let us leave when Downton still felt like Downton but had also developed into something quite different and quite more modern than the place we first met in Season 1. And the pairing of the final episode with New Year's was perfect: a touch of nostalgia and a certain way of looking at and hoping for the future while still allowing it to be intangible.