For those viewers distressed by the downbeat tone of Downton Abbey's final regular episode (happiness snatched from Lady Edith's grasp yet again!), fear not: the series bows out with this plot-packed two-hour special that ties up all the loose ends in a great big Christmas bow (it was aired over the holiday period in the UK), with four budding romances, three new jobs, two engagements, and a birth in Lady Mary's bed. Old enmities are healed and characters given to self-sabotage mend their ways to find contentment.
The first half takes place in high summer. Resigned to being a spinster after new love Bertie, now with a title and castle, says he can't marry a woman with an illegitimate daughter, Edith (Laura Carmichael) plans on moving to London with little Marigold. Mary (Michelle Dockery) is happily married, but husband Henry, having resolved to give up motor racing after his partner dies in a fatal crash, is feeling undirected.
Meanwhile, following his suicide attempt, a new, improved Thomas has resolved to be nicer to people. Tall footman Andy is still making unreciprocated overtures to Daisy, leading Mrs. Patmore to perceptively observe the kitchen maid is only interested in men who are not that into her.
Carson is unsettled by breaks with tradition ranging from Anna (Joanne Frogatt) working while pregnant to cocktails on the lawn, where Edith appears in a gorgeous bronze and gold beaded dress, one of many glamorous costumes she wears in the special. She turns up in another (green and cinnamon) to have dinner at the Ritz in London, where she finds Bertie waiting for her, a plot arranged by Mary. Bertie still loves her and will accept Marigold. Edith is engaged!
But first she must deal with Bertie's formidable, strait-laced mother (Patricia Hodge), who dismisses her as "damaged goods" after Edith comes clean about Marigold. However, impressed by Edith's honesty, she almost immediately has a change of heart and gives her blessing.
Their spat over the local hospital behind them, the equally formidable Cousin Isobel (Penelope Wilton) and Lady Violet (Maggie Smith) unite to confront Lord Merton's scheming daughter-in-law, who is trying to keep the ailing peer isolated. Isobel announces that not only is her erstwhile beau coming to live with her, but also that she intends to marry him at last. Another spiky conflict is resolved when, grateful for Mary playing Cupid, Edith makes peace with her sister.
Six months later, Lady Rose (Lily James) and husband Atticus are back from New York for Edith's wedding and Carson is considering resigning due to a hand tremor that is making it hard for him to carry out his duties to his usual high standard. Daisy has decided she likes Andy because 1) he's helping out her surrogate father, pig farmer Mr. Mason and 2) he's now giving her the cold shoulder. To regain Andy's attention, she gets a becoming bob styled by Anna, who borrows Lady Mary's new-fangled technical device, a giant blow-dryer. New hair, new attitude, and Daisy and Andy finally become a couple.
Tom Branson and Henry start a used car dealership together (so Mary ends up married to a used-car salesman while Edith gets an even grander title and house); Barrow, having mended fences with everyone at Downton, is lonely in his new job as butler to a starchy elderly couple; and Moseley, after successfully tutoring Daisy for her exams, is hired to teach in the village school. Lord Merton, it turns out, is not dying after all. Oh, and Mary is pregnant.
The wedding day arrives, and Edith descends the stairs in a slim-line, lace wedding gown with a train nearly as long as Kate Middleton's.
During the reception, attended by the entire cast and loads of fashionably-dressed extras, Anna goes into labor. Closet egalitarian Mary puts the maid into her own bed, where Anna gives birth to a son. Lord Grantham asks Barrow to return as butler with Carson staying on as butler emeritus, and there is massive flirting between Branson and Edith’s perky new magazine editor, Laura Edmunds (who catches the bouquet), and even between Mrs. Padmore and Mr. Mason. The central relationship between Lord and Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern) is reaffirmed, as is the core bromance between Lord Grantham and Mr. Carson. With nearly everyone loved up, the series concludes with a rousing rendition of Auld Lang Syne.