Downton Abbey has always had a fascinating relationship with real events. The very first episode used the date the Titanic sank as a springboard for the entire series, because apparently everyone is fascinated with that event and can't tell what time frame the show is supposed to be in unless there's a reference to a James Cameron film. Since then, Downton Abbey has pushed on through the Great War and into the emergence of the roaring 20s, providing for an interesting dynamic between Lord Grantham's family and the changing world around them. As of Season 5, Downton Abbey has covered over twelve years of history. With the uncertainty of Season 6 looming, is it worth the show covering twelve more?
What Does the 30s Hold for Downton Abbey?
While Downton Abbey is still situated comfortably in the mid-20s, there's always the chance to cover large spaces of time as the show has done before. Why might this be necessary for a show so clearly defined by a classical style and old traditions? Well, Downton Abbey is ending after Season 6, and the secret to capping the series off satisfyingly may well be to acknowledge that nothing lasts, and that the world that has defined the Granthams and the entire institution of Downton may be a finite one. What's more is that the 1930's are tumultuous years for obvious reasons, and would provide an interesting backdrop for Downton's characters in an ever more modern world.
The Great Depression
Starting in 1929, the sheer spontaneity of the great depression would be an interesting way to take Downton Abbey Season 6 into the 30s. Unemployment in Great Britain increased by over 100%, and while that isn't nearly the same effect had on the likes of Germany and the United States, it would serve as a clear message that the decadence of the 1920s is over, and that the world at large is moving into a more concrete and cynical time. It would be particularly interesting to see the effect of this on Lady Mary, who has become a figure of fashion and modernity in recent seasons, yet would now be constructed as outmoded and even irresponsible.
An event like the Great Depression would also genuinely apply the pressure to the already fragile social structure upon which Downton is based. The model of Lords and Ladies and the workers who sustain them will be shown not just as unfair, but as outdated. This would definitely be an interesting way to end Downton Abbey Season 6.
Downton Abbey and World War II?
Okay, so I'm quite aware that this would constitute a fourteen year jump from where the show is presently taking place. Again, this is the last season, and if the show is attempting to wrap up and conclude multiple character arcs and storylines, it can certainly afford some more drastic jumps in time in order to create a grander, more weighty ending.
Events in Germany have also been reference in Downton Abbey, considering that Lady Edith's lover, Michael Gregson, is killed in one of Hitler's early coups in Munich. It's played for (almost comedic) dramatic irony when Cora Crawley expressed her gladness at that there bothersome Hitler being locked up for good. The rise of fascism in Europe would again be an interesting way to punctuate the loss of romance and idyllic wonder in the world these characters live in.
I'm certainly not suggesting that Downton Abbey lumbers all the way up to September 1939, or that everyone gets sent off to war or dies a blitz bombing. The entire viewership is familiar with World War II, and no one needs yet another history lesson siphoned through Downton. Thematically, however, the onset of the second world war is the perfect symbol to punctuate the very reason why Downton Abbey must end with Season 6. The world it takes place in simply doesn't last, and that's okay.