I'm in a hurry, don't care that the post is early, or that it is completely unedited. The writing will be average at best, but I'm only dumbing my speech down for those to whom it is addressed:
To the Downton Abbey Hacks:
I will be criticizing you from an artistic perspective; the other perspectives are taken. You didn't kill Matthew, but you sure killed the show. And it doesn't take a dose of salty language to explain why. This "death" was predictable by a rigid frame of thirty seconds or so. No more and no less. No honour, no build-up, no beauty; but I'll get to that later.
Failure number one: A character death is not effective when the viewer is taken out of the story. And don't pretend that you don't know what I'm talking about. You think that because you preceded the scene with an emotional extreme that you thought appropriate for the show, that is to say, pandered to the viewers as if we were all feelly-saps, that that excuses you? A well deserved birth-without-conflict. Long shot of car speeding down the road. Saturated colors. No diegetic sound. SERIOUSLY? You played on the sensibilities of the contemporary audience, took them out of the story, and it was downright malicious. You open with that long shot and put the viewer back in their conventional post-modern vein: he is driving, he is happy, therefore a car accident must happen. I knew he was going to die before it happened, and I didn't even care because it was downright stupid.
Failure number two: Actually, nobody watched the show because they liked balconies and fireplaces and old dresses. ACTUALLY, people watched it because it was a well constructed story that gave meaning to both the conflicts and resolutions of its characters. ACTUALLY. I think it's called romantic ideals or something. ACTUALLY. Maybe that had something to do with, like, your particular audience. Just sayin'
Failure number three: Poor construction and false expectations! Season three is rife with examples, though those surrounding Matthew's death are most relevant for this post: Mary has to leave early without Matthew. Conflict? No. Mary has an early labor. Conflict? Nope. Matthew must rush home. Conflict? Again, nope. We're just to be happy then, with the proceedings. After all, us poor romantic saps just want to see everything go really well. We don't actually have critical expectations about the integrity of the story's construction! Gosh, no! Just give us some high-key lighting, fancy clothes, men who say "darling" and we're good to go!
Failure number four: Alright, Downton hacks, I'll give you credit for pandering a little. After all, "we don't always get our just desserts." Did you see how ugly/tragic/post-modern/realistic that was? Wow! There are hordes of apathetic hipsters who would LOVE Matthew's death; at least as far as they love things. But do a little market research: they're not the ones watching 1-2 hour episodes of a show about values, internal conflicts and moral quandries. But hey, maybe you did appeal to the mass audience. The cynics would love to hire you! Except, they often don't work very much for art and entertainment, unlike us idealists with no priorities or perspective. Good luck getting more funding from "viewers like you."
Here's the bit where I can present alternatives which would give the season 3 finale some credibility; after all, a sinple post-production edit which took Matthew on his way TO the hospital rather than on the way BACK could have done a world of good on its own. But there are plenty of other disappointed souls out there who are presenting better alternatives. I hope that it is, at best, artistic practice for them. I, on the other hand, am a writer with some proper endings ahead of her.
Thanks, Downton Abbey, I can now add you to my list of nostaligic disappointments in story telling; oh wait, I burned that list a long time ago. Or maybe I donated it to a cynics conference. Oh well, at least I can rewatch the first two seasons until you guys dig yourself out of this narrative hole. Just don't ask for my help in the meantime. And if your boss is, in fact, a cynic, the next time he or she tries to shave months off your deadline, (which I'm assuming has happened before in order to give you the benefit of the doubt), throw a fit. Seriously. It could be the only thing between you and another Downton Disaster.