ON MATTHEW & MARY: Meta; Introduction
*Humor me: download this song from Olafur Arnalds: Hægt, Kemur Ljósid
I honestly do not think I have ever had more ridiculous feelings for a ship, feelings of the ADKJAS’SDJK; ‘KASDKJ BN nature. I find that with all of my OTPs, save for this one, I have very cognitive and focused reasons as to why I love them. As shows develop characters and relationships, we’re meant to see reasons why they share an emotional connection to each other, these reasons growing and evolving over time. In the end, I think that with most relationships it boils down to some fact of the matter that they “complete each other”. Not out of a gross dependency mode, but in the human sense. Its life’s funny way of letting us encounter people who can embolden us, bring out the best in us, ease us, enlighten our perspectives. It’s how I feel about my other OTPs, but with Mary/Matthew, my reasons and compiled logic for loving them completely contradict my rational template for how I usually ship characters. It’s why I always find it inherently difficult to discuss Matthew and Mary because I don’t encounter this same kind of narrative very often. Their relationship isn't even necessarily a “growth” narrative either. Of course, they evolve as people, as does their relationship, but it’s not defined by a pattern, so-to-speak. They “complete each other”, but their journey to that point is not exactly definite.
When I think about why Mary and Matthew are so incomparable to other ships in this manner, I mostly believe it’s because they are so literary. Mary and Matthew exist in metaphor, to me. Andromeda and the Sea Monster, Andromeda and Perseus. They are Greek mythology, almost Julian Fellowes’ own parable of love and pain. They are evoked through pure feelings, symbols and imagery, gaps in dialogue. It allows the ship itself to become extremely personal to everyone who loves it simply because we all have to dig through the fractured pieces to decide for ourselves what it all means. Most great OTPs, even my other favorites, are evoked in this way, but not to the extent that Matthew and Mary are. These two are all about orbiting. They circle and prance, somewhat like celestial bodies that gravitate towards each other and when they get too close, our result is a cosmic explosion. They’re both good people who are flawed to varying degrees. Mary: strong, independent and inherently just, but with a tendency to lash out when cornered, a need to put up haughty and cold defenses because her social sphere has left her confused and unable to articulate the oppression she nevertheless fights against. Then we have Matthew, who is progressive and (we are led to believe) religious, a man who believes in honor and doing what is right by people, but also with a terrible stubborn streak, middle class pride, and a heart that feels emotion so painfully that he often shuts others out. If there’s one way we can characterize their perceived differences, it’s in 1.07. Matthew sees the world in two tone, black and white, whereas for Mary, she looks out into the world and sees shades of infinite grey, nuances of confusion. If I can put it rather simplistically, I think she sees nihilism where Matthew sees absolutism. No one is wrong, no one is right, they just cosmically collide. It’s what makes their relationship so dangerous, but also so heartachingly romantic. It’s where they come together and break apart that makes them one of the most fascinating ships I have ever watched.
And nevertheless, I think there’s always the question: why these two? Why are they even drawn together? What does one gain from the other? It’s something that I have always had a hard time with because there is literally no verbalization of their attraction. I actually think that "verbalization"—this need to explain attraction and show very definitive reasons as to why two people belong together—is the product of a more modern narrative. It’s one that feeds to a slightly more individualist and cynical crowd; one that believes love is possible, but only if it’s grounded in some kind of hard-nosed reality. Love and attraction can’t just exist. But to me, that’s what is beautiful about most period pieces. Downton surely follows in that sense, even despite its very modern writing structure. There is not one moment where Mary and Matthew explicitly dictate in any manner of words why they love or need each other. It’s this narrative where they just do, and the reasons are all bottled up within class lines and Edwardian repression, laced within the troubles of a changing world and a longing to find stability and happiness within it. Everything we take away from these two about their attraction is held in looks, pained glances, hurtful stares, lusty eyes. It is, as stated, tangled in metaphor and mythology. This is a world where a stuffed dog speaks more than they do. They are, quite simply, the sublime—that idea which can only be understood on a higher plane of thought. When we take words and pen to describe it, we find it beyond cognitive abilities. They are not bound by the limits of language. And to me, that is the definition of romance, of the romantic as we know it. We can describe it as it evolves, how they come together and possibly why, but there are always these massive gaps that our own brains have to tease out. It’s why they are alternatively the greatest ship and the most frustrating. As well, it is certainly served by the time period, where life itself was a performance art. What I enjoy so thoroughly about Mary and Matthew is that that love precedes need. They don't discover a need for each other and base that love upon it. Rather, series one sees them coming to fall for each other despite the fact that they really do not need each other at all. They find friendship in each other, but there's nothing particularly pulling them together because they need to cling to the other. It's why series two is so intricately beautiful to me. Out of that love comes need. They come to need each other because they love each other, not the other way around. For me personally, it makes their relationship more inherently meaningful, simply because it's not based on anything concrete. It has value in itself. But of course, as their relationship is, it makes everything all the more complicated.
That being said, I do have my own interpretation of events. Despite minor quibbles in series two (most of which were rectified by the Christmas Special itself), I think this relationship is stunning in its journey. As someone who desperately roots for them both as individuals and as two halves of a whole, I find that their journey does what any great romance should do—it allows for them to experience pain in frighteningly real ways, but coming to be healed by the spirit of union. For me, Mary and Matthew are the fairy tale built on grim grounds. They represent the idealistic version of love that crosses time and place and perceived boundaries, but it always stays fundamentally real to the heart of suffering. The coming of their union represents not just the journey of how they reached each other, but a journey of how they each reached themselves. To me, that’s the best kind of love story. Love stories should not just be about how two people come together, but it needs to be about how two individuals grapple with self-examination and move into a happy social sphere. Mary and Matthew’s journey is representative of this—two people who over the course of eight years saw the worst of each other and the best of each other, and in bridging the gap to heal themselves, they built the bridge towards each other. It’s why the Christmas Special is utterly perfect to me, and certainly why I regard their love story as one of my favorites in any medium of fiction.
So over the course of the Downton hiatus, I will return in individual chapters to look at this relationship, break it down to its emotional core in the best way I know how, and try to understand how Matthew to evolved from the Sea Monster and into Perseus. UNTIL NEXT TIME, GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK.
*This song is what I was listening to when I started writing this, mostly because the melody of it actually is Mary and Matthew to me. It begins with the melancholy tickle of piano notes (series 1), eventually rising to be accompanied by strings in a more powerful bit of melancholia (series 2), only to rise into a hopeful rhythm that gives the feeling of the beginning of a triumph (2.08, beginning of Christmas Special), and alas, it ends much where it began, very simple notes, but only this time, a little bit happier and a little less sad (end of Christmas Special).