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Why the Dowager Countess must die: fan service vs. storytelling.

I cheated. Using a little Internet magic, I watched season three of Downton Abbey last fall, long before my American friends had the opportunity. When the show finally aired in the States, I knew what was coming. As the season finale aired, my Facebook feed filled up with incredulous reactions to a major character’s untimely demise.

Now, I could quibble with how the show killed him off (his death was telegraphed from a mile away). But I applaud any show that would kill off its lead characters. I wish more showrunners had the guts to take big risks during the series run. Let good storytelling determine the plot—not fan petitions, actor contracts, or studio interference. Let story be king.

Fans will gripe and moan, of course. But who cares? Fans make terrible writers. (A quick visit to any fan-fiction site will prove that fact.) A franchise’s devotees too often prefer to preserve things as they are, indefinitely, until their beloved show stagnates and piddles out.

Downton Abbey deserves better. And that’s why any true Downton admirer should root for the Dowager Countess to die in the upcoming fourth season. Sure, we all love Maggie Smith. But the character should already have croaked, by any believable WWI-era actuarial table. If she survives another year, it’ll be a bad sign for everyone’s favorite BBC soap opera.