With a dog’s butt, a flower petal, and a chandelier duster, we are back at Downton Abbey! Eight episodes plus one Christmas special remain, meaning Lady Mary has at most 30 more suitors for us to keep track of. That’s still a lot of work, so let’s get started.
By Matt Gurry
Tonight’s double episode sets up the British aristocracy’s swan song. Or bludgeons us over the head with it. But don’t worry about any of that yet because we start with a fox hunt, and isn’t everyone cutting a dash?
And now we’re ready to talk about the episode.
What happened upstairs…
Lady Mary has assumed the role of agent now that house dreamboat Tom Branson has moved to Boston, something we’ll deal with in a minute. On one hand, “long live women’s rights and all that,” Lord Grantham agrees, but he knows the job is taxing on anyone and has the ulcer to prove it. Lady Edith has taken on a career of her own, now running the magazine left to her by Michael Gregson. Edith’s editor isn’t making this easy on Edith, who isn’t making things easy on Mary by forcing her to wait a whopping 22 minutes to take her first dig at Edith.
Yorkshire’s hospitals are merging, and the Crawley women stand on either side of a line in the sand. It’s a matter of Health vs. Power according to Isobel, or “power over our health” according to the Dowager Countess. The plot line gets a lot of airtime tonight, making me think we should settle in and be ready for Emperor Julian Fellowes to stretch this one out for a while. If so, it seems like an easy skirmish for us to follow since it’s the Dowager on one side and everyone else on the other.
The episode ends with both family and Daisy attending Mallerton Hall’s fire sale, affording Emperor Julian the Daily Double of favorite themes: bemoaning the end of the great houses and blurring the lines of family and servants. (+2 Julian Fellowes)
…and what happened downstairs…
Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore are right back in their palship, which has become one of my favorites. Remember the Great Electric Mixer Incident of ‘24? But instead of sopping up spilled cake batter this time, they’re working out how—for what reason only God knows—and by God I mean Julian Fellowes—Patmore will ask Mr. Carson if he expects Hughes to perform her wifely duties when they’re married. It’s too bad the family hasn’t bought a telly yet because then Hughes, worrying about how frumpy she is, would see what a babe Phyllis Logan is while watching the Season 6 media tour. Whatever Emperor Julian’s reason may be, it gleefully leads to Patmore tap dancing around semantics and slamming a glass of Carson’s port. (+1 Staff)
Over at the Dower House, Lady Violet confides to her lady’s maid Denker about the pending layoffs at Downton with the caveat of “no talking,” which of course means she’s going to talk, which tells us that Emperor Julian thinks he’s got more to squeeze from his rather tedious Spratt-vs.-Denker battle. (-1 Staff) I wish Spratt would just give Denker a bottle of something strong and let her Charleston her way out of the show’s foreground.
Sergeant Willis is also back to drag out the plot line about the Bates’ legal problems. Never has murder refused so heartily to just die. Nonetheless, the case on hand is that of Anna’s rapist Mr. Green who, by the way, was murdered way back in Season 4. And yet here we still are. Good grief, Julian, nobody cares. We’d all be so much happier if you gave this screentime to, say, Patmore doing more hilarious battle with electronic kitchen appliances. Let it go. (-1 Staff, -1 Julian Fellowes) However, the business finally comes to an end in the last moments of the episode when a solid confession arrives and even Sergeant Willis concedes he should have said so sooner. The result is Robert and family opening some Veuve (Carson’s suggestion). It also allows Anna to cry a total of three times this episode, the happy tears here plus two incidents of sad tears over not being able to get pregnant, and every time Anna cries we get closer to Joanne Froggatt to win the Emmy I want for her. (+3 Staff) “I could have done with the result a little sooner,” said Lady Mary and Matt together.
…and how the Emperor Julian bulldozed the door between them:
If there’s one thing the Emperor Julian loves, it’s considering how these times are changing. If there’s a second thing, it’s blurring the line between servants and staff making Anna and Lady Mary look like Monica and Rachel.
Tonight’s bosom buddies are Cora and Daisy. At the Mallerton Hall auction, Daisy stands up to the actions of the nobility, not backing down when Lord Grantham tells her to cool it: “I won’t m’lord!” Carson can’t reach his pink-slip book fast enough, but the always empathetic Cora commutes Daisy’s punishment to “just ticking her off.” To Carson, this means calling her “small and foolish and immature.”
Just Checking: Are These Times of Change?
They are! Not only are both Crawley daughters now working (+2 These Changing Times), but Carson is in a tizzy over cutting staff as England’s great houses decline. (+1 These Changing Times) (And a sordid decline it is, too, what with one housemaid having left service to work in, yuck, a shop. I blame PBS for that one, who cross-promotes Downton Abbey with Mr. Selfridge and pollutes Carson’s staff with soapy ads of women working in retail!) As Mr. Darnley, downsizing from Mallerton Hall to a “pokey little house in Thornhaugh Square” in London, says: “Face it. In 20 years’ time there won’t be a house this size still standing that isn’t an institution.” So yes, these are changing times indeed.
Nothing terribly exciting this episode, no chance for Violet to fear telephone vapors, etc. (-1 These Changing Times) But Lady Rose’s gramophone makes an appearance that Lady Mary calls rare even though I feel like it’s appeared in almost every episode since the Crawleys bought it. Also, while downstairs Robert asks Cora, “Is this a refrigerator?” To which Cora answers yes, “Mrs. Patmore hates it.”
Who Was That Guy?
There are so many white people to keep track of in this universe, most of them Lady Mary’s suitors. This is the spot where we’ll attempt to keep track of all the auxiliary characters who either appear or are namechecked in each episode. I’ll keep the running list here for your reference.
- Rita. Don’t remember this chambermaid from the Grand Hotel Liverpool, the site of Lady Mary’s Season 5 tryst with Lord Gillingham last season? Don’t worry; this is her first Downton appearance.
- Lord Gillingham (“Tony”). A childhood friend of Lady Mary who beat Charles Blake as her Season 5 suitor but is ultimately rejected and marries Mabel Fox.
- Charles Blake. You know what, this is getting us nowhere. Forget it.
- Michael Gregson. Edith got a man, too! But he died. Marigold is their lovechild.
- The Baron Merton (“Dickie”). He’s that guy who tells Cousin Isobel he’s happy they agree, at least, on the hospital merger. The “at least” refers to Isobel having turned down his proposal because his sons think she’s after the Merton money.
- Mr. Mason. A villager who was the footman William’s father. Minutes before William’s death at Downton Convalescence after WWI, he became Daisy’s father-in-law.
Branson in Boston
We ended last season with Tom Branson—once the house’s chauffeur, now Lady Sybil’s widower, and always a dreamboat—taking Sybbie to begin a new life in Boston. Many thought I would be upset at the loss of this total babe. Alas! Tom’s Boston adventures have inspired me to write a treatment for my spin-off series about Tom meeting me in America and taking off his shirt a lot. Or what some call “fanfic.” Either way, this is where I tell you what happened this week on Branson in Boston.
Tom has written Mary to say he’s found a flat with a garden and Sybbie’s happy at school. After a long day of tending to the Branson crops, Matt reads to Tom and Sybbie from a book he found on Goodreads’ “gardening in romance novels” list called Get Lucky because it is about Irish people. It quickly becomes clear this content isn’t appropriate for little Sybbie, so the two find her a popular children’s book from the 1920s: “Gay Neck, the Story of a Pigeon.” Tom puts Sybbie to bed and returns to Matt, and the two continue reading Get Lucky. For a little while.
Questions and Comments
- If I know the Emperor Julian, and after spending 44 episodes in his brain I know the Emperor Julian, the fact that he opens the season with a shot of Thomas tells me he’ll be one to watch this season.
- Elsie, er, Mrs. Hughes is no closer to setting the date of her wedding to Mr. Carson than when this episode started. Could the Emperor Julian be planning to dissolve this moment of happiness for her? He can do what he wants to others, but if he touches Anna and Hughes, he will sorely regret it.
- Daisy seems relieved that Carson doesn’t fire her. But with her increasing confidence and interest in studying for…whatever she’s studying for, I’m wondering if we’re building to something big for her. If I remember correctly, Season 1 Episode 1 opens with her scurrying about as Downton’s scullery maid. Not saying she’ll become the U.K.’s first female astronaut, but maybe she’ll bookend the show by finding some life outside of service?
- Critics in the U.K. were bored by the “dull” hospital plot line becoming the framing device of Season 6. But when the focus was on sexier plot twists, critics complained the show had become too soapy. So it seems Julian Fellowes can’t win. Whatever you think, Fellowes has consistently used medical service to define his characters and their their era. The biggest battle of New vs. Old was the two doctors present at Lady Sybil’s death. The doctor who was right (though ignored) was the local Dr. Clarkson, a player in the potential Yorkshire merger. I’ll be keeping this in mind as this plot chugs along.
- Edith’s Latin line as she enters the auction is “Sic transit gloria mundi,” which means “Thus passes the glory of the world,” which seems a little heavy-handed even for Downton Abbey. (-1 Family)
Learn to Speak Fellowes
“We mustn’t crow, we may be next.” —Cora to Mary on visiting the Mallerton estate auction
This Week’s Winner
Sergeant Willis. (+1 Villagers) The Bates have now spent five—five—seasons dealing with one murder or another. (Vera kicked it way back in Season 2; Green, in 4.) More even than Spratt and Denker, Sergeant Willis has muscled his way into the script by dragging out a tedious plot line. Ostensibly, Bates was talking to Anna when he asked, “Do you ever think of a time when we’re told the whole Mr. Green business is over?” But I think he was saying it on all of our behalves to the Emperor Julian.
This Week’s Loser
Mr. Bates, for doing nothing this week but doting over Anna. (Bates: “Penny for your thoughts?” Anna: “They’re not worth it.” Bates: “They are to me.” Matt: “Shut up shut up shut up!”) Does he even work anymore? What is his job again? (-1 Staff)
Season 6 Leaderboard
Family: -1 point: How do you say that in Latin, Edith?
Staff: 1 point, which I’ll use to bribe Emmy voters. #TeamFroggatt
Villagers: 1 point: Our boredom was their gain.
Julian Fellowes: 1 point, and that’s with a Daily Double!
These Changing Times: 2 points: One for each working daughter and the decline of the aristocracy; minus one for missed gadget opportunity.
Matt Gurry writes about Downton Abbey with an unhealthy enthusiasm at decantersandbanter.wordpress.com. Join us next week for our next episode recap!
Last modified: July 27, 2017