RECAP: "Downton Abbey" 6.6: The Abbiest Place on Earth

Written by | Entertainment, Screen

Last night, American audiences were treated to an evening of exciting television, at once a sporting competition and a spectator event, even if some of us were just there for the commercials.

That is: Violet and Cora did battle, the villagers toured the house, and as always, wasn’t the scenery so pretty for Viking River Cruises?

By Matt Gurry


Mr. Carson said he would go to Kinko’s himself. (Photo (C) Nick Briggs/Carnival Film for Masterpiece)

What happened upstairs…

The hospital merger is finally over, with progress winning in the end: Downton will merge with York. (+1 These Changing Times) There won’t be any big management changes…save for one power transfer. Lady Grantham will replace the Dowager Countess as the president, and she will deal with it publicly and fabulously. Cora must also deal with Robert, who worries she’s too frail to be president of the hospital. It’s ironic given that he spends the whole episode convalescing in bed. (-1 Family)

Lady Mary goes to a little dinner party at The Criterion organized by Evelyn Napier, one of her also-rans. There, she’s first invited to watch Henry Talbot and his buddy race cars next month, and then given the opportunity to crow over not being a war widow. Classy. (-1 Family) The scene ends with a kiss in the rain. In a coda scene at the London flat, Mary does three of my favorite things: gets Tom excited about cars (+1 Matt), drinks whiskey (+1 Family), and shades Edith (not sure who gets that point).


Sheesh, Mary, I hope you brought your diaphragm! (Photo (C) Nick Briggs/Carnival Film for Masterpiece)

Speaking of Edith, she gives Bertie a tour of the nursery full of sleeping babes. Right there is Mary’s legitimate son George, that’s Tom’s legitimate daughter Sybbie, and there’s…the other one. The thing about Downton Abbey is, you never know if something talked about across episodes will erupt (Robert’s ulcer) or fizzle (Mrs. Baxter’s testimony). So for now, let’s treat this one as a yellow light.

Bigger than any one character this episode, though, is the house itself. The rent is too damn high, and it’s affecting everyone. It’s bad news for the staff: redundancies are coming. But it’s good news for the villagers: a visit to Downton Abbeyland! Tom’s idea to use tourism for solvency is not only ahead of its time, but one that in 1993 would go all the way up to Her Majesty the Queen and Buckingham Palace. (+1 These Changing Times) And it seemed to have worked for her, too. (+1 The Windsors) Some of the family calls the idea “revolting” and “rather frightful,” but two words for you, Robert: “Canadian railroads.”

…and what happened downstairs…

The big house isn’t the only one to see some shuffling. Chez Bates, we learn they’ll soon be trading up to make room for a bigger family, assuming all goes well with the London doctor. Affairs at the Carson house, though, are a bit more dire: bedsheet corners aren’t tight, breakfast isn’t frequent, and now with Mrs. Hughes forgetting the lemons, the marriage is in shambles. Things are a little more solid over at Yew Tree Farm, where Mr. Mason has a small army helping him settle in.

Which brings us to Daisy.

I worry that Sergeant Willis will be back next week. Not for Mrs. Baxter, not for Anna, but for us, the viewers. Because we will have been seen killing Daisy. Her weekly musings in Marxism have been somewhat grating, but no more so than when your college roommate discovers Ayn Rand, and this week’s was certainly offset by her care for Mr. Mason. But I could feel things among us quickly going Murder on the Orient Express when Mrs. Patmore’s love note was found in the rubbish bin. Really, no reasonable jury would hold any of us responsible for whatever may happen to Daisy between this week and next. (-1 Staff)

Before anyone acts on that, though, we have to deal with the Thomas question. His upcoming redundancy is rather his own doing. Had he not finagled himself into an invented post that’s “fragrant with memories of a lost world” (one guess for who said it), he’d probably be OK. More pressing, though, is that sad and somewhat ominous shot of him crying. After all these years, it’s odd to adjust to Thomas being presented as a character of pity.

…and how Julian bulldozed the door between them:
For the second week in a row, I’d say he didn’t. No staffers took family members to political rallies; no kitchen assistants confronted the lady of the house. A place for everybody and everyone in their place this week.

Just Checking: Are These Times of Change?
Well, there’s the “idiotic” (Lord Grantham) and “dangerous precedent” (Mr. Carson) of opening Downton Abbey up to looky-loos, which according to Mr. Carson will lead to “a guillotine in Trafalgar Square.”

As prescient as Lady Mary and Tom’s idea is, they’ve got nothing on Highclere Castle’s Lady Carnarvon, who offers tours, tea services, an Egyptian Exhibition add-on, seasonal parties, wedding packages, corporate events, overnight lodgings (new for 2016!), and—most egregiously neglected by Mary and Tom—a gift shop. (+1 Lady Carnarvon) And we’d even pay more than Anna’s suggested price of 6p, with Lady Carnarvon charging £15.

Elsewhere in the plot, Lord and Lady Grantham have an odd reversal, with Cora thinking Lady Edith has no real prospects, so better to bag Bertie now (-1 These Changing Times), while Robert sees Edith as an enterprising businesswoman in this changing world. (+1 These Changing Times)

And we’d be remiss to skip the bedchamber scene wherein everyone lays it on a little too thick, even for Downton Abbey, that this way of life can’t go on forever. (-1 Julian Fellowes) Oddly, it’s the thoroughly modern Mary who calls this “weakling talk.” (-1 These Changing Times)

Newfangled Gadgetry
I’ve got not nothing. I thought I was on to something with the velvet ropes used on the house tour. But nope. They were invented by George Boldt to cordon off VIP sections of his new hotel, the Waldorf Astoria, opened 1894. Sorry.

Who Was That Guy?

  • Evelyn Napier. He’s been in and out of our lives over the years. When we first meet him, he was slighted by Lady Mary for the Turkish diplomat Pamuk. Dodged a bullet there. Last night, he was one of Mary’s tony friends at The Criterion at her “table of singletons.”
  • Amelia Cruikshank. Fiancée to Larry Grey, son of Lord Merton. You’ll remember the jerk Larry, who at one dinner bullied Tom, and Isobel at another. Which begs the question, how does he keep getting invited to dinner? Cruikshank seems to offer Isobel an olive branch, an act Lord Merton calls “interesting and encouraging.” The Dowager will “leave it at interesting for now.” But I’m sure it’s nothing.
  • The People in the Paintings. No one, especially the Crawleys, really cares who all those portraits are of—except for me! The man Lady Mary doesn’t know is Highclere Castle’s Henry Herbert, 1st Earl of Carnarvon (1741–1811), and his children are the people Lady Edith doesn’t know. Their descendents are Highclere’s current owners, and they must have had a good laugh indeed to imagine there are people who can’t identify 300 years of Carnarvon.

Her car runs on diesel and fury. (Photo (C) Nick Briggs/Carnival Film for Masterpiece)

Questions and Comments

  • Should we feel bad for Thomas? His character is definitely being written to elicit our sympathy this season, but he’s been a consistent dick over the years. What do you think? That final shot of him crying sure was a doozy…
  • Bertie met Marigold in this episode without being told who she is. That has to turn into something.
  • So here we are at The Criterion, one of the best possible places to use John Lunn’s “Swanky Dinner in London” theme I talked about last week. And what do we get? Bupkis. Come on, Fellowes, don’t drop the easy stuff. (-1 Julian Fellowes)
  • I’d like to thank the house visitor who connected Downton Abbey’s name with Lady Grantham’s fun fact about it being a dissolved monastery. I’d always wondered that myself! (+1 Villagers)
  • Edith and Mary are definitely percolating. It was all eyerolls when we started this season; now they’re full-on digs. This is going to erupt soon, and there will only be one winner: us.

Learn to Speak Fellowes

  • “I think [opening the house to tourists] is crackers.” —Lord Grantham
  • Crumbs, that looks frightening!” —Lord Grantham again, before passing on Mr. Carson’s Chateau Chasse-Spleen because “things cannot go on as they used to.” (+1 These Changing Times)
  • Crikey!” —Lady Edith (“Who?” —Everyone.)

This Week’s Winner
Lady Grantham. (+1 Family) Congratulations on your presidency, but good luck dealing with the ridiculous family you married into.

This Week’s Loser

Daisy. (-1 Staff) Again. (-1 Staff) I could deal with Daisy the adorable little liberal, but sabotaging dear Mrs. Patmore’s chance at love is flatly unforgivable. Mrs. P. is occupied with her new B&B to spend too much time on this, but still!

On Warning
Julian Fellowes. I don’t know if we have any more swanky restaurant dinners planned for this season, Fellowes, but if we do, they damn well need some incidental music.

Season 6 Leaderboard
Villagers: 0 points (+1 from Episode 5). Again, thank you to the fellow who put A and B together to get Abbey.

Lady Carnarvon: 1 point (new to board). And just in time to tell us who all those dead people in the portraits are!
Duncan and Bobby: 1 point (no change from Episode 5)
Julian Fellowes: 2 points (-2 from Episode 5). We let you bemoan these times of change times for you, don’t you deprive us our incidental music.
Matt: 3 points (+1 from Episode 5). Lots of point losses this week. In full disclosure, I had strep throat and wasn’t in the best mood.
The Windsors: 3 points (+1 from Episode 5). You can read about Tim’s experience of visiting Windsor properties here.
Family: 9 points (no change from Episode 5). The Family’s equal to the Staff…
Staff: 9 points (-3 from Episode 5). …the Staff’s equal to the Family…
These Changing Times: 13 points (+2 from Episode 5). …and so goes the world.

Matt Gurry writes about Downton Abbey with an unhealthy enthusiasm at Join us next week for our next episode recap!

Last modified: January 17, 2018