[Caution: this recap of Downton Abbey contains spoilers!]
It’s true! In this sixth episode of Downton Abbey’s final season, the estate’s managers Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) and Tom Branson (Allen Leech) have decided to fling wide the doors of the Abbey for the public to come in and see! The goal is to raise money for the hospital through the ticket sales, and while a noble goal, the majority of the household is puzzled at the idea. “What have we got to show them?” quips the Earl, Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville), as he lies in bed recovering from his ulcer scare in the previous episode. Similarly, his mother, Dowager Countess Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith), wonders, “But why should people pay? To see a perfectly ordinary house?” The phrase “familiarity breeds contempt” comes to mind, especially when the time for the actual tour comes. Lady Cora Crawley (Elizabeth McGovern) and her daughters act as tour guides, and it’s quickly evident that they know nothing about the history or detail of the splendid house in which they’ve spent so many years. On top of that, Robert is astounded at the money raised from ticket purchases, to which Tom lightly suggests regularly opening the house as a source of income, but nearly everyone balks. It’s a hint that it could be coming though.
Also on the “opening” front are the hearts of both Crawley sisters. Their romances with their respective suitors are progressing rather quickly it seems.
First, Lady Edith Crawley (Laura Carmichael) brings Bertie Pelham (Harry Hadden-Patton) to Downton to meet the family and also takes the opportunity to give him his first glimpse of little Marigold. The secret of her parentage clearly weighs on Edith, and Bertie will surely find out soon. So far, he seems more than a match for Edith though. Clever, quick, supportive of her work, and as a bonus, he turns out to be quite helpful in the showing of the house to the public.
Meanwhile, Mary continues to quietly feed her own suspicions about Marigold, questioning both Tom and her maid Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt) at various times. I suspect she’s waiting for an opportunity to use it against this sister with whom she simply can’t ever seem to see eye to eye. But more pressing for her is her recent suitor, racecar driver Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode). She arranges a dinner in London with him, Tom, and a few old friends, including Mr. Evelyn Napier (Brendan Patricks), a good friend from previous seasons. Mary arrives dressed to the nines with the flirting game turned on high, and Henry walks her home in a romantic rain shower. It’s during this scene that she confesses her late husband died in a car crash, hence her hesitance to share his enthusiasm for cars. Henry admits that Mr. Napier told him this, but also that he completely understands why she’d be hesitant about seeing him race. He then kisses her sweetly and admits openly that he’s falling love with her, rather to Mary’s surprise. Isn’t this moving a bit fast, she wonders? Maybe so, but maybe this handsome Henry Talbot will also help her look past her fears, both of cars and of deeper fears she might not yet be able to define. As she has said, we in the audience shall “enjoy the process enormously!”
In contrast, the Dowager is having a much more difficult time. She had hoped that Robert’s medical scare would convince everyone that the status quo at the hospital was the right course, but it seems the opposite has happened. The large York hospital writes to Dr. Clarkson (David Robb) to inform him that they are prepared to implement joining operations with the local Downton hospital. And not only that, but they want the Dowager to step down from the president position and for Cora to take it over! Violet of course finds out before anyone works up the courage to tell her… and hell hath no fury like Granny when power is taken from her. It’s safe to say that it will be a while before she and Cora can be friends again. If ever. Goodness gracious.
Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton) will likely be shunned for a while too since she actually suggested Cora for the hospital position. Isobel’s personal storyline thickens a bit in this episode too. Lord Merton (Douglas Reith) still loves her as much as ever, and awkwardly introduces his soon-to-be daughter-in-law, Amelia Cruikshank (Phoebe Sparrow), one morning. Amelia is engaged to Merton’s abominably rude son, Larry (Charlie Anson), who ruined Isobel’s resolve to marry Lord Merton in the previous season. Amelia appears to be dropping hints that she’s a friend to Isobel, possibly at Lord Merton’s prompting. But let’s not get too comfortable yet. I would dearly love for Isobel and Lord Merton to find a way to be together, but we have a ways to go yet.
Among the servants, tensions are running high. The freshly wed Carsons, still known to us as butler Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) and housekeeper Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), are having a few newlywed struggles, mainly because Mr. Carson can’t seem to separate work from marriage. He has a comment or correction for everything from the taste of the food to the way the bed is made, and it’s only a matter of time before Mrs. Hughes snaps. Miss Baxter, lady’s maid to Cora, comes close to snapping of frailty again when she receives a letter from her old enemy Peter Coyle. She nearly testified against him in the last episode, but he changed his plea to guilty when he heard she was on the witness list. Now, he’s written to her asking if she’ll visit him in prison. Hmm? Frightening prospect for Baxter, but a loaded plot line no doubt.
And the cook Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) is now appearing conflicted about her newfound friendship with Mr. Mason (Paul Copley) since his move to Yew Tree Farm. The two obviously enjoy each other’s company, but Mr. Mason’s daughter-in-law Daisy Mason (Sophie McShera) resents their growing relationship and takes every opportunity to nag and complain about it. It seems she has something new to do that about in every episode. She’s really getting on everyone’s last nerve and certainly does not deserve all the help that footman Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle) is giving her in the way of education. But in his conversations with the headmaster about Daisy’s upcoming exams, a new opportunity for Molesley may have appeared. The headmaster asks him to sit for an exam too, expressing interest in having Mr. Molesley help at the school in some way. This would be a great break for him. Here’s hoping!
Meanwhile, footman Andy Parker (Michael Fox) is also taking steps in his education. The reading lessons with under butler Thomas Barrow (Robert James Collier) appear to be helping, but unfortunately, the other staff begins to suspect the two are becoming inappropriately involved since Thomas is a party, especially when Carson sees Andy exiting Thomas’ room one night. Thomas is increasingly depressed at the lack of trust in him among the staff, especially since Carson has made clear that he must leave since staff is downsizing. The episode actually closes with a shot of Thomas crying pitifully in the darkened servants’ hall. While the staff may be wrong to distrust him so particularly, it’s still difficult for me to pity him much after five straight seasons of his manipulation, blackmailing, and utter spite toward nearly everyone.
How on earth will all of this wrap up in just three more episodes?! You’ve got your work cut out for you, Downton Abbey. Tune in next week for part seven of Downton Abbey on PBS/Masterpiece!1 of 1