What a day, “Downton Abbey” is back and in its final season, and HBO’s “Game of Thrones” has caught up and will be passing George R.R. Martin. First off, there are SPOILERS in this recap, so you are forewarned. While we know that there will be lots of drama and heartbreak (It’s Downton Abbey so our favorite downstairs couple will suffer too, of course), but this season starts with more of an uplifting feeling and focuses on more character stories to develop fully. So sit back and be ready to fall back into that Downton feeling.
We”ll be doing the recap two ways. For those of you in a rush that want to just get the gist of the episode, you can just scan the first section, but for those that love to dip deep into the Downton pond, travel down further for a much more extensive breakdown of the episode.
“Downton Abbey” can be a little frustrating at times, but something about this show just puts you into such a wonderful state of calmness with characters that just make you sit back and forget the world around you. I will say that diehard fans who have stuck through some odd and weak plotlines will be very happy as Mr Julian Fellowes comes through in the end…but that’s getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with the first episode of the final season.
And so we return to the usual collision of wonderful emotive acting performances and ludicrously bonkers exposition. Hooray to the max for this first episode of the final season, though, as Carson and Mrs Hughes are still getting married! But what’s this? She’s having doubts? Oh, only about taking her pinny off in front of Mr Carson.
This was one of the most enjoyable mini-plotlines in the whole of Downton’s history. Making Mrs Patmore ask Mr Carson if he was only marrying Mrs Hughes so that he could get his end away. Except she wasn’t able to come out with that and so we saw her navigate the situation with a series of increasingly desperate but brilliant euphemisms. “Yes … but do you expect to share your, er, way of life?” If this were an episode of Friends, it would have been called The One With Too Much Information.
Other News: Thomas has become a manny. (“You let those children run you ragged.”) Lady Mary wants to run the estate but not before seeing off a nasty blackmailer lady with a pronounced regional accent. (I presumed the Mr Pamuk blackmailing would return here, but I was wrong. This was over the illicit hotel visit with Tony Gillingham on the day of The Famous Monkey Haircut.) And Cousin Violet and Cousin Isobel are at war over something very tedious about a hospital.
Edith is looking obscenely gorgeous, even if the narrative threads that have defined her haven’t changed in three series (spinster, Imposter Child, newspaper job). Oh, and by the way, she has met Virginia Woolf! I love that Edith is still supposedly running the paper by phone, taking important calls in a series of ever increasingly fabulous outfits. “He doesn’t like taking orders from a woman.” No, I think he doesn’t like taking orders from someone who is trying to run a newspaper from North Yorkshire.
Best bit? Mr Spratt saying “in your usual maladroit fashion” to Denker. The definition of contempt. Whatever nuclear stink Spratt has under his nose at all times, he should bottle and sell it to the War Office as it could be used in international warfare. Go, Spratt. And welcome back, Downton. We love you. This isn’t some pat-a-cake friendship lie. Well, it is a bit. But welcome back anyway.
Random subplot alert
Finally, we know that neither Anna or Bates killed Mini-Den, the valet Green. Did anyone follow exactly how he was killed? It was extremely convoluted and unlikely and valiant though the efforts of the Hopeless Expositionary Policeman were to convey this twist, it all seems rather shrouded in mist. Green insulted this woman and she pushed him over and now she has confessed? So it was supposed to be an accident? Or it wasn’t an accident? Or it doesn’t matter? Seeing as we have been following this “terrible murder” for two years, this seems like something of a let-down. But at least, Anna is off the hook. Meanwhile, Bates redeemed himself with the wonderful scene between him and Anna where she revealed her miscarriages. Damn you, Downton.
Surprise character development
Following her re-education as a quasi-Nobel Prize winner for maths in the previous series, this episode it was Daisy’s turn to speak up for the workers’ right as she pointed out the injustice of the new owners of a manor throwing out lifelong tenants. The reaction of her father-in-law behind her back, shuddering and collapsing like one of Mrs Patmore’s jellies on a bad night, was vintage. Daisy (Sophie McShera) is adorable, and I do wish they would give her more to do apart from the odd bonkers outburst from time to time.
The Mr Carson eyebrow of the week award
Step aside, everyone. Only one person can be in contention, and it’s multiple golden eyebrow winner, Mr. Carson. “I hadn’t fully considered all the aspects of marriage …” “I don’t understand what aspects?” Pause. “Oh my Lord. You mean …” Pause. “Yes. That is precisely what I mean.” This was not the raising of an eyebrow. This was the stratospheric upward rocketing of the entire brow, forehead, scalp and hair follicles. Absolutely fantastic stuff from Jim Carter, whose mastery of the brow area is a challenge to the entire cast. Consider the gauntlet thrown down, fellow actors.
Excuse me, could you just repeat that awkward line of dialogue?
“Do you really like riding like that when a side-saddle is so much more graceful?” Let’s not talk about what’s been between Lady Mary’s thighs. The ghost of Mr Pamuk wept.
“No-one’s clapped eyes on him without his togs for years.” Mrs Patmore on Mr Carson. Oh, but in our dreams, Mrs. Patmore, in our dreams …
“He’s a nice boy, and I think I’ve shown him the right way to go about things.” Thomas to the new boy, Andy. Now, Thomas, come along. You know where this sort of thing has led before …
“Well, then, Mr Carson, if you want me, you can have me, to quote Oliver Cromwell, warts and all.” Oh, Mrs Hughes! Or shall we call you “Elsie”?
The battle lines are drawn in the Great Tedious Hospital War! Mary has taken the Imposter Child back to the farm! And Thomas is arguing with Mrs Patmore. We can see the intensity of the excellent performances on show here already. But there’s no getting away from the fact that this is going to be a very long and drawn-out finale …
Downton Abbey Full Extensive 601 Recap
The episode didn’t have a lot of intertwining plot twists. It was more of a set-up episode, and it firmly established what seems like a story arc revolving around change: in the future of Downton as an estate, and in the many characters’ life decisions.
We start off with Lord Grantham hosting a shooting party (oh, and for those of you who might’ve been worried about this, Isis the dog is still very much a part of the opening credits, so we get to see her wagging tail as she walks towards the Abbey). As the guests mount up and get ready to depart, a young woman, with a rather sinister-looking smirk is amongst the crowd following the hunt. Mary, much to Robert’s amusement, is no longer riding sidesaddle, and as they are galloping through the woods, she sees the woman on a bridge, loses her focus and tumbles off her horse. When they get back to the house, she finds out that the woman is the chambermaid from the hotel in Liverpool where she stayed with Tony Gillingham during their little weekend tryst. The girl is there to bribe Mary to keep quiet and asks for a thousand pounds. As you can imagine, Mary refuses and stalks off, but she’s clearly worried. Remember, Tony is now married to Mabel, and if a scandal breaks out, it will be really bad for them, too.
Meanwhile, back at the house, little George and Marigold are hanging out in the kitchen with Mrs. Patmore (so cute!) and it turns out that Thomas has a way with children. He gives George a piggyback ride! Mrs. Hughes seems preoccupied, and Mrs. Patmore finally corners her upstairs in the servants’ quarters. It turns out that Mrs. Hughes is worried about the … um … more intimate? nature of her marriage to Mr. Carson. She’s worried that he won’t find her attractive, and she’s a bit embarrassed. So, she asks Mrs. Patmore to find out if Mr. Carson is actually looking forward to having a full marriage, or if he will be happy with just a marriage of companionship. It’s one of the funniest scenes ever! Mrs. Patmore suggests they keep the lights off! Hahaha!
In the Anna and Mr. Bates corner, the investigation into Green’s death is still not closed. Apparently, the woman who confessed to killing Green is now not quite sure, and of course, this causes the horrible dark cloud over this couple to continue hovering. In the meantime, poor Anna has had a miscarriage, and we find that it’s not the first time. She’s obviously very sad about it, and at first tries to keep it from Mr. Bates, but he finds out and reassures her (or tries to, at least).
Upstairs, the hospital board is having a meeting and Violet informs everyone that the Royal Yorkshire County Hospital wants to take over the administration of the hospital. Violet is vehemently against it, because she doesn’t want to lose control to a “faceless committee in York.” As usual, Isobel doesn’t agree, and this time around, Lord Merton is on her side (as is Cora, although she’s not being as forthcoming as Lord Merton). In an interesting twist, Dr. Clarkson is on Violet’s side. This turns into a battle of wills between the two grande dames.
Edith, meanwhile, is having challenges with her editor up in London who apparently doesn’t like working for a woman. The tenants in her flat (what used to be Gregson’s flat) are also ready to move out, so she takes a trip to London to get things straightened out. While there, she visits the flat with Rosamund who tells reassures her that striking out on her own and possibly moving to London might not be a bad thing after all.
Back at the Abbey, Robert tells Mr. Carson that they might have to consider cutting the staff down even more. Basically, Robert’s finally accepted that times are changing, and that people in service can find better employment (with much better hours!) elsewhere. Plus, the minimum wage (so to speak) has risen and keeping a full staff might be cost-prohibitive. When he also relays the news to Violet, she’s shocked, and ends up confiding in Denker (bit mistake, Violet!), making the maid promise not to spread any rumors at the house until a decision has been made. Of course, what does Denker do? She spreads the rumor. She goes over to the Abbey in the morning and casually mentions that there will be changes, and that while ladies’ maids and cooks, etc. are guaranteed to have a spot, butlers and footmen might want to start looking. This worries Thomas, who tells Baxter that he’s sure to be let go because no one really likes him any way. Back at the Dowager house, Denker spreads her poison to poor Spratt, who then asks Violet to please do him the favor of giving him some notice before letting him go. When Violet finds out that Denker is the one spreading the rumors (shocker!), she springs into action. During a visit from Isobel when Denker brings down a shawl for her, Violet tells the maid that she’s going to be missed, giving the impression that should anyone be fired, it would be Denker! See? You can’t mess with Violet.
Any way, back at the house, the chambermaid from Liverpool keeps showing up. She comes in to the kitchen and tells the staff that she’s the new maid from the Dower House and has an important message for Lady Mary that she has to deliver personally. This gets her upstairs into Mary’s bedroom, and a shocked Mary basically turns the girl down again and with Anna’s help, kicks her out of the house. She basically doesn’t want to be saddled with a moocher who’s going to keep bribing her forever. Anna agrees and tells her to stand her ground.
Back at the hospital, Dr. Clarkson confronts Isobel and tells her that Violet’s right about not wanting to relinquish control of the place to the folks from York, and he makes a crack about Lord Merton and his interest in all things medical. Isobel gets really upset and leaves. It’s the first time we see the good doctor openly acting jealous. Just to give you some perspective, Dr. Clarkson and Violet are against the takeover because they feel that a remote, probably bureaucratic, committee won’t be able to really help the needs of their little community. Isobel and Lord Merton on the other hand, argue that by being under the umbrella of the larger entity, they will have access to more resources, more innovative cures, etc. Isobel believes that Violet is simply against this because she doesn’t want to relinquish her power. We’ll have to see how this plays out in the next episodes. There’s nothing more fun than when these two ladies decide to go head-to-head!
As proof that times are really changing, Mr. Mason stops by and tells everyone that the estate he’s renting his farm from, Mallerton Hall, is up for sale. Robert and Cora are shocked to hear that Sir John Darnley has been reduced to not just selling his land and evicting his tenants, but to auction off the contents of his house! Mr. Mason wants to make sure that the notice he received from Sir Darnley is final, and that he has to leave his farm. This is a huge blow to Mr. Mason. His family has been farming that land for a few generations. Robert calls Darnley and confirms that yes, the new owner wants vacancies on the land. At any rate, the family decides to go to the auction to both support the Darnleys and to, I guess, find out exactly how bad their situation really is. Daisy insists on tagging along and well, things don’t go very well.
Walking through Mallerton, Mr. Mason bemoans the fact that he has to give up his land, the land that his father worked on, and to find a new place at his age. When they pass by one of the items up for sale, he tells Daisy that the tenants had all pitched in to pay for the piece as a wedding present for Sir Darnley’s father’s nuptials, and that it was a shame it had to be sold. This really upsets Daisy and she beelines over to Sir Darnley, who is standing with the new owner (a Mr. Henderson) and the Crawley family, and accuses them of not having any regard for the lives of the people on their land, etc. Mr. Mason, Edith, Cora, and even Robert try to stop her, but Daisy just doesn’t give up. Her impassioned speech really upsets Mr. Henderson and he says that even if he had been inclined to let some of the tenants stay, after Daisy’s outburst, Mr. Mason will surely not be one of them. Poor Daisy! The first time she has the guts to stand up for what’s right, and she ends up making a mess of things.
At any rate, when they get back to the house, Mr. Carson tells Robert that normally, an outburst like that would be cause for termination, but Cora prevails and tells Carson to just give Daisy a stern warning and let her off the hook. Phew! Now I just hope that Mr. Mason doesn’t get booted off his farm! This is another example of the massive changes that are happening in England at this time, and Sir Darnley warns Robert to not make the same mistakes he did.
The day before the auction, while Lady Mary is out, the chambermaid shows up and forces herself into the house. Molesley and Mr. Carson try to stop her, but before they get a chance, Robert walks in and the girl just pushes in to his library. When Mary gets back, Carson tells her that the girl is still in the library with her father. She rushes in to make sure Robert hasn’t paid the girl, but sees that he’s handing her a check. The girl leaves and Robert and Mary have a great talk. Turns out that Robert only gave the girl fifty pounds and got her to sign a note guaranteeing that she wouldn’t speak about Mary’s tryst to anyone. He threatened that if she does, he would prosecute her. He then asks Mary why she didn’t marry Tony after the affair, and she tells him that she didn’t feel he was the right man. Just like everything else between them, Robert accepts her answer and tells her that her decision to forego an advantageous marriage has shown him how courageous she is, and that he would be happy to let her take over as the estate agent in Tom Branson’s stead. This is a huge deal, because the previous night during dinner, when Mary announced that she wanted to run the estate, he had (gently) rebuked her. So, now Mary’s in charge of the Abbey. Let’s hope it doesn’t end badly!
Meanwhile, Mrs. Patmore asks to speak to Mr. Carson and tries to tell him about Mrs. Hughes’ concerns, but she does a poor job of it and leaves without finding anything out. It’s another really hilarious scene, where Mrs. Patmore tries to dance around the issue, and Mr. Carson just doesn’t understand where she’s going with the conversation. The next night, Mr. Carson corners her and asks her to continue her conversation, having realized that something was amiss the night before. Anyway, Mrs. Patmore finally figures out a way to let Mr. Carson what the problem is:
Mr. Carson: Mrs. Patmore. Did she ask you to tell me she’s changed her mind?
Mrs. Patmore: What? No! Well, not exactly.
Mr. Carson: I’m waiting …
Mrs. Patmore: Well, that is all very fine, but it’s hard for me to talk about such things!
Mr. Carson: Now, I’m on the edge of my seat!
Mrs. Patmore tells him that she can’t look at him while they have the conversation, and turns away. She then tries to approach the subject again, and Mr. Carson finally catches on that they’re talking about intimate relations between him and Mrs. Hughes once they’re married. It’s all very awkward (and hilarious).
Mrs. Patmore: What am I to tell her?
Mr. Carson: Tell her this, Mrs. Patmore: That in my eyes, she is beautiful.
Mrs. Patmore: I see.
Mr. Carson: You say she asks if I want a full marriage, and the answer is yes, I do. I want a real marriage, a true marriage, with everything that that involves. And I hope I do not ask the indelicate when I send you back to relay this message.
Mrs. Patmore: Don’t worry about me.
Mr. Carson: I love her, Mrs. Patmore. I am happy, and tickled, and bursting with pride that she would agree to be my wife. And I want us to live as closely as two people can for the time that remains to us on earth.
Awww! So cute! Mr. Carson’s absolutely adorable! He even offers that if Mrs. Hughes wants to change her mind, he’d live with it, but that if they are to be married, then it needs to be a real marriage. Mrs. Patmore relays the message to Mrs. Hughes, and later that night, Sergeant Willis shows up and tells the Bates’ that the woman has finally confessed to having pushed Green into the street (and to his death), after a witness had come forward and claimed that she had been seen with Green in Piccadilly Square. The staff is ecstatic, and after they let the family know, they all come down and open up bottles of champagne to celebrate. As the celebration continues, Mr. Carson pulls Mrs. Hughes aside, and they go into his pantry for a chat. He basically tells her that if what he wants is not exactly what she had in mind, and if she wants to break it off, he’ll accept her decision.
Mrs. Hughes: You misunderstand me. I was afraid I’d be a disappointment to you; that I couldn’t hope to please you as I am now. But if you’re sure …
Mr. Carson: I have never been so sure of anything.
Mrs. Hughes: Well then, Mr. Carson, if you want me, you can have me! To quote Oliver Cromwell, “warts and all.”
And then they kissed! So, so sweet! This was by far the best storyline in this week’s episode. Well, the fact that Anna and Mr. Bates don’t have to worry about being thrown in jail any more was definitely a close second. It oddly reminded me of that scene with Shirley Maclaine and Jack Nicholson in “Terms of Endearment” the way they were dancing around the subject with Mr. Carson’s eyebrows setting the tone.