‘Downton Abbey’ Series 6 Episode 2 Review: Child Troubles Anchor a Powerful Hour of TV
Recap and review of Downton Abbey – Series 6 Episode 2:
With Downton Abbey in its final series, all bets are essentially off. Any one can die, and the grim fates usually reserved for the Bates and Annas of the world can now be visited upon the leads, with no regard for who might want to come back next year, or who might wish to leave the series altogether. Of course, this isn’t to say that bad things don’t happen to the Crawleys (seriously, Matthew’s absence still haunts this series, whether any one wants to acknowledge it or not). But it seems we’re gearing up for problems of a larger scale this year.
Case in point, this episode is anchored by some compelling child troubles. Most pointedly, we get a heart-racing climax in which young Marigold is abducted at a local festival by none other than Margie Drewe (Emma Lowndes), the woman who raised the child as her own before Edith (Laura Carmichael) took her back. It’s a peculiar storyline, in a lot of ways, because it once again divides our loyalties, much like the Edith/Drewe family plotline last year. While Margie is unquestionably wrong to abduct Marigold, her plight still elicits sympathy. This was a child she had grown accustomed to viewing as her own. Edith made a choice not to be in the child’s life, only to renege later. Biological mother or not, Margie views Edith as having lost her right to be Marigold’s mother since, to her, no true mother would ever put herself in that position. And you know what? I can absolutely see where she’s coming from, since a mother’s love really ought to supersede concern for her family’s reputation. Then again, it’s quite easy for me to say all that right now, sitting comfortably behind my keyboard in 2015. Edith is facing a very different world, where single, unwed motherhood is severely stigmatized. Edith isn’t simply protecting her own reputation by keeping Marigold a secret, she’s protecting Marigold herself as well, since the child could grow up to be the subject of severe ridicule.
Granted, the argument could still be made that this isn’t a good enough reason for Edith to take Marigold away from the only mother she’s ever known, but the arguments fly in every direction, when you think about it: Edith shouldn’t have given Marigold up, but Margie shouldn’t have abducted Marigold either. At the end of the day, whether Margie likes it or not, Edith IS Marigold’s mother. And abducting the child simply because Edith looked “bored” with motherhood isn’t a sufficient excuse. For their part, Robert (Hugh Bonneville) and Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) sympathize with the Drewes, recognizing that what they’ve asked of this family has been a tall, unthinkable order. But Timothy Drewe (Andrew Scarborough) endures it all with a tough upper lip, understanding that, for better or worse, he can’t expect much more out of the Crawleys than they’ve offered. This is simply the way of things, and the disparity between the wealthy and the working class has grown all the more pronounced through developments such as these. And yet, once again, no one could really fault the Drewes for being forced to resign their tenancy at Downton, since we can’t very well have Margie swiping Marigold any time she feels like it. It’s just a heartbreaking situation all-around, with a little girl caught up in the center of it all, and Mary (Michelle Dockery) STILL none the wiser about Marigold’s true parentage (she seems downright confused as to why Edith would care so much that Marigold is missing, instead wondering how she and little George will get home now that Edith has taken the truck to go searching for her).
On the subject of Mary, she’s part of the other child troubles plaguing Downton Abbey this week, as she learns that Anna (Joanne Froggatt) cannot bear a child to term. I haven’t always been the biggest Mary fan, but I really liked her this week. Not only does she overrule Robert and choose to offer Carson (Jim Carter) the main hall for their wedding reception, she springs into action as soon as she learns of Anna’s plight. Specifically, she arranges an appointment with a doctor to discuss Anna’s difficulty in carrying a child to term. It’s through this doctor that we learn Anna has a condition that could be remedied with surgery — however, she’ll have to become pregnant and carry the child to the 12th week before the procedure can be performed. Worse, there’s no guarantee the procedure will work, even though it’s had tremendous success with other patients in the past. Long story short, it looks like the long-suffering Bates clan will have to suffer just a little while longer, although it continues to be refreshing to see Bates (Brendan Coyle) play the unquestioningly supportive husband. “To me, we are one person and that person can’t have children,” Bates says, as a means of letting Anna know she’s in no way to blame for their inability to have children together. It’s honestly one of the most endearing lines I’ve ever heard from Bates. There’s a lot of strife going on between the two, but for once, there are no more secrets. Or, rather, there aren’t any bad ones. In this case, Anna is mostly just keeping the procedure a secret from Bates, since it makes no sense to get his hopes up until the procedure takes place. Here’s hoping for a major time jump!
As for the rest of the household, the narrative is getting obnoxiously muddled, due to an overabundance of subplots that don’t appear to be going anywhere. Daisy (Sophie McShera) continues to bang the drum for Mr. Mason, in an attempt to save his farm, and while it appears Cora might have an idea on how to help, it’s once again a storyline that feels dull in comparison to everything else happening so far this season. Ditto Mary becoming the new estate agent in place of Branson. It’s a lifeless echo of the storyline of Edith becoming the new editor in lieu of Gregson. I suppose the parallel is intentional, and I can see we’re setting up for the point at which Mary takes over the estate completely, but it all feels so dry in getting there, especially when you consider the screen time it’s taking away from better characters. For instance, Thomas (Rob James-Collier) basically gets picked on by Carson for the entire episode, being left in doubt over whether or not he’s going to keep his job, and being constantly put-off when asked if he’s going to be needed around the house. Again, I can see why Julian Fellowes is going in this direction, since we need to build an air of mystery about which, if any, of the servants will be cut due to Downton’s cratering wage budget. But it’s not a particularly compelling story to watch unfold. But hey, at least we have Carson and Hughes (Phyllis Logan), who continue to be adorable, even when they spend the entire episode at each other’s throats. In this case, they disagree over where their nuptials are to be held: at Downton, or somewhere else altogether. Hughes wants to get away from her servant life for once, noting that she doesn’t want to be viewed as a servant on her wedding day. Meanwhile, Carson is so inextricably linked to Downton and the Crawley family that he couldn’t conceive of getting married anywhere else. Since the premiere resolved the question of if they would get married, we need a new plot to pad out the time until they eventually do. While it feels trite, I guess this will have to do for now. If nothing else, it’s better than this go-nowhere hospital storyline with Isobel (Penelope Wilton), Violet (Maggie Smith) and Dr. Clarkson (David Robb). I think Fellowes assumes that property management and investiture is far more interesting than it actually is.
With all that having been said, I still thought this was a solid episode overall. The child troubles alone were enough to make for a genuinely compelling hour of TV. Granted, the optimism I had after last week’s premiere has been somewhat dulled by this follow-up, but then, Downton Abbey always needs a while to come together each season, as the stories build and the narrative threads all coalesce. I’m still more than up for going along for the ride.
But what did you think of Downton Abbey, Series 6 Episode 2? Sound off in the comments!
And for more on Downton Abbey, check out my review of last week’s final series premiere!