‘Downton Abbey’ Review: Wedding Bells Are Ringing! (Oh, and Look Who’s Back!)
Recap and review of Downton Abbey – Season 6 Episode 3:
With a lot of last season’s dangling plot threads finally tied up, Downton Abbey is getting around to setting up the endgame for the series. Case in point, we get a pretty big (albeit not at all unexpected) return, coupled with a beautiful wedding ceremony that feels like the culmination of a long-running journey for two well-liked characters. These developments alone tell us we’re heading towards the end, while also signifying that the path to that end will be one deep with poignancy and reflection. In short, I thought this was a terrific episode of Downton Abbey, as the series offers a bit more narrative urgency than it has in seasons past.
Yes, Carson (Jim Carter) and Hughes (Phyllis Logan) have finally been married. It was a long time in coming, particularly since any other season would have drawn this out for weeks on end, trying to convince us that these two weren’t going to tie the knot. We’d probably get a health scare, or a tease that the big wedding was in jeopardy due to some unforeseen circumstance. But nope. Thanks to this being the final season, we get something that feels like a happy ending. Sure, we’re not even at the halfway point of the season, but if this had been our last episode with Carson and Hughes, it would kind of feel right, in a way. The ceremony itself somehow manages to be both lavish and intimate, and it’s nestled within a storyline that is refreshingly devoid of cruel, last-minute twists, like the kind that befell poor Edith all those many years ago (I STILL feel awful for her, getting ditched at the altar like that. And I didn’t even think Sir Anthony Strallan was much of a catch to be upset over in the first place). What we get is a straightforward wedding ceremony that ranks among the most touching moments on TV in a while. Hell, look no further than Carson’s speech to Hughes at the altar: “That a woman of such grace and charm should entrust her life’s happiness to my unworthy charge passeth all understanding.” That’s a line that’s probably going to get used in countless weddings in the real world, for years to come. Of course, even with this joyous occasion to anchor the episode, we still get some of the customary Downton drama.
For one, there’s a silly bit of unnecessary drama when Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) accuses Hughes of rifling through her wardrobe in preparation for the wedding. Little does she know, it was Mary (Michelle Dockery) who gave her the approval to do so, but it’s already too late, as Cora has berated a longtime employee and an innocent woman. But, more importantly, she’s shown a distinct lack of faith in the character of Hughes, who’s been a friend to this family for longer than we’ve actually known the Crawleys. Everything about this subplot feels trite and melodramatic, mostly because it doesn’t feel like it has anything to do with Hughes, but rather with the ongoing theme of division between the wealthy and the working class. And while that’s a worthwhile theme to explore, it just felt kind of clumsily executed. Then again, you can make the argument that this is the point, that Cora rushes to judgment and ends up looking like a fool for it. After all, that rush to judgment is indicative of a larger problem between the wealthy and the working class. Here, Cora jumps to conclusions about Hughes, because apparently decades of faithful service don’t earn you the benefit of the doubt at Downton Abbey. Despite the stature the servants have attained through the years, and the loyalty those years represent, that loyalty is not returned in kind, and it’s a mark of shame for Cora to have been so hasty in her judgment. In a way, it forces her to become introspective about her knee-jerk reactions, particularly once Mary (in a glorious moment) chews out her mother for “insulting a woman who has served us faithfully for many years who simply wanted something nice to be married in.” Mary recognizes that there’s something intrinsically unfair about her mother automatically assuming that Hughes was guilty, without stepping back and considering how out of character it would be for Hughes to just steal something, out of the blue. I didn’t necessarily love this subplot, but I appreciated the show’s attempts to explore class relations a bit more in depth this week.
Speaking of class relations and the people who recognize the disparity all too well, Branson (Allen Leech) is finally back! The former chauffeur-turned-son-in-law returned to Downton Abbey, announcing his decision to stay for good. Of course, none of this is particularly surprising, since 1) Branson hasn’t really been gone that long, and 2) I don’t think anybody really believed he left the show for good anyway. Then again, I’m not sure we were ever intended to believe Branson wouldn’t be back, since there are too many possibilities still remaining for his story. There’s the potential clash with Mary over who will run the estate lands, as I could easily see Robert (Hugh Bonneville) trusting Branson over Mary, considering he’s arguably got stronger ties to the working class, and would better be able to engage with them. And there’s also the obvious possibility of having a romance develop between Mary and Branson, although I would still argue that it’d be pretty awkward, given that he’s her sister’s widower, and their relationship would make little George and Sybie both cousins and siblings. Although, really, how weird would that even be on a show that brought back crazy, burned Patrick back in Season 2, or killed off Kemal Pamuk back in Season 1 after a night in bed with Mary? Regardless, I’m glad to have Allen Leech back, and I found myself genuinely touched by Branson’s declaration that he needed to leave Downton to realize that the Crawleys were his true family. It helped add to what was a pretty touching episode overall.
As for other major storylines this week, Anna (Joanne Froggatt) is pregnant, which means we can now start the countdown to the 12-week mark, where she can get the procedure that will determine, once and for all, whether or not she can actually carry a child to term. So yeah, expect a time jump on that one, since this season isn’t exactly scheduled to run twelve weeks. The way the show plays fast-and-loose with time skips is basically the only reason I’m not at all against putting Anna and Bates (Brendan Coyle) into a storyline where nothing can really happen until that 12-week milestone. I think the show is offering up this baby drama as the final shot at true, no-strings-attached, no-take-backs happiness for this couple. And that can certainly be a good thing, if Julian Fellowes’s favorite punching bags finally get their happy ending. But not so much, if they find themselves on the short end of the stick once again. And yet, even with the Bates family’s happiness hanging in the balance, I found myself more interested in the new relationship for Edith (Laura Carmichael). In short, Edith left struggling to reach a deadline for her magazine after firing her editor, leaving her with the unenviable task of having to edit the copy herself. And all this while juggling a date with a handsome young agent named Bertie Pelham. Luckily, Bertie comes to the rescue, helping her to not only get the job done, but also discover she’s actually capable of editing a magazine herself. It’s similar to the time Charles Blake helped with the pigs and saved Mary’s bacon quite literally (although she made that joke in the episode, if I remember correctly). But this development was far more romantic, as it actually ended in a kiss. Much like Anna and Bates, I’ve worried that Edith would be a character Fellowes would continue to put through the ringer this season. But the slightest spark of hope for her, as we receive here, is enough for cautious optimism, I’d think.
Unfortunately, for as much as I enjoyed this episode, I still feel this season is weighted down with far too many subplots. Thomas (Rob James-Collier) continues his search for employment, to no avail; meanwhile, Spratt and Denker seem to be bonding in what may or may not be a romance. Honestly, it’s hard to tell, at this stage of the game, and it’s even harder to care. On the one hand, I like their back-and-forth. On the other, the show has never really given us reason to be invested in them as individuals, outside the context of their service/opposition to others in the Crawley family. On that subject, I don’t get why this hospital storyline is being given so much screen time, considering what little appears to be happening. Violet (Maggie Smith) accuses cousin Isobel (Penelope Wilton) of being an alcoholic, but it’s a story that doesn’t particularly go anywhere. Hopefully, these aren’t time-biding storylines, but rather stories that are actually building to something, in the grand tradition of the kind of finality indicative of a final season.
But what did you think of Downton Abbey, Season 6 Episode 3? Sound off in the comments!
And for more on Downton Abbey, read our review of last week’s emotional episode!