‘Downton Abbey’ Series 6 Episode 6 Review: The One Where Nothing Happens
Recap and review of Downton Abbey – Series 6 Episode 6:
After last week’s disturbing cliffhanger of a moment, expectations were running high that this would be an episode that would kick us into high gear for the final stretch of the season. And yet, this was far too reminiscent of mid-point episode of Downton Abbey from the previous two seasons: namely, nothing really happened.
Okay, yes, that’s being a bit overly dramatic. Some things happened. But it’s not exactly clear why any of it really matters. Perhaps the most interesting thing to occur this week was interesting more for its thematic import than anything else. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the exploration into the class division remains the most interesting part of this season, and it continued here with Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Branson (Allen Leech) deciding to open up Downton Abbey to the public for charity. Robert (Hugh Bonneville), still on the mend from his burst ulcer last week, is utterly perplexed as to why people would want to pay good money just to have a look around their house. But as we eventually learn, the working class simply has a curiosity about how the other half lives, particularly since this way of life is quickly fading out of practice. In fact, Edith (Laura Carmichael) finds the entire fascination with their lifestyle to be kind of sad, since it indicates that they’re quickly becoming a relic, an oddity that belongs right alongside the circus freak shows. And while Edith is probably being too melodramatic in that observation, I don’t think she’s too far off. There’s a sense that Downton Abbey is gradually being fossilized this season, with the recognition that this way of life can’t continue as it has been. Downton already feels like an anachronism of sorts. Even the Crawleys themselves, in giving the patrons a tour of the estate, don’t seem to know much of the history of their own home, suggesting that this way of life was already in its autumn years long before this point. Sure, they still have dinner parties, but they no longer appear to have the vast, lavish functions like in the days of old. For the most part, it feels as though no one is particularly impressed with this old building (or the wealth it represents) anymore. This is never more apparent than when a young boy comes bursting into Robert’s room, asking why he lives in such a big house when he could easily pay to live somewhere more cozy. The opulent display of wealth no longer inspires the awe it used to. Rather, it inspires little more than vague curiosity.
Simply put, I found that far more intriguing than the collection of subplots that passed for a narrative in this dreadfully dull hour. Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) is chosen by the board of governors to become the new president of the Downton Cottage Hospital, largely because Violet (Maggie Smith) was an open of the proposed hospital initiative, and they can’t have a president who’s so stuck in the past that they can’t see reason. Naturally, Violet is inconsolable, and takes it all out on Cora in front of all the guests at Downton, despite this — as Robert reminds her — not really being Cora’s fault at all. But she still refuses to speak with Cora when her daughter-in-law tries to smooth things over, so it looks like we’ve got another family feud on the horizon to add to the pile with Mary and Edith. While it doesn’t take center stage at all, Mary is still trying to find out the truth about little Marigold, even prodding Anna (Joanne Froggatt) and Branson about it. She’s getting closer, and she might have even gotten to the bottom of it by now, had she not been distracted by Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode). This week, he finally declares his feelings for Mary, telling her he’s falling in love with her, after an awkward dinner date with Evelyn Napier and a far-too-eager Branson. Mary and Talbot kiss, but it’s a strangely passionless moment, although not without its romantic charm. I guess Talbot is as good a match for her as anybody the show could cook up, but there’s that pesky issue of his career, and the fact that Mary will likely never be completely accepting of a man who drives fast cars for a living, considering how Matthew died. Branson, for whatever reason, is trying to make this relationship happen, even as Mary admits that she isn’t really feeling Talbot in the same way he’s feeling her. This is all making for a strangely drama-free love triangle, if that’s what Julian Fellowes is going for. And honestly, if it’s not, I have no idea what this storyline is even supposed to be accomplishing anymore.
By the same token, I have no idea why Daisy (Sophie McShera) has been arbitrarily transformed into Downton’s most thoroughly insufferable character. Just listening to her repeatedly give BOTH Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) AND Mr. Mason the business over their blossoming friendship/relationship is an absolute earsore, and the sooner someone shakes some sense into her, the better, because the “confused but ultimately good” person Daisy used to be is slowly eroding in the wake of all this Mr. Mason business. Similarly, Carson (Jim Carter) is becoming a bit of a boor in his treatment of both Hughes (Phyllis Logan) and Thomas (Rob James-Collier). How Hughes is keeping her composure as Carson belittles her housekeeping skills is beyond me. Sure, he doesn’t appear to have any malicious intent behind it, but the fact that he can’t see how condescending he’s being towards Hughes over her cooking, cleaning, and even bed-making, is arguably just as bad. And while I certainly understand why he wouldn’t trust Thomas at his word after seeing Andrew leaving his room in the wee hours of the night, Carson does seem to take a sort of perverse pleasure in reminding Thomas that his head is on the chopping block.
I know he hasn’t always been the most sympathetic character at Downton Abbey (far from it, on many occasions), but when he gives Carson his word that nothing untoward is happening with Andrew (hoping to keep the young man’s illiteracy a secret to save his job), only for Carson to then tell him his word really isn’t good enough, it’s like a shot in the gut. It’s even more heartbreaking when the final scene of the episode plays out, and it’s simply a shot of Thomas sitting in a chair, alone in the dark, weeping over his poor circumstances. I suppose you could argue whether or not Thomas is a good man, and whether or not he deserves what’s happening to him, but it’s clear that he cares more about this house, and its people, than he’s ever led on. His manner with little George, his surprising amount of concern for Robert last week, and his unwavering devotion to the memory of Lady Sybil, and even his attempts to help teach Andrew how to read, all suggest a man who might just deserve another chance, even while he’s made a ton of mistakes in his past. But again, that opinion all comes down to the individual viewer’s perception of Thomas, which is why I think a lot of his stories work. You could see it as a good guy being ostracized or a bad guy getting his just desserts. It’s what makes the Thomas storylines interesting, even when some subplots have resulted in giving him a one-note characterization (such as any time he has to play the villain, basically).
For me, at least, I was far more interested in Thomas this week than, say, the story involving Anna and Bates (Brendan Coyle), which has gone from a front-and-center storyline to a sort of background tale. That said, this is somewhat understandable, since the show is biding time until we can actually get to the more dramatic parts of Anna’s pregnancy, as well as the question of whether or not this pregnancy will prove successful. But even then, having Anna briefly worry about pregnancy pains, only to learn that it’s simply her body adjusting, felt like a wasted storyline in an episode crammed with too many subplots. I would have actually given that screen time to Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) and Molesley (Kevin Doyle), since both are experiencing considerable changes: Molesley is being considered for a job at the local school, whereas Baxter has received a letter from Peter Coyle, asking her to visit him in prison. Molesley has no idea why she doesn’t just burn the damn thing, but it’s fairly apparent that Baxter sees this as her chance at closure, to say all the things she didn’t get to say on the stand. This possibility alone is enough to keep me invested in Baxter’s journey towards inner peace, and I’m also intrigued to see how this development will affect her budding relationship with Molesley, if you can even call it a relationship (and hey, if it’s just a friendship, that’s perfectly fine too. But both these characters deserve happiness, even if it’s not with each other).
All told, while I love Downton Abbey and continue to look forward to where this final season takes us, this was an episode that did absolutely nothing for me. Maybe it was simply that my expectations were heightened by last week’s closing moments, but this felt like a water-treading episode, inching the story along but only in the driest manner possible. Here’s hoping next week is a more involving hour.
But what did you think of Downton Abbey Series 6 Episode 6? Sound off in the comments!
And for more Downton Abbey, read our review of last week’s episode, with one of the most profoundly disturbing moments in the history of the show!