‘Downton Abbey’ Series 6 Finale Review: Could This Have Been the Best Episode Ever?
Recap and review of Downton Abbey – Series 6 Finale:
This series of Downton Abbey has seen the show circling back around to where it started, and this finale is, in a lot of ways, representative of that. With how Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Edith (Laura Carmichael) are at each other’s throats, you could be forgiven for thinking this was a Series One episode. And yet, the battle here prompts introspection on Mary’s part, bringing that character full circle while also commenting on the journey of the characters in her orbit.
For a feature-length episode that had a lot of ground to cover, this was a surprisingly focused episode, in that it centered mostly on Mary: both her search for happiness and her internecine war with Edith. It made for a stronger episode than we would have gotten had the stories been more spread out. Besides, I would imagine they’re saving a lot of the character conclusions for the Christmas episode, and that’s fine by me. The episode here seems to be of two minds — at best, Mary is a deeply flawed person, an otherwise good woman who makes mistakes she can’t really explain or justify; at worst, she is an absolute monster who can only stomach the happiness of others when she herself is happy, and only then in a passive-aggressive fashion. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle, although I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t immensely cathartic when, halfway through the episode, we basically see Mary get yelled at by various people in her life for ruining the engagement between Edith and Bertie Pelham (Harry Hadden-Paton), who has now been named the Marquis of Hexham following his dear cousin’s tragic death. This was a rare lucky break for the perpetually downtrodden Edith, whom even Robert (Hugh Bonneville) admits could “never even get her dolls to do what she wanted.” Not only was Bertie still keen on marrying her, the marriage would also have elevated Edith in station, so that she would outrank all of her family. Basically, it was far too good to be true for Edith, so the only question that remained was how it would all get ruined.
Of course, Mary is the answer to that question, albeit with the caveat that Edith also shares some of the blame. Despite being urged by everyone from Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) to Lady Rosamund (Samantha Bond), Edith still holds onto the secret that Marigold is her daughter, fearing that he’ll call off the engagement, particularly now that he’s a man of considerable rank, whose family will expect him to hold up to the dignity of his new title. Yes, Edith wanted to tell him, and was simply looking for the right time, so as not to pile on the grief for someone who’s just lost a cousin he dearly loved. But, unfortunately, she just waits too damn long to tell him. So when Mary, having tricked Branson (Allen Leech) into revealing the truth about Marigold, vindictively reveals the truth to Bertie during lunch after a catty remark from Edith, the whole house of cards comes tumbling down. Bertie calls off the engagement, and he and Edith part, presumably forever. The real tragedy, of course, is that he could have gotten past the whole Marigold secret, but he couldn’t bring himself to spend his life with someone who didn’t trust him. In short, by not trusting Bertie with the secret, Edith exacerbates the damage of the secret in the first place. So while it was Mary’s fault for spitefully revealing the truth about Marigold, it’s just as much on Edith for keeping the secret for so long. And yet, it’s understandable why she would be leery about exposing that she had a child out of wedlock, considering the social mores of the time. With that said, I still hate that Edith isn’t getting a happy ending, whereas Mary appears to skate by without consequences.
Yes, Mary weds Talbot (Matthew Goode) at the end of the episode, having finally come around on him thanks to how hardcore everyone was pushing the marriage on her: from Branson, who seemed so forceful and insistent about Mary giving Talbot a shot, you’d think he had some sort of personal stake in it; to the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith), who insists that Mary deserves to make peace with herself, even while understanding her reservations about marrying a guy who could very easily end up leaving her a two-time car crash widow. Talbot also does a fair share of his own campaigning, bordering on creepiness when he accuses Mary of rejecting him due to his lack of money, and then saying he’s going to make their break up as long and as difficult as possible, presumably so she can see what she’s missing out on. Either way, it’s a small miracle that any of this works in Talbot’s favor, since neither of them seem to have much in the way of chemistry. Seriously, I thought Mary and Gillingham had more chemistry, and I didn’t think they were that great a couple! The moment in which Mary calls Talbot to Downton in order to accept his proposal is one of the most strangely passionless moments in the history of the series, in my opinion. It’s as if Mary is reading him a sheet of facts and figures. She might as well have just said, “Well, turns out the projections for next quarter have us falling in love. So I suppose there’s no more use in denying it.” It’s just so deeply strange for a relationship we’re presumably supposed to be rooting for, because not only did Talbot become a bit of a hard pill to swallow, Mary was right there with him in the “unbearable” department.
For the most part, Edith has been the put-upon sister in the Crawley family, although she’s had her fair share of situations in which she was cruel to Mary as well, so this feud hasn’t exactly been too one-sided. That said, there was a considerable amount of catharsis involved when Edith finally gets to tell Mary off after all these years. It’s been a long time coming for Edith and Mary to have it out, and what’s so compelling about it is, even now, just how little Mary appears to have expected it. After she gets torn apart by Branson, who calls her a bully and a coward for ruining Edith’s chance at happiness (in what was a great, stand-up moment for a character who’s become a moral compass for the series this year), Mary goes up to apologize to Edith. It has all the flavor of a forced apology, and Edith quickly picks up on it, noting that the only reason she’s even apologizing is because someone must have made her feel bad about what she did. She also notes that Mary can’t stand to see her happy, and so brings her down to the same miserable level. Mary just stands there, mouth agape, as Edith laces into her with accusations that she’s a bitter, vindictive “bitch”, an insult she repeats to a shocked Mary, who’s left utterly speechless. If ever there was a time to use a curse word (if we’re even considering “bitch” a curse word), I’m glad Julian Fellowes saved it for a moment where it would have the most effect. Hearing that word fly out of Edith’s mouth — TWICE! — is a real shock to the system, for Mary and, presumably, for the viewer. It’s the disintegration of a sisterly bond that, for all intents and purposes, should have been made stronger in the wake of all the losses they’ve suffered, whether Sybil, Matthew or even Michael Gregson.
Seriously, you’d think these sisters would have buried the hatchet and been there for one another. But nope. It’s open warfare here, and Mary is on the receiving end of the attack. And I love that the script has the balls to call Mary out at every corner, to really force some introspection for a character who’s been painfully lacking in self-awareness for years now. For instance, Mary tries to justify her actions by arguing that if Bertie couldn’t accept Edith with Marigold, then she’s better off. But Edith tells Mary not to sully her dignity by trying to make it seem as though she did her a favor. Later, when Mary is preparing for her wedding, Edith comes to bury the hatchet, stating that there will come a day when they’re the only two left, the only ones who remember their parents, and Matthew, and Sybil, and Gregson and all the servants, and all their friends. Edith admits that Mary is only being accepting to her now because she’s finally gotten what she wants, and a happy Mary is a far less vindictive Mary. But, in a moment of maturity, Edith forgives Mary by stating that the sum total of their memories of the people they love will ultimately outweigh their mutual dislike for one another. If nothing else, those memories are worth preserving, even if it’s going to be a long-ass journey for Mary to really change in any meaningful way. If Mary wants to move on and grow as a person, to where she’s no longer seen as the solitary cloud of misery and snobbery in Downton Abbey, that journey will have to start from within. It’s a lesson she gets from Violet earlier, and it’s further brought home by Edith, who at least seems open to having some sort of relationship with her sister. That counts as progress, I suppose.
Naturally, there’s a lot more going on than just the ugly business between Edith and Mary, as Thomas (Rob James-Collier) tries to kill himself. It’s a positively shocking moment, but sadly, not at all unexpected. It’s Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) who, upon learning of a strange comment Thomas made to Molesley (Kevin Doyle), realizes that the footman intends to commit suicide. Luckily, she and Andrew get there just in the nick of time, although they’re still faced with an absolutely gruesome scene, as Thomas sits in a filled bathtub that’s been stained with his own blood. His wrists are slit, and he’s pale as a ghost. In fact, it’s a miracle he isn’t dead already, and that they’re able to summon Dr. Clarkson with enough time to save the man, who ends up only needing stitches. Perhaps, at a subconscious level, it was merely a cry for help, and that Thomas didn’t really intend to kill himself (even Andrew notes that Thomas didn’t appear to “go too far” in his cutting). Ultimately, it does get some wheels turning at Downton, as Robert feels pretty guilty now about letting Thomas go (although Mary’s snide comment, implying that Thomas’s suicide attempt was Robert’s fault, really was quite uncalled for). Similarly, Carson (Jim Carter) realizes he hasn’t been according any actual feelings to Thomas as a person, having assumed he was just this cold, unfeeling villain. Ultimately, the decision is made to allow Thomas to stay on at Downton Abbey, for the time being. And, as a delightful little bonus, we get to see Mary bring Master George around to wish Thomas a full recovery! That kid is ADORABLE. Seriously. And hey, maybe now Thomas will be able to start turning his life around, now that he knows people actually do care about him. Here’s hoping.
In other plots, we get to see Molesley truly excel as a teacher, inspiring his working class students to embrace the transformative power of education. Daisy (Sophie McShera), who passed all her exams with flying colors, seems similarly inspired by Molesley’s speech, as she listens in just outside the classroom door. Perhaps she’ll get into teaching as well? We also get some incremental advancement with Cousin Isobel (Penelope Wilton), who goes toe-to-toe with Lord Merton’s daughter-in-law-to-be, and then gives Mary her blessing to marry Talbot. Meanwhile, we learn that Spratt (Jeremy Swift) is the mysterious Miss Cassandra Jones, the Dear Abby of Edith’s newspaper, in perhaps the most ridiculous subplot of the season so far. Even more ridiculous than the business with Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol), whose bed-and-breakfast is scandalized when a reporter reveals that her establishment was used to commit adultery. It nearly destroys her business until the Crawleys decide to pay back Mrs. Patmore for her years of service by being photographed having tea there. Mrs. Patmore’s genuinely touched reaction is a highlight of the episode, and it gives me hope that she’ll end up happy by the end of all this. If nothing else, it seems Hughes (Phyllis Logan) is still happy with Carter, despite their rough patches, noting that while he’s a curmudgeon, “You’re my curmudgeon.” Say what you will about Carson being a jerk to Thomas, and being pretty insensitive to Mrs. Patmore’s plight this week, but he and Hughes are still downright adorable.
All in all, this was a great episode of Downton Abbey. Possibly one of the best the show has ever done. The Christmas Special, i.e. the grand finale to Downton Abbey, will have a very high bar to clear to match up to this. But I’m confident Fellowes and company have something major planned, if for no other reason than the ominous words that closed the episode, as Robert notes to Violet, “A surprise is a surprise, Mama, and I’m sure we haven’t seen the last one yet.” Could we be getting the return of Michael Gregson? Bertie Pelham changing his mind about Edith? Anna and Bates finally having that baby? Or something else altogether? Consider me excited.
What did you think of the Downton Abbey Series Six finale? Sound off in the comments!
And for more on Downton Abbey, read our review and analysis of last week’s tragedy and heartbreak-filled episode!TV 2015Downton AbbeyRecapReviewSeries Finale