Well, that was a satisfying penultimate episode and a great way to set up the series finale, which will air stateside at last on March 6. What made it so great was that it not only set things in motion for many of the main cast members to have their stories wrap up in the finale (and mostly happily, it appears), but it also moved along at a great clip and featured as its cornerstone the Great Lady Mary Smackdown of 1926. It also reminded me of the fact that this season would have been an absolute slog without the presence of Tom Branson and Edith. The Dowager’s had her moments, sure, but if those two were elsewhere, the show would have been a complete snoozefest.
Before we get back to Mary, let’s touch on the other stories continuing to unfold. First, there was the small revelation that all along, advice columnist Cassandra Jones had actually been Lady Violet’s butler, Spratt. While this was shocking to Edith and her editor, it was just mildly amusing to Yours Truly. I guess that’s because I don’t live in early 20th century England. Another scandal that seemed a mere blip to me but was positively horrifying to these folks was the exposure by a local paper of the adulterous couple that were Mrs. Patmore’s first guests at her B&B. That said, I didn’t think it was very nice that absolutely everyone got a case of the giggles when they learned of the problem, because back then, this held the very real promise of ruining everything Mrs. Patmore had worked for; unlike today when my guess is that every third hotel room in America, and probably Europe, is populated by someone committing adultery.
Times were incredibly different, but not so much that Robert couldn’t corral both Cora and his sister Rosamund to make a public showing of going for tea and scones at the place to show the entire village that he endorsed his cook’s business venture and was happy to support her and even be photographed doing so. This was the historical equivalent of stars who want to be spotted and have their pictures taken together going for dinner at The Ivy in Beverly Hills. Ever since his ulcer burst, Robert Crawley has been on a roll, kids. Cheating death suits him.
Mr. Carson is really the only one who never got the hell over himself and supported Mrs. Patmore. The guy who has only Mrs. P. to thank for the wife he gets to browbeat and verbally abuse about her horrible cooking can’t pull the stick out of his ass long enough to be a friend to his colleague of many, many years. Lucky for him, that same wife seems to be happy he’s her old curmudgeon, like she’s Edith Bunker to his Archie. Frankly, I expected more from (and for) Mrs. Hughes. Carson’s only worry seems to be the family, at all costs. The poetic justice, of course, is that it takes a cataclysmic event for him to see how impactful his words have been on one person on his staff, and perhaps make him embrace all the change swirling around him and realize that it is inevitable.
That person is Thomas Barrow, who we’ve been worried about for weeks now, as he withdrew into himself even while reaching out for friends he didn’t have. Luckily, Baxter has been paying attention, so she realized he might be in trouble when she was informed that no one had seen him in hours. Her quick thinking saved him from bleeding out in the tub, and perhaps Master George’s sweet adoration will give him the strength to get better and change his life for the better, despite the ongoing challenge he’ll face being a closeted gay man in 1920’s Britain. He also may have played a small but meaningful part in Mary realizing her own shortcomings, as you could tell that she spotted their similarity while talking to him and wishing him well, but would never dream of admitting it.
And this leads to what was truly the story of the week, and the moments that had been coming for six seasons. When it turned out that Bertie–still waiting for the answer to his proposal to Edith– was suddenly going to become the Marquess of Hexum, a title that would have him outranking everyone at Downton, everyone was flabbergasted for different reasons. Robert was tickled that his put-upon middle child was going to come out on top; Cora and Rosamund were immediately concerned that her sin of omission regarding Marigold would now certainly derail the whole thing; and Mary was just furious and disgusted that Edith would be of a higher status than she would. She took this out on everyone, but mostly Henry, whom she’d already broken up with but who was summoned to the house by Branson, since he’s forever trying to get these kids together.
She snapped at Henry for a bunch of trumped up reasons, telling him that he’d called her a gold digger when he really hadn’t and just generally doing her best to push him away. She succeeded, and in her disappointment, she masked her pain by almost casually dragging Edith’s secret out into the light, running Bertie off in the process. It’s a know fact that Mary lives to be better than everyone else, but this absolute destruction of her sister’s happiness just because she was miserable was unacceptable. It infuriated everyone from Tom on up to the Dowager Countess, who came to check on both of her granddaughters, but only got to talk to Mary, since Edith had fled to London to bury herself in work.
Before she left, Edith and Bertie had a heartbreaking goodbye, compounded by the fact that it was obvious that he was really more concerned about the lie than the illegitimate child behind it. While that certainly would have been scandalous, it looks like Bertie would have been willing to figure it out if he’d known the truth earlier.With one episode left–and it being the Christmas Special at that–it’s fair to hope these two might have a miraculous reunion, but it’s equally likely that Edith will be left to forge ahead as a single woman in the Big City.
The real fireworks were still to come, though, first from Tom: “You ruined Edith’s life today. How many lives are you going to wreck just to smother your own misery? … You’re a coward, Mary. Just like all bullies, you’re a coward.” Man, it’s gratifying how much Tom has come to love and defend Sybil’s sisters, even when he has to protect one from the other in their lifelong grudge match. This time, though, he scarcely needed to do it, since Edith had finally had enough, and the powder keg blew:
Just shut up! … Who do you think you’re talking to? Mama? Your maid? I know you. I know you to be a nasty, jealous, scheming bitch. … You’re a bitch! And not content with ruining your own life, you’re determined to ruin mine. … Don’t demean yourself by trying to justify your venom. Just go. … And you’re wrong, you know, as you so often are. Henry’s perfect for you. You’re just too stupid and stuck-up to see it. Still, at least he’s gotten away from you, which is something to give thanks for, I suppose.
But this is Downton Abbey, and Lady Mary Crawley can’t be unhappy forever, or, it seems, more than five minutes. Having seen the error of her ways (thanks to her grandmother’s touching speech: “You are the only woman I know who likes to think herself cold and selfish and grand. … Make peace with your sister, then make peace with yourself.”), she sought to mend fences with Henry before she even attempted to talk to Edith. Luckily for Mary, the man is hopelessly in love with her, to the point where he’s been walking around with a marriage license in hopes of marrying her as quickly as he possibly can. She also visited Matthew’s grave in order to square it with him in some way, running into Isobel in the process, who gave her approval without hesitation.
Edith did turn up for the wedding, quickly thrown together in a matter of days, and she and Mary reached an accord, driven mostly by their realization that they are sisters, and when everyone they love is gone, they’ll only have each other to remember these times of their lives with, so they better make sure they don’t destroy the relationship completely. Mary has one more chance to make amends for what she did, so we certainly hope she can help her sister achieve the kind of happiness she now seems destined for with her second husband and little George. See you in less than two weeks to find out!