In this episode of Downton Abbey, things go horribly awry at Henry’s race, Mary breaks her own heart, Edith gets a big proposal and Violet decides to sail away from the family in order to cool down.
The final season of Downton Abbey is finally starting to gain some momentum, even if some of that momentum is gained thanks to a fiery car crash. (At least the show has upped the car crash budget since Matthew’s underwhelming death scene?) It feels like many of the plotlines are moving ahead at full speed, so let’s hope they don’t careen off into a fireball like poor Charlie Rogers. This season of Downton is really upping the ante on blood and guts, isn’t it?
Downton Abbey Recap: Things Go Awry When Downton Opens Its Doors >>> It’s interesting how Mary and Edith’s lives always seem to be moving at a kind of inverse parallel. When Mary is having a good time, which is usually most of the time, Edith has the worst possible luck. Now that Mary’s love life is going up in flames (literally), Edith finally seems to be within grasp of everything she’s ever wanted. She has a great guy who wants to marry her, she’s running her own women’s magazine like a boss and she has her daughter, Marigold. The only problem is that the secret of Marigold is like a ticking time bomb with the potential to ruin everything she’s managed to build with Bertie.
Some storylines have been a slow burn towards a destination that doesn’t seem very hard to guess (it seems almost a foregone conclusion that something bad is going to happen to poor Thomas), while others seem to be going nowhere in particular.
For instance, why exactly are we supposed to care about Baxter and her crappy ex-boyfriend, whose trial Downon didn’t even bother to show? Why is this a storyline that is still happening? I appreciate that it can be hard to service so many characters in such a sprawling cast, but I can’t even count the amount of storylines over the course of the series that have hit a dead end and then been hastily abandoned. With only a few hours left to wrap up the series and send our favorite characters off, some of the storylines chosen for the final season feel a bit like headscratchers.
Of course, narrative dexterity and momentum aren’t exactly what we come to Downton Abbey for anyway. We come to spend time with our favorite characters, and in that respect, the final season really is delivering in a big way. Watching Edith grow into a confidence woman and Mary face her fears (and some of her worst behaviors) has been fun to watch. We’ve seen fan-favorite Carson and Mrs. Hughes finally get married and discover that married bliss can sometimes be a mixed bag. We’ve watched Anna and Mr. Bates actually smile instead of spending all season behind bars for various crimes. And we’ve watched Thomas realize, perhaps too late, that Downton Abbey really is home sweet home and that he really does care about the crazy people he works with … just as everyone decides it’s time to kick him to the curb.
The characters on Downton Abbey are richly complex and layered. They feel like real people in their growth and their backsliding, in their triumphs and bravery, and in their petty behavior and crushing defeats. Spending time with these characters is like spending time with old friends, and even though I think it’s definitely time for Downton to serve its last supper, I’ll very much miss spending time with these characters. Even Daisy.
Violet is still mad as hell about Cora taking over her hospital job, and she is not going to take it anymore! This mostly means that she’s going to run away to France until she cools down. So she gives Isobel a note to give to the family when they return from the races, because Violet really knows how to do a dramatic exit better than anyone else.
It’s endearing how she’s managed to forgive her best buddy, Isobel, for her hospital-based “betrayal.” She even promises to figure out what the shady Amelia Cruikshank is up to before she goes off on her anger walkabout.
Violet goes to visit Ms. Cruikshank to figure out her game and why she invited Isobel to the wedding. She does indeed prove to be a “tough nut cracker” when she discovers that Amelia just wants someone to take her old father-in-law off her hands. She doesn’t want Isobel and Merton to get together because she believe in the power of love or anything like that; she just wants someone else to play nursemaid to the future in-law she doesn’t want to get stuck with. That’s ice-cold. Violet informs Isobel that she’ll now have to make a decision of whether or not she wants to leave poor Lord Merton to the piles of garbage he calls children.
Meanwhile, the rest of the family are off to the races, literally, to see Henry Talbot in action. Mary is less than thrilled about this because of how Matthew totally died in a car wreck and how this is probably bringing back a lot of bad emotions. No one seems to care very much about that, however, because cars! Cars driving fast! How fun!
I love Branson, but his gigantic man crush on Henry Talbot has blinded him to pretty much all of Mary’s very legitimate concerns about this pairing. While Mary is talking about how marrying a race car driver might not be a good idea when she’s afraid of another husband dying in a car crash, Branson is busy doodling hearts around Henry Talbot’s name on all his notebooks. That boy is smitten.
Pretty much everyone has shown up at the races, including Bertie and Edith’s cute lady editor. Cute lady editor is making eyes at Tom, who is unfortunately too busy being Henry Talbot’s best bro and living vicariously through Mary’s love life to notice. Keep trying, cute lady editor! I like your hair and your moxie!
Also at the races is Robert, who is very bored from all the bed rest and relaxing he’s had to do lately. I mean, you turn into a blood volcano one time and no one lets you hear the end of it!
At the races, Henry is joking around with his friend Charlie Rogers about who is going to win the race. He’s also trying to convince Mary to be with him, but Mary is justifiably concerned that she is practically a black widow when it comes to dudes. “Listen, Henry, you are super sexy, but I’ve got a pretty bad track record with guys I like and them dying horribly. Sometimes on top of me!” Henry laughs in the face of the danger that is Mary Crawley’s affection and then jumps into his car to begin the race.
If you were thinking while watching this episode, “Boy, I bet something goes terribly wrong!” then congratulations, you’ve watched television before! Henry and Charlie are in the lead and then we hear a loud crash, and before you know it Henry is trying to pull Charlie out of his flaming car. But it’s obviously much too late for poor Charlie, as Mary, Edith, Anna and the whole family look on in horror.
Later, they have a somber dinner at Aunt Rosamund’s, and Mary receives a phone call from Henry. He tells her that life is short — this is his Carpe Diem moment — and then asks her to marry him.
Mary looks like she wants to crawl out of her own skin, as she realizes she’s going to have to break up with a dude after he just watched his best friend die in front of him. They just don’t make a Hallmark card for that. She explains that she cares about him but that she just doesn’t think they work together. She doesn’t want him to give up driving, but she can’t deal with it so she breaks it off.
Branson overhears the conversation and looks like he’s about to cry. “Mary, he was perfect for us! I mean you, perfect for you. It’s not like I’ve been reading bridal magazines or anything.” He tells her that she shouldn’t give up on Henry and she shouldn’t be afraid of getting hurt because it’s just part of being alive. Mary is like, “Bro, settle!” and then runs upstairs to have a lot of feelings in private.
Elsewhere, Edith and Bertie are canoodling, as one does after watching a man burn to death in a flaming car wreck. So romantic! Bertie tells her that the crash has made him also think about the shortness of life and mortality and all that jazz. Then he proposes to her. Edith is ecstatic but then immediately asks if Marigold could come and live with him. Bertie’s face is very confused, but he says of course that would be fine.
Edith asks if she can think about her answer and Bertie looks even more confused. Poor Bertie has no idea the life of nonstop drama he’s in for as a member of the Crawley clan. Fiery car crashes and secret children are just the tip of the iceberg for these people.
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With all the race drama upstairs, the downstairs storylines are a lot quieter this episode. Carson continues to be a super jerk to Thomas, pushing him to get a new job so they can fire him already. While finding a new job isn’t easy, it seems obvious that Thomas just plain doesn’t want to leave Downton, which he considers to be home.
Everyone gets a day off while the family is away, but Carson meanly tells Thomas that he should spend his day working on getting a new job. When Thomas catches Carson and Mrs. Hughes in an unguarded moment sitting on the fancy people furniture, they jump up and run out of the room rather than spend time with him. Basically everyone is going out of their way to make poor Thomas feel as unwanted as possible.
Here’s the thing: Thomas has done some truly awful stuff. He’s been a very hard person to like. But, honestly, he’s been on fairly decent behavior for years now in the world of the show. He saved Edith from a fire! You think that could get him a little leniency. It would be easy to understand the family sacking him seasons ago when he was plotting and dognapping, but this sudden influx of hostility seems misplaced by several years.
Speaking of Carson being a real pain, Mrs. Hughes has officially had enough of Carson’s criticisms of her cooking. She hatches an ingenious plan with Mrs. Patmore to teach Carson a lesson he won’t soon forget. When they get back to the cottage, Mrs. Hughes tells Carson that she’s hurt her hand and therefore can’t cook. But you know who can cook for them instead? Carson!
Carson learns a valuable lesson about how hard and tiring it is to cook and clean, while Mrs. Hughes basically just sits there barking orders and then laughing while Carson falls asleep in his dessert. It is hilarious and adorable.
Daisy and Mr. Molesley finally take their examinations, and on a break the whole group goes out for a little picnic. Talking about how hard the test was, Daisy tells Andy to read one of the hard questions she was given. Thomas tries to interfere, but it’s too late and Andy has to reveal that he doesn’t know how to read. The schoolmaster tells Andy that he doesn’t have anything to be ashamed of and offers to help him read, thus cutting off Thomas and taking away the only sorta friend he had left. Poor Thomas.
Elsewhere Around Downton Abbey…
— One of the teachers at the school is leaving, which has opened up a position for Mr. Molesley. He’s obviously happy but also worried about leaving behind Downton.
— When the family return home from their traumatic trip, it’s to find Isobel with a letter from Violet about her great escape. But there’s another surprise awaiting them that’s a little bit more welcome. It turns out that her parting gift for Robert was an adorable puppy that Robert immediately cuddles and names Tiaa.
What did you think of the episode? Do you think Mary should have broken up with Henry Talbot? What’s going to happen to Thomas? Will Edith finally tell Bertie the truth about Marigold? And who is more in love with Henry Talbot, Mary or Branson? Sound off in the comments!
Downton Abbey airs Sundays at 9pm on PBS.
(Image courtesy of PBS)