In this episode of Downton Abbey, Mary and Edith finally have the fight we’ve all been waiting for and it is brutal. Everyone calls Mary out for being a terrible person after she pulls a petty move that is one of the worst things she’s ever done. Edith is heartbroken, yet again, but ultimately resilient.
Thomas’ storyline takes the predictable dark turn you probably knew it would. Everyone laughs at Mrs. Patmore’s inn becoming a den of inequity, which is both hilarious and terribly mean. Branson creates a life-size portrait of Henry Talbot out of diesel fuel because of his steadily worsening bro-crush. And Violet returns in order to dole out some one-liners and wise advice.
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An Emotional Penultimate Episode
In the UK, this was the “season finale” of Downton Abbey, which is pretty hollow considering that everyone knows there’s always a Downton Abbey Christmas special. But as a way to cap off the season, not the series, this episode works rather nicely at resolving some storylines while pushing others to their breaking points.
Perhaps the reason the episode works as well as it does is because it relies heavily on our knowledge of these characters and their struggles. The Mary and Edith storyline in particular is so impactful because we’ve been watching these sisters snip at each other for six years. It was way past time for that dynamic to hit its breaking point.
Opinions will vary, but I like this episode very, very much. It’s brutal and messy and delves into the characters’ relationships with each other and with themselves. It highlights Mary’s cruelty and kindness, Edith’s resilience in the face of adversity and Thomas’ despair. Much of the episode shouldn’t have worked, but it does entirely because of the skill of this cast. Michelle Dockery and Laura Carmichael dominate pretty much every scene they’re in, elevating what could be soapy nonsense into fraught family drama.
Allen Leech and Matthew Goode somehow manage to make me invested in this Mary and Henry drama, even though on the surface this whole storyline feels entirely rushed and unearned. If Dockery and Goode didn’t have good chemistry, this storyline would fall in upon itself like a house of cards. It certainly hasn’t been developed in any kind of interesting, realistic way. At this point in the series, though, the actors are skilled enough to carry uneven material, and in this episode they turn some bumpy stuff into impressive drama.
The power of this show lies in its complicated, multi-faceted characters. Sometimes, the storylines are boring or predictable or repetitive, but the show’s saving grace is that the cast of characters feels like real people we love despite, and sometimes because of, their all-too-human flaws.
I’m not too proud to admit that I might have shed a tear or two over the course of this episode, particularly when Edith brings up memories of dearly departed Sybil. Like family, I don’t always like the choices this show makes, but I continue to love Downton Abbey anyway.
This episode brings us the Mary and Edith battle royale we’ve all seen coming for seasons now. As the episode opens, Mary is still staunchly defending her decision to break things off with Henry Talbot, while Branson is busy writing his Henry/Mary fan fiction. “Your ship name is Manry! I’ve also chosen the names of two of the three children you’ll have. Wait until you get to chapter three, things get steamy in the race car!”
For her part, Mary is gently weirded out by Branson but seems to be taking his weird intrusion into her love life in stride. For a normal person, Branson’s insane pushiness on this whole Talbot issue would be more than a minor annoyance. But you know that Mary is one of those people who assumes everyone is over-invested in her life, so she’s mostly just put out that Branson won’t listen to her.
As the biggest “Manry” shipper alive, Branson recommends that Henry drop in on the family unannounced, leading Cora to invite him to dinner. “Et tu, mama?” Mary asks sadly, but even Cora seems to be won over to Team Race Car.
Again, this whole Mary and Henry storyline should not work at all. The fact that it does is really a testament entirely to the actors. Branson being so intrusive in Mary’s love life only works because Dockery and Leech play so well against each other. (In fact, several times this season, I was a little sad they didn’t decide to get weird and go the Mary/Branson route. I know it wouldn’t have been popular, but these actors have such great, fiery chemistry with each other. It almost feels like a missed opportunity.) They sell this dynamic, even though Branson is honestly being a little gross with how little he’s listening to Mary about her own feelings.
Mary is up in arms about Henry showing up unannounced, while he says he’s going to make it as hard as possible for her to turn him down. Again, on the surface, these scenes are like something you’d see in an episode of Criminal Minds, and yet Matthew Goode and Michelle Dockery manage to sell the fact that Mary is lying to herself about her feelings. But still, stalkery desperation looks good on no one, bro.
They get into a big fight after dinner, when she tries to tell him, yet again, that she’s not interested. He jumps to the conclusion that it must be because he doesn’t have money, and Mary takes umbrage at the fact that he showed up at her house to call her a “grubby little gold digger.” At no point does Henry think that maybe a woman whose husband died in a car crash wouldn’t want to marry a professional race car driver who just days before tried to jump into a flaming pile of wreckage to save his friend. I mean, it’s gotta be the money thing, right?
Meanwhile, a newspaper announces that the Marquess of Hexham has died in Tangiers, which means that Bertie Pelham has just inherited the Marquess title from his dearly departed cousin. The joy this gives Robert is probably one of the funniest parts of the episode. He is basically walking on sunshine for the whole episode.
Someone who is not overjoyed at the news that Edith is about to become a Marchioness? Mary, who looks like she’s sucking on a lemon anytime Edith’s possible elevation in status is mentioned.
Bertie once again asks Edith to marry her, and this time she agrees. Everyone in the house goes around telling Edith that she for real has to tell Bertie about Marigold, but she chickens out every time she gets close to telling him — especially after she hears that Bertie’s mother is super judgmental. Cora even wonders if someone should just tell him anyway, since Edith marrying Bertie with this secret under wraps is only going to be bad news down the line.
Of course, Cora doesn’t have to wait long for the news to come out. At breakfast the next morning, Mary is already in a bad mood after the fight with Henry, and she’s further enraged to find out that he has already left.
Then Bertie and Edith share their good news, and Edith begins to prod Mary when she doesn’t even pretend to be happy. This is a total rookie move Edith is pulling; by this point, she should know that you don’t poke the bear. Mary would rather burn down the Abbey with everyone inside than see Edith happy for a single second when she herself is miserable.
So what happens next is exactly what you know is going to happen, which is that Mary purposefully lets the cat out of the bag about Marigold. Seconds after she does it, you can immediately see that Mary has no idea why she would be such a horrible person. Michelle Dockery is honestly so good in this episode. You can see as she’s blowing up Edith’s life that she’s thinking, “I cannot believe I’m doing this,” and the remorse is immediate, but she has to pretend it was all an accident anyway. God forbid Mary have actual human-person feelings.
Bertie breaks up with Edith, not because of Marigold but because she lied about Marigold. Everyone tells Mary she is a terrible person, and it’s well-earned this time. And then there’s that glorious fight between Mary and Edith. “I know you to be a nasty, jealous, scheming bitch,” Edith tells Mary, and the audience rightfully cheers.
Later, super-shipper Branson convinces Violet to come back from France just to have a heart-to-heart with Mary about her love life. Is Branson just going to move in with Mary and Henry after they get married and become their third? He is so, so into this romance. He is way more into this romance than Mary or Henry or anyone watching this show.
Mary admits that the reason she turned Henry away was the racing thing. And Violet tells her that sometimes you have to take a risk for love, so Mary calls Henry back to Downton and accepts his proposal. Before that, she visits Matthew’s grave and talks to Isobel, in another scene that’s a real tearjerker. This show really knows how to pull at the heartstrings.
They’re married in a quick ceremony, but perhaps the best moment of the episode happens before the wedding. Mary is shocked when Edith actually shows up for the wedding, and they have a heartfelt conversation.
Edith explains that someday Mary will be the only other person who remembers Sybil, or their parents or the rest of Downton. They’re tied together because of their history and because they love the same people and because genetically they are sisters. So even though they both hate each other with enough fire to power a million nuclear reactors, they need to find a way to be better to each other. One day, their “shared memories will mean more than their mutual dislike.” It’s a lovely speech and the acting by Laura Carmichael is fantastic. Honestly, this episode would be worth the price of admission just for this scene alone.
As the episode draws to a close, Edith is all alone, watching Marigold and the children play around Sybil’s grave with a smile on her face. Even if things don’t work out with Bertie in the Christmas special, Edith is resilient enough to be okay on her own.
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With all the drama between the sisters upstairs, the downstairs storylines (save Thomas’) are all a little thin. Mosley starts teaching at the school and initially it’s not going all that well, until he takes Baxter’s advice and tells the kids that he used to work in service and that education is a way out and up. Daisy, who passed her exams with flying colors, hears the whole thing and reports proudly back to the house that Mosley did a great job.
Mrs. Patmore’s new inn becomes a house of ill repute after some steamy adultery happens under the roof, causing people to start cancelling reservations. Everyone in the house laughs about this because Mrs. Patmore running a house of ill repute is admittedly pretty funny. The Crawleys go to the inn to have tea and then are photographed outside, which I guess lets people know that fancy people don’t really care about adultery, so Mrs. Patmore starts getting reservations again.
Finally, the Thomas storyline simmers to a boil in exactly the predictable way you’ve probably already guessed that it would. After about the millionth person telling him to hurry up and leave Downton already because no one wants him there, Thomas attempts suicide in the bath. Andy and Baxter break down the door, and Carson agrees that they should keep the whole thing hush-hush. Carson and Robert also agree to let Thomas stay on in the household because they’re jerks but not heartless jerks.
For her part, Mary is absolutely brutal when she finds out what happened and asks her father whether it was worth the money-saving to kick Thomas out. He says this is below the belt, even for her.
I mean, below the belt or not, it’s also accurate. If you’re going to fire Thomas, do it when he’s kidnapping your dog, not after years of pretty decent behavior. Again, it feels like it took them half a decade to realize that Thomas is a jerk, long after he stopped being a diabolical mastermind and just sort of settled into being prickly but harmless. Talk about a delayed reaction.
Mary takes little George down to see the recuperating Thomas, and George agrees that he’s still Thomas’ friend. Again, this is a great scene, especially as it draws a direct parallel between Mary and Thomas in the way they push people away.
Rob James-Collier has always been an MVP on this show, managing to take what could have been a one-note character and give him layers and a beating heart under all the nastiness. This has been a particularly heartbreaking season for Thomas, and Collier has really done a great job of showing Thomas’ slouch toward the despair that would lead him to this dark place. Hopefully, there’s a happy ending for him in the series finale after all this darkness.
Elsewhere Around Downton Abbey…
— Isobel finally has it out with Amelia, Merton’s future daughter-in-law, and lets her know that if she wants to offload her future father-in-law, she’ll have to get Larry to apologize to her.
— Edith and her editor, Laura, decide to hire an anonymous advice columnist, but they want to meet with the woman first. And it turns out to be Spratt!
What did you think of the episode? Were you glad people finally told Mary off? Do you like Mary and Henry Talbot together? What will happen with Edith and Bertie? Sound off in the comments!
Downton Abbey airs Sundays at 9pm on PBS.
(Image courtesy of PBS)