In this episode of Downton Abbey, Carson and Mrs. Hughes finally get married and it’s just as adorable as you’d imagine. But the real happy surprise of the episode is Branson’s out-of-nowhere return to Downton Abbey. It’s truly an episode of unions and reunions.
Things are looking positively sunny at Downton Abbey so far this season, which means it’s only a matter of time until the other shoe drops and something tragic happens. That seems to be the way this show works, but until then, I’m going to enjoy the parade of happiness while I can. The return of Branson is a total surprise, and a happy one at that.
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Welcome Back, Branson
Of all the characters on the show, Branson is the person who has grown and changed the most over the course of the entire series. He started the show as a revolutionary-minded chauffeur who looked down upon the Crawleys, and now he has completely embraced them as his own family.
More importantly, he’s become a character that can see multiple points of view and can empathize with different kinds of people. Branson has gone from one of my least favorite characters to one I truly love over the course of the series, and I’m extremely glad that he’ll be back at Downton for the final stretch of episodes.
The wedding and the reunion are the two biggest moments in the episode by far, but there is still a lot of storyline juggling in this episode. The hospital story trudges on while still feeling like a story without any real stakes. I don’t really care whether or not the local hospital is bought out by a bigger institution, and even as a sparring ground for Isobel and Violet it feels like a fairly thin plot.
The downstairs staff continue to have their storylines progress by inches, including Daisy, Mr. Mason, Thomas and a new wrinkle to the evolving mystery that is the stamp-collecting Mr. Spratt. Apparently, Spratt is way more thug life than meets the eye.
Plus, Edith finally gets to be a useful, modern woman when she fires the stupid editor of her magazine and takes over the duties herself. And is there love on the horizon for her finally?
I can’t imagine a universe in which Edith is allowed a love life, an adorable daughter and professional fulfillment. I’m just counting down the seconds until a piano falls out of the sky and crushes her. This show never lets Edith be happy for more than five minutes at a time.
Most of the action is happening downstairs in this episode, leaving the upstairs cast mostly stuck with the hospital storyline. I’m not exactly calling this storyline DOA yet, but it certainly doesn’t seem as high stakes as the show wants it to be. Cora goes to visit the hospital and decides that she’s on Isobel’s side, which infuriates Violet.
Doctor Clarkson tries to make a case for their side and Isobel attacks him in a pretty unfair and mean way. By the end of the episode, even Dr. Clarkson is starting to sway over to Team Hospital, and Violet looks like she’s going to beat everyone over the head with her cane.
Cora soaks in all this negativity like a sponge and then returns to Downton to yell at people. Unfortunately, the person she chooses to yell at is poor Mrs. Hughes on the night before her wedding. Uncool, Cora, seriously uncool. Cora flips her lid when she finds Mrs. Hughes in her bedroom trying on one of her fancy coats, something Mary had said was fine without clearing it with Cora first.
The whole problem starts because Mrs. Hughes is planning on wearing the most drab and depressing dress of all time to get married. Even Mrs. Hughes is like, “I’ve made a huge mistake,” after looking at the brown, mousy mess that is the dress she’s picked out.
Mrs. Patmore, the best wingwoman of all time, decides to order something great for Mrs. Hughes from a catalog. When it comes, however, it’s just as uninspiring as what Mrs. Hughes had chosen to wear. Mrs. Patmore has fallen victim to ye olde online shopping: everything always looks better in the picture.
With no time to get a better dress, Mary suggests to Anna that they fancy up the outfit by borrowing one of her mother’s dress coats. This is a good idea until Cora flips out.
It’s pretty gross to watch Cora yell at Mrs. Hughes for trying on one of what is probably a million expensive coats she owns and probably never wears. To Cora, those coats are nothing, but Mrs. Hughes could probably never afford anything so fancy, which makes Cora’s reaction even worse.
While Cora helps Mrs. Hughes get the less-stuffy wedding reception she wanted at the school house, now she’s flexing her upstairs muscle and making Mrs. Hughes feel like a naughty child. If anything, this really shows the disconnect between the upstairs and downstairs.
No matter how close they are and how much like family they might sometimes seem (especially the heartwarming connection between Mary and Carson), the Crawleys have all the power in that relationship. At the end of the day, Carson and Mrs. Hughes and Daisy and Thomas are all staff, and they’re pretty much at the mercy of the Crawley family’s whims. It’s easy to forget sometimes and the times are rapidly changing, but they’re still not equals.
Cora thankfully redeems herself by apologizing to Mrs. Hughes after getting a talking-to by Mary of all people. Cora explains that she was in a bad mood and she took it out on Mrs. Hughes, then she gives Mrs. Hughes the fancy coat to keep.
In London, Edith finally has enough with her magazine editor and fires him. This gives her only a few scant hours to put the magazine together by herself. Of course, she ends up having some gallant help.
On her way about London, she bumps into Bertie, who is Lord Sinderby’s agent and totally feeling Edith’s new independent woman vibes. He helps her put the magazine together, instead of the drinks they were supposed to have, and calls her an inspiration. Watch out, Bertie; getting involved with Crawley women usually spells certain death.
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The wedding of the century is on, and everyone is trying to help Mrs. Hughes and Carson prepare. Thankfully, Mrs. Hughes finally gets the reception of her dreams with an assist from Cora, and Mary even apologizes for trying to railroad them into using Downton.
The relationship between Mary and Mr. Carson is one of my favorite dynamics on the entire show, and her happiness for his marriage is adorable. Mary doesn’t really care about many people, but Carson has always been on that short list. For his part, Carson will basically forgive Mary for anything. As Mrs. Hughes says, “Mr. Carson would forgive you if you attacked him with a brick.”
The wedding goes off without a hitch, and Carson even gives a great speech about how he’s the luckiest man in the world to marry someone as awesome as Mrs. Hughes. They seriously are the best couple on this show. Long live Carson and Mrs. Hughes … or I guess it’s Mrs. Carson now!
In other corners of downstairs, Anna is pregnant again but doesn’t want to tell Mr. Bates until it’s further along for fear of upsetting him if it doesn’t work out. Mary is of course thrilled, and they decide to go see her doctor when Anna is three months along.
Who else thinks this is probably going to end terribly? Just like Edith, Anna is never allowed to be happy for very long. She’s like a one-woman misery machine for Downton Abbey.
Speaking of Downton, Thomas is still looking for other employment as he realizes his days at Downton are numbered. He wants to stay nearby, however, because he has some emotional attachment to the home and the area. Unfortunately, his next job interview doesn’t go much better than his last few. He would be the only servant to a once-grand, now-dilapidated house.
This Thomas storyline is a great way for the show to highlight how the Downton Abbey way of life is fast becoming a dinosaur in these increasingly modern times. All the old houses are falling into disrepair or being auctioned off. All the old jobs are being rolled into one big job as houses are forced to cut more and more staff.
The age of giant estate homes is rapidly coming to a close, with Downton as one of the few holdouts. What will this mean for the Crawley family and for their staff? Are their days truly numbered or can they manage to survive the changing times?
Elsewhere Around Downton Abbey…
— Daisy hears about the Drewes leaving their farm and automatically credits Cora with the assist. Unfortunately, she jumps the gun and tells Mr. Mason about it, and Cora looks concerned.
— Mr. Spratt has a nephew who just escaped from jail, and now he has to rely on Ms. Denker to keep his secret. And considering what a huge gossip she is, that’s not at all comforting news. Oh, for the simpler days when his biggest worry was his stamp collection!
— “A peer in favor of reform?” Violet asks when considering Lord Merton’s support of the hospital. “It’s like a turkey in favor of Christmas.” As always, Violet gets the best one-liners.
What did you think of the episode? Did you love the wedding? Was Cora totally out of line? Are you excited to see Branson back? And what do you think of Edith’s new love interest? Sound off in the comments!
Downton Abbey airs Sundays at 9pm on PBS.
(Image courtesy of PBS)