Welcome to the final season of Downton Abbey! Soon, the Crawley family will be taking their final bows, saying their last withering one-liners and drinking their last cup of tea.
It will be a bittersweet fate for a television show that, while still enjoyable, has long since lived past its prime. In that way, Downton Abbey the show resembles nothing so much as Downton Abbey the place, which is fighting for its very survival as we move forward into 1925. While the future for Downton Abbey the television show is sealed, the future for Downton and all its inhabitants is still up in the air.
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If they hold on too long, will they end up just like Sir John Darnley, selling off the silver and old wedding presents? The world is moving on and the denizens of Downton are standing still, hoping for the way things were instead of looking forward.
Over the course of the series, Mary has worked so hard to take control of Downton; the premiere finally sees Robert trusting her with the role formerly held by Branson. Soon, however, the joke might be on Mary because there might not be any Downton to pass down or protect.
Things are changing and they’re doing so rapidly. While the lives of the characters are seemingly looking up, the prospects for the actual estate are looking pretty dire. Staff cuts are being considered and the house is already being run with a bare bones staff.
There’s a palatable sense of dread and paranoia in the air, and not just because Violet‘s ladies’ maid is a gossip. The premiere is setting us up for the inevitable: that Downton might not be standing in quite the same way it was in the first episode when we finally say adieu to the Crawleys.
The season 6 premiere begins with a hunt, where you can tell times are a-changing because Mary is no longer sitting on her horse side-saddle. Of course, a more reasonable seat still doesn’t stop her from randomly tipping off her horse. She was distracted by a maid who later stops by to blackmail her with her week of sex and being bored by Lord Gillingham.
“Who?” I ask, because honestly that dude was so boring I think I retroactively wrote him out of my memories. In case you are like me and completely forgot, Lord Gillingham was the man Mary considered marrying until she took him on a week-long test drive, aka sex vacation, and realized he was the most boring person on Earth. Then she kicked him to the curb.
Unfortunately, this maid working at the hotel certainly does remember their tryst and is using it to blackmail Mary. The one thing I complain about the most when it comes to Downton Abbey is that the show recycles storylines as if there is only a limited number of plot possibilities and we must conserve. ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ seems to be the Downton Abbey writers’ room motto. Therefore, this storyline with Mary might remind you an awful lot of the time her reputation took a hit after sex murdering Mr. Pamuk.
This time, Robert is pretty blase about all the sex Mary is having, probably because she didn’t murder anyone this time and also possibly having to do with the fact that she’s a grown woman with a child. When the blackmailer tries to get money out of him, he flips the script and threatens to turn her over to the police. Yet Robert is so impressed with Mary’s steely backbone and eyebrows on fleek that he decides it make sense for her to run the estate.
Elsewhere, Edith considers moving from the country, where she has to deal with Mary’s nonsense, to a super-sweet pad in London. I’m not exactly sure why this seems like a difficult decision, but Edith seems very up-in-the-air about what she’s going to do next with her life.
While the whole household is watching a nearby neighbor auction off his silverware, back at home Robert begins to wonder if they really need as many staff as they currently have at the house. As people have been leaving, they haven’t been replaced, and Carson marvels at the amount of staff the house used to have back in the glory days.
There’s another battle brewing between Violet and Isobel over what to do with the hospital in town. A bigger hospital from Yorkshire wants to buy it out, which Isobel thinks will ultimately be better for the quality of care they’ll be able to provide. But Violet and Dr. Clarkson think it will be a bad idea and that the locals will be overlooked in the bargain. I’m guessing this is going to erupt into all-out war between Violet and Isobel, especially now that Cora is about to throw her hat into the ring.
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Below decks, the greatest storyline Downton Abbey has ever seen takes place in this episode. If you think I’m talking about Anna and Bates being cleared of murder charges, I really question your Downton priorities. Obviously, the best-ever storyline is that Carson and Mrs. Hughes are getting married and yet are too repressed to even hint to each other about the possibility of doing the horizontal tango.
Mrs. Hughes is nervous that she’s going to look ridiculous to Carson because of her age. Apparently, she thinks that when you hit a certain age, your sexuality just gets tossed in the trash, like groceries past their “sell by” date. Hilariously, she conscripts Mrs. Patmore to be her go-between with Carson, the way 12-year-olds have their friends pass notes to their crush in class. It’s amazing.
So poor Mrs. Patmore has to go talk to Carson about sex. Sometimes, I have my issues with Downton Abbey, but this episode really goes a long way towards winning me back. It has everything I love: an embarrassed Mrs. Patmore, Carson and Mrs. Hughes, and the most awkward sex talk of all time. I’m sorry I ever doubted you, Downton. You’ve given me so much.
After Carson finally, finally picks up what Mrs. Patmore is putting down and turns 10 different shades of red, he admits that he wants a full marriage with Mrs. Hughes. He doesn’t just want to be her companion; he also wants to be her lover. So that’s a yes to the sex stuff.
Nothing is ever going to top this storyline. This could have been the entire final episode and the show would have went out in top form. Carson says a lot of very cute things about how much he loves Mrs. Hughes and how beautiful she is, and Mrs. Hughes finally comes around and gives him a kiss. I think we can finally all admit that Carson and Mrs. Hughes have been the stealth power couple of this series all along.
Now on to some things that aren’t as fun, namely Anna and Bates. If Carson and Mrs. Hughes are the power couple of this show, Anna and Bates are a gaping hole where happiness goes to die. This isn’t even their fault necessarily, but every season their plight gets worse. They are the most unlucky, least interesting people on this show.
If you thought that things might finally, finally be looking up for the pair, literally the first shot of Anna in the premiere is her running away from the camera crying. That’s a pretty good encapsulation of all of her storylines for the entire run of the show. Remember when Anna and Bates were just these two super cute people totally into each other? Me neither.
Another woman Mr. Green assaulted finally comes forward and confesses to pushing him out into traffic. After some police work, her confession checks out and both Anna and Bates are cleared of the murder charges. The whole house celebrates, with a big party and dancing downstairs. I wouldn’t celebrate too much yet because it’s early in the season and they can still go back to jail again. Third time’s a charm!
Anna is also upset because she keeps having miscarriages and she’s afraid she’ll never be able to give Mr. Bates any children. So just in case you thought they might get a little happiness now after all the jail stuff, the joke’s on you!
Elsewhere Around Downton…
— Daisy is furious that Mr. Mason might be thrown off his farm and gives the new owner a piece of her mind at the auction. Obviously, this does not help Mr. Mason very much and she gets in trouble at work as well.
— While I had completely forgotten about Rose until they mentioned her being in New York, the show really doesn’t feel the same without Branson. Let’s hope he comes back for a visit before the show’s swan song.
— “Does it ever get cold on the moral high ground?” Violet asks Isobel. The Dowager Countess gets the line of the episode, as always.
What did you think of the episode? Are you looking forward to the last season? Will Downton still be standing at the end of the series? And how cute are Carson and Mrs. Hughes? Sound off in the comments!
Downton Abbey airs Sundays at 9pm on PBS.
(Image courtesy of PBS)