After last week's eruption of chaos, things are settling down again at Downton Abbey. Episode 6 of the sixth and final season centers around a charitable event on the abbey grounds, one that stirs up a health amount of family drama.
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What do we learn? That there's a house librarian, the so-called Mr. Pattinson, who's "away" and has apparently been away for over a decade; that the Dowager Countess will grow enraged when the wool is pulled over her eyes; that the average villager is sharper than the average Crawley and that the Lady Mary is descended from a womanizing sportsman. Among many other things. See below for a full recap; spoilers, of course, ahead.
There's an open house: A bed-ridden Lord Grantham, recovering from his bleeding ulcer, has his convalescence briefly interrupted by prying eyed, sticky fingered villagers (including one probing and prescient little boy).
In order to raise money for the ever-problematic local hospital, the Crawleys are throwing open their drawing room doors, inviting an entire village's worth of plebeians to ogle their artworks.
When the big day dawns, Cora and her daughters tour groups through their home and are largely unable to field questions from the crowd due to their utter lack of knowledge about their environs. Pressed for details on the fireplace molding, the paintings, the architects behind the grandeur, the Crawley women are largely at a loss. Except for Granny. The Dowager Countess of Grantham is never at a loss, as demonstrated when she storms the open house and interrupts Mary's tour in the library. Mary seizes the opportunity and prompts her to comment on the room's history.
"The library was assembled by the fourth Earl," the dowager tells the tour group. "He loved books."
"What else did he collect?" Mary asks.
"Horses and women," the Dowager responds, curtly. The most illuminating lesson anyone learns at Downton Abbey all day.
Which opens up all the drama: The reason that Granny is so fired up is, naturally, the ever-contentious hospital: ora has just been named president of its board, by the recommendation of Dr. Clarkson, no less. The Dowager is informed of her demotion by mail, which reaches her on the day of the open house, after she's already made something of a fool out of herself by imperiously offering up her presence for the occasion.
"The patients are my priority," she tells Cora beforehand. "As president, I am their representative on earth." The Dowager promises that she will be "magnanimous in victory" on all things hospital, but she is not magnanimous in loss.
After she receives the termination letter, Granny follows her warpath all the way to the abbey, where she makes a scene in the middle of the open house, asking Cora if she knew upon the Dowager's last, gloating visit about the changing of the guard. She then takes her tantrum to the bedside of her ailing son, who is having none of her tradition-for-tradition's-sake argument. "The truth is mama, officialdom doesn't care what we think anymore," Robert says, begging his mother to be reasonable.
"I am sick and tired of logic," she snips, declaring "If I could choose principal over logic, I'd take principal every time" and surprising no one in so doing.
And a marital spat: Granny isn't the only one who disapproves of Cora's appointment to hospital president. Robert is less than jazzed about this demand on his wife's time. "You don't need a job," he says, saying that she isn't like Cousin Isobel.
"I don't think she needs a job, I think she wants a job," Cora responds. "So do I. I'm not old, Robert."
"I didn't say you were," Robert says, to which Cora replies, "Didn't you?" Lady Grantham, gloves off.
Cracks in the Hughes-Carson foundation deepen: In a carryover plot line, Mr. Carson continues to be a big fussy baby. In the beginning of the episode, he floats the idea of an occasional at-home breakfast past his wife, Mrs. Hughes, asking if she knows how to make coffee. "I can make coffee, it's not very hard," she replies in gentle rebuke.
"Oh, that's where you're wrong, there's quite an art to it," spoiled child Carson says. "You might want to have a word with Mrs. Patmore," he suggests, launching into a small catalog of things that need bringing "up to standard" around the Carson home. Does he realize that, in asking Mrs. Hughes to sharpen the corners on the bedsheets, he's also inviting her to sharpen her knives?
Apparently not. Carson continually wheedles Mrs. Hughes to get cooking lessons from Mrs. Patmore so that he can enjoy the simple culinary wonders to which he grew accustomed at Downton. When Mrs. Hughes questions him about his lofty expectations for their meals, he appears perplexed. "I'm expecting a delicious dinner prepared by the fair hands of my beautiful wife," Carson tells Mrs. Hughes, apparently to assuage her fears about cooking for him.
"There's a threat in there somewhere," she responds on the sly. The threat of her strangling him with his own cummerbund, perhaps?
Love blooms in the Criterion's dining rooms: Because Anna is suffering mysterious pregnancy pains, Mary whisks her off to London to see her doctor. While she's there, she coordinates a dinner with poor, neglected Evelyn Napier and latest suitor Henry Talbot, a.k.a. Mary's "oily driver," in Edith's esteem. Talbot has no idea that his intended will be crashing the dinner party with her brother in law/personal cupid, Tom Branson, in tow. The evening is rife with romantic possibility.
"Does Mr. Talbot know you're coming tonight?" Anna asks Lady Mary while helping her dress.
"No, I suppose I should have jumped out of a cake," Mary replies, drolly.
"Then you'd have to wait for the pudding before you saw him," Anna points out in winking answer.
And really, the whole meal is one long, flirtatious wink. Mary banters with aplomb and, on the walk home with Talbot, she admits that her aversion to his profession —race car driver — comes from the fact that her late husband, Matthew Crawley, was killed in an automobile accident. Still, Talbot wants her to give the sport a second chance. His plea, however, is cut short by a sudden downpour, which forces the two into an abandoned courtyard where they have nothing to do but make out for a minute.
"Plenty of drivers' wives don't go near the racetrack," he tells Mary after they break apart. And Mary, being the sharp-witted, hawk-eyed woman she is, jumps all over that accidentally uttered W-word, asking him to please pump the breaks. He acknowledges that she's out of his league, but posits that money doesn't matter because he's falling in love with her, an argument she finds "rather compelling." Heartwarming.
And in nursery rooms: Bertie Pelham, Edith's suitor whom Mary has labeled "boring to an Olympic degree," is in town for the open house. He greets Edith with a kiss that she calls "nice and automatic," thereby confirming Mary's assessment. He meets a sleeping Marigold during his visit, a complicating factor for Edith, who hasn't yet owned up to the fact that she had a child out of wedlock.
And while her parents are pleased that Edith once again has a love interest around, Robert comes out with what's quite possible the most progressive statement of his character's six-season life. He thinks Edith could "develop into one of the interesting women of the day" and does not think she should give that up for marriage to Bertie "Snoozefest" Pelham.
Should we be worried about Barrow? "Do you need cheering up, Barrow?" Mary asks the under butler, who's explained that playing with the children — including her Master George — helps to turn a frown upside down.
"We all do sometimes, m'lady," he replies. And Barrow, especially, needs cheering up after Carson tells him that under butler is "a post that is fragrant with memories of a lost world." Carson claims that no one is sorrier to say those words than he, but when he says them, he doesn't sound sorry in the slightest.
Barrow's efforts to teach Andy to read don't help him, either. Mrs. Patmore the two men discussing whose room to do it in and doesn't realize that they're not talking about sex, but about book learning. Then, Carson runs into Andy exiting Barrow's room. When Carson asks Andy what he was doing in there after hours, Andy offers a reply that couldn't sound less authentic.
So when Mrs. P eventually rats on Andy, Barrow gets a talking to about his lascivious lifestyle, his sexual preferences being — at this point — more or less an open secret at Downton. Yet Barrow defends himself, maintaining he did nothing wrong. "So my word is still not good enough, Mr. Carson? After all these years?"
Unfortunately, it is not. It seems the pain of being universally hated by his peers is finally starting to take its toll on Mr. Barrow.
What to watch for next week: The Crawleys have a day at the races (car races) and Mary most likely continues her passive investigation into Marigold's provenance. Isobel's gentleman friend is pushed toward her by a meddling in-law, Barrow spirals deeper into depression and Mrs. Hughes continues her search for a suitable weapon with which to murder Carson (in an extreme scenario). Is she familiar enough with a kitchen to repurpose a frozen leg of mutton as an untraceable club? Would technology even permit? Find out next week, on episode seven of Downton Abbey.