It’s 1925 and times are changing. As Lord Grantham laments to Mr. Carson, “If I could stop history in its tracks, maybe I would. But I can’t, Carson. Neither you or I can hold back time.” (Did Julian Fellows get Cher’s permission before using her lyric? I wonder.) The season starts with drama in the form of blackmail. A maid working at the hotel where Mary had her tryst with Tony Gillingham is threatening to go to the papers with her story unless Mary pays her to keep quiet. Mary decides that paying the maid will only encourage her to ask for more, and decides to ignore the commoner. Unfortunately for Mary, this woman is like herpes and keeps coming up, until finally the maid tells Robert of her plans and he swiftly ends her get-rich-quick scheme.
Elsewhere in the village, the Dowager Countess and Isobel are squabbling, forcing everyone to take sides. The Royal Yorkshire County hospital wants to take over the local hospital in Downton. Isobel thinks this is the best thing for the hospital as it will bring better care to the people of the town, the Dowager insists that they must not lose power—the early stirrings of today’s health care debates, no doubt. May the odds be ever in their favor?
Downstairs, we’re treated to a delightful conversation about S-E-X between Mrs. Patmore and Mr. Carson; she’s come as Mrs. Hughes messenger who wants to know if Mr. Carson expects their marriage to be a “real marriage.” He does indeed (go, Carson!), and isn’t afraid to tell Mrs. Hughes himself that he finds her beautiful. They finally decide to set a date for the wedding. Meanwhile, Daisy is having a rough time; poor Mr. Mason, her father-in-law, may be out of his house and his job after his employers decide to sell their property. Daisy tries to help at the auction by screaming at the new owners, but only makes things worse for him. There’s even talk of firing Daisy after her outburst, but sympathetic Cora convinces Robert and Mr. Carson to keep her on. And finally, Anna and Bates are told that the real killer of the loathsome Mr. Green has confessed, and at last, “This time it is over!”
Shandle: I cried happy tears throughout most of this episode. I think something about it being the last season made me more emotional. Highlights for me were:
- Anna and Bates! Finally! I hope we get to see a baby from them before it all ends.
- Carson and Mrs. Hughes! I want see the wedding!
- Lord G putting that blackmailer in her place.
Julia: Downton Abbey is such a visual feast. The red jackets of the hunt, panoramas of England’s countryside, and long shots of Downton Abbey (Highclere Castle) give me happy shivers. I will miss this series when it’s over!
- Seeing Lady Mary riding astride instead of sidesaddle on the hunt, and finally owning her power as the manager of the property she holds for her son.
- Everyone loosening their stays a bit: Daisy didn’t get sacked; Robert eats a chicken leg from the refrigerator; Carson and Elsie (her first name!) have a smooch and cuddle.
- The march of progress: Sleek automobiles circle the driveway as easily as the coach and four in the early days of the series; the telephone, gramophone and refrigerator are part of their lives now, and so is the foreboding of the financial crash of the late 1920s.
What could’ve been better:
Shandle: I was sad about Mr. Mason, I hope the new owners keep him on, or he finds another way to stick around for Daisy.
Julia: Poor Anna — will she ever be happy? She has so many crying scenes and so much self-pity that I’m finally at the end of my patience. I also loathed the recap hour beforehand; it was bloated and anything but charming, but that’s the price we pay for public television. I’ll send them some money today.
What we’re looking forward to:
Shandle: Everything and nothing. Everything because I love this show so much; nothing because I know every episode means we’re closer and closer to the end.
Julia: Ditto what Shandle says, but also — please, let Edith find some happiness! Let her get away from Mary’s sharp tongue! Please fill the Bateses’ cottage with children, and let the Dowager live until the end. Dame Maggie Smith is half the pleasure of this series; her sharp tongue is worth the price of a donation to PBS!