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Sweatpants & TV | Downton Abbey, Season 6 Episode 6

Downton Abbey Is So Meta

By Julia Park Tracey

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First of all, thank goodness Lord Grantham is recovering from last week’s bloodbath. He’s tucked into bed the entire episode and as miserable as a schoolboy missing recess. Second of all, Carson is still being a jerkface about his beautiful bride’s cooking skills, and her resentment is starting to boil. Third, why is Mary starting to remind me of Betty Bowers, America’s Best Christian? At least I know Betty Bowers is kidding; Mary is so self-important, and shows so little compassion for others that I’m on my last thread of caring what she thinks or what happens to her. Even her concern for Anna’s precarious pregnancy is paraphrased, “Well, since I’m in London, let’s go out on the town – pack ALL THE THINGS, you with the cramping belly.”

sneaking some wine

The big story this week is that Mary and Tom have decided to open the doors of Downton to the public, just for a day, to raise funds for the hospital. This entails Molesley handing out leaflets, signs going up in the village, and a source of gossip for everyone, upstairs and down, plus over at the dowager’s cottage. It’s very common nowadays (2016), in the sense of usual, to visit a great house in England and enjoy the splendor of the furnishings, art, and architecture. Some of the Crawleys feel, however, that the move would be common, in the sense of low and coarse, to let strangers traipse through the hallowed halls (circa 1925). Predictably, Violet hates it and Isobel calls it progress; Carson is determined to watch for spoon thieves, Mary and Tom see pounds and pence, and Anna dares to ask for a chair.

carson and hughes

But the family doesn’t seem to know anything much about the house. Paying guests walk through, asking about architecture and the identity of faces in portraits, and “Golly! I never thought to ask!” from the likes of Mary, Edith, and Cora suddenly made me think, “Hmm, perhaps it is time the family moved on. They may appreciate what they have, but they don’t quite know what it is.” The opening of the house to the neighborhood is a literal opening-to-view for the commoners: See how the nobles live. But on the symbolic level, indications are everywhere that Downton Abbey, as it stands, can’t last much longer in the new world, the post-World War I landscape where the working class is no longer content to wait for crumbs at table and hand-rinse milady’s menstrual linens. #revolution

mrs padmore and the note

At least a half a dozen times, the “this all will end” motif comes through; “times are changing, and so must we,” they say. Robert tells Carson to whittle down the staff; Carson tells Barrow to get on with the job search. Daisy and Andy are making plans to better themselves and get out of service; now the local schoolmaster may have something in store for Molesley, too. Mrs. Padmore has her own cottage—with a telephone, mind you—and will take in boarders; Anna and Bates are looking ahead to a life with children in their own house. Everything changes.

Best vignette in this vein was the little boy touring the house who snuck away and found Lord Grantham in bed. “Why is it so big, your house?” asks the boy. “I’m not sure, really. It’s the way they used to manage things,” Robert says. “Well, why not buy somewhere comfy? You must have enough money,” says the boy, hitting the nail on the head. And Robert knows the boy is right. “Maybe. But you know how it is. You like what you’re used to.” When the revolutionaries come, my Lord, that won’t be a good enough answer. Better mind your neck.

Violet

What we loved:

Jane Austen references. Violet, disgusted with the idea of opening Downton Abbey to the public for money, says, “People have always tipped the butler to look ’round a house. Even Elizabeth Bennett wanted to see what Pemberly was like inside.” Isobel replies, “A decision which caused her a great deal of embarrassment, if I remember the novel correctly.” #teamisobel

doctor breaks news

Catfight between Violet and progress: The local hospital will be absorbed by the larger York facility, and Violet is deposed as president, while Cora is offered the role. Violet feels betrayed by her daughter-in-law, Robert wishes everyone would settle down, and Cora, though she doesn’t want to hurt Mama, likes the plan. And no, she’s not too old to tackle the project. #teamcora

Edith, coming into her own: Her father speaks well of her and her potential mate, even if he isn’t encouraging a match. Says Robert, “With her magazine, I think she could develop into one of the interesting women of the day.” Cora responds, “Ten years ago, that very idea would have filled you with horror.” In keeping with the theme, he says, “I’ve changed, you’ve changed, the world’s changed.” I love that he’s giving Edith her meed of praise, after all this time. #teamedith

 

What we didn’t like:

Daisy and Mr mason

Daisy being a pill about her lonely father-in-law making advances toward Mrs. Padmore. Both of these adults have helped Daisy in ways immeasurable – from a future as a trained cook to a settled home and inheritance. Not bad for a kitchen waif. She needs to pull up her socks and stop peeing on other people’s potential happiness.

barrow

Barrow, left sobbing in the chair, unfairly accused of preying on Andy when he is helping the boy learn to read, and all but cast out in the street without a job. For a man who made us hate him for a few seasons, he has won my heart, and I hate to see him so down.

Mary and Edith sniping, still. While I know this sisterly stuff doesn’t go away in some families, it’s unfortunate that they can’t seem to find common ground as mothers and modern women, and as the sole remaining sisters. Julian Fellowes, make it right for me.

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About Julia Park Tracey (33 Articles)
Julia Park Tracey is an award-winning journalist, blogger and author. She has written for Redbook, Salon, and many other publications. She is Poet Laureate emeritus of Alameda, CA, and an alum of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. Find her on social media @juliaparktracey.

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