By Julia Park Tracey
Such a night. Downton was in fine form last evening, in the penultimate episode before the big finale. We’re getting a week off, though, with a fluffy “Downton Manners” filler piece to tantalize us next week, and then, at last, will happiness find Edith? Will lightning strike Mary? Will Violet croak? Will Carson—who, as you may recall, was a vaudevillian before his career as a butler took off—stop lording about with such a colossal stick up his ass, crushing his underlings like Godzilla in a chick hatchery?
I awoke in a black rage about Mary this morning. Last night, Mary utterly destroyed Edith’s hopes of a happy marriage with a few callous—and very calculated—words which made me loathe the character for once and for all. And I was just starting to feel some kind of compassion for her after the horror of the car crash last week. Wow, Mary. Julian Fellowes did himself proud there. Yes, Edith should have—and probably would have—told Bertie her secret, but it was her secret to tell, as Tom said. For shame, the unmitigated glee with which Mary spills the beans. But at last, what we’ve been waiting for all season, showed up last night: Drama, action, jealousy, rage and spite. I was riveted and could not tear my eyes from the screen. Finally! #teamedith
What we loved:
Edith vents her spleen. Edith, who, with life’s fickle twists, is suddenly about to become a Marchioness upon her marriage to Bertie, higher ranking than Mary and her son George would ever be, has a fleeting moment of happiness between her acquiescence to Bertie’s proposal and sharing their news at breakfast. But Mary, bitterly unhappy since Henry Talbot has left (as she told him to), sprays poison on the happy couple. Bertie stumbles away, leaving Edith heartbroken yet again. As Robert says in pillow talk with Cora, “Poor Edith – she couldn’t even make her dolls do what she wanted.” But it’s the fight in Edith’s bedroom where Edith lets out those 25 years of anguish—“You’re a nasty, jealous, scheming, bitch!” –that’s the stuff we’ve been waiting for. #teamedith
Tom lets Mary have it, too. “You ruined Edith’s life,” he tells her. And though Mary keeps saying, “I’m sorry,” she’s not, really. She’s only sorry for herself. Low blows, milady. She even kicks poor clueless Papa (wait for it).
Barrow gives up his fight against the world; luckily, Baxter has an inkling of what he’s up to and she finds him with wrists slit in the bathtub, just in time. Barrow has been mercilessly ground down this season, in a way that seems more than just the trouble with the era; the character gets no sympathy from Carson, who has become a bigger jerk since marriage than he ever was before it. I suspect Fellowes is practicing some sublimation here, but regardless, after Barrows nearly ends his life, Carson and Robert feel sorry for him and decide to let him stay on. This is where Mary gets her jab in at Robert, asking if he still thinks he was wise to dismiss Barrow. Robert retorts, stung, “That’s rather below the belt, even for you.” #zing
The Crawleys rescue Mrs. Patmore’s reputation when her bed and breakfast suddenly develops a name as a house of ill repute. Mrs. Patmore goes into a tizz, the Crawleys stroll down for tea, the paparazzi take a snap, and all is well—a comic interlude to the suicide and sister-slashing.
Mr. Molesley teaches school: Although it’s entertaining to watch the kidlets make mincemeat of him on his first day, more endearing is his heartfelt speech to get them to use education as a stepping stone to freedom and success. Daisy eavesdrops and shares his success with the understaff. This plotline is almost tied up.
And wait till you see Pratt turn up at the almost end of the episode. It’s bananas, I tell you!
What we didn’t like:
Mary. Mary. Mary. How could she become so detestable? By the time this series ends, I will be glad the aristocracy had its comedown. The epic story of Mary and the racecar driver has never felt sexy. It has felt contrived and goofy. Mary herself has said she won’t marry down, she can’t bear the danger of speed and crashes, and she hates her family pushing her into the match. Everyone keeps saying how much in love she is—and yet there’s no chemistry. And when Henry shows up at Mary’s fingersnap and says he has the license already—next thing, they are married. So disturbing. It was beautiful eyecandy, but seriously? So out of character for Mary, no sexual tension between them, and she’s so mean, I just don’t care about her happiness anymore. And really? Is Henry cut out to be step-papa to George? I just don’t buy it.
Carson is a stuck-up prig. He’s a curmudgeon, and even though he’s Mrs. Hughes’s curmudgeon, he’s still a PITA anymore. Alas, he’s probably the most realistic character on the stage. And at least we know what to expect from him. I was waiting for the obligatory Carson-as-surrogate-father scene with Mary, and surprised it didn’t come. Bates is kind of a drip these days, too. But only because all of his lines come from greeting cards—not the Hallmark kind, but the cheap kind you get in a half-opened box at Goodwill for $1.
Where is Anna’s baby bump? For a gal who has ligament pain and wears frumpy dresses, she still doesn’t seem very pregnant. Stuff a pillow up her dress, will you?
What we admired:
Edith has matured. Her story arc is the most satisfying and lovely, however heartbreaking, in the entire series. Fellows gave her great character when he wrote in her return in time for Mary’s wedding. She is so much bigger and deeper than Mary ever will be. Edith says and does a lot for overlooked middle daughters (raises hand) who somehow turn into success stories in quieter but equally important ways. The eldest sister got the biggest wedding, the heir, the property, the short haircut, and got away with almost-murder (remember Mr. Pamuk?). Despite Mary’s widowhood, she has still come out on top time and again. Edith has fought and lost so many times it beggars belief that she won’t end up happy this time, this time at last! Here’s hoping for something magical in the finale.
Barrow has also turned into a most sympathetic character and I wish Fellowes would stop punishing the lad, give him a stable-hand and some saddle-soap and let them run free.
Next week there’s a Downton Abbey behind-the-scenes special but no episode. Watch this space for something special to tide you over, fans!