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'Downton Abbey' recap: What's love got to do with it

If you thought the final season of "Downton Abbey" had reached a dramatic fever-pitch peak with last episode's dual Car/Relationship Crash at Brooklands, you'll need to get comfortable on one of the Crawley's overstuffed couches. Carson will bring you some tea.

You'll need it because a lot happened in Episode 8. Like, a slightly overwhelming amount of drams, so much so that it was 20 minutes longer than usual to accommodate the drams and the new headband jewelry (which, for some reason, has morphed from fabric headbands to strings of  jewels). Even Spratt had a surprise up his stuffy sleeves.

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I don't know why I'm so surprised by the amount of action tonight. It's the penultimate series episode after all (and I only use that word when referring to TV seasons, because saying "Happy penultimate day of the work week!" is just slightly snobbish to say on a Thursday).

On previous next-to-last season finale episodes of "Downton," we've seen Thomas and O'Brien try to kick Mr. Bates out of Downton, Robert kiss that random maid, Mary having an operation in order to conceive a child and Anna forced to be a part of a police lineup.

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But tonight's episode, the best in ages, may have outdone them all. And for those who have though this season has been rather slow, it all kind of leads up to this episode.

Also, we need to talk about Spratt.

Left to right: Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith and Harry Hadden-Paton as Bertie Pelham.
Left to right: Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith and Harry Hadden-Paton as Bertie Pelham. (Nick Briggs /)

But let's start with the main focus of the episode: The loves of the Twisted Sisters, Mary and Edith. With Mary finally realizing that Marigold is Edith's actual daughter, you weren't thinking she'd keep that news to herself, right? And at the same moment, we learn Bertie's cousin, the Marquess of Something-A-Ruther, Lord Hexum Of Old English Money, has died in Tangiers (really, these things ONLY happen on this show) and now Bertie is the Lord/Marquess/Rich Person of English Names and Class Distinctions We Aren't Familiar With.

So not even the many, many parasols of this episode (someone has drastically upped the show's parasol budget — it's never THAT sunny in England) cannot distract us from waiting, scared, for Mary to pounce. Her parasol cannot hide her jealousy at Edith becoming someone who outranks all of her family if she married Bertie.

Something that is distracting: Robert saying "Golly gumdrops!" at the news that his daughter could marry up and be happy. Like, girl couldn't even make her dolls do what she wanted them to do, he later reminds Cora. "Edith! That girl who I'm told is my daughter but, like, is super-sad all the time and kind-of lame! Her!?! Someone would love her!?," he apparently means.

Quickly, we learn Bertie is coming to Downton, just as we learn Tom "Matchmaker Yente" Branson has gone behind Mary's back to invite Henry to the estate at the same time. Apparently, this is why Branson has been brought back to the show: to think about building a car service station on the property AND meddle with Mary's love life.

To be fair, Mary's parents still refer to Henry as "the mechanic" and we all know that Mary does love him and is just really afraid that he'll die in a horrible car crash, like Matthew (understandable), so this is painful to watch.

"Love. A powerful urge that fades," Mary tells Branson as he hounds her about giving Henry another shot.

Look for the Lady Mary-inspired Valentine's Day card collection at Hallmark next year.

Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary.
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary. (Nick Briggs /)

This isn't going to turn out well, on so many levels. Will Mary give up the love of her life? Will Edith tell Bertie about Marigold or risk losing him? Will Branson try to find love for Daisy in his apparently abundant free time?

The episode makes us wait for all the stuff to go down. We must first hear about Bertie's beloved dead second cousin, who was an "artist" and liked to go to Tangiers to watch the boys fish in the ocean. The camera pans to Thomas not-so subtly. "Most people didn't get the point of him," Bertie confides about his Dead Gay Rich Second Cousin.

OK. Mary holds back. Even for her, today isn't the time to wreck Edith's chances at happiness by revealing the Marigold Secret. Bertie just lost his Dead Gay Rich Second Cousin, after all.

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Instead she'll wait for the morning! Edith has made a very Edith decision to vaguely accept Bertie's marriage proposal AND not tell him the truth about Marigold. It's like a Double Whammy of Bad Edith Choices.

So at breakfast, after she has made it clear to Henry that THIS ISN'T GONNA HAPPEN ("Do you want to be outranked by your own stepson"! she roars. Ouch) and Henry takes off because ENOUGH WITH THAT NOISE, Mary bears her fangs.

Wearing her stiffest I'm Mean Because I'm Sad vest, she casually says that "Not everyone would accept Edith's past" to Bertie, forcing Edith to tell him the truth. Branson is there, too, watching Mary turn into a tyrant and probably wishing he had never left Boston.

"Taxi!!" Like, literally. Bertie called for a taxi. He and Edith have a rather civilized and fair chat about it all, in which he says she wasn't fair to him and that he isn't even upset about her past but moreso she lied to him and doesn't trust him.

Life lesson. I expected a "The More You Know" shooting star to stream past the screen.

And now for the Sister Rumble We've Been Waiting Years For. It does not disappoint. In fact, there were two massive fights here. First, Branson unleashes his anger at Mary, who still pretends she had no idea Edith hadn't told Bertie about Marigold.

He yells-says the following:

YOU CANT STOP RUINING THINGS.

HOW MANY LIVES ARE YOU GOING TO WRECK JUST TO SMOTHER YOUR OWN MISERY?

YOU'RE A COWARD MARY. LIKE ALL BULLIES, YOU'RE A COWARD.

"Downton Abbey" executive producer Gareth Neame talks to The Times about the original idea for the TV series.

Damn, Branson. Next is Edith's turn. As Mary encounters her sis packing to get the hell out of there, Edith calls her a "Nasty, jealous, scheming bitch." Then, when Mary starts to call Edith "pathetic," Edith repeats that she's a bitch.

It's not the best comeback, but Old Edith would have just run away crying and flopped herself on her bed if Mary called her any type of name. New Edith repeats a succinct insult. So, progress?

Line of Edith's I will steal for future fights: "Don't demean yourself by trying to justify your venom." I wish Julian Fellowes could script all my arguments.

By the way, Edith's best line is "You always wanted to have your cake and eat me, too." It's the kind of witty thing people always hope they say at the right moment but never, ever do. Who would ever think to say this? Thank you, Downton, for that line.

Maybe everyone is right about me being awful, Mary realizes. It only takes her sister, her brother-in-law/best friend and losing the love of her life for her to see it.

And before you can say, "I wish the Dowager Countess could be here to keep Mary in line," she arrives, apparently not being Titanic-ed on her way to France the way Fellowes killed off the two Crawley males in the season premiere.

Beckoned by an "eloquent" Branson letter that was hopefully less maudlin than his "I'm looking out of my rainy window in Boston and missing the Crawleys" letter, the dowager wastes no time in politely yet strongly whipping her granddaughter into Act Like a Real Person shape.

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She reminds Mary that while Lord Gillingham was rich, handsome and socially perfect for her, deep down he wasn't clever enough or strong enough for Mary. Henry Talbot is. And while Mary tearfully and powerfully admits that she can't bear being another "crash widow" (is that a real phrase?"), the dowager reminds her that she's overlooking one big argument for the union: real love.

Four simple dowager words seal the deal: "I believe in love."

The Dowager Countess Valentine's Day card collection — hopefully coming to Hallmark next year.

So Mary's Quick Redemption Tour begins. She visits Matthew's grave and asks for his forgiveness — for both being a total jerk and falling in love again. And then she summons Henry, who apparently was waiting in the wings for her behavioral adjustment, because he arrives extremely quickly at Downton.

"I've met my match. If I leave you now I would never be happy," says Mary, finally keeping it real. She also says she's too young to "tremble at his touch," but then actually admits that she does BECAUSE LOOK AT HIM.

Thankfully, Henry has already procured a marriage license so they no-frills get married the next day. And Edith is there. The sisters have a poignant chat before the wedding, with Edith saying she knew Mary was lashing out because she was unhappy and that they need to stick together because, eventually, they'll only have each other and shared memories.

"Oh, and you look nice," Edith says.

This is the nicest they've ever been to each other. And it works so well. Sure, all of this was soap-opera level dramatic, but somehow it works without being over-the-top. Bravo.

Helping along the Mary Redemption is what happens to Thomas. I've been thinking a lot about Thomas lately (seriously, I've asked my fellow Downton fans at work about what they think will happen to him, probably to an annoying level). Surely, they can't just suicide him off, right? Would would be the point of his character and his journey?

But after a "you're overqualified" work rejection, an even darker-than-usual cloud hangs over him. When Baxter, walking with Sudden Village Einstein Molesley to his new teaching gig, realizes that Thomas is is danger of harming himself, she runs back to Downton and finds him in a blood-filled bath after he slits his wrists.

Thankfully, she arrives in time (somehow) and Mrs. Hughes, Andy and Anna care for him. But most interesting of all is seeing Mary affected by the suicide attempt. Honestly, Mary and Thomas are kind of like cosmic twins, always have been. If Mary hadn't been born into money, she would have been Thomas, minus the fervent smoking.

She visits in-recovery Thomas with Master George (who gives Thomas an orange and tells him to feel better and hold on a second I need to get a tissue) and asks him "Have you been lonely?" though it's clear she knows the answer.

Thomas replies that he only has himself to blame for his unhappiness, that he's been awful to people, that he couldn't help being mean and now he's paying the price." Take heed, Mary. She does.

By the way, how mean was Carson to EVERYTHING in this episode? Was cooking food himself that bad enough to make him angry at every single thing?

We learn that the people at Mrs. Patmore's inn were having an adulterous affair (the guy spying was investigating), that she may have to testify at the trial and that people now consider her bed and breakfast a "house of ill repute" (to which Mrs. Patmore almost faints), Carson is all, "Well, that's what you get for being stupid."

And when the Crawleys graciously (if implausibly) suggest that they all go and have lunch and tea at Patmore's B&B to show the community that it isn't all that bad — rich people still think it's fine! — Carson basically says it's wrong for Patmore to accept the invite. Because she shouldn't have opened the B&B in the first place.

But, perhaps inspired by Mary, Carson has his own Redemption Tour this episode, urging Robert that they should let Thomas keep his job and admitting — and this is big for Carson — that he was wrong about Thomas not having a heart.

When Butler Behaving Badly Carson asks Mrs. Hughes if she's done with him because of his curmudgeonly actions, she says "You're my curmudgeon and that makes all the difference." I guess.

Kevin Doyle as Mr. Molesley.
Kevin Doyle as Mr. Molesley. (Nick Briggs /)

In more positive subplots, Suddenly High IQ-ed Molesley starts his teaching gig in the 1925 equivalent of a "Dangerous Minds" situation — the students don't listen to him because he's kind of awkward and they don't believe they can ever better their stations in life. Later, all it takes is for him to reveal that he was once just a servant to get the kids to realize that education can help.

Look for "To Sir, With Love II: The Molseley Chronicles" coming next season.

And then there's Spratt. Freed from the shackles of Miss Denker, Spratt got his own interesting storyline for once. Turns out, he is the Cassandra Jones who is writing the advice column for Edith's magazine. It's such a hit, that when "Cassandra Jones" is invited up to London to negotiate a pay raise in person, Edith and Lady Editor share an amused grin when they learn the news.

See, everyone is looking for their new place in the ever-changing "Downton" world. For Spratt, that means dishing out sharply bitchy advice.

Perfect.

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