"The hospital war reaches a climax," writes PBS in a summary of Episode 6. I mean, sure. Technically, something has to be interesting enough to warrant a climax. But PBS left out the most interesting part of the episode: It's open house time at Downton Abbey.
You read that right. Open house. As in, open to the unwashed village public. On the scale of Crawley Shame and Classist Embarrassment this ranks somewhere between Mary being spotted in a dirty public house and Pamuk falling dead on top of her in her bedroom.
Oddly, the open house is Mary's idea, who clearly has been thinking of anything to get her mind off of dashing Mr. Talbot, even if it means looking at and interacting with people who aren't rich and lack dozens of pure-gold headbands.
For six pence, anyone can take a leisurely stroll through the house (downstairs only, of course, but there's a small AND a big library for them to explore!) to raise money for the Hospital That For Some Reason Is At The Center Of All The Action this season.
"I think it's crackers!" says Robert, who, weeks after his There Will Be Blood Dinner, is still convalescing in his room and is as pale as a ghost. Everyone's reaction to the open house is hilarious. Carson goes as far as to say that when all the poverty people see the home and question why the Crawleys have all the good things, that it will lead to a guillotine set up in London.
Memo to Mary: Better pick out your best beheading headband now.
Newly Marxist Daisy thinks all homes should be open to the public (ugh, Socialism) while Mr. Bates says he has no interest at all to even see the Queen's bedroom, which is pretty self-righteous, even for Bates.
Best of all, the family is just befuddled by the fact that people would simply want to see their house and fancy things. But the house is just so ... ordinary. That is Violet's word to describe Downton Abbey: ordinary. This coming from a family that has said that they're so rich that they owe it to the the lower classes to keep up aristocratic appearances to give them hope and raise their general spirits and also to physically help said commoners in every way they can.
But the Crawleys are, like, completely bothered that people will be trodding through their home for just one day. I mean, it was open as a freakin' World War I hospital!
Before I ramble on about the odd open-house reactions, let's get to this "climax." The open house comes just in time for the word to arrive that their hospital will, in fact, be merged with York's. Oh, and P.S.: the dowager needs to step down from her position as board director and they want Cora to take her place.
So in the middle of the family awkwardly giving tours (they don't know anything about the fine surroundings they've lived in for decades — hilarious! Cora not realizing it's called "Downton Abbey" because it was once occupied by monks — ridiculous!), Violet storms in, asks Cora if she knew about the coup, yells at Robert about the doins a transpirin' and announces that she does not wish to see Cora until she gets used to seeing a traitor in the family (and does most of this in front of the strangers walking through her family's estate).
Even the dowager must know that Cora had no role in taking over her hospital board position, but all the boring stuff about the hospital has lead to this moment so she must play along as dramatically as possible.
If HGTV has taught us anything it's that open houses can be rough. All of those strangers commenting about your wallpaper! But this one leads to a little boy finding his way to Robert's room and asking, "Why is your house so big?" Why not get something more cozy, since you can afford it, he inquires. This kid is, like, 6, and has quickly summed up exactly what the Crawleys should do. He is clearly the smartest kid in the village. I love this kid.
Shocking to the Crawleys, the open house makes a boatload of money, so Branson gets the idea to have it regularly open to the public and charge admission. Was the purpose of this whole episode to be one long joke about how the real Highclere Castle, which stands in for Downton Abbey, is also able to stay afloat financially solely because of "Downton Abbey" tours?
"Downton" just got meta.
For the record (as though there was any doubt) Mary is the only one who doesn't accept that the Downton way of life is ending, even though she went to the same sad estate auction as everyone else and, again, set up the freakin' open house. Mary and George will be staying at Downton forever, she says, because they're made of stronger stuff than everyone else in the family and she will always need eight under-butlers and a 20 scullery maids, thank you very much.
And Mary is apparently warming to doing all this with a husband who is "beneath her." Talbot is still in the picture, fast cars and all. When Anna is stricken with some vague pregnancy pain (which, later, is actually just called "pregnancy pain" -- try harder, writer Julian Fellowes), Mary uses Anna's doctor's visit as an excuse to head to London with her, call Evelyn Napier (milquetoasty as ever!) with a plan to meet him for dinner and "surprise" Talbot by getting him there, too — poor Evelyn. Always lusting over Mary, always lead on and used by Mary — and make Branson come as her wingman.
Mary was kind of gross this episode. Before the "surprise" dinner, she tells late-from-the-doctor's Anna that she was worried that she was going to have to dress herself AND tries to trick Anna into revealing that Marigold is actually Edith's child. That's some Peak Mary Icky Scheming right there. To be fair, she must have needed some help to put on that headband. By the way, how/when did Mary suddenly acquire all of this headgear? Is Downton really in such trouble since she can apparently afford millions in headbands? Her accessory game is on point, but still.
Anyway, it all leads to the romance Mary is (I guess?) after. After perfecting her Bitchy Hard to Get Banter at dinner (ugh, Henry Talbot, don't ask her out NOW. She doesn't have her calendar right in front of her, hahaha), Mary finds a way to walk home alone with Henry and wait for Perfect Timing TV Rain so they run into a Perfect Alley for Kissing. Yet Mary still holds back because it's moving so fast and Henry drives fast cars.
But Downton isn't going to be run by a single mother and her 5-year-old son, Mary. Let's wrap this up with Henry who, obviously, is perfect for her, despite his lack of riches, propensity for fast cars and Edith summing him up as an "oily car mechanic." Edith, you almost married a 92-year-old man whose bones were turning to dust right before you. You don't get to call potential beaus names.
Speaking of Edith, she decides to invite Bertie Pelham up to meet the family right before the big open house, which doesn't exactly seem like the best time. But Bertie is game for it, meets Marigold without being told who she actually is ("God bless you, Marigold," he randomly/creepily says) and uses the Meet the Parents dinner to direct all of them how to run the open house and give them tour guide assignments.
"He seemed nice and is certainly organized," is how Cora sums up Bertie to Robert. It's not exactly glowing, but, uh, is accurate? Robert question's Bertie's prospects career-wise to which Cora gives a meanly succinct, "But what are Edith's prospects?"
So that's where Mary gets it from.
In the end, they agree to be OK with the Bertie-Edith situation but won't directly encourage it, so their official stance on Edith's life is apparently, "meh." Nice.
And there are more love-involved subplots, which are actually unlucky in love subplots. We're treated to more of overly out-of-character and insultingly oblivious Carson talking to Mrs. Hughes about how bad she is at running their own household (shack? Houseshack? Shackhold?). Because someone must be perfect at running both a 20,000-square-foot castle for 12 hours and then her own home.
In the course of a minute, Carson asks his wife if she can make coffee properly, if she can ask the Downton hallboy for polishing tips and how he doesn't like how his bed is being made. Carson needs those sharp corners to match his thick head, it seems.
Later, when Mrs. Hughes slaves over a dinner for the two of them, Carson complains about not having any lemon for the salmon and then asks for the next course without trying it. Good call on refusing to make him horseradish, Mrs. Hughes!
Poor Mrs. Hughes can't even get liquored up to deal with her hubby. Robert's not drinking as he's recuperating, so Carson says they shouldn't drink either in an act of weird solidarity (I have my doubts as to whether any Carson-esque butler was actually THIS loyal in real life). I'm pretty sure "Having to deal with Mr. Carson's Ridiculous Hurtful Demands" would be grounds for divorce even in 1920s English villages.
Also unlucky in love is Mrs. Patmore, who is starting to fall for Mr. Mason and vice versa (they're courting over notes and gifts of veggies ... aww!), but Daisy has decided to take time away from studying her upcoming Bettering My Life school tests to be cruel about the Patmore-Mason match-up and how Mr. Mason is giving attention to anyone but her.
By the way, I'm still unclear of the exact path Daisy wants to take after she takes these exams, but now Molesley is going to take some tests, too, so maybe we'll find out soon where this is going.
In We Must Find Something For Isobel To Do Now news, Merton is being forced back into the picture. We meet Evil Son Larry's fiancee, whom the Downton Abbey Cliche Name Generator has dubbed Ms. Cruikshank. She is super eager to meet Isobel and really wants her to know how much she likes her and how not all of Merton's family hates her and there's obviously nothing underhanded going on here.
And finally, because we haven't seen Thomas near suicide in awhile, he gets treated utterly poorly here -- by everyone. Like, get another job already, Carson is urging him despite Thomas giving cute piggyback rides to Master George.
He can't even help Andy learn how to read and write in secret without people plotting against him. Mrs. Patmore overhears Thomas inviting Andy to his room later because the lighting is better for reading, which she hears as THE LIGHTING IS BETTER FOR GAY SEX. Carson sees Andy leaving Thomas' room one night and instantly jumps to HE'S LEAVING THE GAY SEX ROOM AFTER GAY SEX WITH GAY THOMAS.
So Carson decides to not ask Thomas exactly what is going on but urges him to stop being gay and gay with Andrew and being a horrible person. We're left with one of the saddest scenes of the season (and series): Thomas crying, alone, in the dark, as we the bandage on his arm from his attempted 1920s Gay Therapy.
Maybe the family should be more worried about him than if a villager who paid to admire their home would steal one of their 10,000 books.