"Downton Abbey" just pretended like they Matthew Crawley-ed Mary's latest maybe-possibly-we-can-hope-perhaps love interest.
Happy Valentine's Day!
Most of Episode 7 was spent either talking about or attending Brooklands race track, in case you've missed the oh-so subtle foreshadowing of Something Will Happen There conversations in the past few episodes. "Henry Talbot will be racing at Brooklands"; "I'd love to see Henry race at Brooklands"; "My name is Henry and I will be racing fast cars at Brooklands" are just a few examples.
So, finally, Brooklands! This time here's an actual race, the Downton Speedy For 1920s 500 perhaps? Henry has written to Downton and invited the whole fam for a "I want to marry your daughter so why not see me participate in death sports" day of it. Even Bertie can come, because Henry is the type of guy to presumptuously invite his love interest's mortal sister enemy's love interest.
Most of the family is excited about going (even Mary allows that she needs to put up with these races, which is the Mary equivalent of being totally psyched about it), but none more than Robert who finally gets to leave the torture of breakfast in his fancy bed. Cora's down as well, but not before she stresses that a race car driver probably won't make Mary happy. He would have been the perfect match for our dead, free-spirited daughter. But our alive, Margaret Thatcher-in-training daughter? Not-so much.
"We have a very contrary daughter," Cora says. Look like her new gig as hospital administrator includes training on giant understatements.
But, hey, this whole episode (and season) is about breaking barriers, right? At one point in this episode, Mrs. Hughes reminds the servants (and the viewer, who is apparently still confused about this theme) that Gwen's visit shows that barriers can be really, really, broken. Like, crumbled-down broken.
Mrs. Patmore is even fixin' to go from being a cook to ... being a cook at her own bed and breakfast. Hell, even Mr. Carson dares to sit with Mrs. Hughes for a moment on the Grantham couch, which is officially the most subversive thing Mr. Carson has ever done.
Break down them barriers, Mary. So she tries to get over speed-racer reservations, packs her fancy headbands and goes to Brooklands. What she doesn't hide is her Patented Mary Coolly Receptive to Love game with Henry, who arrives surprisingly at Lady Rosamund's family dinner, which Mary proclaims as "a bit obvious." Henry responds that he wants it to be a bit obvious that he wants to be a part of the family, to which Mary allows something resembling a smile.
Suddenly, we're at Brooklands with the family, who has seemed to procure a sort of tented rich-people-at-Preakness area of the grandstand. Even Laura Edmunds, the new editor of Edith's magazine is there, and she wears pants, smokes, speaks her mind and has a vagina, so the point must be made, again, that SHE, TOO, HAS BROKEN BARRIERS. Hey, do you remember that Branson BROKE BARRIERS, too? Because he reminds Lady Editor that he started as the Downton chauffeur.
Hear that? It's the barriers. They're breaking.
BTW, how funny/weird is the advice from "Cassandra Jones," the would-be columnist for Edith's mag? Her real advice to a woman who can't please her husband is "look in the mirror." It's like, "Lady, you may be ugly. Start there." Who is this Cassandra Jones and when can we meet her?
But the main point is the race, which is fun to watch. The cars are gorgeous, the riding goggles are hilarious and it's cute to see drivers actually having to physically race to their cars and then start them (let's bring this back!). It's cuter to watch Mary make sense of it all ("They go round and round!" is how she describes it). But you immediately get the sense that Something Bad Will Happen.
Why, for example, have we had to meet Henry's riding friend, Charlie Rogers, roughly twice per episode up until this point? And AGAIN before the race? Well, because he's the one who gets Matthew Crawley-ed, killed in an off-screen fiery crash (no close-up of blood streaming down his face this time because Matthew Crawley OWNS that "Downton" death).
Mary, to her credit, isn't all "SEE. I TOLD YOU," but instead rushes to Henry's side as he sits alone on the race track, post-BFF-riding-friend death. There's two ways this can go: Either Mary and Henry are bonded together by the experience and the realization that they don't want to waste another day not being together or Mary peaces out.
If you chose the latter, you've won the not-terribly-difficult-to-predict Downton prize.
There's a post-race most depressing dinner ever at Rosamund's where the mood is appropriately somber. Laura Edmunds doesn't help much when she reminds everyone that the consequence of racing is "sudden death" -- stick to approving advice columns, Laura. Later, Mary takes Henry's phone call and promptly breaks up with him even after he voices how much he wants to get married to her.
He doesn't quite say he'll quit racing, but Mary does most of the talking for him, saying she wouldn't want him to have to give up what he loves so he can be with her. The issue here is you get the sense he doesn't mind quitting racing now (a fiery crash involving your best friend could do that to you), but she doesn't even let him say that. It seems her reservations, not just about racing, but that they come from two very different worlds, is enough for Mary to end it.
But what should we expect from Mary in the final two episodes of the series? What's the point of her journey? Is it for her to open herself up to love again while casting away the shackles of classist thought? Is it that she's a strong enough woman to run Downton on her own? Is it to finally come up with the perfect eye-roll reaction to anything Edith says?
Is it collecting a lot of headbands? I think it's headbands.
If you thought breaking up with a guy mere hours after his friend burns to death in an overturned car was bad timing, Bertie decides to propose to Edith after the mourning dinner.
Edith's reaction: "Oh."
Yes, "Oh." That's what comes out of her mouth. "Oh."
Bertie: "You're not offended?"
These two are meant for each other, unless Bertie has a cruel reaction to Marigold being Edith's real child. But, you know, Edith doesn't use this opportunity to tell Bertie about Marigold, only allowing that she's "fonder of her than anyone else" in the family and she would have to live with us and I love her to pieces and she's all I talk about BUT SHE'S, UH, NOT MY ACTUAL CHILD.
Bertie may be endearingly awkward, but he's not deaf or blind, Edith.
Meanwhile, in People Not Attending Brooklands news, we're forced to endure more nonsense with Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson. This time, Carson wants to eat at home ... again ... and Mrs. Hughes just is at a loss of what to do. It's not as though she could just speak to her husband and tell him his demanding behavior is also demeaning to her. It's just not that simple.
So Mrs. Patmore devises a plan to fake a Mrs. Hughes wrist/arm injury so Carson will have to cook at home and know how hard it is and HAHAHA. It seemed like discarded plot from an episode of "Saved By the Bell: The College Years." Like, Professor Lasky MUST learn that it's not fair to expect Kelly to have a perfect dinner waiting after anthropology class.
In a more interesting storyline, Mrs. Patmore has officially opened her bed and breakfast (broken barrier No. 531), which I would like to make a reservation for right now. It'd be like Mrs. Potts from "Beauty and the Beast" making your pancakes every morning. It's somewhat unbelievable that she'd have time to renovate an old building and such with all her Downton duties, but I will suspend disbelief.
Oddly, we see a man outside the Patmore B&B with a camera, taking notes. Is she under investigation? Will she get a four-star review from the Downton Village Times-Picayune?
Meanwhile, it was another rough episode for Thomas who has retreated into full-on Debbie Downer mode. What are all the servants doing with their time off when the Crawleys are in Brooklands? Fun things?! Awesome! Thomas? "I'll be looking through the want ads." Sad trumpet.
Even after Molesley passes his, um, 1925 general-knowledge exam to teach in the village (apparently a thing) with flying colors, we see Thomas sitting alone at the servants table, lost, as the other staff celebrates together.
He now can't even teach Andy how to read and write because the teacher in town discovers Andy's shame during a picnic problem and offers to tutor him. "No need to continue your good deed," he basically tells Thomas, "your methods will mess with mine!" Thomas cannot catch a break.
And it was kind of sad to see the other folks (Patmore, Daisy, etc.) at the Andy Can't Read or Write Revelation Picnic not even acknowledge Thomas' good deed. Like, no one said ANYTHING about it. Mrs. Patmore didn't even apologize for her Last Episode Gay Panic.
One person who does sympathize with Thomas is Mrs. Hughes, who has never been exactly friends with Barrow but has, throughout the series, looked after him in a quiet Mrs. Hughesian way. Her advice is that all he needs is to meet the right person and make new friends and maybe working at a new place will allow him to accomplish that. This clashes with the rest of the staff's "you're an evil man who cannot change" Thomas viewpoint.
But, Thomas confesses, Downton is the only place we're he's felt comfortable and set down roots.
Finally, now that the Great Hospital Battle That Shall Hopefully Never Be Spoken Of Again is over, we get to see the dowager countess do more fun dowager things. Namely, utterly demolish Larry Merton's fiance, Miss Cruikshank.
After Isobel is invited to Larry's wedding, Violet cuts through the BS, visits Miss Cruikshank and takes mere minutes to figure out that all Cruikshank wants is have Isobel marry Lord Merton so she and Larry won't have to take care of his old self any longer — and then take over his estate.
Even for the dowager, this is record time for Figuring Out Your Scheme. "I'd feel sorry for Larry if I didn't dislike him so much," the dowager tells the Evil Merton Fiance.
Then, oddly, the dowager leaves for a trip to Cannes, because she's still smarting from the hospital ouster and needs time away so she can calm down. I wish that was an option for me when I get into a fight with someone -- go off to the south of France for a bit to cool down. Oh, rich people.
But she has a little gift for Robert as a goodbye present — is this a thing Rich British People do? Buy a present for people before they go on a trip — a puppy! So someone dies in a car crash and Mary breaks up with Henry and Thomas is suicidal ... but happy ending! Puppy Party!
"What's so funny?" Carson asks Mrs. Hughes as she cackles with Patmore about their broken-wrist deceit.
"Just life, Mr. Carson. Just life," she says.
Yup, life IS funny. Especially when you die in a horrible car crash.