It’s still rather baffling that Downton Abbey became such a colossal hit in the first place. It is the most well-dressed, low stakes soap opera of recent memory, and for five seasons, audiences have stuck with the Crawley family and staff as they adapt to a new England. While the later seasons didn’t quite have the freshness of seasons one and two, Downton has been a fixture of pop culture since it first aired. Still, it’s time to bow out gracefully and not linger on past its prime (like the English aristocracy).
While this premiere episode of our final season opens on one of the ultimate icons of English wealth, a fox hunt, it’s clear that things really are starting to change around Downton. Tom and little Sybbie have left for Boston, Edith is considering a full-time move to London to live in peace with her illegitimate daughter and run her publishing house, Daisy is mouthing off to lords and not getting immediately sacked, and Mary is *gasp* riding astride instead of side saddle. Still, things aren’t that different, because Mary is still on the brink of ruin due to her sexual escapades (I’d hoped there would be at least one mention of the Turkish incident, but sadly things were kept Pamuk-less) and we are still stuck in the interminable saga of Mr. Green.
With Tom no longer around to serve as the grounds agent, Mary has decided to take a more hands-on approach to the running of Downton. Lord Grantham being who he is of course objects, but Mary is determined. While she’s gaining the upper hand in that regard, she has to deal with Rita Bevan, an enterprising chambermaid who saw Mary on her sexual walkabout last season with Lord Gillingham. Bevan sees this as another opportunity for the working class to get one over on the members of high society, so she demands a thousand pounds for her silence. Mary, of course, refuses, but Bevan is as tenacious as a dog with a bone, so she isn’t just going to fade quietly back into the crowds of London. In order to protect herself from the scorn of her family, Mary is determined to handle the situation all on her own, until she doesn’t. While she kept the incident from everyone but Anna, Lord Grantham still gets his moment to swoop in and save the day by browbeating Bevan into silence and paying her off with a measly 50 pounds. While Mary is worried that her father will think less of her after finding out the extent of her relationship with Gillingham, Grantham continues to be as anachronistically tolerant as most of the characters on the show. After witnessing Mary’s fortitude in the face of blackmail and witnessing one of his peers sinking into ruin, Grantham finally realizes that the old guard must give way to the new. He is not the future of Downton, Mary is, and it’s time to hand over the reins.
The downstairs drama continued to churn on, as well. While Anna and Bates are both at home and back to work at Downton, the murder of Mr. Green still remains unsolved, so they have the looming charges hanging over their heads. On top of that crushing weight, Anna has her third miscarriage, causing the poor maid even more emotional and physical pain. I used to think that creator Julian Fellowes must hate Lady Edith because of all the misfortune that he dumped on her head, but I’m beginning to think that’s transferred to Anna. The poor woman can’t seem to catch a break, until finally the real killer comes forward, and the case of Mr. Green ends as unceremoniously as it began. After two seasons, they can finally stop beating that dead horse.
Still, not everything is gloom and doom. Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes continue their subtle and frankly adorable courtship, though the usually steady housekeeper is reluctant to set a date for their upcoming wedding. As it turns out, Mrs. Hughes is still uncertain of the exact terms of their marriage. She confides in the ever wonderful Mrs. Patmore that the prospect of performing “wifely duties” is a frightening one, and she is unsure of whether or not Mr. Carson views their impending marriage in the same way. Patmore takes it upon herself to act as a go between and ferret out Mr. Carson’s intentions: Will this be a platonic companionship, or will it be marriage in the fullest terms? After much hemming and hawing and the most repressed innuendo imaginable, Carson finally realizes what she’s asking and responds in a perfectly swoon worthy way:
“I love her, Mrs Patmore. I am happy and tickled and bursting with pride that she would agree to be my wife, and I want us to live as closely as two people can for the time that remains to us on earth.”
All in all, it was everything one should expect from an episode of Downton Abbey. The Dowager Countess delivered a perfectly withering one-liner (“Does it ever get cold on the moral high ground?”), the costumes were exquisite, and everything feels as comfortable as a cup of tea. Downton Abbey isn’t trying to change the face of television, so let’s just enjoy the loveliness while it lasts.