Last night’s episode of Downton Abbey was the best of the season in my opinion. We’re talking season 1 caliber here. I genuinely enjoyed every single story line as they reached their conclusions (and the new ones introduced too). My only complaint? It was just a lot to process. I know we’re used to having fast-paced plots thrown at us by Mr. Fellowes, but I hardly had time to swoon over a Mary and Matthew scene before I was in the middle of O’Brien’s scheming and worrying over Thomas’s fate. There was a lot of ground covered with this episode being two hours, so I am going to hit the main highlights.
Warning: Spoilers for episode 6 ahead!
Bates is free! Here I was thinking that surely something else would happen to drag out the jail scenes longer, but I was pleasantly surprised to find him sprung at the very beginning of the episode. And it wasn’t until he arrived back at the house that I realized how much I had missed his character. And he and Anna had some really adorable scenes as they set up house together. Anna just can’t stop smiling now that her Mr. Bates is home again. I don’t blame her–I was smiling too, glad to not have to watch Bates walk in circles around a depressingly gray courtyard anymore. I mean, now we get to see him in a Panama hat keeping score at a cricket match!
But of course, Bates’s return means Thomas’s employment is in jeopardy. And soon that’s not the only reason why. Thomas finally falls for O’Brien’s multi-episode laid trap. At first I wondered why on earth Thomas would believe anything that came out of O’Brien’s mouth, having been her partner in crime for so long. How could he fall for it? But, as Thomas tells Carson, he had hope, and that hope apparently blinded him. Before the incident with Jimmy, he and Thomas are alone in the servants’ hall, and Thomas says to Jimmy: “We both like to look so sure of ourselves, but we aren’t so sure underneath now, are we?” Such a telling statement about his character. Hard on the outside, but underneath there’s a vulnerability that is closely guarded. And for good reason too. Because Thomas’s homosexuality was considered a crime in 1920, and he therefore cannot be who he truly is. I found the subject well handled, wonderfully acted by Rob James-Collier, and it really added a layer of depth to the villainous Thomas. The scene in which he is lurking in the shadows near Bates and Anna’s house was also very nicely done, when Thomas tells Bates he envies him his happiness. Bates suggests that he be nicer to people, and Thomas replies that being nice is what got him into trouble. Something tells me Thomas’s shell has been further hardened by his incident with Jimmy.
But Thomas’s humiliation isn’t enough to satisfy O’Brien. She pushes Jimmy to not only make sure Thomas is fired, but is sent away with no reference, which would basically destroy his future job prospects. After his false accusation and prison sentence, Bates cannot stand by and let another man’s life be ruined by circumstances beyond his control. So he invites O’Brien over to tea, and whispers something Thomas has told him in her ear, which quickly changes her tune.
Poor Bates–he does something nice for someone who always treated him so cruelly, and how is he repaid? Thomas is made under butler (I didn’t even know there was such a thing!), which means he will now be in charge of Bates. All because Lord Grantham wants to keep Thomas around because he’s a good cricket player and wants him to play in the big match. Glad you’ve got your priorities straight, Robert.
But I suppose Robert feels like he has to win somewhere in his life. His granddaughter has been christened into the Catholic church. Edith is going to work for a newspaper (more on that later). And while he may be back in his wife’s good graces, even she won’t side with him when it comes to the future running of the estate. Matthew’s certain that his business model to make Downton self-sufficient is the only way to ensure its survival. And everyone agrees–except for Robert and his steward Jarvis. The latter promptly turns in his resignation, which is probably for the best for the estate to move forward. Plus, it provided an awfully convenient vacancy for Tom to fill! And thus the Matthew-Tom bromance continues. I love their relationship and the way Matthew (and Mary too, for that matter) has made Tom feel welcome in the family.
Tom is the one who brings Robert around to Matthew’s idea at last. He explains that between his knowledge of the land, Matthew’s business sense, and Robert’s desire to do right by the farmers and employees on the estate, the three of them might be able to give Downton a future. Well said, Tom! Of course, it now means he has to play cricket to satisfy Robert, but still…wow, Robert really is obsessed with this cricket match, isn’t he?
Can I just say how nice it is to see some scenes with Matthew and Mary being loved up newlyweds again? Mary has softened quite a bit, and whereas at the beginning of the season she seemed determined to stand by her father, she at last gives Matthew her full support, which seems to bolster her husband and their relationship. Matthew continues to be concerned his war wound has caused fertility issues, but as it turns out Mary was the one with the problem, and after an unexplained operation (and a slightly embarrassing run-in at the doctor), she tells Matthew that all is well and they can now begin to start a family.
Edith finally stretches her wings and becomes a columnist for a newspaper. Which gave us an excellent excuse to see some very nice costumes–Edith wore quite a few nice ones while in London visiting her editor, Michael Gregson.
Her editor admires her appearance, but Edith isn’t rushing in this time around. She does a little investigating and finds out he’s married. She confronts him, he admits that he is married, but his wife is in an insane asylum. Poor Edith. Let’s take a look at her track record, shall we? Crush #1 was engaged to her older sister and died in the Titanic disaster. Crush #2 was a much older man intended for her older sister, but who would have married her if said older sister had not meddled. Crush #3 was a MARRIED farmer. Crush #4 was a badly wounded soldier claiming to be Crush #1, who eventually disappeared without a trace. Then there was Crush #2 revisited, who jilted her at the altar. And now we have Crush #5, a married man whose wife is insane and who he can therefore never divorce. Can someone please give this girl a break? Please?
This week we were introduced to Shrimpie’s daughter, the grand-niece of Lady Violet, Rose. Here’s a girl who has no qualms about dating a married man. I think perhaps my favorite scene of the episode is when Matthew, Edith, and Aunt Rosamund go to the Blue Dragon club and find their flapper relative cavorting with a married man. It pulled us away from the rigid morals and tradition of Downton Abbey for just a moment, and boy do the three of them look out of place.
And apparently, since we haven’t seen Matthew dance all season, we got a little bonus by having him give Rose a stern talking to while on the dance floor. Great scene, and one of the best of the night in my opinion.
And while Matthew promises Rose they won’t say anything to Cousin Violet about what happened, you can’t get much by that lady. She uses her stealthy dowager insight to find out about Rose’s tart-like ways and sends her packing for Scotland.
The episode concludes with the cricket match, which was fun to watch (even if I had no idea what was going on). It almost had the same feel as the season 1 finale garden party (the part before the announcement that World War I had begun). Robert wards off the police for Thomas after finding out that Alfred has called them (I guess nastiness just runs in the family). Tom asks Cora if he and the baby might live at Downton for a while, which of course delights Cora. Mary and Matthew are as happy as they were during that snowy proposal at the end of season 2. And Robert has at last given in and fully supports Matthew’s vision for the future of Downton.
Now, I will be honest. With all of this happiness in all of the plot wrap ups, I would almost (dare I say it?) be pleased if the entire show ended here. Maybe it’s just me, but everything was resolved so well, and the episode was so nicely done, that I almost feel like continuing will spoil it. But maybe Mr. Fellowes will prove me wrong and the next episode will be even better than this one. It’s going to be a hard one to follow, though.
What did you think about this week’s episode? Did you think it was as good as I did? Do you think it would have made a good end to the show, or can you never get enough Downton Abbey?