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'Downton Abbey' Recap, Season 6, Episode 4: Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes
January 24, 2016  | By David Hinckley  | 5 comments

It’s official. The Downton Abbey world we knew is over.

On Sunday night, in episode four of the sixth and final season, Mary said something complimentary about Edith.

Yup, that Mary. That Edith.

Edith said she wanted a woman to edit her magazine. Mary said she thought that was a good idea.

The times they are a-changing.

Oh, Mary (Michelle Dockery) tried to downplay it. When Rosamund said that was a nice gesture – meaning everyone just about keeled over from the shock – Mary replied, “A monkey could type out the Bible if you leave it long enough.”

Truth is, Mary was on a kindness roll. Earlier, when Anna started feeling ominous signs of another miscarriage, Mary hustled them both onto a late train from York to her doctor in London. The doctor said he was “cautiously optimistic” the baby had been saved.

Mary also told Branson it would be fine if they became Downton’s joint agents, handing over half the job she had assumed when he left for Boston. Branson said that sounded fine, though he was still mulling what to do next with his life in general.

The cosmos rewarded Mary for all this with a new potential suitor. Don’t throw that scorecard away just yet, kids.

Violet had invited Lady Shackleton to Downton so Violet would have another ally in the hospital fight, and it had a pleasant unintended consequence for Mary.

Lady Shackleton brought along her nephew, who turned out to be Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode, with Dockery, top), with whom Mary was mildly intrigued when he made a brief appearance last season.

His primary occupation seems to be driving race cars, which leads the family to consider him a bit of a dilettante. He’s not exactly a grease monkey, more like a connoisseur and collector of high-end new wheels, but still, it seems vaguely roguish.

He and Mary danced, figuratively and literally, and he asked her to give him a call sometime in London.

And hey, how about that, the Anna rescue took Mary to London almost immediately, and also gave her a free evening while Anna rested.

So Mary rang up Henry and they had dinner, during which they resumed their figurative dance. She asked if he were going to proposition her and that while she would probably say no, she would enjoy the process.

This could work out well. It might seem ironic that Mary could fall in with a car driver considering how Matthew died, but if she can forgive Edith, she can forgive the automobile. There’s even the added bonus of a potential top-gear link between Henry and Branson.

In the broader picture Sunday, writer Julian Fellowes scurried all about the room, tidying up small and large matters the way one does when one wants to show a place before moving out.

Much, however, remains to be wrapped up.

Lord Grantham, for instance, keeps having those indigestion moments. He suggested Sunday night that he can no longer drink port, but all of us viewers, being really savvy in such matters, know it’s going to be more serious than that. Cora may be catching on, too.

Perhaps the most unexpected and intriguing new mini-drama Sunday was the visit of Mr. and Mrs. John Harding. He serves alongside Rosamund on the board of a worthy charity with which Rosamund wants to get Edith involved.

Another day, another polite luncheon – except that Mrs. John Harding turned out to be Gwen (Rose Lesile, with Hugh Bonneville, right), the former Downton housemaid who learned how to type so she could get herself a secretarial gig several seasons ago.

When Mrs. Harding was introduced, Mary asked if they had met before. Gwen said she didn’t think so, instantly creating a situation that could only be heading for the ditch.

The immediate backlash welled up downstairs, where it looked like Gwen had discarded them now that she had married up.

Evil Thomas, naturally, lit the fuse. As he was serving the luncheon, he volunteered that Mrs. Harding used to work as a housemaid at Downton.

Just as he hoped, it got really awkward really fast. With Mary in the lead, the Crawleys wondered why Gwen was being a weasel.

Happily for her, she had a card to play.

She had already confided to Branson – who else? – that she wasn’t trying to hide her past from the Crawleys. She was trying to hide it from her husband. She had not told him she was a housemaid because she was afraid it would seem just too lower class.

So she may have had one more awkward conversation ahead after Evil Thomas outed her. But with the Crawleys, who were also a tough crowd, she credited her whole upward-mobility journey to the late Lady Sybil, who encouraged and abetted her at every step.

By the time she finished, she had reduced the whole table to a puddle of sad, joyful tears. Forgiving her was easier than anything they’ll ever do again.

Then, to make her absolution complete, Gwen went downstairs and caught up with all her old compadres there. (Leslie with Sophie McShera, right.)

Branson also had a guardian angel mission of his own.

The Crawleys had decided they would work the Drewe farm themselves – well, okay, we don’t mean Lord and Lady Grantham would be mucking out the pig stalls – rather than bringing in a new tenant farmer.

This again infuriated Daisy, who saw Mr. Mason being crushed by the ruling class and went on at such length that Mrs. Patmore addressed her as “Madame Defarge” and “Karl Marx.”

Daisy appealed to Branson, who said he would “put in a word.” He didn’t mention that he had previously agreed to the plan even though for Mr. Mason it seemed like a freeze out.

When the Crawleys were finalizing the decision, Branson changed his vote and joined Cora in persuading Lord Grantham that even if it meant a little less revenue, offering the farm to Mr. Mason was the right thing to do.

Daisy, unaware of this eleventh-hour reprieve, marched upstairs ready to verbally shove the Crawleys into a verbal wood chipper, even though she would be the one who got shredded. Happily, she listened just long enough to hear the good news, so she never opened fire.

If Daisy and Mr. Mason ended up happy, things were not quite so cozy in the hospital fight upstairs.

Violet’s recruitment of Lady Shackleton, for starters, didn’t go as planned. Lady Shackleton didn’t buy the party line even when Violet briefed her on it, leading Violet to say, “Are you here to help or to irritate?”

Lady Shackleton (Harriet Walter, right) assured it was to help, but when the larger group gathered, she said she couldn’t make a decision when she didn’t understand all the facts.

Violet snapped, “That’s never stopped me,” a splendid line if slightly out of character.

The hospital battle, in general, continued to feel like the Hundred Years War. When it came up at dinner, again, it triggered everything short of a food fight. After Isobel had reiterated her side and Violet cut her off again, and someone said Isobel was entitled to make her argument, Violet said, “Of course she’s entitled to put up an argument. She’s just not entitled to win it.”

Sensing the growing odds against her, Violet later delivered an impassioned warning about the dangers of large governmental organizations everywhere swallowing smaller local operations. She invoked, among other antecedents, the Magna Carta, which in its own way was as striking as Branson earlier confiding to Mary that he now saw merit in capitalism.

Personal growth at any age. It’s heartening to see.

There were a few other disturbing moments Sunday as well. Sgt. Willis – are there any other policemen in all of Yorkshire? – dropped by to ask Baxter (Raquel Cassidy, below) if she would testify against the awful man who enticed her to steal the jewels all those years ago.

Despite the strong urging of Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle with Cassidy, right), she declined, saying, “You don’t know what you’re asking.” She said this man had “ruined” her, or at least changed her.

She finally was persuaded by Sgt. Willis’s argument that she could help stop this man from harming others. But her mood seemed as black as her dress.

On a happier downstairs note, it was agreed that everyone in the house should keep calling Mrs. Hughes “Mrs. Hughes” rather than “Mrs. Carson.” For some reason, this produced a tremor of relief that could be heard in Liverpool.

Finally, after Fellowes kept everyone in motion for 45 minutes, he ended the night with a charmingly evocative vignette.

After everyone had retired for the night, Mr. Carson walked up the stairs to his old room. It had been emptied and cleaned. He took a last look around, closed the door, slid off his old nametag and silently walked away.

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So the question now is will Lady Mary be motorvated to opt for a stick shift?
Jan 27, 2016   |  Reply
Michael Mara Strauss
Some questions re Branson, how did he get funds to travel to the States. Was he salaried as agent. How long was he in. The States, I am guessing two years.
Where do they stores cars and the farm cottages, from the aerial views and regular ground views they seem to just materialize. Thank you if you can help. MS
Jan 25, 2016   |  Reply
David Hinckley
Hi Michael,
From what I understand, Branson would have been salaried as the agent. He also would have had access to funds from Sybil's estate, as her widower and for providing properly for Sybbie.
From the timeline elsewhere in the show, Branson was only in Boston for about five months. He left in January 1925, after spending Christmas at Downton, and he returned on May 15, 1925, for the Carson wedding.
The garages and the farm buildings seem to be just a walk away from the main house, but a long walk, since Edith at one point rode her bike there. The real-life estate (Highclere) is on a series of rolling hills, so if those outbuildings were behind just one of those they could be hidden in ground and aerial shots of the main building.
Hope that helps.
Jan 26, 2016
Michael Mara Strauss
Tears and smiles, and hope and new mysteries and a good evening all told. So glad Branson is back. Some epic zingers by Violet, Mary and Mrs . Crowley.
Jan 25, 2016   |  Reply
David Hinckley
And Mrs. Patmore, too. She's sometimes overlooked in the sharp-tongue sweepstakes, but she can be right in there.
Jan 26, 2016
In the UK, where the show broadcasts in the Autumn, the Christmas show adds key plot turns...pleasant ones.
It is normally not shown in US...will they be including it this last time?
Jan 25, 2016   |  Reply
David Hinckley
Hi Zeke,
I believe they will. We're getting nine episodes. Without any spoilers about this season's Christmas show, it sounds like it made for a merrier Christmas in the UK than the year Matthew was killed.
Jan 26, 2016
Perhaps I'm confused, but I thought Gwen said that her husband knew that she had been a housemaid, but not that she had worked at Downton. She wasn't trying to conceal her past - she was just trying to manage an awkward situation that she had been thrust into at the last minute.
Jan 25, 2016   |  Reply
David Hinckley
Hi Jim,
You could be right. The way I heard it, she was a telephone operator when she met him and she just never found the moment to go further into her backstory. But I could have missed a key phrase. I'll have to watch it again. Thanks for noting that.
Jan 26, 2016
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