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'Downton Abbey' Recap, Season 6, Episode 8: The Storm Before the Calm
February 21, 2016  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment

If you only saw the last five minutes of Downton Abbey Sunday, it would have been a little like showing up for World War I on Armistice Day.
You’d look around, see all the relieved happy faces and think, “Well, everything seems fine. Nothing bad happened before this, did it?”
Well, yeah. Up until those last five minutes, the penultimate episode of Downton Abbey felt like No Man’s Land. After 90 minutes of this, would anyone get out alive?
Mary blindsided Edith. Branson blasted Mary. Mary yelled at Henry. Bertie rejected Edith. Everyone rejected Barrow. Carson yelled at Mrs. Hughes. Mrs. Patmore was gobsmacked. Edith roasted Mary. Lord Grantham told Rosamund to go home. Mary sniped at Lord Grantham. Lord Grantham snapped at Mary.
A classroom full of teenagers trashed Mr. Molesley.
What was going on? Was this, like, tryouts for talk radio?  
All this commotion also turned the world upside down. Mary got angry lectures from Branson, the consensus Mr. Congeniality, and a sympathetic ear from the Dowager Countess, who judges everybody and everything.
Equally astounding, Violet told Mary to put aside notions of aristocratic entitlement, which is the whole code by which Violet has lived, and follow her heart.
Amazing what effect a few days in France can have.
In the end, all this turmoil ended with Mary marrying Henry Talbot (Michelle Dockery, Matthew William Goode, top) and the newlyweds driving happily into the sunset as Lord Grantham benevolently smiled and said, “A new couple in a new world. It seems all our ships are coming into port.”
Of course, a few of them do have holes as big as the White Cliffs of Dover.
Take the Good Ship Edith.
Cora, Rosamund, Branson and everyone else who knew that Edith is really Marigold’s Mum told her that before she gave Bertie an answer on his marriage proposal, he had to know the truth. (Laura Carmichael, Harry Hadden-Paton, right.)
She agreed, but never found the right opening. Then one bright morning she and Bertie and Mary and Branson were sitting at the table and Mary outed her. Edith, she said, you might want to tell Bertie here about the Marigold thing.
Mary’s gesture was just as rotten as it sounds, and it seemed to come from a couple of places: Mary’s resentment at being kept in the dark herself, Mary’s frustration at just having sent Henry packing, and what Edith thought was the real reason: “The one thing she can’t bear is for me to be happier than she is.”
Whatever the reason, Edith ‘fessed up. Bertie left the table and shortly withdrew his proposal – not because of Marigold, but because of the secrecy thing.  
“I don’t feel like I could spend my life with someone I couldn’t trust,” he said, “or who couldn’t trust me.”
So it was bye bye Bertie – and did we mention that shortly before the breakup Bertie became a much better catch? Turned out he wasn’t just a struggling land agent. The sixth Marquess of Hexham died suddenly while traveling abroad and that meant Bertie had been promoted to seventh Marquess of Hexham.
For those keeping score at home, a Marquess ranks higher than an Earl. So if Edith married him, Lord Grantham noted, “She would outrank us all.”
But now, alas, Edith was left to lament yet another marital near-miss. As Lord Grantham had mused earlier, “Poor old Edith. She couldn’t even make her dolls do what she wanted.”
Branson had already stayed on Mary’s case about rejecting Henry. “What a load of baloney,” he said when Mary tried to tell him it wasn’t really love.
But that was tea-table talk compared to Branson’s response after the Marigold moment.
“You ruined Edith’s life,” he yelled at Mary. (Dockery with Allen Leech, right.) “How many more lives are you going to ruin? You’re a bully, and like all bullies, you’re a coward!”
Mary didn’t say anything. She did pop into Edith’s room, where Edith was packing to leave, and started to apologize when Edith told her to shut up.
“You’re a nasty, jealous, scheming bitch,” Edith said. “You’re not content with ruining your own life, you try to ruin mine.”
Harsh. But essentially accurate.
Edith also added a footnote as she left: “Henry’s perfect for you. You’re just too stuck-up and stupid to see it.”
Edith then headed to London to help set up a perfectly placed moment of absurdist comic relief that we have rarely needed quite so desperately.  
Edith’s magazine editor Laura had finally arranged for a meeting with their mysterious advice columnist Cassandra Jones, whom neither Edith nor Laura had met.
Sunday we saw why. Cassandra turned out to be Spratt, Violet’s butler. (Jeremy Swift, right.) Confession: Didn’t see that coming.
Meanwhile, back at Downton, Mary went to her room and snapped at Anna, which is one thin step away from waterboarding Lord Grantham’s new puppy.  
What pulled Mary out of this quicksand was the unlikely hand of Violet, summoned back from travel by Branson.
Like everyone, Violet knew Mary loved Henry. Better than most, Violet understood why Mary was reluctant to “marry down.”
In a lovely scene where Violet got to deliver much more than her usual stinging one-liners, she told Mary that “I believe in rules and tradition and playing a part. I also believe in love.”
Since Mary will one day be Violet, this was like a Papal dispensation.  
“First you must make peace with your sister,” said Violet. “Then you must make peace with yourself.”
And, of course, Henry.  
Mary’s last exchange with Henry had gone something like this. Henry told Mary that not marrying a man because he didn’t have money was as snobbish as marrying a man because he did. Mary snapped back, “You came here to call me a grubby little golddigger?”
So it was slightly awkward for Mary to ring Henry. But she did, he drove over to her place, and within moments the air was resonant with bluebirds of happiness and Mary’s whispered assurance that this time it was a mature love, not adolescent infatuation.
“I’m not 20,” Mary said. “I don’t tremble at the touch of your hand.”
“I’m not 20,” replied Henry. “I do tremble at the touch of yours.”
“So do I,” said Mary. “I don’t know why I said that.”
Neither did we. But of all the things Mary didn’t know why she said on Sunday, this was the most excusable.
They decided to marry pretty much as fast as they could find a corsage for Branson, who noted he had now been best man at both of Mary’s weddings.
To Mary’s mild surprise, Edith returned from London for the ceremony and drew Mary into a conversation that suggested Edith had decided someone needed to be the grownup.
Shame one of them didn’t think of that years earlier, though it would have made Downton Abbey far less interesting.
Edith (Carmichael, right) said she had been thinking about the time when she and Mary will be “the only ones left” from their generation, and maybe their “shared memories” would be a better legacy than “our mutual dislike.”
Mary said, “Thank you,” which she has said to Edith about as often as she has said, “Take an ax and cut off my ear.”
As for Edith’s more immediate future, let’s guess that if she can arrange a truce with Mary, the Seventh Marquess of Hexham should be no match at all.
Two other dramas stood out in the flurry of action Sunday.
Barrow, rejected and isolated at every turn, settled into the bathtub and slit his wrists.
Baxter, who had a bad feeling, got Andy to kick down the door and Barrow was saved. Barely.
As he was recovering, Mary brought Master George down to see him and bring him an orange. Barrow said it was nice to see he had one friend.
When Mary asked how he was doing, he refrained from saying, “Uh, duh,” instead admitting that he had only himself to blame. Mary mused that she could say the same about her own life, which was either an odd fleeting moment of inter-class bonding or Mary illustrating again that it’s all about her.
Shortly thereafter, Lord Grantham and Carson agreed Barrow should remain on staff, which assuaged a bit of their guilt.
In the second downstairs drama, Mrs. Patmore’s first bed-and-breakfast guests turned out to be an unmarried couple scandalously sneaking around under assumed names. (Lesley Nicol, right.) Rumors spread, even without the Internet, that Mrs. Patmore was running “a house of ill repute.”
Anna told this to Lady Mary and they both broke into uncontrollable laughter. To be honest, that’s how we all reacted.
Well, all except Mrs. Patmore. The notoriety caused all her upcoming guests to cancel.
So Lord Grantham, Cora and Rosamund stepped in to help out, telling Mrs. Patmore and Mrs. Hughes they would have their picture taken dining there, to certify that the house was so clean-cut it was fit for aristocrats.
Carson was appalled, fearing it would stain Downton’s reputation. He advised Lord Grantham not to do it, drawing an uncharacteristically sharp rebuke from Robert that Carson needed to be more kind.
Carson, perhaps smarting a bit, went downstairs and verbally kicked Mrs. Hughes.
“I always knew women were ruthless,” he said. “But I didn’t think I’d find the proof in my own wife.”
Jeez, Charlie. Chill.
Mrs. Hughes, by the way, seemed less bothered than viewers by this ongoing attitude from Carson.
“You’re a curmudgeon,” she told him. “But you’re my curmudgeon, and that makes all the difference.”
Elsewhere, Daisy passed her tests and Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle, right) began teaching. In his first class the students treated him like they treat all rookies, ignoring everything he said.
The second day he switched game plans and told them why education was important, and how even a servant like himself could be enriched and uplifted.
This time they all paid rapt attention, which was way less believable than their first-day reaction. Still, it was heartwarming on a night when so many bombs exploded that we’ll all spend the next two weeks shaking off the shellshock.
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However unpleasant it may have been for Edith when Mary spilled her secret I suspect it would have been far more unpleasant and humiliating if he secret had come out, as it surely would have, after the engagement had become public. And to be fair, Mary dropped that bombshell in response to being needled by Edith. That's no excuse, but if Edith had resisted the temptation to try and get under Mary's skin perhaps Mary would have resisted the temptation to give away her secret. Neither of these women have much to brag about in the good character department. Mary is imperious and cold, but Edith is a green eyed narcissist who has proven time and again that she thinks nothing of running over other people to satisfy her own interests.
Feb 24, 2016   |  Reply
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