Isn’t it always the way? A series begins to show its age, begins to pale, ceases to be one that you really look forward to watching all that much. Then, the final season is announced to sighs of relief all around and the episodes remind you why you fell in love with this show to begin with. This was the final season finale of Downton Abbey. It was crazy; it was funny; it was sad; it was everything I wanted it to be.
It wasn’t perfect. Once again, many of the stories felt recycled and several of the characters felt as though they had lost all development and slid back to the people they were in 1912. Carson, especially. He was simply awful throughout the majority of this episode. Nasty, rude, snobbish, I spent most of the time he was on the screen wanting to smack him. Any hopes we had that marriage would soften him have been dashed, I’m afraid.
The character who has changed the most since we have known him is Molesley. It’s hard to remember him as the sniveling coward, desperate for any sort of work and helping his father tend roses. Now, he is a teacher and one who is not afraid to show his students who he is, where he comes from, and why they should listen to him. Daisy’s reveal at the servants’ dinner that she had been listening was sweet, but even better was the round of applause. Bates is right; Molesley deserves all the good that has come his way.
Not all our characters deserve the good that comes their way. What struck me this week were the parallels between Mary and Thomas. I hadn’t noticed them until she walked into his bedroom with her son. I saw these two damaged people in a completely different light, only moments before Fellowes made sure we hadn’t missed it by having Mary point it out.
Both Mary and Thomas are bullies, making truly awful choices, saying truly awful things, and behaving truly badly. Yet, we know why. From birth, Mary has been groomed to ensure the survival of the estate. What she wanted, whom she loved didn’t matter as long as the Grantham line continued. Thomas has been struggling with himself for as long as we have known him. In an age where homosexuality was not only seen as something immoral but was illegal, he has lived his life unable to be true to himself. Both of these sensitive people have allowed the lives they lead to make them bitter.
As the episode opens, both are desperately unhappy. Mary lashes out at everyone, but especially at Edith. As she sat down at that table, I clung to a small bit of hope that she would behave. She doesn’t, and she changes the course of her sister’s life. I have always defended Mary, believing that much of what she does comes from a place of pain. I think this did as well, but what she did is impossible to defend.
Thomas is also desperate. When Baxter walked into that bathroom, I literally hid my eyes. I was so sure that Fellowes was going to make us suffer one more horrible death before the end and I was devastated that it should be Thomas and in such a terrible way. Thank goodness for Baxter and her fears.
Both Mary and Thomas, in spite of themselves, are surrounded by people who may not like them very much, but who will do whatever it takes to care for them. Mary gets an earful from her brother-in-law and her grandmother. Tom’s shouting at her was one of his great moments. How far he has come from doffing his cap to her. Thomas is well cared for, even protected by the family and the staff. It can’t be understated how important it was that Carson and Robert kept everything at home. At the time, suicide was illegal. If he had gone to the hospital, Thomas would have been arrested.
The similarities don’t end there. As we move to the Christmas special, the very last episode ever, both Mary and Thomas have what they wanted all along. Thomas will be allowed to stay at the house. Mary is married to Henry. I must say I lost a great deal of respect for Henry there at the end. For someone who is meant to be Mary’s equal in every way, he shouldn’t have made it so easy for her. She treated him terribly; it was a bit upsetting to see him come running desperately back to her.
It was even more upsetting to see Edith come running back. I am not a fan of Edith’s and she made some bad decisions. She has faced worse things in her life than telling Bertie about Marigold, but she didn’t (probably for dramatic effect). Be that as it may, I loved her fight with Mary. Thirty plus years of being mocked, put down, and having her beaus run off (remember the season one finale?) by her sister has finally sent her over the edge. I was so pleased that she finally told Mary off, and so eloquently.
Disappointingly, it is Edith who comes home and it is she who extends the olive branch. Her speech about the sisters being the ones who will survive with the shared memories was lovely and moving, but she made it all too easy for Mary. Mary didn’t deserve that degree of redemption without even the slightest effort on her part.
As Edith and Laura said, this episode was “bananas.” Soapy and melodramatic, it was nonetheless engrossing and loads of fun. I loved it. As time passes, and I bring myself to re-watch the series, this may go into my top five episodes of all time. One more to go, my friends. Only one more.
Bits and Bobs:
-- I do hope that Edith and Bertie make up in the end. The idea that Edith would outrank her sister was a wonderful twist on six years of just the opposite being true.
-- If a season’s worth of nonsense between Spratt and Denker was simply set-up for that reveal in Edith’s office, it was worth it. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard. I’m still chuckling over it.
-- Poor Mrs. Patmore! Although the idea of that woman running “a house of ill repute” was hilarious, I felt for her. It’s hard to imagine in this day and age what all the fuss was about, but adultery was serious business in 1924. Robert shutting Carson down and then going off to have tea was a wonderful moment. “Mrs. Patmore has been loyal to this house, and now this house must be loyal to her.” It isn’t often that Robert is so eloquent, or so right.
-- George bringing Thomas the orange. Bless.
-- Good for Isobel and her ultimatum.
-- Congratulations, Daisy.
-- Matthew Goode in his wedding suit. Swoon.
Robert: “Bertie Pelham is now the Marquess of Pelham?”
Anyone else having season one flashbacks?
Robert: “Golly gumdrops, what a turn up!”
Molesley: “I think if you expect a lot, you get a lot.”
Tom: “Mary is not stupid.”
Robert: “No. And, she’s not always kind, either.”
Edith: “I know you! I know you to be a nasty, jealous, scheming bitch.”
Edith: “And, you’re wrong, you know. As you so often are. Henry’s perfect for you. You’re just too stupid and stuck up to see it. Still, at least he’s got away from you, which is something to give thanks for, I suppose.”
Bates: “You’re a kind man, Mr. Molesley. It’s about time you were rewarded for your kindness.”
Edith: “Because you are my sister. And one day only we will remember Sybil. Or Mama or Papa or Matthew or Michael or Granny or Carson or any of the others who have peopled our youth. Until, at last, our shared memories will mean more than our mutual dislike.”
ChrisB loves all things English, especially period drama.
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