Catherine: Hi, Stephanie! I can’t believe another year has passed and here we are for the final season of recaps for Downton Abbey. After this season, there will be no more. This first episode opened with no new faces but I had a hard time placing the younger footman, Andy. If I remember right, he’s not a drama-maker so likely he’ll be one of the first to servants to let go. Modern times are catching up with Downton and with wages on the rise, servants will be let go. Thomas was in dark corners, fretting about the fate of his job as under-butler. One of my hopeful (but unlikely) predictions is that he’ll burn the place down in a fit of pique.
Stephanie: I loved the opening scene with the house shown lit by a sunny spring day as the backdrop for a hunt, along with the horses and the hounds. The beautiful scenery and the costuming is a huge reason why I’ve stuck around all these years. I’m here for the spectacle! We saw one new face in this episode: the menacing chambermaid attempting to blackmail Lady Mary for that tryst we’ve all pretty much forgotten about. For one, I’m really questioning Downton’s security. This lurker managed to get into the house three times–once all the way up to Mary’s bedroom! Funny how Mary had Anna be her muscle to show the woman out. At least this blackmailing plot was tidied up by the end of the episode, and strangely, led to a somewhat touching moment between Mary and her father Lord Grantham about being tough enough to run the family estate.
Catherine: Though it was sweet he gave her a vote of confidence after that debacle, it was kind of funny too. The thing is, he schooled her on how to deal with a blackmailer and then was all yay! now you can run the estate! I guess Mary will need her Papa for a little more while yet which is good for everyone in the end. I was wondering if we’d see more of the nefarious chambermaid (she was a good match for Mary) but no, she got shown the door mighty quick. And the case with the Bates ended with a flourish! That went on for wayyyy to long though don’t worry. Anna is still morose because that is Anna’s fate. Sad, morose lady’s maid. She was Mary’s badass muscle and she made sure No One saw her kicking the blackmailer out.
Stephanie: I am so relieved the Bates/Anna murder caper is over. We really needed to move on from that to focus on where the Bates’ will end up at the series end. With Anna’s fertility problems now out in the open, I feel like we are being geared up for a pretty heavy checklist of series finale standards. At least one wedding is a given with Mrs. Hughes and Carson, so add on a miracle baby for the Bates too! I wouldn’t be surprised at another engagement for either Mary or Edith. Which leaves us with a death, and the most obvious option being the Dowager, but I’m rooting for her to outlive all the Crawleys. Maybe this whole hospital plotline will lead to her secretly meeting with a highly experimental doctor tinkering with cryogenic freezing. I could be for that.
Catherine: I’m not sure I could handle the Dowager dying. Don’t say such awful things! It needs to be someone more on the peripheral. Like Daisy’s father-in-law. That would still be sad but it wouldn’t be Mrs. Patmore, at least. The conversational trio of Patmore, Hughes, and Carson was a bit daffy but a legit concern. If I was Mrs. Hughes’ situation, it would be preying on my mind too. Though having Patmore as a go-between was farfetched! Carson did a fine job and it looks like the wedding sex is on.
Stephanie: I really liked the idea of Mrs. Hughes having reservations about what marriage would mean at her age, and concerns of what Carson would expect. Thinking of the time period, so much value was placed on women to marry for childbearing, that I’m not sure Mrs. Hughes had much of a precedent for a woman later in life marrying. Especially a woman working full time for an aristocratic household that did not allow for much of a personal life. The idea of having the very sensible Mrs. Hughes ask another woman to question her future husband about intimate affairs seemed ludicrous. To the credit of the actress who plays Mrs. Patmore, she did a fantastic job at playing awkward and sensitive at the same time. The exchanges between Mrs. Patmore and Carson were so amusing, even if totally far-fetched. I also appreciated seeing the disagreement between the Dowager and Isobel Crawley center on the hospital, which brings them a bit out of the household. It’s interesting to me who has power over the town hospital, that it would fall to the estate. It’s a nice additional parallel of how the world is changing to larger hospitals versus estate run medical facilities. The whole episode centered around shifting times and personal changes for almost every character.
Catherine: The actress who plays Patmore did a fabulous job. As did the actor who plays Carson. His response was dignified and moving and my heart melted when he said that Mrs. Hughes was beautiful to him. Downton is worth watching for sweet lines like that delivered by great actors. What would a season of Downton be without Isobel and Violet scraping? In a few decades, the big hospital taking over the little hospital isn’t going to matter as much because after WWII, the government is going to take over healthcare. But for now, lines must be drawn. Even though the arguments over who wields the power is true to the characters involved, it does feel contrived. There must be one last battle royale between the two rivals. While they were all sitting around the big table arguing over the hospital, I was confused whether Isobel was engaged to Lord Merton or not. After she shot him down so coldly (he mentioned that at least they agree on the hospital and she frostily replied that it hardly matters), I remembered that the engagement was off.
Stephanie: The Dowager spoke a few choice lines to Isobel too. First, asking, “Does it ever get cold on the moral high ground?” after Isobel commented that they each viewed the value of “things” differently. Isobel was quite diplomatic, I thought. Then later, in a wonderful show of the power she truly has, the Dowager stated, “Sometimes it’s good to rule by fear,” after she fed a sneaky drop of information to her ladies’ maid, that her job was possibly up to be cut. She was not about to let her maid get away spreading gossip about potential staffing cuts at Downton which the Dowager was responsible for sharing. In the same way Lord Grantham, also stuck in the past, swiftly managed Mary’s blackmail attempt, the Crawley’s do have skills. What I hope to see is further evidence of this season is the Crawley’s using their whatever bit of aristocratic know-how in a changing world that could likely destroy all that they have.
Catherine: The Crawleys appear, so far, to be on their toes and while other landed gentry fade away, they’ll make it. That’s in no small part to Branson’s and Mary’s doing. It’s odd to see the family sitting around the dinner table without Branson rising to fight for the working people. Perhaps we’ll get at least a cameo visit from him. And it’d be nice to have another visit from Matthew Goode, Mary’s latest love interest that the last season ended on. He needs to arrive, and stir up a wedding. Against all odds, I have hopes that Gregson will re-appear. Edith’s storyline continues to be one of the better ones. She has chosen not to sell the publishing business and regularly dukes it out with the editor who resents working with a woman. She’s a woman after my own heart. Of all the characters at Downton, I believe she’s the most likely to end up happy.
Stephanie: I know you’re excited for actor Matthew Goode! I can’t imagine Mary will end the series single, so he’s got a good shot at joining the family. As for Lady Edith, she is caught between two worlds: the life of privilege she grew up with, and an independent city life in London where people are less inclined to ask about her daughter’s parentage. The answer seems obvious to me (GO TO LONDON, EDITH!) but I hope we can see a bit more of the struggle first. Edith is the one I hope remains unattached and trailblazing like a 1920s Peggy Olsen [of Mad Men]. Accompanying her for a visit to London, Edith’s aunt mentioned The Bloomsbury Set, a group of influential writers including Virginia Woolf. I hope this is a clue to Edith realizing she has more opportunity than she believes. Let Mary stay back and be Ms. Downton, heir to the estate. Given everyone is questioning their job or their place, and we as viewers know the events of history will up-end their world soon enough, I hope we see bright futures for many of our favorites. Even Thomas.
Catherine Eaton is a contributor to The Stake. Catherine is a writer living in a western suburb of Chicago. She blogs over at sparrowpost.com and enjoys foraging around the neighborhood in her spare time.
Stephanie Scott is a Young Adult writer living in the western Chicago suburbs. Library superfan, award-winning TV-binger, and she just might be your cat’s new best friend. She tweets at @StephScottYA.