Downton Abbey returns for a sixth and final season and everything is pretty much the same. The gorgeous sprawling landscape. The self-centered Mary making snippy remarks at Edith’s expense. Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes talking about having sex.
Wait! What? When we last left them, Mrs. Hughes had accepted Mr. Carson’s proposal of marriage. Now, as she tells Mrs. Patmore, Mrs. Hughes is worried about fulfilling her wifely duties. Can’t, she wonders, they just live together as very affectionate friends? Mrs. Pattmore’s advice is to keep the lights off which isn’t that helpful. Mrs. Hughes implores Mrs. Pattmore to talk to Mr. Carson on her behalf. It’s way awkward, but Mr. Carson definitely wants a full marriage. “I’m happy and tickled and bursting with pride that she would agree to be my wife,” he tells Mrs. Pattmore. The episode ends with Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes in a passionate lip lock which probably had fans everywhere squealing with delight. Theirs might be the show’s best romance.
The strangest thing about the sixth season opener is how quickly the whole “who killed Mr. Green” storyline gets resolved. He was killed by another woman he raped. This now totally clears Anna’s name (to everyone’s utter joy). But it is so odd that such a major story line gets resolved basically off camera. But good riddance, because the whole thing was definitely not the show’s best work. Now that Anna and Mr. Bates are married and neither one is being accused of murder, the show can move on to letting them be happy. Kidding! Of course it can’t do that. Anna and Mr. Bates must be beleaguered and glum at all times. Now they have infertility problems. Anna has suffered several miscarriages and worries that she won’t be able to give her husband the family he wants, and that he will be unhappy. Here’s hoping the show can thoughtfully explore this storyline.
Surprisingly there were no men chasing after Mary, begging her to marrying them in the episode. Shocking, I know. Instead, Mary is being pursued by a chamber maid Rita Bevan who knows that the unmarried Mary spent the night in a hotel with Lord Gillingham. She wants money from Mary to keep quiet, which Mary refuses to pay. Rita then asks Robert for the money. He only gives her 50 quid and tells her if she tells anyone about Mary, he’ll have her arrested for blackmail. Somehow Mary standing up to a blackmailer also convinces Robert that his daughter is the right person to run the estate.
As in the last season, the big theme is the changing times. Robert, who is already not replacing staff as they leave, wants to cut down even more because, “who lives as we do now?” The entire family attends the auction of a neighboring estate. The family is selling off everything so that they may downsize and live a simpler life in London. This also means that Daisy’s father-in-law, Mr. Mason, is being evicted. At the auction, Daisy goes off on the new owner, which does nothing to advance Mr. Mason’s cause and nearly gets her fired.
Edith is running the magazine Mr. Gregson left her and contemplating living in London. After all, her aunt tells her, the only thing that Downton offers her is more years of Mary being mean to her. Violet and Isobel clash over the hospital. Isobel thinks it will be okay for their local hospital to be taken over by a bigger one, as it will offer better care for their patients. Violet thinks they will lose all control of the hospital if they agree to a merger. Robert urges his wife to stay out of the feud because no one ever is able to stop his mother, once she put her mind to something. “What you mean is no one has stopped her yet,” Cora tells her husband.
The sixth season opens in 1925, 13 years after the series began. The series isn’t the phenomenon it once was, nor is its quality the same. All soap operas, even high-minded British ones, eventually start to run out of ideas. And it definitely seems like it’s time for the residents of Downton to say goodbye. But still, the beginning of the end is bittersweet. Even though I mock the Crawleys, I’ll definitely miss them when they are gone.
I still hold out hope that Edith’s Mr. Gregson is still alive. How about you?
Also kind of holding out hope that Isobel and Dr. Clarkson finally get together.
“Sometimes it’s good to rule by fear.” The Dowager Countess has still got it.
Mr. Carson can’t call Mrs. Hughes “Elsie” at work. Did we even know her first name before this?
Allen Leech is listed as being among the cast this season, which means even though Tom is off to New York, he will be back. Thank goodness.
We’ll also be seeing Matthew Goode. Goode is no longer on The Good Wife which presumably leaves him plenty of time to pursue Mary.
One note: The final season has already aired in England and I’m sure there are many ways to have already watched the show before it airs here on PBS. But I’ll be reviewing the episodes as they air with no prior knowledge of what is to come.
Amy Amatangelo is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and a regular contributor to Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter or her blog.