‘Downton Abbey’ Recap: The Series Finale

The "Downton Abbey" cast, together one last time. (Photo: Courtesy of (C) Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE)
The "Downton Abbey" cast, together one last time. (Photo: Courtesy of (C) Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE)

Previously on Downton Abbey:  Bertie’s cousin dies, and suddenly he’s a Marquess. This is great news for Edith, or at least it is until Mary drops the bombshell about her sister’s illegitimate daughter. Bertie’s shocked that Edith didn’t trust him with the truth and breaks things off with her. Everyone’s furious with Mary (and deservedly so) and she gets a lot of lectures from everyone in her family, before realizing that her shoddy behavior is because she’s upset about breaking up with her boyfriend. Thanks to a final pep talk from Violet, Mary finally admits that she wants to marry Henry and, after a quick detour by Matthew’s grave, the two arrange the world’s fastest wedding ceremony.  Elsewhere, Molesley discovers that he’s actually a pretty great teacher when he just acts like himself, and Thomas’ depression over not being able to find a new job reaches such a low point that he tries to kill himself. 

(If you need a more in-depth refresher, last week's recap is right this way.)

First things first – let me just say a big, gigantic, heartfelt THANK YOU to all of YOU for reading these recaps week in and week out every January and February for the past five years. (I’m still kind of salty that I never did recaps of Season 1, but who knows, maybe we’ll come back to it someday.) You’ve all been incredible – and from the bottom of my heart, I appreciate every comment, every share, every Facebook like, and every piece of snark or disagreement or any time one of you called out one of my (many) typos. This has been a privilege – and a great time, to be honest – and I hope you’ll all stick around for some of the other recaps here at Telly Visions, like Mr. Selfridge and Poldark and whatever show comes next. So. Yeah. Thanks. It means a lot that y’all were here.

Anyway. It’s our last ever Downton Abbey recap, y’all. Let’s make it count. 

It Would Not Be a Downton Finale Without a Time Jump. We should probably be used to this by now, but of course this episode starts some untold number of weeks or months since the conclusion of the last one. Of course no one mentions precisely how long it’s been; apparently we’re just supposed to guess, as though the impact of time passing on characters and their decisions is negligible. Whatever. It’s not the biggest jump the show’s ever done, so I guess that’s something. Anyway, some amount of unspecified time has passed. We know this, because the kids and Robert’s new dog are all a bit bigger, Mary and Henry are back from their honeymoon and seem fairly settled in to married life, and it’s picturesque summer outside.  Just pick your own segment of time and go with it, I guess. It probably doesn’t matter. 

Edith and Bertie Work It Out. During this space of undefined time since the last episode, Edith seems to have decided to spend more time in London, and has even looked into having Marigold put into a school there, as she’s fairly resigned herself to life as a spinster. Luckily for her, however, Mary and Rosamund aren’t having this, and conspire to arrange a surprise dinner for her with Bertie during one of her trips to town.

As everyone predicted last week, the two of them work things out almost immediately, and decide to get married. Their reconciliation is nice and all, I guess, but not particularly swoony beyond the part where Bertie declares he can’t live without Edith. This is largely because their break-up and make-up occurs within roughly the story space of an episode, and since we all basically knew the Downton writers wouldn’t a.) end the series with Edith stuck in spinster-hood forever or b.) suddenly introduce a new, marriageable love interest for her in the show’s literal final hour, it never particularly felt as though their separation was going to stick. So, let’s just go with it, I guess, but their relationship back-and-forth here feels – much like Mary and Henry’s – kind of pointless.  

Anyway, now that they’ve reconciled, Edith wants to know if they’re going to tell Bertie’s status-obsessed mother the truth about Marigold. He’s leaning toward no, if only because they’ll probably have to stop talking to her entirely, and he’d prefer not to do that. Edith says that even if they don’t tell, other people (i.e. all of north Yorkshire, it would appear) know about Marigold and they could gossip. Bertie says he hopes they can avoid scandal, but is willing to deal with it if they can’t, as long as he gets to be with her. Aww, I guess? 

Thomas Decides to Be a Better Person. Apparently fully recovered from his suicide attempt, Thomas has decided to make the most of the second chance at life he’s been given. He’s working on going around and saying thank you to everyone who helped him – Anna, Andy and Baxter, especially – who all tell him that he should use this extra recovery time he’s been given to really sort out all his personal demons and figure out how to be happy.

Thomas also figures that he’ll really get the chance to be the person he’s always wanted to be now that he’s finally gotten a new job offer, and he can go reinvent himself in a place where no one knows him. He’s to go be a butler in a big house on the other side of York, so he’ll be close enough that he can still visit sometimes. He’s happy, mostly, but it’s clearly bittersweet, as he’d obviously stay on at Downton if he could, if only because the core of Team Servants has all been together for quite a long time. 

Does Anyone Actually Care if Andy and Daisy Get Together? Andy fills Daisy in on his latest trip to help out at Mr. Mason’s farm – and since he’s graduated to helping with bookkeeping, his reading lessons must be going incredibly well – and Thomas teases them both about flirting. Daisy snorts in disbelief, but Mrs. Patmore tells her she could do worse. Later, Andy comes to see Mrs. Patmore and asks if she thinks that Daisy could ever be interested in him. She says that she’s been super focused on her studies and had her heart broken in the past, but that he could be successful if he just made an effort to woo her. Sigh. Obviously, it’s likely that there are some people who care about whether or not Daisy manages to make a successful romantic attachment before the show’s over, but shoehorning this plot into the series’ final episode when it’s obvious they’re going to pair her off with a random that they only added this season just feels so pointlessly rushed. Why can’t Daisy just go run Mr. Mason’s farm with him? Or be a shopgirl? Or a cook in a big house, if that’s what she wants? Arrgh.

The Gang Goes to Brancaster! Robert’s over the moon that Bertie and Edith have reconciled. So is Cora – once she realizes that the big surprise is not that her daughter’s pregnant again. Seriously, Crawley parents, this is why your middle daughter has negative self esteem. Anyway, they all head up to Brancaster Castle on the weekend so they can meet Bertie’s mom and settle everything about the wedding.

Bertie’s mom seems mostly nice, if a little bit snotty. The best part is when she starts going on about the family plan is to rebuild Brancaster as a moral center for the local community, and how Bertie can lead by example, unlike problematic cousin Peter and his million trips to Tangiers. Watching Edith and Bertie squirm silently and try not to mention her illegitimate child is mildly hilarious, though it’s probably not supposed to be. 

Later, Edith tells her father that she’s really worried about marrying Bertie and dragging his life down with the constant threat of a Marigold-related scandal hanging over their heads, esp now that so many people (SO MANY people!) know or have guessed the truth about her now.  Robert says that he thinks Edith should take this chance to be happy, because she deserves it. 

Behold Henry’s Crisis of Self. Married life seems to be treating Mary and Henry quite well, as the two of them look very happy together. Unfortunately, however, Henry’s still moping around over his future as a race car driver and Mary’s worried about him. Apparently watching his BFF die in a fiery car crash has taken some of the shine off his favorite hobby, and now he kind of doesn’t know what to do with himself.

Anyway, Henry’s decided that he thinks he wants to give up racing entirely, so he’s got to find something else to do with his life. Mary is doing her best to be supportive, though she’s not at all hiding the fact that she’s thrilled about not having to worry so much about her husband bursting into flames while he’s at work. Henry wants to figure out a way to continue indulging his love for cars, but he also needs a job. Tom is sympathetic, because he is also a dude, and that means he understands The Dude Struggle, and how men are defined by what he does. (He literally says Mary can’t understand that, because she’s a woman and I’m just 1000% done with Tom this season. Shut up.)

Happily Henry has a bit more perspective, noting that he’s got good health, a fantastic wife and an all around great life otherwise – he just has to find something else to do now. He’s leaning toward starting some kind of local business, but he’s just not sure what yet. None of us really care, probably but it’s the last episode and they have to give Mary and her new husband something to do.

Thomas New Job is Dullsville. Thomas says his farewells and the Crawleys– particularly Mary and the kids – as well as Baxter and Bates before everyone heads off to Scotland to visit the new inlaws. It’s a bit bittersweet, and also kind of weird, considering that most of the family and staff has either deeply disliked or outright hated Thomas at one point or another. But, Cora particularly thanks him for rescuing Edith from that fire a couple of seasons ago, and he shares a particularly adorable goodbye with Mary’s son, and everyone parts as friends.

And thus, Thomas heads off to his new job, with a plan to start fresh. Unfortunately, while his new position has finally made him a butler, he’s bored out of his mind. There are only two other servants, and the couple he’s working for barely acknowledges him and isn’t particularly friendly. Thomas is bored and lonely and spends a lot of time standing around moping and staring into the distance. Womp womp. 

Edith Tells the Truth. Edith decides to go ahead and tell Bertie’s mom the truth about Marigold, which is pretty darn brave, all things considered. Bertie’s mom immediately confronts her son afterward and wants to know why he didn’t tell her himself. Bertie goes through a whole thing about how Edith’s confession proves she’s a stand-up awesome person with a love of truth, because he himself wasn’t planning to tell her about Marigold ever. His mom just snorts and says that if he wants to make a success of his new position he needs a moral wife with strength of character, and Edith’s damaged goods. (Yikes!)

Naturally, there’s some extremely awkward tension between the two of them afterward – it lasts all the way through the big dinner party Bertie’s mom had planned to announce their big engagement.  There are a few moments where it looks like Bertie’s mom is about to break things off with her son completely, but it all works out in the end, because this is the show’s last episode, and she congratulates the happy couple. She announces their engagement to the assembled dinner party, and, later, gives Edith props for being unimpeachable honest. Which, I guess is even mostly true, if we don’t count the tremendous amount of lying she did about her daughter’s true identity before the past handful of episodes. Whatever. Bertie and Edith kiss, and it looks like everyone will be happy! Hurrah! 

What Did We Do To Deserve This Daisy and Andy Story? Andy decides to take Mrs. Patmore’s dating advice and attempts to engage Daisy in conversation. She shoots him down, repeatedly, in various degrees of rudeness. 

After watching this for a bit, Mrs. Patmore tells Daisy that her problem is that she automatically dislikes anyone who thinks well of her, and that if any man so much as indicates an interest in her she automatically thinks he’s garbage. As evidence, she brings up the two dark years we were all forced to spend watching Daisy pine relentlessly for Alfred, only to kick him aside the minute he actually expressed any interest in her instead of Ivy. (Wow, that was the worst storyline, wasn’t it??). Daisy snorts and denies this, but it’s clearly true. The problem here, however, is that the only option here to “correct” this problem – i.e. the last person they can pair Daisy off with, is Andy, who hasn’t been on the show that long and certainly hasn’t been lighting the world on fire with Daisy. He just happens to be there. 

Daisy happens to visit Mr. Mason while Andy’s down there helping him with some farm-related something. He’s clearly taken her rejections to heart, because he’s pretty much stopped talking to her at all and, once they’re back up at the house, admits that he knows she doesn’t like him like that and they should just deal with it. This of course, means Daisy immediately starts getting heart eyes whenever she looks at him, which is ridiculous and makes me want to light things on fire.

Lord Merton’s Kids Are Really Awful. In case you’ve forgotten, Lord Merton wanted to marry Isobel Crawley, only the two of them could never seem to make it work because of his terrible son Larry, who basically told her that she was worthless because she wasn’t an aristocrat. Horrible Larry has since got engaged to the equally horrible Amelia, who’s been pushing for a reunion between Isobel and Lord Merton, if only because she wants to ditch an irritating in-law and still get to keep the big family house.

So, it turns out that Lord Merton is now terminally ill with pernicious anemia (which is really just the most British-sounding sort of disease, isn’t it?) and that’s changed everyone’s calculus. Suddenly, Amelia and Larry won’t let Isobel see him or even tell Lord Merton that she’s called. Their genius plan basically seems to be to lock Lord Merton into a room in the attic Mr. Rochester-style and just leave him there until he dies.  But news of Dickie’s illness – along with Amelia’s blatant manipulations – has really galvanized Isobel, and she’s determined that the two of them are going to spend whatever time he has left together. So she rounds up Violet and the two of them head to Cavanham Park to free Lord Merton. Amelia refuses to let them in, but the noise attracts her father-in-law, who is finally informed that she’s been refusing entry to any of his friends who might stop by. He’s furious to learn about Amelia and Larry’s behavior, but Isobel has a solution. She tells Lord Merton she’s taking him and all his stuff to her place, where she’ll take care of him through his last days.  She also says that she wants to marry him ASAP.  Dickie thinks this is a great idea, obviously, as he’s spent forever trying to get Isobel back as it is. He tells the ingrate kids that they can keep the house if it’s so important to them and heads off to make the most of whatever time he has left with his new fiancé. Congrats, you crazy lovebirds.

Oh, No, Carson is Sick! Despite never displaying any signs of physical ailment prior to this point – possibly in the show ever?  – Carson suddenly starts having problems doing things like pouring drinks or anything else that requires he handle things around the house. He drops stuff, he spills stuff, and he’s really embarrassed about it.

Mrs. Hughes, who notices everything, finally goes to Carson’s office to confront him about the constant shaking. He tries to deny it, but Mrs. Hughes insists that she’s his wife, she loves him, and his secrets are safe with her, so he might as well just come clean. Carson confesses that some sort of nameless illness runs in his family, which we have never heard of before, and which Carson can’t even name, saying that his family just called it The Palsy, though for our purposes we can just refer to it as Conveniently Debilitating But Not Life Threatening Plot-Device Disease. Carson is in despair about it, and has pretty much decided that his life is over forever.

Mary comes down to see how Carson’s doing, and to tell him how much she cares about him. She says that if there are changes to be made, they have to face them, but they’ll do it together. Awww.

Rose is Back! And Fixing Everything. Yes, of course we can’t say goodbye to Downton Abbey without a visit from Lady Rose, who shows up from America with Atticus in tow just in time to help get everything ready for Edith’s wedding. Rose and her husband seem tremendously happy – we learn that they have a three-month old daughter and a great life in New York.  She hugs everyone, and it’s really  tremendously good to see her – which may come as a surprise to some of us who didn’t realize that a lot of heart went out of Downton with Lily James’ exit. 

Rose, always attuned to the cracks in people’s home lives, realizes that Robert is acting rather poorly about Cora’s recent promotion to President of the local hospital board. He’s spent half the episode being grouchy and making catty comments about how much Cora’s new duties keep her away from him and the family, even though Cora has two grown children and a nanny to take care of the grandkids. She smuggles him into a village meeting where Cora’s doing a Q&A with the locals, so he can see how good she is at her job, how much good she’s doing in the village, and how much she enjoys the work.

Rose says that it’s obvious Robert loves Cora and if he wants to keep her happy, he has to let her have a life of her own. She says that he can’t make Cora choose between him and the hospital, it’s not fair. Robert looks suitably chastened. 

All Henry’s Dreams Come True. Tom and Henry decide to solve several problems with one stone – they take their dramatically over the top friendship to the next level by going into business together. They’ve decided to open a car dealership and garage, despite the fact that neither of them knows anything about business or sales, and they’re super excited about it. Henry’s pleased that he gets to keep his love of cars in his life, without the threat of death hanging over his head, and Tom’s excited about doing something on his own that has nothing to do with Downton. Mary’s proud of them, because Mary’s grown as a person, and only makes fun of their new status as “second-hand car salesmen” a little bit.

There is something rather poetic about the fact that Tom Branson is ending Downton working in a garage again, considering I got something like two years of mileage out of the running joke that he must be the worst mechanic in the world since he was constantly fixing the Crawleys’ cars. We miss you, Does That Car Ever Run Garage!

More good news for the happy Talbot couple is afoot, actually: It turns out that Mary’s pregnant, and, in an astonishing display of maturity, decides that they can’t tell anyone until after Edith’s wedding, because she doesn’t want to steal her sister’s thunder.

It’s Edith’s Wedding; But Everyone Gets Little Closure. Sort of. Edith and Bertie decide to get married on New Year’s Eve, 1925, so that they can ring in their new life together with the new year. Downton is all decked out in Christmas decorations and everything looks sparkly and awesome.

The Crawley sisters have mended fences, thanks to Mary’s decision to help get Edith get back together with Bertie, and this is maybe the nicest they’ve ever been to each other. Meanwhile, Daisy’s cut all her hair off in the bathroom, in an attempt to impress Andy, the guy she spent forever swearing that she didn’t like that way. He laughs at her, until Mrs. Patmore clues him in that Daisy made an idiot of herself for him, and then he likes her again. I hate this storyline so much.

And so it finally comes to pass: Edith and Bertie get married. Edith looks beautiful, Robert finally tells his middle daughter that he’s proud of her (for…marrying a rich guy?), and everyone looks very happy. Edith can’t stop grinning, and it’s so nice to watch something good happen to her for once. Well done, show.

There’s So Much Closure Everywhere. Everywhere you look, stories are wrapping up.

Lord Merton has been feeling pretty great for an ostensibly dying man, and so he got another exam to see what was up. It turns out that he was completely misdiagnosed (which I guess just happens all the time on this show) and he’s not dying after all. Hurrah for Isobel, I guess. But, wow, someone needs to overhaul the medical educational system in this part of the country.

Meanwhile, all Thomas’ dreams come true when he’s offered the position of butler at Downton, now that Carson’s going to be forced into retirement by his sudden-onset, last episode illness. Nevermind that most of the people who work there don’t like him, and the Crawley family doesn’t really care for him much either, and everyone kind of hated it when he filled in for Carson when he was on his honeymoon. Thomas insists that he is a changed man now in the wake of his suicide attempt and everyone has apparently decided to believe that without a lick of proof because the show’s ending. Oh, well, whatever. The show gave up on committing to Thomas as a real villain years ago, but was also too lazy to really write his redemption in any real way, so this is probably the best we were ever going to get. At least we got to see him make an (minimal) effort with his other job. That’s something, I suppose. And Thomas is great with George and Sybbie, which is super adorable, and also a nice parallel to Mary’s own closeness with Carson. 

On the plus side, Carson’s to stay on at Downton, because he’s basically part of the family, and is meant to be some sort of super butler, who stays on the estate and oversees things from a distance and bosses Thomas around during grand events or big dinners. Thomas, as it turns out, is willing to live with that to come back to Downton, and everyone (mostly) gets what they want. 

Except for That One Piece of Closure You Want. All of Molesley’s dreams come true when the school headmaster tells him that another teacher is leaving when the current term ends. He offers Molesley his job, full-time – enough that he’d be able to leave service completely and be a teacher for real. After some hemming and hawing about it, of course Molesley says yes, though he promises Carson that he’ll still be available to come back up to the house and help out with big dinners or events or whenever he needs another pair of hands for something. Baxter beams at him, and looks super proud.

Sadly, despite the two of them spending multiple seasons flirting and doing everything short of declaring their undying love for one another, there’s no closure for Baxter and Molesley as far as their relationship goes. They’ve both promised that even though they won’t be living in the same house anymore, they’ll still see each other all the time. Clearly, we’re all going to assume that they finally get it together and get married in some distant, undefined future, but neither of them says anything about their (obvious) feelings for each other.  It’s extremely disappointing – to be honest, I’m kind of heartbroken about it – particularly when the show makes a point of making sure to tell us that Daisy and Andy, who barely interacted prior to this episode,  get together, and heavily imply that Mrs. Patmore and Mr. Mason soon will. If we’re going to make such a heavy handed point of pairing everyone off, why not at least make sure to include the most obvious non-couple remaining on the show? Frustration station. 

This is the End My Friends. The year winds to a close, and with it, Downton Abbey entire. It feels like things are wrapping up everywhere, because, well, they are.

The Dowager Countess reveals that she knows Spratt’s an Agony Aunt in his spare time for Edith’s ladies’ magazine, and doesn’t plan to fire him. Denker still exists. 

Robert tells Cora he’s proud of the great job she’s doing at the hospital. He says he’s lucky to be married to her, and it’s very sweet.  In other hospital-related news, Cora and the Dowager Countess finally make up as well.

Anna goes into labor after the ceremony and gives birth to a son (awkwardly enough, in Mary’s bedroom, because that extra humiliation was necessary, I guess?) and she and Bates are over the moon. It’s pretty adorable. No one is murdered or threatened with jail, and the cops don’t show up. It’s basically the best way possible for the Bates’ storyline to end. (Even if it means that neither Anna nor Bates had much to do for the entire back half of Season 6. At least it wrapped up well.)

Daisy decides to move in with Mr. Mason at his farm.  

Martha Levinson sends a telegram full of congratulations to Edith. We miss you, Shirley MacLaine!

Edith’s editor Laura catches her bouquet and exchanges flirty glances with Tom. I’m assuming we’re just supposed to assume these two get together at some point in the not too distant future? They’re kind of adorable. I’d be okay with it.

And that’s that. The clock chimes midnight and the Downton Abbey theme song swells in the background. Team Servant sings Auld Lang Syne downstairs as everyone kisses upstairs, and the Dowager Countess snarks about something one last time.  

The camera pulls away on a picturesque shot of Highclere Castle in the snow, and the screen goes black.

The end.

Again: THANK YOU for being part of this wild recap ride with me. Hit the comments and let’s dissect the finale in tremendous detail, shall we? Were you happy with the endings for everyone? What got left out? What would you change?