Previously on Downton Abbey: The Dowager Countess manages to invite the Minister of Health to dinner at Downton, ostensibly to get him to crush the hospital takeover plan by means of government interference. Unfortunately before Violet can make her case, Robert’s ulcer bursts and he spews blood all over the table and guests in a violent and disgusting fashion vaguely reminiscent of that creature bursting out of people’s chests in Alien. It’s nasty. Robert survives, but the entire Crawley clan is shaken.
In other news, Mary goes to watch Henry Talbot try out racing cars, and Tom comes along, because he has a mancrush on Henry and turns into a huge cheerleader for his relationship with Mary. Edith goes on a date with Bertie Pelham while she’ s in London, and they kiss and it’s all very sweet, particularly because he actually seems to like her and doesn’t have any deep dark secrets (that we are aware of, anyway.) Oh and Thomas promises to help Andy learn to read, because he’s suddenly decided he wants to be a pig farmer for some reason, and they both need storylines for the series’ final four episodes.
(If you need a more in-depth refresher, last week's recap is right this way.)
Charity Begins at Home. Or Something. For some unexplained reason – that basically boils down to “the writers thought this would be cool” – the Crawley family is opening up Downton Abbey to the public for a day, and allowing people to buy tickets to go all around the house and gawk at their personal belongings. (This is what is actually going to happen, despite Robert’s protestations that they’re going to show them paintings or art or some such.) The event is meant to raise funds for the hospital, because all roads lead back to the hospital this season, and everyone in the house, whether Team Upstairs or Team Servants, has an opinion about this event. These opinions are rather wide and varied.
Tom and Mary believe that people just want to take a look at how the other half lives, because there’s a curiosity about their way of life. The Dowager Countess doesn’t understand what could be interesting about looking around a “perfectly ordinary house” like Downton, unless people have never seen a dining room before.
In the near term, Carson is afraid people are going to steal things, but he’s also pretty convinced such events are dangerous, because once lower classes realize that the rich have things that they don’t they want redistribution or revolution. Molesley agrees that people questioning how the Crawleys have so much when they don’t could be an issue, but he thinks it’s also good to let them see and appreciate beautiful things, like art and woodworking or whatever. (Molesley is apparently Switzerland in this fight.) Bates doesn’t understand why anyone would pay money to poke around someone else’s house, just to learn that they eat at a table and sleep in a bed like everyone else. And Daisy – who is now Officially The Worst – declares that all great houses should be open to the public and no one has a right to keep people out at all.
So obviously this Open House thing is going to be a complete success. Yeaah.
The Hospital Fight No One Cares About Escalates. Robert, who is mending nicely from his blood drenched, Alien-esque ulcer explosion last week, suddenly finds himself the new poster boy in the ongoing Crawley fight about the hospital. He and Violet contend that he probably would have died if he’d had to go all the way into York for treatment. Isobel counters that he could have still gotten emergency care at the village facility if he’d needed to, even if the York hospital was running it, but neither Violet nor her son seems particularly swayed by that argument. (And since it was Robert basically wearing his insides on the outside for a bit, it’s hard to blame him.)
In other potentially life ruinous news, Cora is summoned to a meeting with Dr. Clarkson and Isobel, where they inform her that the York hospital Board of Governors has decided that they’re going to go ahead with the takeover/consolidation plan. Clarkson and Isobel are to stay on in their positions as part of the local board running things in the village, but they want Cora to replace Violet as the President, because they don’t think they can trust Violet with heading up a system she thinks is total garbage. In addition, Clarkson actually wants to expand Cora’s duties once she takes over, which would give her even more power and responsibility than the Dowager ever had. As you can imagine, Cora is pretty conflicted about this idea, mostly because she knows that as soon as her mother-in-law finds out, Violet is pretty much going to destroy all three of them, Godzilla-style. She waffles that she needs to talk to Robert about all this, but Clarkson says they have to move quickly, before the Board of Governors gets the idea to name someone else instead.
Daisy: Actually The Worst. Daisy is dividing her time these days between studying for her exams and aggressively hovering over Mr. Mason down at Yew Tree Farm. On one particular visit, Mr. Mason gives her a thank you note to pass on to Mrs. Patmore, because she’s been very good to him since he arrived on the state. Daisy immediately gets SUPER weird about it, telling Mr. Mason that he shouldn’t encourage Mrs. Patmore, because she’ll only be all up in his business all the time, since she’s such a busybody.
Mr. Mason insists, and Daisy takes the note up to the house with her, where she decides to open it, read it and throw it in the trash rather than pass it along to her boss. Remember when Daisy was adorable and we all loved her? It super sucks she’s been taken over by aliens or the devil or whatever this is, right? [flames emoji ad infinitum]
Anyway, Mrs. Patmore eventually discovers the letter in the trash – Daisy attempts to play it off like she just “lost” it, but it’s so obvious and terrible that she’s lying and I am so furious because Mrs. Patmore deserves better than this BS from someone she’s done nothing but love and support.
No Wonder Carson Was Never Married Before. So, Carson and Mrs. Hughes remain adorable, but Carson pretty much needs to learn to shut up. Everything his new wife does around the house is cause for criticism – the knives aren’t sharp, she doesn’t cook things the way he likes them, she doesn’t get the art of making coffee, she doesn’t make the beds with “sharp corners”. It’s a sad, horrible thing to recognize, but Carson is a total mansplainer, and it sort of makes me think a little bit less of him for it.
Nothing is “up to standard” according to him, and he completely doesn’t notice that every time he mentions something that he thinks is wrong with their new cottage, or her cooking, or life generally, his wife is quietly becoming more and more furious. Because her husband is being a giant [expletive]. Shut up, Carson.
Anna’s Pregnancy Worries the Bateses. Anna’s been having some more pregnancy pains, because of course nothing can be easy for her on this show ever, and she’s worried that means something’s wrong. She’s reluctant to go back to the doctor, even someone local, because she’s not sure they can afford it. Bates is adamant, though, that Anna has to see a doctor and she can only see Dr. Rider, the surgeon of Mary’s in London. She says they can’t expect Mary to shell out for her doctor’s bills forever, but Bates insists that he can pay for it, even though we’ve seen pretty much zero evidence of that so far.
Anna talks to Mary about her husband’s concerns, and Mary’s cool with a sudden trip to London, obviously because of the added benefit of seeing Henry Talbot again, in addition to Anna getting top notch medical care. Obviously, we’ve already seen evidence that Mary intends nothing but the best where Anna and her pregnancy are concerned but it does kind of come across like she’s making doctor’s decisions for her ladies’ maid based solely on the fact that she feels like having a quick trip.
Tom is All About Mary and Henry as a Thing. Tom Branson is definitely writing Mary and Henry Talbot fanfiction in his spare time. Seriously, the man is obsessed! Tom overhears Mary making plans for her last-minute London trip, and immediately starts teasing her about whether she’s seeing Henry Talbot while she’s there. He wants to know if things are getting serious between them at last, and Mary avoids the question by inviting Tom to come along with her, since no one can remember the last time he got out and did anything fun. Tom agrees, because he’s crush on Henry is at least as big as Mary’s is.
Times They Are A’Changing. Robert tells Carson that he thinks it’s finally time to start dealing with their staffing problems at Downton – they still have two footmen and an underbutler for goodness’ sakes, and who even bothers with all that nowadays in this modern era. Carson looks reluctant because he hates change, and he explains that he thinks Thomas has legitimately been looking for work already.
Carson finally has to explain to Thomas officially that he’s being let go – his argument is that the staff is just shrinking and there’s nothing he can do to stop it. He says that Edith’s already doing without a lady’s maid, and he doesn’t think they’d replace Anna if she were to leave Lady Mary’s service. He says that an underbutler is the obvious first position to cut, because it just reeks of an old world that doesn’t exist anymore now anyway. Thomas looks upset, and stomps off. (And this is one of the rare times I kind of can’t blame him, even if he’s been pretty much 100% irritating for the past two years.)
Molesley’s Dreams Are In Reach. Molesley is busily helping the teacher down at the school set up to administer exams to Daisy. Confession time: I’m not entirely sure what these exams are for – are they like teaching exams or graduation exams or what? It’s possible some of that storyline featuring Tom’s schoolteacher girlfriend who befriended Daisy has been scrubbed from my mind with brain bleach; I couldn’t possibly say.
At any rate, the new headmaster has taken something of a shine to Mr. Molesley, and is pretty impressed with how much he’s been trying to help Daisy get her education. Molesley says that, since he missed the boat on bettering himself through learning and had to go into service instead, he wants to do everything to make sure others like Daisy get the chance he was denied. The headmaster loves Molesley’s respect for learning and offers to let him sit an exam of his own, so that he can figure out what he knows and whether he might have a future in teaching himself. Molesley is blown away by this and it is completely adorable, and exactly the kind of ending he deserves in the final season. Fingers crossed!
Everyone Has a Good Trip to London. Anna’s late getting back from the doctor’s to dress Mary for her night out, but, happily, it turns out that everything’s fine with her pregnancy. Dr. Rider’s told her she’s just having standard pains and not to worry about it, so all seems well on that front.
Mary gets gussied up – seriously this dress is her “medium smart” outfit? For real?? – and takes Tom along to crash a dinner party with a bunch of her single London friends, including (of course) Henry Talbot and (yay!!) Evelyn Napier, who we haven’t seen for a couple of seasons, but who is still single and awesome. (I realize I’m like the one person who loved this dude.) Everyone tells Mary how obsessed Henry is with her, and Tom snags an invite to watch him race his new car the next month at some London track, so it’s obviously shaping up to be a marvelous evening.
After dinner, Tom manages to pry himself away from his new One True Pairing in order to give them some alone time (though it’s a clear effort for him to do so) and heads back to Rosamund’s early. Henry volunteers to walk Mary back, because Mary definitely looks like the sort of girl who likes to walk places, but she says yes and they stroll on. He tells her he hope she’ll come down with Tom to watch him race the following month, mostly because he just wants to see her again. (Ugh, Henry Talbot is really kind of adorable, y’all.)
Mary hesitates briefly, before finally explaining that Matthew was killed in a car crash, and that’s why she’s sort of nervous about the whole racing thing. In the midst of all this it starts raining, and the two race off to take shelter in a nearby alley. If you’ve ever watched a show like this before you know that “take shelter in a nearby alley” is always code for “take a minute and make out”, which is totally what happens. Mary says things are moving faster than she’d anticipated, a declaration that Henry decides to attempt to defuse by telling her that he’s falling in love with her. Okay, sure. (No wonder this guy is still single!) He explains that he knows he’s not what she’s looking for and that she’s a great catch and he’s not, but he just... really likes her. Mary smiles, and they’re generally adorable together, and even though this should probably really irritate me, it doesn’t. Sheesh, I’m becoming as bad as Tom.
Edith’s Beau Comes for a Visit. Bertie Pelham comes to Downton for the weekend of the Open House. You know things are getting serious between them because they kiss again as soon as they see each other and Edith takes him on a tour of the nursery before dinner, including introducing him to Marigold. (Or, at least pointing out Marigold’s sleeping form, which seems way creepier when you type it out like that. She couldn’t wait till the kids were awake?)
At dinner, Bertie actually does manage to make a good impression on the family, though. He proves himself useful by offering lots of suggestions for how the Open House should be run. This is extra helpful as clearly the Crawleys have no idea what they are doing and have given no thought to logistical elements such as having servants on guard in every room, or family guides set up to explain what people are looking at. He assigns Mary, Edith and Cora to chaperone people throughout the house and tells them to basically just make it up when it becomes clear that they have no command of any actual facts regarding the house or its history. Womp womp.
Daisy Continues to Be a Great Person and Friend. Mrs. Patmore volunteers to fix a lunch for Daisy, Mr. Molesley and the school headmaster for her big exam day. Mrs. Hughes pipes up that she should invite Mr. Mason along for lunch with them, just because. Mrs. Patmore loves this idea, because Mrs. Patmore is clearly into Mr. Mason at this point, but to everyone’s complete and utter lack of surprise, Daisy has to act like a total pill about it. She says that Mrs. Patmore shouldn’t bother with Mr. Mason, he’s busy with work and she doesn’t understand why she just can’t leave him alone. Mrs. Hughes reprimands her for being ungracious, but Daisy just stomps off.
The situation escalates later when Mr. Mason happens to drop by the Downton kitchen for a visit and to bring some vegetables by as a thank you for Mrs. Patmore. Daisy, of course, behaves terribly, insisting that he already thanked her and bitching that Downton garden has enough food for an army so they don’t need his. Mrs. Patmore looks upset.
The Open House is Here. An absolute TON of people show up at Downton the next day to take part in the Open House for charity. There’s a line outside and people appear to have been waiting for ages to get in. And, despite Bertie Pelham’s best advice, the Crawleys are pretty terrible at this whole tour thing.
The ladies barely know anything about the house they live in or the artifacts that they own or even who did half the art on the walls. They don’t even know who most of the paintings are even of, and it not only makes them all look like idiots, it makes them look grossly, needlessly posh because they’re so utterly ignorant about the things that surround them everyday. Seriously, how do they not know any of this?
The best moment, by far, is when Cora actually manages to realize why the house is called “Downton Abbey” after telling a visitor a story about how the main hall of the house is medieval and used to be part of an abbey that was sold during Henry VIII’s Reformation. (Someone literally has to ask her if this is why before the light bulb comes on. It’s super awkward.) Molesley, who has been assigned the enviable task of loitering in the library and making sure people don’t steal anything, is practically bursting to share information about the house, its contents and history generally, but manages to hold his tongue, probably under threat of death from Carson.
The Dowager’s Rage is Pretty Epic. In the middle of all this Open House drama, the Dowager Countess arrives, and from her brusque, clearly twitchy demeanor, it’s obvious that she’s found out that she’s to be replaced on the hospital board. (And that she didn’t find out from her son or daughter-in-law.)
In fact, the Dowager is so incandescently angry that she actually makes a public scene, crashing into Cora’s (admittedly terrible) tour talk and picking a fight with her in front of total strangers. Violet demands to know whether Cora had already know that she was going to depose her mother-in-law from the hospital board the last time she had visited and whether she’d told Robert about it or not. Cora can’t bring herself to say anything, but she might as well have a blinking GUILTY sign flashing above her head. Violet is furious, particularly because Cora let her go on and on about her impending victory, when she knew it was never going to happen.
Violet immediately stomps upstairs to confront her son about his treachery on this issue and yell at him. Robert tries to defend his wife, claiming that Cora doesn’t have any more control over the decisions being made by the Board of Governors than she does. He says that obviously the two of them had differing opinions, but ultimately that doesn’t matter because nothing either of them said was going to move the needle on this anyway. Robert has come ‘round to the opinion that the influence of great families like theirs is finished and officials don’t really care what they think about anything anymore. Violet refuses to accept this, calls Cora a traitor and stomps out of the room. Christmas will be fun!
Back to Thomas’ No Good Very Bad Day. So, Thomas has had kind of a rough go of it in Season 6: he’s been officially sacked, he can’t seem to find a job, he ruined his week as stand-in for Carson by being his normal jealous and petty self, and basically everyone’s started straight up telling him to his face that he hates them.
Even though he’s been doing the occasionally good dead like giving young Master George piggyback rides around the house or teaching New Character We Don’t Care About (Andy) to read, Thomas still can’t catch a break. Mrs. Patmore spies Andy leaving Thomas’ room late one night, ostensibly as part of their secret Reading is Fundamental campaign. But, since Mrs. Patmore hates Thomas along with everyone else, she immediately assumes unsavory motives and goes straight to Mr. Carson.
Unfortunately, this leaves us all in the unhappy position of having to actually feel bad for Thomas by the end of the episode. Carson confronts Thomas about the Andy situation and basically accuses him of corrupting this young and impressionable kid with his terrible gay ways or whatever. Thomas denies it, of course, and wants to know why he can never have the benefit of the doubt over anything ever. (I mean, obviously the reason for this is that, for the most part Thomas has been a generally reprehensible and hurtful person for a large portion of the time this show has existed. That’s why people assume the worst about him constantly. It’s unfortunate that his sexual orientation comes into play with this – because I don’t think that necessarily has that much to do with why people automatically assume Thomas is terrible. It’s because nine times out of ten when given the opportunity, Thomas behaves in a way that is terrible.
Ugh, whatever, this show is so frustrating when it comes to this character. Anyway, Thomas is hurt and angry at the implication that he’s somehow taking advantage of Andy, but he protects his secret and doesn’t tell Carson he’s helping him learn to read. Instead he goes to the kitchen in the middle of the night and cries in a chair alone in the dark. It’s very moving and sad, but just so completely underlines this show’s current (and past, let’s be real, this has been an issue since like Season 2) problem with Thomas – they have no idea what to do with him, and we, as viewers, get whiplash going back and forth from this unhappy, misunderstood person who’s trying in a strange way to the guy who vindictively tried to ruin Gwen Dawson’s luncheon with the Crawleys because he was jealous and petty. It’s exhausting.
Got thoughts? Help me talk this all out in the comments.