‘Downton Abbey’ Recap: Season 6, Episode 7

Racetrack chic looks super great on Lady Mary. (Photo:  Courtesy of Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE)
Racetrack chic looks super great on Lady Mary. (Photo:  Courtesy of Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE)

Previously on Downton Abbey: The Board of Governors decides to turn the village hospital over to the larger institution in York, and proceeds to nominate Cora to replace Violet as President of the local board. Violet is furious and feels betrayed, and everyone around her decides that the best plan of action is just to act like she’s a doddering idiot. Daisy, who is jealous of the attention Mr. Mason’s paying Mrs. Patmore, decides to continue her new role as The Ultimate Worst, by acting out towards both of them and sabotaging their friendship. Carson is something of a disappointment as a husband, Mary and Henry Talbot finally kiss and Robert decides that it’s time to finally start cutting the staff, so Thomas is basically fired. Thomas cries about this, because somehow the writers think that we feel bad for him, despite them doing nothing to show us how the character has changed or grown in the past three years. And the Crawleys open Downton Abbey to the public for a day to raise money for the hospital, and are quite surprised to learn that a lot of people are super (grossly) curious about how the other half lives. 

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

Woe is Thomas or Whatever. Thomas is still moping because he now officially has to leave Downton, and hasn’t found another job, and everyone hates him, and blah blah. Mrs. Hughes tries to reach out to him, insisting that the reason he’s so unhappy is that he just hasn’t found the right person yet, and maybe a change of scenery, employ and general human interaction would help make that happen. Thomas whines that Downton is the first place he’s ever been where he actually put down roots, which is sort of hilarious when you think that Thomas’ idea of “putting down roots” is apparently the same thing as “where I blackmailed some people” and “ruined some other people’s lives” and “generally treated everyone I came into contact with like trash”. Hmmm.

Fine, fine that’s not entirely fair – Thomas has had moments of humanity and vulnerability and occasionally even done something that wasn’t solely motivated from self-interest over the past five years and change. But just because it’s the last season of Downton let’s stop pretending that poor woebegone Thomas is just somehow misunderstood or something, without taking into account the fact that his own behavior is the cause of more than half of his misery. It’s particularly frustrating when we have seen so little real, consistent growth for his character – he just tried to sabotage Gwen’s lunch out of jealousy like two weeks ago. This isn’t holding grudges about the character’s previous behavior; it’s what he’s still doing

Frank Underwood is a master of side eye. Photo: Netflix

Violet is Still an Awesome BFF. Despite still being angry over the whole hospital coup situation, Violet still has time to go kick someone’s butt for her friend. Remember that whole storyline last year, where Isobel decided that she couldn’t marry Lord Merton because his garbage son told her to her face that he hated her guts? Anyway, it turns out that Garbage Son Larry now has a fiancée, and her name is Amelia Cruikshank, and she’s suddenly super invested in mending the rift between this woman she only just met and her soon-to-be husband and in-laws.  In fact, she’s even invited Isobel to her wedding to the human garbage pile, which is, let’s be real, extremely weird. Violet is (rightfully) quite suspicious of all this and goes to visit Amelia in an attempt to suss out the truth. 

When Violet quizzes her on her motivations for inviting Isobel to her big day, Amelia admits that she thinks her fiancée wasn’t exactly being forward thinking in his refusal to approve of his father’s relationship. If he marries Isobel, then Lord Merton automatically gets a caretaker for his twilight years in addition to a wife (so Amelia doesn’t have to deal with it as his daughter-in-law), and Isobel is the kind of woman that would never want to live in a big house like Cavanham Park after he dies (so Amelia can keep it).  Violet has sussed all this out with a quickness that is both terrifying and incredible, and clearly thinks very little of her for it. The ladies part on decidedly cool terms. 

The Family’s Going to a Car Race. In an attempt to make sure that Mary comes down to watch his stupid car race, Henry Talbot invites the rest of the Crawleys to come along too. Robert is super excited about this, especially since he’s been convalescing for weeks and hasn’t gotten to do anything fun. Edith is interested, because Henry has also invited Bertie Pelham, who I guess maybe he knows or at least vaguely remembers from that time he went shooting with him in the Scotland Christmas special last year.

Robert and Cora are curious to see what the big deal is about Henry, since Mary’s clearly interested even though he’s basically beneath her both socially and financially, particularly when she had a shot at Tony Gillingham’s title and buckets of money and still said no. For her part, Mary’s busy mooning about whether her relationship with Henry is serious or not and whether their lives can ever fit together, since they’re just so different and whatnot. 

Andy’s Secret Comes Out. Andy stops by Mr. Mason’s to kick off his new internship (apprenticeship? I don’t even know what to call this) in the world of pig farming. Unfortunately for him, Mr. Mason really wants him to start out by helping with the bookkeeping, since that’s what he’s most behind on. Andy visibly deflates, and tries to put it off, because he doesn’t want to tell him the truth about his illiteracy.

Later, while the Crawley family is off in London at the racetrack, the remainder of Team Servants pulls together to support Daisy and Molesley in their exam-taking endeavors. Daisy has a much harder go of it, having to spend an entire day writing papers and essays on various topics, while it seems like Molesley just has to take the one special test that the headmaster has put together specifically for him.

In a show of solidarity, Mrs. Patmore makes them both lunch, and everyone (save Carson and Mrs. Hughes, obviously) heads down to the village to have a picnic with the two pseudo-students and the headmaster during their break. Even Thomas, who spent a big portion of this episode earlier pouting about how no one likes him and his life is terrible joins them for a bit. It’s strangely idyllic, but it’s possible that’s just the general effect the English countryside has on everything. 

Or, at least it is until Andy asks Daisy if her tests so far have been hard and she hands him a copy of her exam so he can see for himself. Mrs. Patmore says they’re all curious so Andy should just read the question out loud to all of them. Thomas tries to cover for him, but it’s too late – Andy tries his best to read the exam paper, but clearly has no idea what he’s doing and struggles to pronounce even basic words.

Everyone looks horrified and embarrassed, and Andy admits that he’s been hiding this fact from them all since he came to Downton, and that Thomas had been trying to teach him in secret so no one would find out. He looks super dejected and says he must surely be too stupid to ever learn. It all works out in the end though when the school headmaster offers to tutor Andy, and promises that he’ll have him reading in no time. Unfortunately, he says he doesn’t think Thomas’ help will be needed anymore, and he would probably just confuse Andy anyway, now he’s got a real teacher. Thomas looks dejected and sad. 

Everyone Meets Up at Brooklands Race Track. So it turns out that a lot of people have at least a passing curiosity about car racing, because half the Downton cast is at this Brooklands thing. Despite the fact that we’ve barely heard of this place at all, Brooklands was apparently the world’s first purpose-built motor racing  circuit (or so says Wikipedia), and therefore is probably worth at least a little of all the excitement that everyone seems to have about it.

Anyway, Henry’s invited Mary’s whole family to come along (Robert, Cora, Edith, Tom, and Rosamund, plus Bertie Pelham), as part of some grand campaign to convince her that he wants to be a part of the Crawley clan. Mary mocks him a bit for it, but in a way that suggests she’s also totally smitten by everything he’s saying. Edith’s also brought along her new lady editor from the magazine, who is named Laura Edmonds and seems very awesome. Anna and Bates are also there, in some sort of servant-based capacity, and everyone seems pretty psyched about everything for a variety of reasons.

Tom, in particular, is in his element, helping Henry tinker under the hood of his car, and dropping hints that he’d super love to come work on his racing team at some point, you know JUST SAYING. Edith introduces her editor to everyone, and I immediately get a strange feeling that she is going to be Tom’s new love interest, based on nothing but the two of them exchanging a couple of sentences with one another about “breaking barriers”. But she’s progressive and pretty, and it feels like the sort of neat, wrapped up story decision this season’s been pushing all its plots toward, so don’t be surprised if I turn out to be totally right, is all I’m saying.

Car Racing Is Super Dramatic. And Dangerous. Henry and Mary have a quick heart to heart before the race starts, where Mary admits she’s super nervous and may throw up, and Henry tells her to calm down and give him some credit for self-preservation. They flirt some more, and then kiss, just as Henry has to head off to the starting line.

The race itself gets under way and everything is super dramatic. Even the start of everything is hilariously over-the-top, as a line of grown men have to put on extremely ridiculous outfits and literally race each other on foot to get into their cars, jump in and take off. Henry’s racing, obviously, along with his friend and practice partner Charlie Rogers, and there’s a huge crowd in attendance to watch and cheer. There are lots of big, sweeping action shots of the cars going around the track, and the people in the stands cheering and waving their hats. Mary is still nervous and confused about what the point of the whole thing is, but seems to be holding her own as the event goes on.

 Of course, that’s right when things go to hell. Charlie and Henry are racing neck and neck around a far turn and everyone’s cheering and happy. Of course that’s when we hear the sound of a terrible car crash and the air is filled with smoke.  Everyone rushes to the far side of the track, where one of the cars is on fire. It’s Charlie’s car, and Henry is in a panic, trying to crawl into a wall of flames to drag his friend out, all the while screaming his name. Tom has to drag him back bodily, and it’s very clear that Charlie is dead. Mary races up at that point, a look of horror on her face. 

A bit later, Mary finds Henry alone, who is in total shock about the loss of his best friend. Henry is full of remorse and guilt because he’s the one who constantly pushed Charlie into racecar driving in the first place, and Mary is in tears, though whether she’s crying for Henry or Charlie or some ghost of Matthew or even all three is unclear.  He looks like he’s about to propose or, at the very least, launch into a death-fueled paen to all the ways he loves her, but Mary stops him short and says they can talk about them later. 

Molesley’s Dream Comes True. While Daisy’s busy taking her exams, Molesley takes his special general knowledge test, or whatever the local school headmaster has come up with to figure out how much he knows and whether he might have a future in education. Molesley, of course, completely kills it. The headmaster comes to Downton to tell him that he passed everything with flying colors, that there are men who went to Oxford who know less than he does, and there’s a teaching position for him at the village school if he wants one. Molesley is shocked and happy, and even cries a little bit, though he tries to hide it. It’s basically perfect.

(I love Molesley SO MUCH, you guys.) 

Daisy seems stunned that Molesley’s fought his way out of a life in service, but Molesley points out that with more people competing for fewer jobs, they’re all going to have to figure out new paths for themselves soon. He’s just the first out the door. Molesley looks happily shocked, as though he’s never believed himself for a moment to be capable of anything, ever.  I’m immediately reminded of that scene way back at the beginning of Season 4, when he explains to his father that the whole trajectory of his life changed because Matthew died, and it’s so wonderful to see that happen to him again, but of his own doing. Molesley deserves every single good thing possible and I’m so psyched he’s getting his happy ending. (Well, part of it anyways. We all know he’s still got to get it together about Baxter.)

Time for Carson’s Own Personal After School Special. Mrs. Hughes, fed up with her husband’s constant complaining, mansplaining, and just general insistence that he knows how everything should be done all the time in every way, conspires with Mrs. Patmore to teach him a lesson about how hard it is to actually perform all these tasks he’s constantly criticizing.

The next night that they’re meant to cook at home, Mrs. Hughes fakes an injury to her hand that she says will prevent her from doing anything like lifting or cutting, and therefore, he’s going to have to be put in charge of preparing the basket of food that Mrs. Patmore’s sent down with them. (The same sort of activity he’s been so enthusiastically criticizing Mrs. Hughes about for weeks. Ha!) Mr. Carson looks terrified, and rightly so – he says I’M going to cook?? like someone has asked him to perform nuclear fission in his own home. His apprehension, as it turns out, is totally justified, because Carson has ZERO talent in the kitchen. 

Cooking dinner is SUCH a trial, in fact, that Carson actually falls asleep in the middle of eating it. Which is both hilarious and so completely deserved that no one is even going to feel bad for a moment for laughing at him. After Mrs. Hughes nudges him awake, she breaks it to him that due to her “injury”, she won’t be able to handle scrubbing the pots or doing the dishes or any of that business, either, so her husband will have to pitch in on that front as well.

Surprisingly, it turns out that Carson has developed an all-new appreciation for the struggles of cooking and keeping house the next day. Go, Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore! Sisters are doing it for themselves! 

Henry Drunk Dials Mary; It Does Not Go Well. Rosamund insists on making the entire family plus Bertie Pelham sit through an incredibly awkward family dinner. They all snap at each other a bunch, and finally decide to retire early. Mary’s still at the kitchen table, looking rather bleak and emotional, when she learns that Henry’s called to talk to her. She tries to get Tom to tell Henry he can ring back tomorrow, but since Tom knows what is best for her at all times now, he says she should really talk to him now. Ugh. Tom. Stop it.

Obviously, she should not have taken this call – if only because Mary, in a display of incredible emotional sensitivity, decides that now is obviously the best time to tell Henry that she thinks they are not compatible, so they should probably break up. She says the day has taught her that whether or not Henry gives up driving, they’re just not – and can’t be – good together. He tries to protest, but Mary just hangs up on him . Womp womp.  Extremely shallow observation time: Drunk and disheveled is a straight up GREAT LOOK on Matthew Goode. 

After Mary hangs up, Tom pops up out of nowhwere to tell her that she’s making a terrible mistake by calling off things with Henry, and also to yet again mansplain her own feelings to her about how she’s scared of being hurt again and trapped in a black mist and wallowing in her feelings about the way that Matthew died. See, the thing is, most of us probably agree with Tom in theory – Mary and Henry are charming together, and ooze chemistry, and while he isn’t Matthew, most of us can probably live with this. And it’s super, super obvious that Mary is a hot mess right now, and probably barely has any idea what she’s saying, let alone really thought through the complicated emotional reaction she’ s having to Charlie’s death. But Tom is SO obnoxiously obnoxious about his opinion as far as their relationship goes, it’s almost enough to make you hope that Mary just tells him to mind his own stupid business. SHUT UP, Tom!

Tom insists that Henry’s right for her and Mary shouldn’t give up on him. Mary just cries, and then rushes upstairs to bed. 

Edith Gets a Proposal, Of Course It’s Complicated. Edith and Bertie are cuddling on the sofa after dinner – it’s kind of bizarre that they’re openly engaging in this much PDA in a house that also contains half her family, but weirdly no one has walked in on them yet. Edith says that even though this has been a terrible day, she feels content and happy in Bertie’s arms.  Bertie agrees that Edith makes him happy too, and he thinks she should know that he wants to marry her. This statement turns in to an actual proposal of sorts, in an adorably awkward and haphazard kind of way.

Edith is super excited and happy and touched and everything, but has to ask – would Bertie be cool with “family ward” Marigold coming to live with them after their married? She asks this question so awkwardly she might as well be waving a sign that says THIS IS MY KID, DUH in huge letters, but I guess love makes people blind, because Bertie just looks confused and says sure, if it means that much to her. Edith, for some reason, doesn’t immediately jump on this and say yes, but rather tells Bertie that she’s really into this idea, but has to think about it. She promises not to take long.

ALERT ALERT ROBERT GOT A NEW DOG. There’s a secondary story this week involving the Dowager Countess suddenly taking off on a trip to the Mediterranean because she’s still so angry about being replaced on the local hospital board by her own daughter-in-law. It’s not super important. But what IS important is that she sent Robert a present by way of goodbye, and IT IS A PUPPY. A TINY ADORABLE MINI ISIS BUSY EATING ITS OWN BASKET IN THE KITCHEN DOWNSTAIRS.

Robert is over the moon, obviously and immediately starts cuddling the puppy. He declares that she is to be named Tiaa, because the Crawleys apparently always name their dogs Ancient Egyptian names, and she’s an queen who was married to Amenhotep II. Seriously, who knew Robert was so on top of Egyptian history?

This is obviously the most important thing that happened in this entire episode. PUPPY!

(But if you have thoughts on any of the other things that went down this week - hit the comments and let's talk.)