‘Downton Abbey’ Recap: Season 6, Episode 8

Oh, Mary. (Photo: Courtesy of Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE)
Theme of this episode: Oh, Mary. (Photo: Courtesy of Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE)

Previously on Downton Abbey: Mary’s boyfriend Henry Talbot invites the whole Crawley clan and their various hangers on down to the Brooklands race track to watch him and his friend Charlie Rogers drive. They all go and make a day of it, but, sadly, there’s a terrible accident during the race, a car catches fire and Charlie is killed. Henry is devastated, and somehow this is enough of an emotional catalyst to convince Mary that the two of them have to break up, because their lives are too different or some dumb reason. Tom, who has apparently been spending most of his free time writing Henry/Mary fanfiction, is pretty upset about this, and repeatedly attempts to mansplain to Mary that she’s making a terrible choice with her dumb female emotions that are blinding her to Henry’s perfection. (Shut up, Tom. We all know he’s right about Henry, but he could stand to not be such a jerk about it.) In happier news, Molesley passes his special exam, and is offered a job as a teacher at the village school (YAY!), Bertie Pelham proposes to Edith (even though she hasn’t technically said yes yet) and Mrs. Hughes teaches Carson a lesson about his constant complaining regarding her cooking. Oh, and ROBERT GOT A NEW PUPPY OMG.

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

Edith Finally Catches a Break. Not only does a nice boy finally want to marry Edith, but that nice boy just got a major lifestyle upgrade. It turns out that Bertie’s cousin whose name I don’t even remember has died in Tangiers, and because he was a “confirmed bachelor”  who hadn’t yet bothered to make a marriage for convenience’s sake, Bertie’s now the heir to Brancaster Castle and set to become the next Marquess of Hexham. This means that Edith is about to marry her way into a serious title, and will outrank her entire family, even Robert and Violet! So, you know, good for her.

The Crawley clan is largely thrilled for her – some because Edith deserves a nice guy who loves her (Cora, Rosamund, Tom) and some because she’s about to snag such a great catch (Robert).  Mary, of course, is mad snippy about this for several reasons: She never wants anything good to happen to her sister, she’s just broken up with her own boyfriend, and she certainly doesn’t want to watch Edith marry someone with a title when her most recent prospect was a race car driver. Womp Womp.

There is a fairly significant divide among the family, however, about what to do about Marigold. Bertie’s already told Edith that he’s fine with her “ward” coming to live with them, but he doesn’t know that the child is really her daughter. Edith’s torn about whether or not to tell him the truth – she doesn’t want their marriage on a lie, but she’s also afraid he won’t want to marry her at all if he finds out she has an illegitimate daughter and she’ll lose the first chance at happiness she’s had in years. Cora and Rosamund are very firm that Edith needs to tell her fiancé the truth, but Robert feels that they should just keep quiet so that his second daughter can get something nice for a change.

Tom is Becoming Extremely Annoying. Meanwhile, Tom is still on his personal crusade to force Mary into realizing that she and Henry Talbot are MFEO. Seriously, he’s so aggressive about this, it’s almost enough to make one hope the two lovebirds don’t get back together, just to spite Tom about it. Seriously, shut up.

He tells her that Henry’s really missing her – because of course the two of them still talking to each other – and begs her to let him have her ex come and visit. Mary says she likes Henry a lot, and obviously he’s attractive, but she needs to be sensible about her choice in romantic partner. Tom brings up Matthew and how different he and Mary were and continues to badger her that she’s missing out on a chance at happiness by letting him go. He says Henry will make her happy and is the one for her, on and on and on. (How he knows this, who can say.) Tom says she has to give him another chance. Mary looks affronted, says no, and stomps off.

Oh, and in the midst of all this, Mary uses Tom’s endless rant to confirm that Marigold is Edith’s daughter. Yes, after a season and change of straight up ignorance and a couple of episodes of sleuthing, Mary’s finally figured out that Marigold isn’t just some random child Edith happened to take a fancy to on a local village farm. Tom huffs and says that it wasn’t his secret to tell her, but doesn't mention that the entire family has participated in a fairly massive scheme to keep it from her, either.

Mr. Molesley’s Teaching Career is Off to a Rough Start. Mr. Molesley’s also busy having his dreams come true this week, when his trial run as a teacher at the local school kicks off. He’s only teaching five classes a week in the afternoons, but he’s super excited about it, and has already prepared lesson plans and tests and time charts and things.

Unfortunately, despite that fact that Molesley is full of knowledge and lofty educational goals, no one’s actually taught him anything about the day to day struggle of actually being a teacher and having to corral a classroom full of bored and uninterested kids into listening to you. His first day does not go well, the school kids either ignore him or talk over him completely, and he doesn’t even get to give out a homework assignment. Poor Molesley. 

Edith Says Yes. Sort of. Edith has a heart to heart with Bertie when he arrives at Downton for a visit. She tells him that now that his personal circumstances have changed so drastically, he doesn’t have to hold himself to his previous proposal. Bertie says of course he still wants to marry her, because he needs her to help him keep his new life on track or something like that. 

Edith looks relieved and happy. Bertie jokes that even his mother can’t complain about the Marquess of Hexham marrying a daughter of the Earl of Grantham, which is his second mention of his mother and how ridiculous she’s going to be about his new title, because she believes “rank carries responsibilities”.  Edith just looks nervous, because it’s obvious that this is the sort of woman who would 100% definitely freak out about something as shocking as an illegitimate child, so she doesn’t say anything about Marigold. She continues to not say anything, all the way through the day and even after dinner when he asks her directly to give him an answer. She tells him she loves him, but that her life isn’t as simple as it used to be. She says she just needs to be sure she’s being realistic, which Bertie declares that he’s going to take as a yes. He kisses her, and Edith goes on not saying anything, which means this is definitely going to be a problem later. 

Uninvited Houseguests Are So Awkward. To the surprise of no one, Henry Talbot shows up to see Mary, despite the fact that he wasn’t invited, that Mary’s specifically told him that she doesn’t want to see him, and that her whole family knows they’ve broken things off. Turns out that Tom may have mentioned that his drive back from Durham would put Henry real close to Downton, and suggested he stop in. He’s a super great friend.

Cora even asks him to stay the night, an invitation which Henry accepts, even though it’s super obvious Mary doesn’t want him to. Apparently, he’s decided to make Mary’s decision to get away from him as hard and horrible as possible. Again, I absolutely want these two to work things out, I think they’re great together, but this constant refusal by literally everyone on the show to abide by Mary’s wishes in the matter of her own heart is maddening. This storyline is not only unnecessary – with three episodes left was there any reason to even break the two of them up like this in the first place?  - but totally infuriating, if only because it completely ignores that Mary is her own person that’s allowed to make her own decisions! How is everyone teaming up to force her to get together with some man supposed to be a story viewers root for? Ugggggh. 

Henry himself makes it worse by confronting Mary and basically calling her a gold digger. He says that since his birth is respectable enough, it must be his lack of station and money that’s the problem, and he really thought she was better than that. Mary’s furious, as she has sort of every right to be, and storms off to lock herself in her room.

Worst Breakfast Ever? Worst Breakfast Ever. The next morning, it looks like Henry’s finally taken the hint and left Downton without saying goodbye to anyone. Mary’s shocked at his departure, and weirdly pouty about it, which seems to indicate that she thought he’d stay and fight for her longer, but who even knows with this story.

Anyway, Henry’s exit puts Mary in a terrible snit, and the situation is exacerbated when Bertie (stupidly) decides that this is the perfect moment to drop the news that he and Edith are going to get married. Mary, who is clearly feeling exceptionally jealous, particularly in light of Edith’s barbs about how Henry’s abandoned her, decides to reveal the truth about Marigold’s parentage to Bertie. She plays it off like of course he must have known already, but it’s a terrible, terrible moment that makes Mary look like Satan himself and Edith look like a spineless liar. 

As a result, Edith has to finally come clean to Bertie, in front of both Mary and Tom, and it’s just awful. (It’s also tremendously dramatic, so well done, show, on that.) Stoic to the end, Bertie just stands up, asks to be excused and leaves.

Edith Tries to Salvage Her Happy Ending. Edith trots off after Bertie to try and do some damage control about the whole surprise illegitimate child situation. He’s being remarkably understanding about Marigold herself – he says he’s not shocked, precisely, but more hurt that she didn’t tell him the truth about her daughter from the beginning. Edith tries to explain that she didn’t want to ruin things between them, but Bertie sadly points out that just means she didn’t trust him. He asks if Edith would have married him with a lie between them and she says that while she doesn’t think she could have done, they’ll never know now. 

Bertie says he doesn’t think he could spend his life with someone he didn’t trust or who he didn’t think trusted him. Edith just says she understands, but doesn’t seem to make much of an effort to convince him otherwise, just laments that she’s thrown her happiness away again. This is a terribly sad and awkward scene to watch, particularly as it seems that so much of their misery is also self-sustaining – Edith doesn’t try very hard to convince Bertie to stay, he doesn’t try very hard to encourage her to do so. Ugh. 

Mary Haters, This is Your Moment. In telling Bertie the truth about Edith’s daughter, Mary has committed what is likely her most terrible act of the entire series – and she has some whoppers in her past, including sexing a man to death. The situation is made even worse thanks to her haughty attitude and insistence that there’s no way she wasn’t to know Edith hadn’t told Bertie the truth in the first place. This is Mary at her absolute ugliest and least likeable, and there’s kind of no way to see her in a sympathetic light here. 

The thing about Mary that the show seems to have forgotten in recent seasons is that she was always, on some level, appealing, and even in the midst of her worst and most selfish decisions, you loved Mary for the person she could be – the person Matthew always saw – rather than the brat that was frequently onscreen. Other than her scenes with Anna this season, it’s probably been hard to remember why you ever even liked Mary that much to begin with, or hoped that she ended up happy. To be honest, this whole sequence would probably have been MUCH more emotionally affecting if the reason for Mary’s outburst wasn’t petty jealousy over Edith snagging a rich boyfriend in the midst of her own breakup, but the fact that she’s practically the last person in Yorkshire who didn’t know that Marigold was her sister’s daughter, because not one person in her entire family felt like she could be trusted with that information. Surely that would be a much more interesting motivation for Mary than the news that Edith’s going to become a Marchioness? Honestly…

Anyway, after Mary decides to try and play off her willful destruction of her sister’s future on ignorance, it would seem that her family has had enough. Tom confronts Mary about her behavior, calling her a coward and a bully who wrecks other people’s lives to cover up for the fact that she’s sad and unhappy.

After this tongue-lashing, Mary goes to find her sister, ostensibly to yet again attempt to apologize for not knowing Edith hadn’t revealed her life-altering secret to her fiancée. But Edith has finally had enough. She unloads on Mary with six seasons worth of pent-up rage, calling her sister a “nasty, jealous, scheming bitch” who has to ruin everyone else’s lives along with her own. She rushes off, but not before saying that Henry’s perfect for Mary, but she’s too stupid and stuck-up to see it – though why in this moment Edith even has an opinion about whether Mary should get back together with her ex, who knows. She spits that she’s glad Henry got away from her, before turning and stomping away in what is surely one of the more dramatic exits in Downton Abbey history.  

Thomas’ Struggle Takes a Dark Turn. Thomas is getting more and more despondent, thanks to a stream of job rejections. We know this, because through out the episode he’s caught in various hallways in various stages of sadness by various people, who all ask him if he’s alright, and ignore the fact that he’s very clearly not, as ominous music swells in the background.

The light bulb finally goes off for Baxter when she’s walking Molesley to work at the school one day (which, all together now: awwwww!) and he comments on Thomas’ strange behavior, including the fact that he had told him that he hoped Molesley made more of his life in his new career than he ever had with his own. Apparently Baxter realizes that this is an extremely out of character thing for Thomas to say and it sets off a lot of red flags for her. With a horrified look on her face, she abandons Molesley to rush back to the house, where she discovers that Thomas has locked himself in a bathroom and tried to kill himself by slitting his wrists in the bathtub. 

With the help of Andy and Mrs. Hughes, Baxter manages to save his life, and they send Anna to fetch Dr. Clarkson. Everyone laments that Thomas had reached a state where he was so unhappy – in some ways, this feels inevitable (and kudos to all of you who predicted this was where Thomas’ storyline was headed) and also exceptionally emotionally manipulative. After all, it’s hard to stay angry at a character who’s so low that they’re attempting to end their own lives, no matter how much of their misery was of their own making.  This would perhaps be more effective, as a plot twist, if we’d seen Thomas make even the slightest attempt to improve his own behavior (he just tried to sabotage Gwen’s luncheon party like two weeks ago) or become a better person in any way, but, I guess we can just overlook that because his depression is sad.

Dr. Clarkson arrives and gives Thomas some stitches and Mr. Carson puts it around to the rest of Team Downstairs that he’s got the flu. He does tell the Crawleys about what happened, and Mary takes the opportunity to make a snide remark to her father about whether firing Thomas seems like a worthwhile financial savings now. Because it seems as though this episode has decided to go all out toward making Mary as ugly as possible.  

Mr. Molesley for Teacher of the Year. Isn’t it amazing how far Molesley’s come as a character since way back in Season 1? Wow.

After his disastrous first day teaching, Baxter tells Molesley that maybe he should just try being honest with his students – tell them that he was in service and how he came to teach and try and get through to them that way. So, that’s what Molesley does. He tells them all about how much he loves education and reading, and how he’s changed. He gives them a pep talk about how important learning is, and how education’s for everyone, not just rich or clever people, and he tells them about how he’s still in service but taught himself, and never gave up on it. The kids are all rapt listening to him, and several pipe up about their own parents’ work as servants, and it suddenly seems as though he’s going to turn out to be quite a great teacher after all. Yay, Molesley!

Daisy fills the rest of Team Downstairs in on Molesley’s performance at dinner that night – unbeknownst to Molesley, she’d snuck in and listened by the door – and everyone applauds him. It’s so lovely to watch Molesley not only get his heart’s desire, but to see everyone else finally give him his due as more than a bumbling joke. He’s a smart, kind, good-hearted person and it’s rather wonderful to finally see him get rewarded for that. 

Mary Does Some Soul Searching. Thomas spends a couple of days in bed reading while he’s “recovering from the flu”.  Mary brings George to see him, which is maybe the cutest thing that’s happened on this show in quite some time, and their little oddball friendship remains deeply adorable. Mary and Thomas share a moment of self-realization where they commiserate over being their particular strange brand of cruel, lonely and incapable of getting out of the way of their own ways.

Mary’s learning life lessons from all fronts at the moment, as Tom has summoned the Dowager Countess back from her splashy jaunt around the Mediterranean to talk some sense into her granddaughter. While you might be forgiven for thinking that Violet might actually mean to discuss Mary’s relationship with her sister or her struggle to navigate life as a widow or a mother or something to that effect, it’s just another endless conversation about how Mary’s pointlessly rejecting Henry Talbot in disguise. Violet tells Mary that Tom’s told her that they’re in love with each other and dares her to deny it. Mary starts crying and recounts the story of the flaming racetrack car crash, insisting that that she can’t be a car crash widow again in her life. She also says she doesn’t want him to give up his passion for her, since he’ll only resent her in the end. 

Violet tells Mary that what she must do is make peace with herself – within herself – in order to be happy. She also tells her that she believes in love, and that the most brilliant lives must have some element of that in them. This is the first time the “Henry Talbot Conversation” has felt more about Mary than Henry, which is nice, and serves as yet another reminder that it’s Violet and Mary’s relationship that’s perhaps Downton’s most interesting. Mary is her grandmother’s daughter, so it makes sense that Violet has to be the one to finally push this Henry mess forward. The two of them are so alike, and it’s obvious that Violet understands Mary better than anyone else in her family.

Mary’s First Proposal Was Way Better, Just Saying. In the aftermath of the Dowager’s visit, Mary sends Henry a telegram and asks him to come to Downton on the next train. In the meantime, she decides to visit Matthew’s grave, because this is Downton Abbey’s final season, and we have to get in as much teary nostalgia as possible. She talks to Matthew about Henry, and how she loves him, and wants to feel that wherever he is, Matthew’s happy for her. She cries and tells Matthew’s gravestone that no matter how she feels about Henry, she’ll always love him. (Guys. Seriously. This is not fair.)

Henry arrives at Downton, where Mary proceeds to tell him that he was right, they are in love with each other and she’s decided to stop fighting it. Henry responds to this by basically telling her that his heart’s about to beat out of it’s chest, and it’s very adorable, but not quite enough to make up for the constant lectures from half the characters on the show about him for the past two episodes. Anyway, they kiss and everything’s happy. And then Henry mentions that he has a valid marriage license in his pocket, and he’d brought it with him last time just in case (??!?!), and he suggests they just find a bishop or something and get married right away. Mary says sure, and they kiss again, and that jazzy music swells and everyone’s happy again. 

So I guess is fine and everything. Even though Henry and Mary are very appealing together – and he’s far and away the best romantic option she’s had in the past three seasons – it’s hard to watch this proposal and not think of that absolutely perfect moment from the Season 2 Christmas special when Matthew got down on one knee in the snow. This is…well, this is a scene that happened. Yes, it does draw a neat parallel with Mary’s comments about not being 20 anymore and not wanting or needing any of that kind of thing anymore, but this is Downton Abbey, and let’s face it we all sort of expect at least a little bit of swooning. (Or at least I do. Maybe I’m a weirdo.)

Anyway, Henry and Mary’s wedding gets pulled together in the course of like 36 hours, and Tom’s their best man, and because it’s the penultimate episode of the whole show, Edith shows up from London for it. Mary apologizes, and Edith makes a speech about how they’re sisters, and they’re the only two people who will one day remember Sybil and their parents and Matthew and Violet and everyone. She says their shared memories will one day outweigh their mutual dislike of each other. This is, quite frankly, a pretty weird sisterly make-up speech, but probably is the best we can expect from the two of them, especially at this point in their lives.

At least Henry and Mary’s wedding turns out to be an actual service with guests and a ceremony, instead of a random throw-away quickie thing, so that’s something. Mary looks pretty, Henry’s clearly nuts about her, and the whole family is happy. So it's all worked out in the end. (And if we can't have Matthew, this really is probably the best we're going to get.) But what of poor Edith? The episode ends with her watching the children run around the church cemetery and play. We’ve only got on left. Here’s hoping they manage to give her some kind of happy ending in it.

Thoughts on this week? (A LOT happened. Whew.) Hit the comments.