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'Downton Abbey' premiere recap: Episode 1

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Nick Briggs/PBS

Downton Abbey

type:
TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
seasons:
6
performer:
Hugh Bonneville, Brendan Coyle, Jim Carter, Maggie Smith
broadcaster:
PBS
genre:
Drama

If the entirety of Downton Abbey’s six-season run — through upstairs-downstairs drama, accidental Mr. Pamuk deaths, and sex tryouts — had to be summed up in a single sentence, you could do a lot worse than “the times, they are a-changin’.” Whether it’s been the handing over of the estate to a relative stranger who happens to be the heir or staff downsizing or being less racist toward the Jews, the Crawleys have had most of their not-so-perfectly enclosed world upended time and time again, but as the final season of your and your mom’s favorite show kicks off in the States, it really seems like the times may be a-changin’ for good.

Nowhere else on TV will you see a vision of the apocalypse as delightful as Downton Abbey, and while these aren’t the literal end times for the upper class, the clock is tick-tick-ticking toward midnight for this way of life. “Sic transit gloria mundi,” Edith so casually rambles off as the family walks up the steps of Mallerton Hall, an estate that once belonged to friends of the Crawleys that’s now being sold off at auction. (Party tip: Never be the person dropping Latin phrases into the conversation, no matter how ominously relevant.) The phrase literally means “Thus passes the glory of the world,” and it dates all the way back to at least the early 15th century. But you’d be amazed how well it applies to your favorite TV show’s ending.

“Hey, Kevin, did you hear that Downton Abbey is ending?”

“Yeah, man. Sic transit gloria mundi.”

“…This is why we don’t invite you to parties anymore.”

Things aren’t all doom and gloom, however. This is a new season of Downton​, after all, and the show is simply as it’s been when it’s delightful. If the season premiere is any indicator on how these final hours will shape up, all signs point to lighter dramatic fare weaving through subplots about small-scale scandal, the possibly of unemployment, and awkward sex talk.

Yes, awkward sex talk, and we need to talk about this right now because there may never have been a more Downton-y story line in the history of Downton. When we last left Mrs. Hughes and her favorite “old booby” in the world, Mr. Carson, the two were happily and surprisingly engaged. Now, I have a question. In the down time between season 5 and 6, did your mind get to wondering what life would actually be like if these two fan-favorite characters tied the knot? We’ve seen them hold hands, but surely they couldn’t…you know. I’m talking about boning, shtupping, the old Horizontal Clarkson. It’s tough to even say out loud, and that’s exactly why Julian Fellowes and his television show’s classiest group of sadists dedicated an entire story line to it.

NEXT: Will Mrs. Hughes be performing “wifely duties”?

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There has yet to be a date set for the Hughes-Carson nuptial, and there’s something holding up the proceedings, a sexy something. Mrs. Hughes isn’t sure that when Mr. Carson asked her to marry him out of nowhere, whether or not he expected their relationship to evolve into a sexual one. But let me be clear. The dialogue doesn’t come within a country mile of “sexual” and certainly not “sensual.” “I think we should be clear about what we’re doing,” explains Mrs. Hughes. “Or not doing,” replies Mrs. Patmore.

And this is where Downton proves that it understands exactly the show that it is and why people love it. Mrs. Hughes just isn’t the type of girl to straight-up ask her future hubby whether they’ll be banging or not, but Mrs. Patmore is exactly that kind of wingman. “I’ve had some commissions in my time, but…” she says. So she’s game, but she’s not going to simply ask Carson if he intends to do Mrs. Hughes. Two attempts and one insistence that she look away while asking later, Mrs. Patmore has finally gotten the message across. The winning phrase-then-nod combo: “wifely duties.”

Ah, yes. That. Carson’s answer is direct and rather sweet, considering that it amounts to “Yes, I’d like to hit that.” “I love her, Mrs. Patmore,” he says. “I am happy and tickled and bursting with pride that she would agree to be my wife, and I want to live as closely as two people can for the time that remains for us on earth.” Word gets back to Mrs. Hughes, who finally confronts her future husband herself. At first Carson thinks that she’s calling the whole thing off, but he’s just being an old booby again. “Well then, Mr. Carson, if you want me, you can have me, to quote Oliver Cromwell, warts and all.”

Awww. Now they just need to figure out the whole “Mrs. Carson” thing.

At the beginning of the episode, there was a moment’s hope that Downton was introducing its first telekinetic character for the final season, maybe as an insane ratings gambit. The stage was set. A mysterious woman arrives at the house just as a fox hunt was departing, her eyes locked on Lady Mary. The stranger then appears later, distracting Mary and causing her to fall. Sadly, Miss Bevan isn’t a mutant, which would have been kind of rad. Instead, she is the former chambermaid at the hotel in which Mary held a sex tryout for Lord Gillingham. She’s also a blackmailer. If Mary doesn’t pay her 1,000 pounds, Miss Bevan will leak the story to the press.

Of all of the Crawley’s past indiscretions, I’m pleased that it’s the sex tryout that’s haunting Mary, even if it’s just for one episode. For a while there, it seemed like Miss Bevan would be a recurring annoyance throughout the season. She was crafty enough to make it up to Mary’s bedroom, surely she’d have the smarts to last beyond the first hour, but Robert gives her what for (a.k.a. 50 pounds and the threat of police action). What’s the lesson to be learned by this ordeal, you’d wonder: Don’t hold sex tryouts? Be more discreet about your sex tryouts? Nope, Mary’s refusal to give into blackmail over a sex tryout was exactly what Robert needed to convince him to let her run the estate. Not the fact that she’d been successfully running it, nope. The sex tryout/blackmail thing.

All of this talk about sex no doubt has you thinking about one thing…

That’s right. The bad boy of North England small-town medicine is back, but sadly, my fellow Clarkson-Isobel (Clarksobel) shippers, the good doctor has taken a turn to the dark side. Spurned by his beloved Mrs. Crawley, Clarkson has hit a rough patch. The Royal Yorkshire County Hospital is looking to take over the village’s hospital. The merger would mean access to better medical technology, but less control for the board. Lines are quickly drawn. Cora, Isobel, and Dickie “Don’t Make Too Much of It” Merton are for. Violet and that stone-cold fox are against, but it seems like there’s more at play with Clarkson allegiance than access to modern medical treatment. He’s hurting bad, and he’s even lashing out at the one he yearns for, suggesting that the only reason that Isobel is for the county takeover is because of “Limp” Dickie Merton.

NEXT: The saga of Anna and Bates continues

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What if I told you that Spratt’s first name was Septimus? Would you believe me? Would you think that the name sounds like the gladiator who was responsible for cleaning out the ancient Roman toilets? You’d be right on the second account, but what I’m trying to say is that while all of this drama with the hospital is going on, the Spratt and Denker Show is rolling back into the town. Hijinks abound.

On this week’s episode of SDS (The Spratt & Denker Show), Miss Denker hears from Violet that Downton is considering cutting back on staff, which funnels through the ladymaid’s gossip funnel as “all y’all muthaf—as are getting fired.” She bends the truth even further when relaying the news to Spratt, informing him that he’s almost definitely getting sacked. Easily taken in by his nemesis and obviously disturbed by the news, Septimus kindly asks the Dowager to give him a heads up when the time comes. Clearly there’s been a misunderstanding, so laughs are had, and Violet turns right around and suggests to Denker that she’s the one getting canned. “Sometimes it’s good to rule by fear,” the Dowager says.

But while we’re on the topic of terminations, would someone fire Daisy already? Of course, the long-suffering assistant cook has earned her share of sympathy, but I mean c’mon. She was Daisying all over the place. (Daisy – verb – to create unnecessary conflict, inevitably worsening conditions for everyone around you.) This time, she was trying to help her father-in-law, Mr. Mason, who is facing the possibility of losing his tenancy at the farm at Mallerton Hall. Instead of rationally thinking of a solution, she charged up to the new owner and accused him of being a monster. And just in case you were wondering whether this stunt could have an adverse affect on Mr. Mason’s lot, the new owner says, “Good day, Mrs. Mason. You have not helped your cause.” Typical Daisy. 

Oh, God. And now Anna is crying. What is it now? Does she have super cancer? Has a cloud formed directly overhead that’s only raining down on her? Has Mr. Bates been transfigured into a fox by the Dowager Countess and is now being hunted by a pack of dogs? Downton Abbey‘s favorite punching bag is off to a bad start for the final season. She’s miscarried for the third time, and she’s convinced that she won’t be able to bring a pregnancy to term. Oh! And there’s that outstanding murder charge. She’s currently out on bail, and Mr. Bates is free because of Molesley and Baxter pounding the pavement last season. That all could change in an instant, though, as we see when Sgt. Willis arrives with some news. Another of Mr. Green’s victims has confessed to murdering him. But is it a genuine confession? It is! 

The hour was at its most meta when dealing with Anna and Bates. Every conversation between them or about them was predicated on a sentiment along the lines of “Can you believe that we’re still dealing with this s—? If anyone was watching this for amusement they would be beyond tired of this by now.” Credit is due, however, for tying up what was left of the Mr. Green story line super quickly, as if to say, “Don’t worry. We’re done with this. Finally.”

Finally! Now pop some bottles and celebrate the return of Downton. And is that Mrs. Patmore and Sgt. Willis dancing? I think a new ship is pulling into port.

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