In which a main character secretly become the series' greatest villain
Credit: Nick Briggs/PBS
Downton Abbey PS

I don’t know, guys. That kidnapping seemed kind of justified.

Let’s back up for a bit, because if I’m going to try to rationalize what Mrs. Drewe does at the end of this episode, there needs to be a bit of stage setting.

We begin as this final season of Downton Abbey has been wont to do, with a throwaway update on Branson’s car dealership and Rose’s role in Cinderella life in New York. And reading a bit between the lines, Mary suspects that her dear cousin may be pregnant. Why does she think this to be the case? Because Rose says that she might come back to England in August depending on how filming Pride & Prejudice & Zombies goes. Hmmm. That seems like a stretch, and Edith agrees. “As usual, you add two and two and get 53.” Point: Edith! But don’t get comfortable, girl. I’m coming after you in a bit.

Now that the terms of how down Carson and Hughes will get once they’re married have been decided, the happy couple set a date for the wedding. There’s just the matter of the venue to sort out, so Robert jumps into the conversation, thinking he’s being super generous and says, “The servants hall is going to look awesome for your wedding.” Thanks, sir, but no thanks, sir. Carson is happy to receive any kind of generosity from His Lordship, but everyone else — including Mary, to her credit — thinks the idea is horrifying. “I just don’t want to be a servant on my wedding day,” Mrs. Hughes says. “Is that so wrong?” No, Elsie. It’s not so wrong at all.

Even though Mrs. Hughes has resigned herself to the patriarchy of the time, she is dead-set on making her wedding day about her, and there’s simply no way to achieve that if the reception is held at Downton. It doesn’t matter whether that’s downstairs or up, as Mary suggests later. Mrs. Hughes, who has spent most of her time on earth waiting on the whims of people who have more than her, simply wants some autonomy on her wedding day, something her future husband is struggling with. It’s no wonder that she loses her temper. “Heaven forfend that we lowly folks should do anything to contradict the blessed lady Mary,” Mrs. Hughes says, letting the facade slip for just a moment, maybe for the first time in the show’s history.

If you’re worried about Carson’s future as a husband, there’s a good reason for that. Even after all of her pleading, Mrs. Hughes is stonewalled — temporally at least — during the fat stock show, when Carson tells her straight-up (or whatever the Downton version of straight-up is) that any location but the abbey is out of the question. Carson?! What’s happening to you?

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And Carson’s cold shoulder wasn’t reserved for only his future wife. With the possibility of downsizing rearing its ugly head at Downton, the butler has been not-so-subtly telling Barrow to GTFO. Things are bad enough already for the sometimes-villain. So far this season, there’s been a recurring bit where the servants fear that Barrow will turn Andy gay, because that’s definitely how that works. Now Barrow has to go to some second-rate house and interview for a position that would require him to be the Swiss Army knife of servants.

NEXT: Let’s talk about Barrow

Barrow has always been one of the more interesting characters on the show. Though he’s certainly had his sympathetic moments, Barrow — along with Mary to an extent — has been allowed to be kind of a jerk throughout the show. Now as Downton is coming to a close, he appears to be softening a bit, but I appreciate how long the shows writer’s have stuck to their convictions.

The writers are just like Cora in that way. This ordeal with the hospital is still going strong, and Robert is willing to lie to his wife in order to keep her out of it. The matter hasn’t evolved much in the intervening week. Clarkson had the hospital painted so that he could be like, “Look! Who needs a dumb, modern hospital when we’ve got this great, newly painted facility that has an old x-ray machine that I’m not sure how to use?” It’s not very convincing, with every feeling even stronger about their position after the visit. On top of all of this Lord Merton is trying his best to parlay the hospital debate into maybe at least a makeout sesh with Isobel, but it very much seems like that ship has sailed.

Remember that moment when Bates walks into the boot room, sees Anna crying, and is like, “Oh, Jesus, what is it now?” That’s all of us. We are Bates. Bates is us. Well, it turns out that Anna was once again crying about how she is — in her eyes — doomed to die childless. This is partly because she’s had two or three miscarriages, but this also has to do with how Mr. Bates hates adopted kids, which the show is somehow totally okay with because he’s “tribal.” Sure, Mr. Bates. Whatever you say.

Hearing more about Anna’s troubles, Mary proposes a solution. Back when she was trying to have George, there’s were also complications, which were solved by a Dr. Ryder in London. After all that Anna has done for Mary — yes, references to Mr. Pamuk and the sex tryout in one scene! — paying for a visit to the doctor is the least Her Ladyship can do, and the appointment is a success. A small operation 12 weeks into her next pregnancy should take care of the issue. Anna has a few questions. “Is it painful?” she asks. “It’s quite quick,” the doctor replies. So, yeah?

The issue of Daisy’s fireability also carried over into this week, as she asks Baxter to put the question to Cora about whether or not something can be done about Mr. Mason’s possible homelessness. It’s a quite a noble cause for Daisy, but she’s going about it in a most Daisy-like fashion. After Baxter reports back that Cora doesn’t think that there’s much she can do, the assistant cook decides that she must ask the Countess herself. Again, Cora expresses that there isn’t much she can do to retain Mr. Mason’s tenancy, but there is another option.

Yes, that’s quite the ominous tease. What is the other possibility for Mr. Mason? Is there perhaps another farm that the viewers already know of where the aging man can take up residency? It’s now time to talk about Edith as a villain of Downton Abbey.

I will preface all of this by saying that the middle Crawley sister has gone through more misery than anyone should ever have to experience in one lifetime and that if societal norms and mores were any different, she could have kept Marigold outright, and no one’s life would have been ruined.

That being said, let’s dive right into this bit of human tragedy.

NEXT: The kidnapping plot

With the fat stock show coming up, Mary decides to take George and Marigold down to Yew Tree Farms to see the pigs… oh, and the woman who raised the little girl from an infant only to have her ripped away by the upper-class woman who originally gave her up. Naturally, everyone is very concerned with about how Mrs. Drewe will react to seeing Marigold again, but even after the visit goes more or less without an incident, there’s a lingering worry about the kind of trouble she could stir up. (Because the problem is how Mrs. Drewe reacts and not what Edith did to upset her.)

So why not just make Mrs. Drewe go away? Cora’s idea for finding a new home for Mr. Mason involves essentially evicting the Drewes, a family that has lived on the land for generations. Considering the lack of any real connection between the Countess and her former footman’s aging father, it’s easy to get the idea that Cora’s supposedly generous offer to Mr. Mason has more to do with ridding Edith and herself of the annoying woman who had her baby taken away. When Robert goes to speak with Mr. Drewe, he decides that the current tenants can stay as long as the farmer’s wife can act happy, which is beyond sinister if you think about it.

Of course, that plan goes to crap at the fat stock show. It’s an otherwise beautiful day. There’s bowling, Carson repressing Mrs. Hughes, and Mary winning the prize for best pig. (Ugh, of course Her Ladyship wins.) The festivities take a turn, however, after Robert loses sight of Marigold long enough for Mrs. Drewe to snatch her up and drive away in the family truck, which means that grandpa must have been pretty damn neglectful. Mr. Drewe, realizing that the vehicle and his wife are also missing, tracks down the missing girl back at his farm, hands Marigold over to the Crawleys, and tells Lord Grantham that he will find a new tenancy soon. As the family heads back to the Abbey, Cora and Edith agree that the Drewes’ leaving is “for the best.”

Something about this doesn’t feel quite right, no? The problem with this entire subplot has always been that it doesn’t align with Downton’s typically strong moral compass. Downton Abbey is, above all, a moral show about good people, meaning that while the characters may do some bad things and tragedies may befall them, the balance of the series is usually regained when justice is served or someone sees the error in their ways.

That being the case, the show’s language hasn’t done enough to point out how wrong Edith is in this scenario. She gave up responsibility for Marigold, changed her mind, and took her back without the consent of the woman who raised the child. Now that the matter seems to be settled for good, the best the series can muster is Mr. Drewe saying that the plan he and Edith came up with didn’t factor in his wife’s emotions. The blame can’t be equally shared like that when it’s your landlord’s daughter telling you what to do.

And “for the best” in this case, really means “what is most convenient for me.” The show has established well enough that the Marigold situation is unfortunate from all perspectives, but it has bungled how to place the blame. This is a tragedy that was concocted and perpetrated almost entirely by Edith, and when Mrs. Drewe tries to follow her heart and care for a child that’s being ignored, the show and its musical cues treat her as a threat. In siding so strongly with Edith, Downton Abbey has belittled the emotions of the working class, which the series is typically critical of the Crawleys for doing.

I almost want to sit the show down and say, “Come on, Downton. This isn’t you. You know better than this.” On the other hand, the finality of Robert’s conversation with Mr. Drewe leads me to believe that we won’t be revisiting this story line for the rest of the series, which I can absolutely assure you is for the best.

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Downton Abbey PS
Downton Abbey

The war is over, but intrigue, crisis, romance, and change still grip the beloved estate.

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