Henry Talbot returns, and Daisy learns that emotional blackmail isn't the only way to succeed

By Kevin P. Sullivan
January 25, 2016 at 01:32 AM EST
Nick Briggs/PBS
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Damn it, Robert. Losing Isis was hard enough. You can’t die, too.

You’ll have to excuse my outburst. My doctor says that I have a sensitivity to foreshadowing, especially foreshadowing of the ominous variety, and Robert’s recurring tummy pains have my getting itchy all over. Lord Grantham stopped twice during the most-recent episode of Downton Abbey to complain about his ulcer. The man can’t even drink port anymore. What the hell does a titled man do if he can’t drink port?

Whether or not Downton is signaling the demise of the guy who stands in front of every DVD cover, we certainly aren’t done with this story line, so let’s put a pin in it for now… On second thought, I don’t want to put a pin in anything. That makes me think of something bursting. How about we just not talk about it anymore?

There was plenty going on in the abbey besides possibly perforated ulcers. For instance, the phrase “stealing someone’s thunder” was apparently in use back in 1925 because that’s what Tom is afraid he did by appearing at the wedding of Carson and Mrs. Hughes unannounced. Oh, Tom, don’t worry. No one cares. Everyone is just happy you’re back. Look how smiley Robert is — in between his spells of searing pain. Downton feels more like Downton with Tom around, but I have to echo Mary’s sentiments in regard to his return. “No more Ms. Buntings, if you have any pity.” Amen to that, Mary. Amen.

With Tom back, there is the matter of the agent position to sort out. Mary had taken over by default when she lost her co-manager, and now Branson has no intention of unseating his sister-in-law when she’s already proven to the misogynist fat stock festival organizer that a woman can run an estate. So what does life look like for Tom Branson now that he’s back at Downton, seemingly for good? That’s a good question. Perhaps a handsome car enthusiast will show up later and offer some suggestions.

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One of the estate issues that does need sorting sooner rather than later is the fate of Yew Tree Farm. Should it go to poor Mr. Mason, or should the family cultivate the land themselves? The money-minded members of the family see the obvious benefit of holding onto the land that was recently vacated by the Drewes after Edith stole back her baby, but Daisy won’t let her father-in-law’s case go quietly. “You couldn’t be harder on those potatoes if you wanted them to confess to spying,” Mrs. Patmore tells Daisy as she fumes about what was promised, or rather what was implied.

To Daisy, an implication is a promise, and the idea that the Crawleys would hang onto their own land is atrocious. In fact, she gets so worked up over the matter that she entirely forgets that she loudly and repeatedly stated that she never really loved William. “His son, my husband, left this house to die for his country,” she says to Branson. “Shouldn’t we help him now?” Oh, so now you love him! I mean, she’s right. The family should help out Mr. Mason if they can, and they definitely can. I just wish she wasn’t so annoying about it.

In the end, the family comes to their own conclusion and does the right thing, recently reminded of how kind Sybil had been. The decision comes just as Daisy works up the courage to go yell at her employer. Thankfully, Robert “My Guts Are About To Bust” Crawley breaks the news before the confrontation. See, Daisy, you don’t have to guilt people into giving you what you feel entitled to.

Also, Andy and Daisy totally shared a look. Not just a look. A look. I don’t even want to imagine what this means going forward.

Oh, hey! It’s Sgt. Willis. What terrible news will you unleash upon this household today? The county’s only policeman — seriously, is there no one else? — has come to see Ms. Baxter. “Makes for a nice change,” Anna says, shooting off a real solid zinger at the breakfast table. Peter Coyle, the man responsible for Baxter’s arrest, is back in trouble with the law. Once again, it appears that he has tricked another vulnerable woman into a theft, but Willis seems to have very little evidence. If Baxter were to act as a character witness for the prosecution, there’s a chance that they could put this bastard away for some time. Despite Molesley’s support, Baxter is reluctant. Her past has never been something she’s talked about comfortably. To do so publicly would be an embarrassing nightmare.

The dilemma sets up an interesting exchange between Barrow and Baxter. The former, now serving as butler while Carson is on his honeymoon, hasn’t been having the best week. The temporary title change hasn’t brought about any amount of new respect from the rest of the servants, so Barrow begins to lash out.

NEXT: Guess who’s back? 

The primary target of his ire is Ygritte, I mean, Gwen, the former maid, who now returns to Downton as a married and respected woman. She’s come to meet with Rosamund and Edith about a college for less fortunate women, an institution for which her husband serves as treasurer. It wasn’t until she and her husband turned into the drive that Gwen realized they were visiting the abbey, so she didn’t have time to plan her strategy. Unsure of what to do, she stays mum when most of the family doesn’t recognize her…for a hot second. Barrow outs her at lunch, but everyone is happy to see her again.

(Hold up. Did Mary say that all the Crawley women learned was “French, prejudice, and dance steps”? That’s funny in a kind of super sad way.)

This is where Barrow is when he meets Baxter for some good, old outside contemplation. Both of them are haunted by a past and are getting in their own way when an opportunity to fix it arrives. Barrow can’t help but channel his insecurities and frustrations toward cruelty, and Baxter doesn’t want to face the facts of her history, even if it means doing some good for society. The difference between Barrow and Baxter is that one of them is able to take a step back. A big factor in this change in Baxter comes when Willis returns and informs her that some of the other women targeted by Coyle have not been as lucky as her. Two have become prostitutes, and another is dead. Finally, Baxter changes her mind.

Once again, the issue of the hospital’s impending takeover reared its ugly head, but there were finally some positive fruits of the issue. Violet, looking for more backup in her crusade to keep control of the hospital within her lacy grasp, has invited Lady Shackleton over for dinner, and since Shackleton’s nephew is visiting with her, he’s tagging along, too. Who is this mystery relation, you might be asking?

Oh, just Henry muthaf—in’ Talbot.

Yes, the shotgun-shooting, into-car-jumping gentleman from the season 5 finale is Lady Shackleton’s nephew, and his romantic prospects are “adequate, but not overwhelming,” which is just how I like them. At the end of the evening, Henry makes his move. “Would you think it terribly common if I gave you my card?” he asks Mary, telling her that he’s up for a drink or lunch or whatever. I mean, listen to how he says “properly.” This guy is ready to get down.

The otherwise splendid night does take a turn, though, when Anna complains of a sharp pain. She fears that she’s going to lose another baby. Acting quickly, Mary plans a late-night trip to London to see Dr. Ryder, maybe, possibly thinking in the back of her mind that she could totally chill with Henry while she’s there.

The next morning, everything appears to be alright. Dr. Ryder has performed the previously discussed procedure, and he’s not shy about how much that kind of service costs. “Don’t worry,” he says like a total baller. “It will be reflected in my bill.” How about a Dr. Ryder spin-off? Rough Ryder? Bedside Manor? I’d watch it. With Anna taken care of, Mary gets a little time to enjoy herself. (Thank god.) So she gives Henry Talbot a call, and they get together to exchange some flirtatious repartee.

“I hope this means you’re boiling up to make a pass before we’re done,” she says.

“Probably, but will you accept?” he asks.

“No, but I will enjoy the process enormously.”

Oh, it’s on!

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