The ladies of Downton are hooking up, and Robert's ulcer is a total bust

By Kevin P. Sullivan
February 01, 2016 at 01:10 AM EST
Nick Briggs/PBS
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The fifth episode of Downton Abbey‘s final season has me questioning the very fabric of this show, which up until this point has been a relatively light period drama about life in the face of trying times and an evolving world. The conclusion of this episode, however, has me wondering. Have the previous 50-odd hours all been a ruse, a slow-burn burning so slowly that we don’t even smell the smoke, lulling us into such a false sense of face security, so that when Robert’s ulcer burst at the dinner table with Neville Chamberlain, it would be one of the most horrifying sights ever put onto television?

Probably not, but I bet Julian Fellowes is laughing his ass off anyway.

And up until what I believe to be the first occurrence of blood splatter on Downton Abbey, things were relatively normal, cheerful even. Mr. Mason is moving into the house recently vacated by that unfortunate couple. What was their name? Oh, it doesn’t matter. They’re gone now, and everyone can live in peace with the children they may have stolen.

The only possible wrinkle in the plan for Mr. Mason to take over Yew Tree Farms — aside from those people… the Mews? — is that Tom and Mary are worried about whether the older gentleman will be able to handle the pigs. His experience more than qualifies him for the job — the dude knows pigs — but you’ve got to be strong to separate a sow from her piglets, which is apparently a horrible thing pig farmers have to do.

But fret not, Mr. Mason. Andy, the footman who wants to make it extra clear that — no — he isn’t gay, has taken an interest in good ol’ country livin’, bailin’ hay, wranglin’ pigs, and droppin’ the “g” at the end of gerunds. Mr. Mason is more than happy to have the extra help, but the first step of becoming a pig farmer is learning to read. Who knew, right? You’d have thought it would be buying some boots or something. Well, Andy is stuck on step one. The boy never learned to read, and now it’s too late. Or is it? Perhaps there’s someone in Andy’s own life who he’s previously treated unfairly, despite only receiving kindness from him.

Oh hey, Barrow! The soon-to-be-fired under butler is ready and willing to help Andy, especially after he realizes that the footman has been pretending to read magazines at the servant’s table, which might be the saddest thing to ever happen on the show. Andy apologizes for his crappy attitude toward Barrow, but it’s all right. “I’ve known worse,” Barrow says.

Elsewhere downstairs, a typically nice person is becoming uncharacteristically dickish to his brand new and very kind wife. Not sounding like anyone you know? What if I told you that Carson is already a terrible husband? Shocking, I know. He had handled the wedding planning so well.

After receiving the suggestion from Mr. Carson, Mrs. Hughes asks Mrs. Patmore for some help putting a dinner together to be eaten at the cottage. The cook is more than happy to help, even assembling a basket for Mrs. Hughes to take. It might have been a great success if Mr. Carson wasn’t an insufferable git (a slang term I learned from Ron Weasley). “Are these done enough?” he says. “This plate is cold, which is a pity.” Hughes almost manages to appear mildly peeved, probably giving herself her own ulcer in the process. “I think the correct response is to say ‘Men’ and sigh,” suggests Mrs. Patmore the next day. I would recommend “Then you cook the food, ya jerk,” but that’s just me.

NEXT: Some story lines do wrap up, though

Baxter’s story line about testifying against the man responsible for her criminal record wrapped up quickly. After Sergeant Willis took her and Molesley to the courthouse to give the statement, Coyle changed his plea just knowing that she was there. It was anticlimactic, but kind of badass if you think about it. All Baxter had to do was have enough bravery and confidence in herself to beat a bastard from her past. She even felt kind of let down, having jacked herself up so much to face him. It was kind of like in Kill Bill, Vol. 2 when Elle Driver explained to Budd that the biggest “R” she felt was regret for not being able to face Beatrix herself. In short, Baxter is basically a member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad… well, the 1920s English version of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad that kills with politeness and fortitude. 

The upstairs stories this week clearly had an eye on the series’ endgame. Both Edith and Mary are progressing toward romantic partners so utterly perfect for them that it takes great restraint to not yell “Shut up and kiss” at the screen.

First, there is Bertie Pelham, possibly the nicest fictional character ever written. He’s invited Edith out for a drink the next time she’s in London, and what do you know? She’s got to go to London right this instant to find a new editor for the magazine. After she basically hires a version of herself, Edith invites Bertie over to her flat, “to get his opinion.” So that’s what they called it back then! Once at the apartment, he doesn’t wait long to share his opinion. By that I mean, they kiss, and it’s cute.

With Henry Talbot and Mary, there’s a very different pattern of romancing. Both parties know that there is interest on either side, but there’s this weird barrier between them. Mary plainly says that she doesn’t want to marry down, which frankly isn’t a good look. Henry’s super cool. He’s good at guns and driving fast cars. Maybe this is my own bro-to-bro respect for Henry Talbot, but the dude seems like a slam dunk. Sure, his hobby is a gamification of the activity that killed Mary’s previous husband, but that part doesn’t bother her that much. It’s more the class thing.

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And so enters Branson, the living embodiment of the bridge between the classes. Perhaps he can show Mary that not all people beneath her are… well, beneath her. Still looking for something to do with himself, Tom accompanies Mary out to watch Henry test a car he’s considering buying. Afterward, they go to a pub, and Mary is like, “This is a pub? Oh.” Henry mentions that Evelyn Napier, the most tragic person in all of Downton, wants to hang, and Tom correctly calls out both of them for requiring excuses to see each other.

Unlike her granddaughters, Violet is getting desperate. With Clarkson defecting to the other side of the hospital argument, the Dowager has to bring in the big guns, and I mean big. I’m talking future disgraced British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain big. The then-Minister of Health is taking a tour of the North, and Violet manages to convince him to make a stop by Downton, thanks to his wife’s status as the goddaughter of Robert’s late papa and a little blackmail.

NEXT: Before we can get to that…

But while waiting for the minister’s visit, there’s yet another servant crisis to handle. Denker apparently couldn’t help herself in making Dr. Clarkson look like a total chump one day in the village. She calls him a traitor, and the best he can manage is “I’m afraid you haven’t heard the last of this.” Dude, no wonder Isobel never happened for you. Clarkson basically tells on Denker with a letter to Violet, putting the lady’s maid in a bad position professionally, but in a great spot to use that leverage she’s got on Septimus Spratt. (See, I told you his name is “Septimus.”) Because of the pressure from Denker, her mortal enemy is able to save her job, and that should be the end of the nephew ordeal, right?

“That depends,” Denker says.

“On what?” Spratt asks.

“On whether or not I need to mention him again.”

When the night of Chamberlain’s visit arrives, Robert is already in rough shape, but he dare not skip the dinner. He can’t run the risk of incurring the Dowager’s wrath. It’s something that he has in common with Neville Chamberlain. “I wouldn’t have the courage to refuse your mother-in-law,” he says. I mean, he couldn’t stand up to an old lady, no wonder Hitler was such an issue.

Then the ulcer bursts, and I feel like it lasts for 30 seconds. Really, it’s only a few moments, but any amount of blood on Downton is traumatizing, nonetheless an early 20th-century recreation of the chest-bursting scene from Alien. If that wasn’t bad enough, as soon as Robert hits the floor, he tells Cora, “If this is it, just know that I have loved you very, very much.” Rip my heart out, why don’t you!

Robert is rushed off to the hospital for a gastrectomy, which according to Carson is “no business of ours,” but since it’s business of ours, you should know that it’s the surgical removal of part of the stomach. The bloody explosion was enough to table the hospital discussion, perhaps permanently, and Mary was too flustered to even bring up what little something she might have overheard about Marigold’s parentage.

Hey, who knows, maybe she’ll be really cool about it. No one seems to give Mary the benefit of the doubt.

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