Robert is on the mend, and everyone is hooking up

By Kevin P. Sullivan
February 09, 2016 at 03:50 AM EST
Nick Briggs/PBS
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For as often as Downton Abbey reminds the viewers and its characters that the real world is constantly evolving, even in the bubble of the upper class, the series takes a special pleasure in demonstrating how little some people change. On one hand, there’s Barrow, a former ne’er-do-well who is kin’a-doing-better, and on the other, there’s Carson, who is so wrapped in his loyalty to Lord Grantham that he refuses to drink when his can no longer partake.

Perhaps most surprising of all is how true Downton Abbey has stayed to the original essences of its characters. Over the course of six seasons, the edges have only softened slightly. Mary can still be inexplicably cruel to Edith for no reason other than simply not liking her, and the Crawleys being kind of dumb and snobby when it comes time to open up the house to the curious public.

Yes, in the wake of Robert’s burst ulcer, the family decides to sell tickets to see the abbey as a fundraiser for the hospital trust. The opinions are mixed among the Crawleys and the staff about whether or not it’s a good idea.

“I suppose I always wonder if someone is having a better time than I am,” Barrows says, instantaneously becoming my spirit animal.

“But that’s what’s so dangerous,” Carson replies. “You think they must be having a better time. Then you want them not to have a better time. The next thing you know, there’s a guillotine in Trafalgar Square.” Or worse, people will take selfies out front.

Depending on which character you asked, the stunt was either a good way to raise funds for the hospital or prove once and for all that the estate must maintain control of the entire village’s medical facility. It appears that the momentary truce timed to Robert’s ulcer is now over. What Violet doesn’t know, however, is that the battle is already over.

The hospital in York is indeed taking over control of the hospital, keeping Dr. Clarkson and Isobel in their positions, but ousting the Dowager in favor of Cora. I mean, how could they not? Violet has spent the entire season attempting to thwart the merger, and now she expects to maintain control after she’s lost? To make a completely American comparison, Jefferson Davis doesn’t get a cabinet position after the Civil War, right?

Regardless of what makes sense, it’s a big misunderstanding, and those are always good for Downton.

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Speaking of misunderstandings, let’s talk about Barrow for a bit. This season, the under-butler has traded in his former role as the number-one saboteur at the abbey to become its primary punching bag. The other servants haven’t been able to help themselves from treating Barrow’s sexuality is a constant threat to Andy, who as everyone is keen to mention is very young. Barrow’s problems in this regard have less to do with the continuous half-accusations being flung at him and more to do with the fact that after all of this time, as he’s about to be essentially thrown out, his word has no value. This is the ultimate sign to Barrow that any sense of home that he felt among these people never really mattered. There would be no redemption for the misunderstood loner. With Anna’s pregnancy going pretty well (trying not to jinx things here), Barrow’s story is being set up as the great tragedy of the season, one that will hopefully be resolved in the final hours.

Because, man, that last shot was depressing.

NEXT: But was it any more depressing than the domestic life shared by Carson and Mrs. Hughes?

If I’m reading the signs right, Downton’s butler is about to be murdered with one of those sharp corners that he loves so much.

Even if it isn’t murder, I have to imagine that we’re an hour or two away from Mrs. Hughes blowing up about how terribly Caron is treating her. The dude is legitimately insufferable. Maybe that’s just my 21st-century sensibilities showing, but Carson cannot talk to Elsie that way. She deserves better than that. Maybe she can go live with Mrs. Patmore at the new bed and breakfast, which has a phone.

Patmore’s B&B might be getting crowded though. That is, if Mr. Mason’s vegetable gifts are more than thoughtful produce presents. There are clearly vibes between the two, and Daisy isn’t feeling it for some reason, possibly because it’s her job to take issue with stuff. My hope is that her upcoming exams will distract her, so she won’t have time to throw around so much side eye. Because as it stands, she’s just horrible.

Did you ever have that friend who tells you she really wants to hang out and go to the mall, but when you get there, you find out that it was all to meet up with a guy? Mary is like that, but with pregnancy scares. After Anna once again complains about some pains, the honorable Lady Mary immediately recommends taking her to see Dr. Ryder in London. Why so insistent? Is it because she’s such a good friend? Probably, but Henry Talbot is also in London.

And so is Evelyn Napier, the saddest man in the world. Just stare at the look on his face as Mary friend zones him once again.

Also, just a social tip: When you’re at a table of war widows, don’t brag about the fact that you’re not a war widow, Mary.

The faux pas isn’t enough to put off Henry Talbot, who after the quick onset of a rainstorm and the confession that Matthew died in a car crash goes in for the kiss. It’s a totally baller move by a classic baller, but he makes the mistake of dropping the “W” word seconds afterward. “Plenty of drivers’ wives don’t go near the racetrack,” he says, before smacking his forehead and exclaiming “D’oh.”

When the day of the big open house finally arrives, the Crawleys are lucky to have someone smart on hand. Bertie “Boring to an Olympic Degree” Pelham is here to help. (Mary’s slam was completely unwarranted, but I have to admire the level of sophistication in that burn.) Since the librarian is away and the Crawleys are kind of dumb, Bertie advises that they fake their way through the tours. That would be an easy enough proposition if there wasn’t so much else going on.

First, there’s Miss Crookshank, who based on her name may be a witch. That explanation is actually more likely than the one the show offers: the fiance of Larry Grey. But she’s too nice, you might be thinking. And sure, coming to Downton with Lord Merton does seem like a generous extension of an olive branch, but what if there’s something else going on here? Perhaps this is just Larry’s latest plan to get back at the woman who would replace his mother, and now he’s sending in a mole to lull Isobel into a false sense of security.

Or maybe Miss Crookshank is just really nice.

So thanks to Bertie Pelham and an adorable little trespasser, the open house went incredibly well. Oh, there was that awkward moment when the old lady burst in and called the last of the house a traitor for knowing about her impending replacement and still allowing her to utter sentences that started with the phrase “as president of the hospital.” Other than that, it was a really good time. 

Episode Recaps

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