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An explosive Downton Abbey brings secrets into the open

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As Downton Abbey races toward its conclusion, everything, and I mean everything, comes out. Mary confides in Tom one reason she’s resisting Henry’s charms, and hints at another. Tom pushes Mary and Henry Talbot into abandoning their pretense. Carson’s approach to marriage becomes clear. Cora and Violet’s squabble over the hospital merger becomes full-on war—before the Health Minister, no less. Denker’s blackmailing tendencies become explicit, and so do Violet’s. Mary finally clues in to Marigold’s parentage. And Robert’s ulcer… well, Robert’s ulcer must out, too.


There’s a breezy air of novelty to this episode, which features plenty of trips out of the manor house and outings in the fresh air. Tom and Mary tromp around the estate and drive to Catterick to watch Henry race a new car. Over a drink at the pub (a first for Mary), Tom pushes them to admit their mutual attraction, poking fun with a frankness that’s both awkward and refreshing. “Why can’t you just say ‘I’d love to spend more time with you, when can we do it?’”

When Mr. and Mrs. Carson (she remains “Mrs. Hughes” professionally) spend more time together in their cottage, it’s awkward and anything but refreshing. She cooks dinner and he finds fault with everything from his knife to the temperature of the platter to the rareness of his chop to the choice of vegetable. Carson is used to bossing around everyone, including his wife, with a word or a stern look, but he’s likely to find that a wife is not a housekeeper and a husband is not a majordomo.


For her outing, Edith goes to London to hire a new (young! female!) editor—and to have a proper date with Bertie Pelham. It’s a bit of an improper date, too; Violet’s worries about a single woman alone in a flat are realistic. But Bertie doesn’t press his luck. He’s just happy to know Edith returns his interest, and she does, oh, she does.

In town, Dr. Clarkson tips his hat to Denker, who upbraids him for “throwing over my lady” by switching sides on the merger debate and gets herself fired (and rehired, after she blackmails Spratt to persuade Violet). Tom shows Mary where he’d like to situate a motorcar-repair shop, and gives her some gentle but clear-eyed counsel. Baxter steels herself to testify against Peter Coyle, but her presence persuades him to plead guilty without her ever taking the stand. All these outings are a breath of fresh air, as bracing as Tom’s advice, and the return to Downton Abbey for a formal dinner feels a bit stifling. But not for long.

If you haven’t yet seen the episode, stop scrolling.

Baxter’s right that Coyle’s off-screen conviction feels “a bit anticlimactic,” but that can’t be said about the rest of this episode. Instead, another of Baxter’s remarks plays out in a horribly unexpected way. When Sgt. Willis calls Coyle “a nasty fish” to haul in, Baxter predicts drily, “And we’ll get caught in the spray.”


And they are.

Playing on the comfortable glamour that is Downton Abbey’s signature, the dinner to welcome Health Minister Neville Chamberlain (Rupert Frazer) seems likely to be another elegant evening and another heated conversation about the cottage hospital, and that’s how it starts, complete with Isobel accusing Violet of breaking decorum in her zeal. Then Robert shows what a break in decorum really looks like.


Robert’s attack is genuinely shocking, and remarkably effective. That scene felt downright alien (and downright Alien) amid the jeweled tiaras and white ties. “His ulcer’s burst!” Dr. Clarkson tells them, and how lucky to have both a doctor and a nurse in the house. (In the first few seconds, before anyone can assess the situation, Isobel yells for napkins and catches them with an easy hand, ready to sop up blood or apply pressure as necessary.)

The episode captures the gruesome shock of an emergency, and also the terrible inertia of the aftermath, sitting around waiting to hear the patient’s fate. And, as so often happens in a panic, emotions run high and secrets come out. When Cora and Violet talk on their way to the ambulance, Mary overhears a glancing remark about Marigold and finally, finally, realizes that her family has shielded her from the truth, and shielded Edith from her.


This episode, directed by Michael Engler, continues Downton Abbey’s thoughtful use of reflective surfaces. As Edith and Mary return from the hospital (see the image heading this page), they walk together toward their bedrooms, united in anxiety and relief. But in the frames lining the hallway, each sister is boxed up in her own little space.


There’s also a clever visual juxtaposition between the breezy, fresh outings and the third-act dimness of the manor at night. In particular, there’s a striking contrast between Mary and Tom’s hike over the countryside, Downton Abbey tiny in the background, and the moment after Tom wishes “Long live our own Queen Mary,” as she stands alone in the hall, dwarfed by the great house.


Mary told Henry that managing Downton Abbey is her true passion. But it’s a heavy responsibility, too, and suddenly its full weight rests on her. “Not everyone’s right for what they’re born to,” Andrew says, explaining how a city boy has such enthusiasm for farming. Mary’s lucky: Though she wasn’t born to this job, she was able to carve out a position that suits her talents and temperament. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy, even for her.

Stray observations

  • Did everyone catch Daisy’s glances whenever she caught Mr. Mason admiring Mrs. Patmore? She didn’t like that one bit.
  • Gosh, Neville Chamberlain just pops in to get his white tie spattered with blood and confess a potentially career-destroying secret to Tom, huh? He got off easy after acquiescing to Violet’s blackmail, but that doesn’t mean she’s entirely to blame for his belief that appeasement is a viable strategy.
  • Tom’s “marriage of equals” speech helps Mary reconsider her reluctance to be courted by Henry, but Henry’s status isn’t the only thing holding her back. Mary’s “I hate it, I just hate it” during the race is a good hint—and subtle, for Downton Abbey—of her horror of fast cars and their dangers.
  • “Shall I go back and ask him to plead not guilty after all?” It’s nice to see Molesley joking around.
  • Carson, unconsciously remarking upon Downton Abbey’s sidelining of the middle daughter: “Miss Baxter, Anna, fetch their ladyships’ coats. Don’t forget Lady Edith.”