Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Downton Abbey 6x01 (What is Your Future?) [Contributor: Hope]

"Episode 6.01"
Original Airdate: January 3, 2016

Final seasons are hard and mysterious creatures. One of the best things to happen for a show is to have an official final season. All stories have natural ends, and especially for a show like Downton, it's important that they honor that end, and for that end to be a true conclusion. Don't get me wrong, every procedural deserves a perfect ending, but a show this heavily serialized has too much weighing on it to sum everything up in an episode or two. As someone said during the special PBS aired before the season premiere, this season’s theme is going to be conclusions. Only a show that can announce its own end can be brave enough to tackle a theme like that.

This episode got some things out of the way right at the starting gate of the season, but the whole episode had a level of tension to it that I don’t think the series has ever had before. The characters were uncomfortable for various reasons, and their interactions were somewhat strained. Tension and drama aren't bad things; there was just a lot of this, and even the camerawork added to the mood. For example, the handheld style for the servants’ scenes was especially rocky, making everything seem off-kilter. If that was their intended effect, it certainly worked. 


The beginning of the episode mirrored season one so well on both a visual level and a storytelling level, as even the vibrant red of their riding coats called back to the third episode of season one. The whole sequence was visually stunning. They were really able to showcase Highclere’s grounds, and the old tradition contrasted with the stark changes present in the rest of the episode. The second callback, of course, was the appearance of another blackmail storyline, where Mary’s relationship with Tony Gillingham came back to haunt her.

Miss Bevan was cut out to be one of those characters – fine for one episode, but a true thorn in the side if she keeps popping up for the rest of the season. I get that she was bitter about the old class structure, and on a bit of a power trip, but that doesn't give her or anyone the excuse to treat other people – who never did anything to them – like that. Mary might act snobbish and say some pretty insensitive things, but no one in the family treats the people below them like dirt. I appreciated how Anna dragged her out of the house. The scene where Robert basically said “no” and she told him no and waltzed right past him anyway felt so out of place – in a good way. You also can’t forget how she took food off Mary’s breakfast tray, took a bite, and tossed it back on the tray. Not even any of the former seasons’ questionable servants or Miss Bunting ever went as far as Bevan did. There was a line in the sand that just wasn't crossed, regardless of the person or situation, and now the tide has swept away that line.

Robert finding out about Mary and Tony surprisingly ended up being one of the most touching scenes of the episode. He proved that, for once, it isn’t just the women of Downton who know their way out of a tricky situation. He got rid of Bevan so easily, Mary really should have thought of it. I won't argue with it though, because the whole thing led Robert to trust Mary enough to be the new agent, and the scene showed how much Robert loves his daughter. But I doubt it's a closed book. There were other ways they could have had him decide Mary could be the agent without bringing in a new character with an agenda.

Speaking of agents, I'm really sorry to see that Tom is actually gone, along with Sybbie (I mean, someone needs to call Lord Grantham “Donk” at least once an episode, come on). It was strange for it to just be Mary and Edith, because there’s always been either Sybil, Tom, or Rose. Between that, and the constant pointing out that the staff is sparser than it used to be, it really does feel like the end. If he doesn’t come back for the finale though, I’ll be pretty bitter.

Edith is moving forward with her life, and I have to say I like where the storyline is going. She kept Gregson’s company, and she's considering moving into his London place with Marigold. Rosamund asked her, “What is your future at Downton?” making Edith see the good sides to staying in London. She also effectively shot down a dig from Mary. Character growth is a wonderful thing. 


The whole Carson, Mrs. Hughes, Mrs. Patmore thing was incredibly awkward. Poor Mrs. Patmore. I’m still not sure if it was necessary for Mrs. Patmore to have been put through all that. But Mrs. Hughes and Carson are still getting married, so it was worth it.

Finally, the Anna/Bates murder case drama is over. The real murderer was caught, forgiven by Anna... but still no peace. Anna confessed that she keeps miscarrying and is convinced that Bates will never be truly happy without children, even though he keep insisting that's not true. He’s just happy that neither of them is in jail (and can you blame him?). However, after five seasons of rough storylines, they really need to end on a happy note. At the very least, let them adopt.

I cannot stress enough how well Fellows handled the celebration of the storyline being over. Robert’s immediate reaction was, “We must go at once. What can we bring them to drink?” He didn’t wait a beat. It clashed completely with Miss Bevan’s take on the family. The whole family trooped downstairs and toasted with everyone else. Mary had the gramophone brought downstairs so the staff could dance. Everyone was happy and together, very different people, and yet a family. They might occupy different parts of the house and play different roles in society, but they are a group of people who experience life together, support one another, and share a two-way bond of loyalty and love. Yes, love. And all these things make up an unconventional and wonderful family.


Denker was sworn to secrecy about the talk of reducing staff, so naturally she made a beeline for Downton’s servant’s hall to antagonize everyone (and of course they were all just thrilled to see her). But she caused the biggest stir at the Dower House, where she easily threw Sprat into a bit of a tizzy. Sprat went running to Violet, who quickly played Denker at her own game.

There was another little war going on, one between the Dowager Countess, Isobel, and Dr. Clarkson. The village hospital was going to be taken over by the Yorkshire one, and Isobel was very against the idea. Lord Merton appeared for the debate for no apparent reason, other than to see if Isobel had forgotten about his awful sons? He had said goodbye at the end of season five, and it seemed like a pretty official goodbye at that. Was he only there so Dr. Clarkson could make snide remarks about him? Okay then, I approve.


I found it a little surprising that Robert was seriously considering changing with the times and cutting back. He hasn’t normally been one to go with the flow and think that having more staff than absolutely necessary was superfluous. The only reason I can think for it is fear. He sees the other estates falling, and if he has to make do without an under-butler, then so be it. The sad case of the Darnleys, and the super-resigned Sir Darnley helped to bring this fear closer to home.

The Darnleys were selling their estate and most of their belongings. And because there’s still not a whole lot to do for entertainment in a massive country castle, the Granthams decide to go to the sad estate auction. Daisy’s outburst was kind of glorious, I'm not going to lie. It completely broke rank, as she was the second person to tell Lord Grantham “no” in this episode, but her points were spoton and warranted. Did they do more damage than good? Yes. But the situation wasn’t fair and the family did agree with her views.

Earlier, Violet had expressed her concern over firing staff and what the staff would do without their livelihoods. This was contrasted against how Bevan villainized the family and their class. As Violet said, “It seems harsh that men and women should lose their livelihoods just because it goes out of fashion,” and later, “I worry about those who have to go.”

I don't think it ever really occurred to me that Mr. Mason was a tenant farmer, purely because of the established system. If the Edwardian era had been able to continue on as it had, if the Great War had never happened, the Darnleys might have kept the estate for a long time. He was passing it down to Daisy, but the farm was never truly either of theirs. It’s actually startling, which makes this turn of events come alive. I didn't see it coming, and I can honestly say I never would have thought of the possibility.

As if the episode wasn't already screaming “end of an era,” the family, Daisy, and Mr. Mason wandered the house during the auction. People of the lower classes were getting to explore the house for the first time, but they did recognize some things. One of the most poignant lines of the episode came from Daisy: “They’re selling your past along with their own.”

Old class structure or not, these people depend on each other, and their lives are entwined more deeply than many of us would have understood without Downton. They weren’t simply aristocrat and tenant, servant, or villager. It was an end of an era for all these people, and it wasn’t only sad for the upper class.

All in all, it was a good start to the season. It was a strong episode that managed to connect many of its subplots, and it resolved some plots all in one episode. I’m looking forward to this season, even if it has to be bittersweet.

Odds and Ends
  • One of my favorite little details of the episode was the time Barrow had been spending with the children. HE GAVE THEM PIGGY BACK RIDES. Sit for a moment and imagine him doing that in season one. 
  • “Neither you nor I can hold back time.” “Unfortunately.”
  • “And poor old Clarkson is the rope.”
  • “I wish you luck with your fellow warrior. What is it they say... rather you than me.” If Isobel and Dr. Clarkson don’t end up together, then I don’t know what this whole hospital drama is for. Other than depicting modernization of the healthcare system, obviously. But at least there’s no bad blood between Isobel and Violet, which I’m happy about – their friendship last season was the best. 
  • “You would have made a good courtier.” “I think not. Too much standing.”
  • “What did you think you were doing, sprinkling sunshine?”
  • “Although you could have rung for her yourself.” Well, that came out wrong, Sprat. 
  • Winner of best delivery of a single syllable – Daisy: “Even Mr. Carson can’t always have his own way.” Mrs. Patmore: “Oooooh.” 
  • “It was money well spent.” 
  • “Does it ever get cold on the moral high ground?” 
  • “Sometimes, it is good to rule by fear.” Never change, Countess, never change.
  • “Is this a refrigerator?” Cora and Robert’s kitchen scene was the best. They were so out of place and it was lovely. 
  • “Will we have to call her Mrs. Carson?”
  • Why was Carson so quick to want to kick out Daisy? Cora and Robert sided with her without hesitation. 
  • Mrs. Patmore was dancing with Sergeant Willis... and they didn’t make a bad pair. I’m just saying. 
  • It never really registered that Downton doesn’t have episode names until I sat down to write this review and automatically went to look up the episode name. “6.01” just doesn’t do the episode justice. 


Post a Comment