How many more weeks can the Downton Abbey faithful stand the endless back-and-forth between Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson about their wedding day?
Seriously, Sunday night’s episode—the second in the sixth and final season—had me shouting variations of, “Oh, just have it in the bloody drawing room,” “FFS, Mrs. Hughes, get a nicer frock,” and “Will you two cheer up for goodness’s sake?”
Only in Downton Abbey could wedding arrangements become a plot device necessitating a full orchestral accompaniment.
“I don’t want to be a servant on my wedding day,” said Mrs. Hughes of her resistance to the wedding being held at the Abbey.
Lord Grantham was all about having the servants’ hall decorated for the occasion, until Lady Mary, with eye roll and sneering inflection on triple, told him they should have it upstairs in the posh bit of the house—and, as Lord Grantham rightly said to Mr. Carson, both men had learned never to argue with Lady Mary.
Mrs. Hughes wants to marry more simply. It’s all so dreary: Her supposed wedding dress looked like a threadbare curtain, which no amount of “brightening up” by Mrs. Bates could save—well, maybe, optimistically, it could become a tablecloth, I suppose.
Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson’s very politesse and stubbornness could well derail the nuptials at this point. They both want things done properly. They also won’t give an inch. They will probably make each other so grumpy they’ll end up canceling. It won’t be discord that kills this relationship, it will be pride.
This is a familiar seam to mine for Downton’s creator, Julian Fellowes. As most of the characters are basically good, what undoes them is pride. What tests them is retaining their pride in the face of villainy and ill fortune.
Often this makes Downton hilarious when it really shouldn’t be. Lady Mary herself noted that Anna (Mrs.) Bates had been one of the unluckiest people she had ever known, and one of the longest-suffering, whether this was being wrongfully charged with murder or her husband—the equally luckless Mr. Bates—being wrongfully charged with murder.
And now, just when finally neither was wrongfully charged with murder, Mrs. Bates revealed she cannot carry a child to full term.
Lady Mary, grateful to Mrs. Bates for all her help with transporting the bodies of dead Turks she had been illicitly shagging, said not to worry: She had found this simply whiz-bang gynecologist in Harley Street (a famous London street full of private doctors) who helped her get up the duff when she couldn’t.
She and Anna expressed their own devotion to each other, Anna telling Mary that no one in her life had ever been as kind to her as Mary has. Damn Fellowes for these little piercing interludes to Downton’s plot gymnastics that can make anyone a little weepy on a Sunday night.
Let’s pull ourselves together.
Sure enough, Harley Street doc told Mrs. Bates she has “cervical incompetence,” which—before a medical description followed—sounded like a pretty extreme insult. Anyway, she found out she can have an operation to make the neck of her womb tickety-boo so she can carry a bubba to full term.
She did not tell Mr. Bates this. This is probably all for the good, because—in the manner of a Spice Girl lyric—he’s all about them being the “two become one,” and it doesn’t matter if she can’t have a baby, because they’re together themselves.
Like Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes, at some point these two will out-depress each other in their marriage.
The other big knot of the episode was Lady Edith and her secret daughter, Marigold, who was—in times gone by—looked after by sexy pig farmer Mr. Drew and his slightly mad wife.
Somehow this storyline had to be (hog)tied up, and so it was that Lady Mary, in all her Joan Crawford glory, was totally, “I’m running Downton, just like any man can, don’t fuck with me, fellas.”
And the way to show that this week was to preside over the entry of some pigs to some country show. Lady Mary, her son, George, Edith’s secret daughter, Marigold, and the perennially spliffed-out Cora went to see the pigs of Mr. Drew. Enter Mrs. Drew with a mad glint in her eye, and sure enough she spirited off Marigold when no one was looking at Lady Mary’s ultimately prize-winning pigs.
It was left to Mr. Drew, with his strong, hunched shoulders and grimly determined gait, to return Marigold to Edith—and, with his promise to vacate the farm, this presumably meant poor Mr. Mason, who was about to lose his tenancy, could take this tenancy on. Fellowes does like to tie his narrative shoelaces neatly.
The destiny of no-longer-that-evil Barrow is still a mystery. He went for a job interview at another manor house and got a kind of homophobic short shrift from the head butler, who made snide remarks about his not-mentioned homosexuality.
Despite all Barrow’s efforts to flirt and spend time with him, the other new young butler wanted nothing to do with him. Fellowes seems to enjoy putting him through a special hell, especially as Mr. Carson keeps being a total wanker to Barrow.
His comfort, although—as she noted Sunday night—he refuses it, comes from Baxter, whose kindness to him is an anathema to Barrow. Baxter’s own quiet, steely goodness is its own pleasure to watch, alongside Mr. Molesley, who Sunday night nudged the bloody annoying Daisy to take some exams.
We should be rooting for Daisy, but her squawking class warfare—this time visited upon Cora, who just smiled through her hash-brownie cloud—is like an electric saw. She wants her dead husband’s father to be all right, we get it. But this desire has come mixed with half-baked Marxism.
There is also the odd, discordant madness of the hospital saga, and whether Downton should stay local or be swallowed up by the bigger health authority. This is obviously just an excuse for Dame Maggie Smith, as Violet, and Penelope Wilton, as Isobel, to be waspishly bitchy to each other.
But hell’s bells, it’s listlessly progressing like the wedding plot, and with no end in sight. Likewise, Edith and her London life, which either needs to take off or not. And surely she has to fire the editor of the magazine she inherited from dear Michael Gregson, who is jolly rude to her.
The episode ended on a madly gentlemanly, surreally polite exchange between Lord Grantham and Mr. Drew, which shows Fellowes’s belief that decency trumps everything, even aristocratic privilege and wealth.
“God bless you, Drew, to you and your family,” said Lord G. “The same to you, m’Lord,” said Drew, forelock tugged almost to the ground—and this, despite the Granthams having all the money in the world, and all that they desire, and the Drews having nothing, but Mr. Drew knowing, “Yeah, you know, things have gone a bit too far. Byeeee. See ya.”
And so Lady Edith now has Marigold all to herself again, thanks to her father and Mr. Drew’s polite face-off. This self-ejection on Mr. Drew’s part was another manifestation of one of the biggest guiding plot principles of the show—it was the right thing to do. And that is what the righteous strive to do in Downton Abbey, no matter if they are “have” or “have not.” Goodness is, and has, its own reward.