The public was about to come knocking at Downton Abbey’s imposing front door, and those that were open to the idea versus those that were not traversed upstairs and downstairs lines, and pretty much accorded to character.
The gruff ones who liked order didn’t like it, the ones attracted by change welcomed it. The ones in the middle were, “Well, let’s wait and see what happens.”
The initial idea was to raise money for the local hospital. Yes (*sigh*), the local hospital saga, and who will manage it, entered its sixth, exhausting, time-munching week.
This storyline will outlast us all. In a hundred years, teenagers will ask their schoolteachers why it remains one of the great unanswered questions of pop culture history.
However, fundraising drive or not, opening up the Abbey soon became a bigger fiscal question: It could generate future income for the family, Branson posited. But why, why, would the proletariat want to see how the other half lived, wailed Lord Grantham. Carson said it would just make the public jealous, and want what they couldn’t have.
Of course, we know in the present day, that stately homes have been opened up for profit (along with gift shops and merchandise)—even Buckingham Palace welcomes tour groups, leading to the ring-a-ding of the Queen’s cash registers.
Downton’s creator, Julian Fellowes, had every character voice keenly held opposing views on privacy versus possible profit, and mystique’s veil being lifted for a new, unattractive hunger to intrude. It was all very Changing Times, Got That? (underlined a hundred times): the heavily emphasized theme of this final season.
Fellowes’s surface fair-handedness barely concealed what this viewer took to be his bemoaning how debased and debasing the seeds of a new, gawping intrusive culture was for all concerned.
Mind you, given what has happened in the Abbey over the last six years, you’d think the family and servants would have more to worry about than Lady Grantham being caught knitting by gawping visitors.
We’ve seen dead bodies illicitly transported from the Lady Mary’s boudoir; the brutal swathe of the Spanish flu; and the Dowager Countess cutting guests viciously down at countless dinner parties.
Just last week, Lord Grantham vomited up gallons of blood.
For most of this episode, he stayed in bed. Carson visited him first, with some illicit hooch, Downton-style: wine and a silver thimble. Lord G thought about it, but demurred: He knew that he shouldn’t (or Cora would give him more pain than that ulcer did).
Talk turned to yet again trimming down staff and more changing times, and the indignity of not having an under-butler (tell me about it, I had to put my own toothpaste on my toothbrush the other day!) and the gay, once-evil, now not so evil Barrow finding another job.
This led yet again to Carson, who is making a late bid to become a prime asshole, being mean to Barrow—who’s the only person, upstairs or down, attentive to the play needs of the Crawley infants.
Carson saw Andy, the handsome young butler, emerge from Barrow’s room, and assumed Barrow had seduced him. He then confronted Barrow, accused him of exploiting Andy, but Andy is just (secretly) learning to read. Fellowes seems resistant to allowing Barrow to ever even have a glimmer of happiness about his sexuality. He was left, in the final reel, to cry alone.
There was a charged, sad, and frustrating undertow to Barrow and Mr. Carson’s confrontation. Is the latter more disapproving of Barrow being gay, or his past ill deeds, or are they interwoven?
How long did he have to work in the house before he was given any credit, Barrow asked. “So, my word still isn’t good enough after so many years?”
“I only wish it were,” Mr Carson growled, bringing a contemptuous gavel down on the conversation.
Fellowes is just as ramrod predictable with how he treats Mr. and Mrs. Bates. You will remember that they have had a few weeks of unbroken unhappiness. Neither have been changed for a murder they did not commit now for almost a full month.
Finally, Mrs. Bates has been surgically sorted out by a Top, Really Quite Expensive London Doctor so she can carry a child to full-term. She is pregnant. She and Mr. Bates have been happy about this for TWO WEEKS, so much so that last week they recited a farmers’ double bluff to the gods to continue their run of good fortune.
This week, Mrs. Bates fell ill, so it was back to the Top, Really Quite Expensive London Doctor. Lady Mary said she’d pay for it, but had to be reminded by Branson how important Mr. Bates’ pride was, and so he would pay for the medical consultation. End result: it was nothing too terrible, and so the Bateses enter, gingerly, a fifth week of relative happiness and stability.
I know, Downton-ers, I know: ain’t gonna last.
Marital strife was more obviously assailing the new Mr. and Mrs. Carson, their days of sweetly paddling in the sea vaporized.
Mr. Carson’s demands that his wife cook for him properly, taking guidance from Mrs. Patmore, entered its second week of grating sexism.
He wants her to make coffee correctly, as well as the perfect lemon horseradish and learn how to crisp the skin of a duck. There was amazement on the part of this viewer that Mrs. Carson hadn’t by the end emptied a pot of beef dripping over his head, while making a threatening motion towards his testicles with a pair of scissors.
All he wanted was a beautiful dinner prepared by his beautiful wife, Mr. Carson said.
“There’s a threat in there somewhere,” the wise Mrs. Carson noted. (Or so I thought: a correspondent on Twitter said Mrs. Carson had said 'flirt,' not threat. Three pause-and-rewinds later, I--or my ears--are none the clearer.)
Daisy’s maddeningly infantile behavior (and scripts) continued with her trying to stymie a possible flirtation, or warmth, between dear pig farmer Mr. Mason and Mrs. Patmore, with Mr. Mason arriving not with a bunch of flowers, but a basket of vegetables.
Is Daisy’s ratchety meanness because she wants her daughterly relationship with Mr. Mason to remain an island of its own? If she carries on like this, I vote for her to be reassigned to 24-hour-a-day mucking out of Mr. Mason’s pigs.
Discord also thrummed between Lord G. and wife, Cora. Cora, who was suddenly doing and saying stuff—I was so shocked to see her so animated—has been made president of the local hospital, displacing the Dowager Countess. Lord G seemed disbelieving his wife had any ambition beyond saying “Oh Rabbberrrt” at the dinner table. She told him she wasn’t old.
More malevolence bubbled between Lady Mary and Lady Edith as the former tried to work out what possible secret the latter had. Lady Edith derided Lady Mary’s dreary squeeze, Henry Talbot, as an oil driver. Lady Mary wondered why any man, including Bertie Pelham, would want to take Edith on.
When Branson asked Edith why couldn’t she be happy for her sister, Edith correctly replied: “I’m as pleased for her as she would be for me.” Which was to say: not a jot.
Both Mary and Edith hung out with their prospective squeezes, and both kissed them—Mary dramatically in the rain, and Edith a little more prosaically, but it seemed “automatic” she noted, and therefore good.
Edith even took Pelham to the ‘night nursery’ where Marigold, George and Sybbie—the Crawley infants, none with conventional parental unit intact—sleep. She didn’t ’fess up that Marigold was hers, and she better hope Mary doesn’t figure it out before she builds up the courage to do so.
Mary told Talbot his racing cars was a problem, what with her hubby Matthew dying in a car crash ’n’ all, and Talbot’s bafflingly tone-deaf counsel after this heartfelt confession was to tell her to think of cars as her friend. Branson told her to go for it. She asked him why he was playing Cupid, which is on our minds too (the ‘eventual Mary-Branson union’ believers can allow themselves a smile here).
The practical Pelham had the best advice for when the Crawleys opened up Downton, pointing out they would need to guide visitors around the house. The aristos seemed incredulous about this: Wouldn’t the proles just amuse themselves?
Sure enough, the Crawleys could only speak in the vaguest terms about the paintings and features of the house when the public arrived en masse—an event preceded with the by-now familiar every-episode-acknowledgment by Lord G that “the world has changed.”
Cora desperately pointed out a Reynolds paintings, some local noted it didn’t feel very cosy, and the Dowager Countess—furious to have been deposed and replaced by her daughter-in-law at the hospital—arrived, ready for battle.
Lady Mary interrupted her granny’s pugnacious progress long enough to ask, for the benefit of the visitors, what the fourth Earl had collected. “Horses and women,” the Dowager C snapped, before telling Cora she had betrayed her. She recommended that, in the choice between principle and logic, one should choose principle every time.
However, in a sweeter-paced scene, we saw that she did care if her nemesis and (really) best buddy Isabel was going to get it back on with Lord Merton, especially as she seemed to have the support of the latter’s new daughter-in-law (although, hmm, there was something off about her, didn’t ya think?).
Lord G managed to avoid his mother and wife’s contretemps, and instead found himself—in bed—face to face with a little tyke who had escaped a tour group. Why didn’t Lord G buy something more comfortable than the big house, the cheeky little invader asked. “You like what you’re used to,” said Lord G—struck you sensed, by the out-of-time futility of those very words.
It was, for the Crawleys, strange to be open themselves up to be seen as a living museum exhibit, although in just a few decades time, they or their descendants would be figuring out revenue streams around tea towels, cups, and T-shirts. The soothsayer Branson could see this oncoming slipstream of commercial modernity.
The tension the family faced was there in Lord G’s “We may not last forever,” contrasted to Lady Mary’s “We are not going anywhere.” And they won’t—well, not for the next four remaining weeks of Downton at least, at the end of which we will discover how benevolently Fellowes intends to preserve the Crawleys and their servants in the aspic of history.