Downton Abbey, Season 6, Episode 5: Night of the Living Dead


I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but Episode 5 of the The Final Season contained so much verbal and visual juice it was hard to contain myself. I’m not even sure how to begin to dig into this one, exactly, but I think I’ll take my cue from Julian Fellowes himself in this regard. When in doubt, start with the pigs.

We Need to Talk about the Pigs

Or so Mary says, referring to a talk she simply must have with Farmer Mason. The pigs were mentioned right away in the episode, much to my delight, as I have resigned myself to the importance of pigs.

The show opens with Mary and Tom chatting while tromping through a field with a lovely view of Downton. Tom tells Mary he hopes she is alright with the decision to move Farmer Mason into her esteemed former Pigman’s house. Mary reassures Tom that she’s basically okay with it, especially since “pigs are Mr. Mason’s speciality”. This is news to all of us, and perhaps, even, to Farmer Mason. But it is crucial to determine his skill level in pigmanship, as Downton’s flock of 15 pigs rank just below Daisy’s educational pursuits and well above Edith’s happiness in securing Downton’s future, and should be treated accordingly.

In case viewers doubted Mr. Mason’s expertise in piggery, we see another scene where Tom and Mary barge in on him while he is having a cup of tea with li’l Daisy Snackcakes and Missus Patmore and Downstairs Andy in order to interrogate him. The questions come, fast and furious: Can Mr. Mason hoist and haul the pigs? Can he consciously uncouple a boar and a sow? Can he keep a sow from crushing her piglets in her sleep? Can he de-tail a pig with his teeth? How many books does he have on pig-keeping?  Only three books, eh? Mary and Tom give each other a sideways glance. Not very promising… Downstairs Andy pipes up and says he will help with the hoisting and hauling of the pigs, that is, when he isn’t at the big house polishing silverware. He is very much hoping to learn the ins and outs of being a pigman, so helping Mr. Mason will be a pleasure. Tom and Mary nod. It will have to be enough. They take their leave and so does the rest of the crew from Downton, but not before Mr. Mason hands Andy a stack of books. Start yer pig-knowing with these here books, he tells Andy, tapping the stack with his stubby, work-worn finger. The art of piggering is right here in these volumes. Andy accepts the books soberly, and we know there will be yet another student at the servants’ table, learning things and questioning his abilities, right alongside Li’l Daisy Snackcakes, who is still working toward the Great Math Exam. Little do we realize at the time that Andy can’t read, but later in the episode Skulking Thomas discerns as much and offers to tutor Andy, a plot line that will probably end in someone’s murder.

Baxter’s Burden

That other Downton stalwart, Sargent Willis, also shows up right away in this episode, ready to escort Sweet Baxter to the courthouse to testify against her former footman fiend friend. Molesley goes with her to offer moral support and to remind her of her duty to God and country should her courage fail her in the face of evil. Sgt. Willis, ever faithful, is at her other elbow. This time even Carson notices how Willis keeps turning up. Do other butlers have to contend with the police arriving every 10 minutes? he grumbles to his old lady, otherwise known as Missus Hughes. No, they do not Mr. Carson, Missus Hughes says. It’s ridiculous, is what it is.

Back at the trial, Sweet Baxter emerges from the courtroom where Mr. Molesley nervously awaits, eager to hear the the news. How’d it go? Oh, fine. Baxter tells him. She doesn’t have to testify after all. In fact, there won’t be a trial. The footman accepted a plea bargain and the whole thing is off. It feels a bit anticlimactic, doesn’t it? She says to Molesley. It really does, I tell Baxter through the TV screen. More than anticlimactic. Actually, it all feels like a big waste of time.

After that I forget what happened. I think Sargent Willis stopped on his way out of the courtroom for a quick word with Sweet Baxter, letting her know that he’ll be at Downton sometime soon to to spend a minute or two informing her that the plea deal fell through and that the trial is back on. And then he’ll stop over a little while after that to escort her to the new trial. Okay! Baxter answers, smiling wanly. That sounds fine. Molesley is thrilled at the news and tries to give Baxter a fist bump. Justice will be served, eventually!

Edith Goes on a Date

Edith somewhat scandalously has a man over for drinks at her dead lover’s apartment, which is a lovely place. Edith’s baby daddy had excellent taste and Edith seems bewildered and overwhelmed by all the modern art and decorative finesse on display. But then she always seems overwhelmed by taste of any kind, since she has none of her own. Edith still seems to be inhabiting someone else’s life, but it’s better than moping around Downton, I guess. One odd fact about this girl is that she is in full possession of her baby, yet we never see her with Marigold and her daughter doesn’t seem to factor in any of her plans. In other Edith-related news, she hires an editor, a woman who Edith likes a lot because they were born in the same year.

I certainly root for Edith, but she is painfully and profoundly boring. It’s just true.

Mary Watches Someone She Likes Test Drive a Car

In the second-to-oddest scene in this episode, Mary and Tom stand alongside a deserted road to watch Lord Henry RaceCarNoMoney test drive a car he is thinking of buying. This occurs in a race-like scenario against someone named Charlie. For no discernible reason, there is a large tent set up behind Mary and Tom, as though for a party, only no one is around. Even that guy Charlie disappears as soon as his work of being beaten by Lord Henry is finished. An awkward post-test drive moment ensues, when Tom, Mary and Lord Henry stand around, the silence broken by the sound of the sidewalls of the empty tent, flapping in the wind.

Finally, Tom suggests a drink at a local pub and Mary makes a pretense of coyness. Well, she says, it may not be up to the standards of spending a week in a hotel with Tony Gillingham Lord Foyle, but I suppose I can be reduced to having a drink in a publick house for the first time in my life. Lord Henry gazes at her with a look of amusement, which is how he always gazes. It is how he sees the world. Tom, who is of the working class, tells the two of them to just get over it already and admit they would like to go on more dates. Mary giggles delightedly at his straightforward manner. Poor people just tell it like it is! She says to Lord Henry. At times, it is so very useful to have Tom in the family!


We see several domestic moments where the Bateses are coming from their cottage and the Carson-Hugheses are sitting in their cottage and Missus Patmore is talking of her cottage, which she is going to rent out as a bed & breakfast. Everyone is growing up and leaving home, and I’ll be honest: it is upsetting to think of all those tiny bedrooms in the servants’ quarters with no one to occupy them. When Carson removed his name from the door of his room at the big house, I felt a pang of regret. Everything is changing. Nothing will ever be the same. etc.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

And finally we come to the Best Scene Ever. The scene that could not possibly be topped, the Donald Trump of scenes. A scene so over-the-top that the show should have just ended right there in a pool of blood.

Even without the eventual bloodletting, the scene was already at a pretty high level of weird, built as it was around the visit of an actual real-world human, Neville Chamberlain. Mixing the fantasy characters of Downton Abbey with a person who actually existed and is of historical significance is an unfortunate idea. It cheapens history even more than Downton Abbey already does, which is saying something.

In 1925 Neville Chamberlain was the Minister of Health, which was the pretext for his dinner at Downton: England’s cabinet minister showed up at an out-of-the-way estate in order to arbitrate a local squabble about the village hospital. And apparently, Granny blackmailed him into coming, which is pretty gross. But that is not even the beginning of the pinnacle of crazy that this scene was. Viewers are treated to commentary about Chamberlain’s inability to take sides and his great passion for appeasement (get it? get it?), while Granny and Isobel nearly come to blows the second he shows up. Everyone is sitting around the table, gearing up for one of the classic Downton Abbey dinnertime meltdowns, with perhaps a napkin toss or two, when It Happens.

The long awaited heart attack, all those episodes with references to Lord G’s indigestion like little mini-quakes leading up to the Big One, was finally here. Only it wasn’t a heart attack after all. No indeedy. Just as the arguing around the dinner table was reaching a pitch, Lord G stood up to say something important, but was interrupted by the projectile explosions of blood — pints and pints of blood — erupting from his mouth, across the table and all over his starched white dinner bib.

It was Downton Abbey meets the Walking Dead. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the show became a horror flick, and Lord Grantham the possessed main character. Buckets of blood issued forth as Lord G. convulsed, hosting the forces of Satan against his will. Cora rushed to her husband’s side, her face splattered with her husband’s blood as she implores someone to call an ambulance and also to perform an exorcism.

What the…is this?…I don’t….what?

Carson, capable as ever in a crisis, is the one who calls an ambulance. He orders the servants to and fro in at atmosphere of barely controlled chaos, telling them to fetch coats for the ladies, who will accompany Lord G to the hospital. “And don’t forget Lady Edith!” he thunders, knowing that in the midst of such a disaster, it is easier than ever to forget anything having to do with Lady Edith.

After the ambulance takes off, the servants gather around the table to wait for news in the basement, stricken, while the aristocrats pull themselves together admirably, their blood-spattered evening clothes just par for the course. These things happen and so forth, what can one do about it really? Tut tut. Tom even finds it in him to quiz Neville Chamberlain about how Granny blackmailed him into coming for dinner: what kind of dirt did she have on him anyway? Chamberlain readily tells the story, which was some convoluted thing about his brother and Picadilly and Portobello Market and traffic and ditches and pranks, way back in 1892. hahahahaha!

In an act of kindness, Isobel offers to accompany Granny home since she has “had a shock” to which Granny retorts that she’s had more than one in the course of that particular evening, thank you very much. I don’t know what it is Granny is referring to, since I can only think of one shocking event that happened at that dinner table. A shocking, shocking event involving copious amounts of blood.

Finally, word arrives that Lord Grantham has survived Exploding Ulcer surgery, and that it looks as though he will continue to live. Mary delivers this news in person to Tom, who has stayed back at the Abbey in order to go to bed after dinner. She also takes this opportunity to tell Tom that she is going to run the estate henceforth and would like him to join her in this effort, as it looks like, and she can’t be sure, but she basically is sure, that her father will be totally incapacitated going forward. Things are getting serious for Mary, and the future is looking very grim indeed. Less pleasure, more work, and no more test drives. Plus she is just catching on that Marigold may be more than a stray orphan hanging out in the nursery, and between this and Pa’s ulcer, her world is being rocked and her paradigm shifted. Is Edith capable of creating a baby? She is asking herself. Is my father capable of demon possession? Do ulcers explode? She shakes her head. It is all a mystery. Thoroughly incomprehensible.

Next Time on Downton Abbey

Lord Grantham’s Exploding Ulcer virus spreads across the land, infecting one aristocrat after another until the landscape becomes a sort of zombie apocalypse, geysers of blood spurting out of the mouths of rich people as they wander around the countryside in a daze, desperately seeking a servant to help them change out of their blood-soaked clothes. The servants, however, have all gone into hiding, barricading themselves in their falling-down cottages, soaking their thatched roofs with a solution of cheap beer and sweat the village priest guaranteed them would keep the aristocrats at bay.

Meanwhile Dr. Sensible is holed up in the hospital working feverishly on an antidote to save the inhabitants of Downton, when he discovers the last component he needs to create a cure for the apocalypse: the liver bile of a Downton pig. If only he had just one of Dowton’s 15 pigs, he could produce enough antidote to save Lord G and all his infected cousins.

Lady Cora, she of pure American merchant class stock, remains uninfected, and together Cora and Isobel (who has been immunized against the virus by her politics) creep through the hedgerows at night to capture and bring back one of Downton’s pigs for Dr. Sensible. Will they make it? Will Lord Grantham and Lady Mary be lingering near the pigpen, ready to explode at the sight of Cora and Isobel stealing a pig? Who knows? We, the viewers, can only speculate.





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