Downton Abbey, Season 6, Episode 6: Local Wretches Visit Downton

After last episode’s blood bath, this one offered a much calmer prospect. We see Lord G right away, still alive and propped up bed, reading letters and refraining from strong drink. He looked a little pale, but generally none the worse for the wear in spite of his ulcer exploding, a process in which he lost gallons and gallons of blood in projectile fashion, all while ruining his white dress bib and a very expensive set of table linens. On the upside, this incident gave his guest Neville Chamberlain something to talk about at dinner parties forever after, at least up until the advent of World War II. which was only marginally more dramatic.

While Lord G recovered in bed, lots of to-ing and fro-ing took place among the aristocratic set, with Mary going down to London and Bertie coming up from London and Cora walking from room to room, busy with this or that. Granny G. was busy too, visiting her son and sitting at his bedside, reveling in the fact that his exploding ulcer and subsequent need for immediate treatment meant that everyone would now have to see the value of the village hospital. A hospital with patients that Granny feels a deep, abiding, overwhelming obligation toward, since she is their “representative on earth”, as she put it. God represents them in heaven, Granny represents them on earth, and Skulking Barrow represents them in hell, where he goes regularly to consort with the devil himself. That is, when Barrow’s not giving piggyback rides to Master George and chucking li’l Sybbie under the chin in the hallways of Downton.

We also see Granny cozily taking tea with Isobel, a woman she pretty much wanted to kill last we heard. Granny looked at Isobel over her teacup and wondered what on earth the upcoming House Tour for Charity for That Damn Hospital That They Won’t Stop Discussing was all about anyway. Why would any person on earth, Granny mused, especially a poor local person, pay real cash money to take a gander at Downton, which is just “a perfectly ordinary house”? Granny is not dumb, nor does she suffer from false modesty. She knows as well as we do that Downton is no ordinary house, so this comment does not ring true. Neither does Isobel’s response, in which she makes a literary reference (in an attempt to set aristocratic precedent) to Jane Austen’s character, Elizabeth Bennet, taking a tour of Pemberley.

It would be a wise course for Julian Fellowes to follow if, as a general principle, he refrains from ever making a reference to Jane Austen’s novels, especially Pride and Prejudice. Ever. It should not be done. The two fictional worlds should never, ever, ever collide. I don’t want to hear Jane Austen’s name invoked at any moment I am mired in an episode of Downton Abbey. If this happens again I will demand my pledge drive money back from PBS. It is unacceptable and Fellowes goes too far.

Mary Kisses Someone and So Does Edith

Mary manipulates poor sad sack Evelyn Napier into a dinner invitation or she manipulates someone else into a dinner invitation at Evelyn Napier’s table. I dunno, she was on the phone manipulating something or somebody about joining a dinner party in London. The real point is, she made a fool of Evelyn Napier again, who shows up on Downton Abbey every few seasons in order to be humiliated by Mary as she uses him to meet another beau. Of course Lord Henry Handsomeface Racecar Talbot was there, and Mary sat at his elbow in order to make droll remarks and insist that she wasn’t a war widow at this table of “singletons”, as Mary called the circle of acquaintances, who were just sitting around the table minding their own business before she showed up to make everyone feel badly about themselves for vague, indefinable reasons. Mary made it very clear she was an auto accident widow, not one of those war widows. Nobody would be caught dead being a war widow. Yuck.

As usual, Mary brought her favorite accessory to the dinner, her BFF Tom, who is there to ensure she has little glasses of sherry to drink and someone to make snide remarks to. Alongside her BFF Tom and her paramour Lord Henry, Mary seemed to enjoy herself at the dinner. This in spite of the fact that it took place at a restaurant that Edith had wistfully informed her was the site of many romantic dinners with her baby daddy Mr. Griegson, who was murdered by brownshirts over in Germany. Remember him? A lovely man, Edith sighed. Yuck! Mary answered. Stop ruining every place in London with your gross memories! Edith smiled at her in pity and said on the contrary, her dinners with Mr. Griegson were lovely memories. Shut up Edith! Mary shouted, grabbing Tom by the elbow and Anna by the arm and climbing into the motorcar waiting outside. We are going to London now!

Anna, aka half of the Bateses, went along in the car to London to go to her doctor and check up on a few cramps she was having. The doctor diagnosed her as having stretched ligaments due to being pregnant and prescribed a warm damp washcloth. Modern medicine! Anna took so long at the doctor’s that she was late getting back to Mary’s place where Mary awaited her, impatient to get dressed for her dinner date with the singletons at Edith’s favorite restaurant. I almost had to dress myself! Golly! She exclaimed when lazybones Anna finally showed up to button Mary’s dress and wrap her cold, granite brow with a bedazzled headband.

The upshot is that Lord Henry Handsomeface walked Mary home and they got caught in the rain and the creative powers behind Downton Abbey worked very hard to make it look like a romantic Paris street scene with lamplight glistening on cobblestones instead of a cold London drizzle in which you can’t wait to get home and sit by the fire because you’ve probably just caught the cold that will kill you. Lady Mary Coldface and Lord Henry Handsomeface give one another a kiss and she agrees to watch him race cars and their fate is sealed, at least until one of them comes up with a reason not to be together. Lady Mary has several disclosures she needs to make to him, ones involving various dalliances and dark deeds, the news of which might make him reconsider having her as Mrs. Lord Henry Handsomeface Racecar. For his part, Lord Henry needs to make sure that he keeps himself chaste in all of this, because, as we’ve seen before Lady Mary ain’t gonna buy the cow when she can get the milk for free. Or something like that.

Also: Edith and Bertie give each other a kiss. This happens after Edith picks Bertie up on the side of the road where he is walking, lugging his suitcases all the way to Downton in the blazing sun from the railway station because Edith’s car broke down and she couldn’t meet him at the station on time.

Local Wretches Tour Downton

The centerpiece of this episode is a house tour in which the Downtonians throw open their doors to the unwashed masses, who marvel at the size of the place and comforts of the rich folk. Every one of the villagers, to a person as far as I could tell, uttered socialist sympathies before, during and after the Charity House Tour for That Damn Hospital They Won’t Stop Talking About, complaining about the size of this room or the fanciness of that decorative urn. And then the locals complained about just why it is that the rich old Downtonians get to live with all this stuff while the village folk suffer in their tiny cottages. And then they insisted all the while that those cottages are “comfy”, as the little urchin who showed up in Lord G’s bedroom said.

I wasn’t clear on which way the sentiment of the local slobs was going: was the proletariat angry that rich people had so much stuff and they didn’t? Or was the proletariat feeling superior to the rich people, who had to rattle around in massive houses with countless rooms instead of being stuffed in comfortable cottages? I don’t know, but either way it turned out that Occupy Downton for a day was a win-win. The Crawleys learned all about the paintings and other stuff they own due to giving tours and a whole bunch of money was raised for That Damn Hospital for no apparent reason.

More fighting about the presidency of the hospital followed the house tour, with Cora and Granny G entrenched on opposite sides, hostilities increasing and so forth. Meanwhile Lord Merton still has his eye on Isobel, offering a random introduction to his future daughter-in-law, Miz Crookshanks, soon to be Lady Larry Crookshanks-Merton. As anyone who has ever read a Harry Potter book or anything by Dickens, nothing good can come of the name Crookshanks.

A real highlight of the house tour saga was the efficiency of Edith’s pal Bertie, so brilliantly on display. It turns out there is nothing to know about house tours that he didn’t know. Sitting around the table with those dopey Crawleys, he was appalled and amazed at the level of their house tour ignorance. You’re gonna need a scalpel, two ticket takers, two velvet rope lines (one marked Entrance and the other one Exit), and a giant clock. Not going to have tour guides? He scoffed. You people are crazy! And what about signage that says Do Not Steal the Silver! Owners Will Prosecute! All the best house tours have signage! On and on Bertie went, organizing the Charity House Tour for That Damn Hospital That Everyone Won’t Stop Discussing. The family was impressed and couldn’t believe that Edith scored a fellow with so much knowledge. Edith was impressed too, pinching herself to make sure this was real, that she wasn’t dreaming but was in actuality so lucky in love this time ’round. Mary seethed and wished that Lord Henry Handsomeface knew half as much about house tours as he did about useless automobiles. Tom was dumbfounded, and felt more like a fool than ever.

Other Stuff

Daisy’s Great Math Exam draws nigh, and Molesley is very, very nervous. He heads over to the schoolhouse to fix the time and place for the Great Day for Daisy when, to his surprise, he is asked by the schoolmaster (who has noticed that Molesley is obsessed with education) to take the Great Math Exam himself. Molesley is overcome. The answer is yes! Yes, he will take the Great Math Exam! Back at the house, Daisy continues to study (when she’s not throwing away notes addressed to Mrs. Patmore). Now she will study with Molesley, who will be doing sums alongside her instead of just staring at her as she does them. The question is: will Daisy be jealous of Molesley and refuse to share him with Math? Probably. Daisy likes to hoard the attentions of gentlemen much older than herself. First she was asked to share Mr. Mason and now Mr. Molesley? It is too much to ask, even of a budding socialist.

Also, Missus Hughes is still failing on the domestic front, refusing to make up the beds properly and forgetting the horseradish. Mister Carson, her clueless husband, keeps thundering at her about crisping the skin of the chicken and so forth and we, the viewers, are not even afforded a honeymoon period for these two ancient lovebirds.

The episode closes with a vision of Barrow at the servants’ table, weeping. He is weeping at an unjust universe, in which he, Thomas Barrow, has spent the entire 50-minute episode gamboling with the the Crawley grandchildren in ways never before seen and grimacing at his fellow servants in an effort to smile. Barrow has even tutored Andy by the light from his bedroom window, all so Andy can finally read his pig-books. And yet still, no one trusts him. Years and years of scheming and attempting to destroy other people’s lives and yet these people don’t believe him when he says all he wants to do is babysit and give the gift of literacy to pig farmers? It is unjust. Anyone can change in the course of an episode. Why won’t the others give him a chance?

Next Time on Downton Abbey

Li’l Daisy Snackcakes kidnaps Mr. Mason and locks him in the nursery with the grandchildren where no one will ever find him, Molesley aces the Great Math Exam and gains the courage to ask Baxter to go out to the pig pasture for a picnic, Baxter returns to her favorite pastime of staring at the side of Barrow’s face while he scans the Help Wanted section, Granny G. pays Danker the Ancient Lady’s Maid to lace Cora’s tea with arsenic, Lord Merton hires Isobel to tell him how to be a better person in order to spend more time in her presence, Lord G becomes gangrenous as no one is around to turn him over to stave off bedsores and Edith finds out that Bertie is really a con artist who doesn’t know anything about house tours. She is devastated.

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