Downton Abbey, Season 6, Episode 7: The Circle of Life

In this episode Lord Grantham is out of bed and ready to tear the world a new one. In all my years of watching Downton Abbey, I’ve never seen him so lively. Maybe all of us should experience the benefits of an exploding ulcer and gain a new lease on life.

Along with Lord G finding a pep in his step, this episode offered other high points: namely, we discovered that Mary is indeed a human being. As readers of this blog will know, I have long suspected her of being an android, or a granite slab polished to high gleam, or a mannequin ingeniously fitted out with tiny mechanical parts that allowed her to move freely about the room and turn her head toward someone when he was speaking. Also she was able to glare at Edith with cunning mechanical hatred. But it turns out that she is a real person. In this episode viewers saw Mary weep actual tears while great, gasping sobs escaped her narrow frame. It was very moving. Even Tom was touched, letting her know that it is okay to feel pain. It is okay to feel at all, actually. It was a big moment, the one in which Mary might just have converted into someone relatable and even likable, which would be a wonderful way to end the series.

The Cost of Being Human

But this humanizing came at great cost: the death of Charles Rogers, Lord Henry Handsomeface Racecar Talbot’s dear friend and fellow competitor, in an automobile accident at the races at Brooklins. That race was a menace and frankly, I was surprised that everyone didn’t die, as safety had not yet been invented and the men raced around a track in open cars replete with bald tires with a PSI of 200. The good news is that everyone looked stunning while watching the race and that Mary wears sunglasses very well. Also Tom met the lady editor who is a far cry more appealing than last season’s Miz Bunting. The bad news is that Charles Rogers died and Lord Henry was devastated. As were all the Downtonians, who sat around Rosamund’s dinner table after the racing disaster in a very glum mood. Lord G, who should know, called it a “bloody day, a bloody, bloody day”. Lady Rosamund took this opportunity to remind him of the depth and breadth of the English language. No need for cursing dear brother, she murmured. This prompted Lord G to shout that Rosamund should shut her piehole. He was sick of them all and was going upstairs straightaway to put himself to bed, after-dinner drinks be damned. It was a pretty amazing moment. I love it when Lord G loses it. By losing it, I refer to him shouting. I don’t like it when he loses it in other ways, such as the expression he wore when he espied his new puppy, given as a gift to him by his ma, Granny Grantham. He was so over-the-top delighted at seeing Isis the Second that he practically ran over everyone else in the room to snatch the puppy out of the basket, hugging and kissing it in a display of affection heretofore unseen. I know upscale British folk are supposed to really love horses and dogs, but this was too much. The disparity of emotion between how he feels about his wife and how he feels about a puppy he has only been acquainted with for seven seconds was embarrassing to all parties involved. I enjoyed how Edith helpfully explained that the family names all their dogs for characters out of Egyptian mythology, just in case any of us were still wondering about why that other dog was named Isis.

The Great Math Exam

The day of the Great Math Exam finally arrives. It is a picnic-worthy occasion. But for my money, a picnic was the very least the Downstairs Downtonians could do to celebrate. There should have been pony rides and fireworks, some colorful pennants strung from tree to tree. Games of chance and skittles should have been set up in the village square and a Downton prize pig slaughtered and roasted on a spit. Everyone in town should have had the day off and the patients from the village hospital brought outside to enjoy the festivities, with Dr. Sensible on hand to inject them with medicine should an emergency occur.

Daisy passed all six parts of the Great Math Exam with flying colors I think (I’ve already forgotten how it turned out for her) but the real star of the Exam turned out to be Molesley, who did such a fantastic job at his sums that he was offered a teaching job in the village. Finally! A way out of the dead-end career that is the basement of Downton. The schoolmaster, who figured prominently in this episode (he’s the new Sargent Willis), said that he knows of Oxford and Cambridge grads who didn’t do ‘alf as well or know ‘alf as much as Our Molesley. Such praise offered a rewarding conclusion to a long, slow plodding course toward confidence and self-esteem, but Molesley arrived, and we are all happy and proud. Now it’s off to the classroom for Molesley — and certain evisceration from a roomful of village schoolboys, who make Skulking Barrow look like an amateur.

The Suffering of Barrow

Speaking of the Barrow, he is still devastated by his ever-growing awareness of how awful he has been his entire life. I’m not sure when he started caring what people thought about him, but his constantly contorted pain-filled visage is almost too much to bear. The mindless insults proffered by his fellow servants just keep coming. When he offers to continue educating Andy, the schoolmaster (who is taking over Andy’s book-learning) politely declines. Thanks but no thanks, I’ll take it from here.  When Barrow mopes that everybody’s got somethin’ to do on their days off but him, Carson eyes him coldly before retorting Ah but you do have something to do, Mr. Barrow. Look for another job. Womp womp. When Barrow shows up at the picnic unexpectedly, skipping over to the blanket where everyone is lounging, swinging a basket filled with bottles of lemonade, Missus Patmore expresses more confusion than delight. Thanks, I guess, she says. After the lunch, Barrow, giddy with the possibility of friendship, practically shouts at Andy, offering to help him clear away the picnic things. Andy quickly and cheerfully declines. No thanks, I got it. Andy answers. At this, Thomas looks like he wants to cry. It is too much. He heads back to Downton, where he has put down roots, idly kicking a rock all the way home. When he arrives at the Servants Hall after the long walk back from the village, he picks up the rock and puts it in his pocket. And then it occurs to him. Maybe the rock will be his friend. Yes! That’s it! The rock will be his friend, his very best friend. He will name it Andy. And after he tires of it, he will use the rock to bash in Mister Carson’s head. Thomas visibly brightens; he feels better. He has a plan now. A plan for his future.

The Dowager Ditches Downton

The Dowager Countess, Lady Grantham emeritus, Violet Crawley aka Mahmah and Granny, set sail for the South of France. Let us all pause and acknowledge our great loss.

Septimus Spratt is left home alone to drop off puppies and lick stamps. He is bereft without his #1 Enemy, Danker the Ancient Lady’s Maid who has set sail with Granny, in spite of being an evil harridan. Before Granny left, she did viewers one more great favor: providing a fantastic interview of Miz Crookshanks in order to ferret out just why she invited Isobel to her wedding to Lord Larry Babymerton. Granny discovers that Miz Crookshanks is an awful person, no surprise, since she is marrying Larry after all. Granny also makes a terrific observation about how truly rotten Larry is and how, back in the good old days, he would have been taken out back to the garden and shot like a rabid dog for the disgusting things he said to Isobel.

Miz Crookshanks’ plan is thus: marry Larry’s old man off to Isobel to get him out of her way so she can redecorate the house according to her own will and avoid having to nurse Lord Merton in his dotage. The joke’s on Miz Crookshanks, however, since this news is catnip to Isobel. What dopey Miz Crookshanks doesn’t know is that Isobel would never marry Lord Merton for love, but she would marry him in a heartbeat if it involves giving him sponge baths and injecting him with various solutions at regular intervals. All this scheming and plotting is unnecessary, Granny should have told Crookshanks. The matter is simple: break Lord Merton’s legs and wheel him over to Isobel’s doorstep, ring the bell and walk away. Isobel will fling open the door, discover this broken bird, and they will be married in a thrice.

The Breakup

After the racing accident, Lord Henry Handsomeface calls Mary at her aunt’s house in order to hear her voice. Mary was a bit rattled during this exchange, especially after Lord Henry pushed her to put a label on their relationship. Finally, Mary feels she has no choice; she feels forced to come clean: she cannot continue to be Lord Henry’s girl. The day has been (very understandably) traumatic for her, and this romance simply cannot go on. Lord Henry is crushed, and so is Mary. This is the part where she cries her eyes out. As previously mentioned, it was all deeply affecting — the first time Mary has acted the part of a flesh-and-blood person. However, this intense incident took place against the backdrop of a very prominently displayed lady sphinx sculpture, who was in dire need of a bra. Now I like art just as much as the next person, but I’ll admit, it was not the time and place for art appreciation, and Mary’s deeply felt conversation had some pretty fair competition. I was relieved when the action finally took place with the sculpture out of the frame. Some things are best appreciated in the context of a museum.

Next Time on Downton

Cora burns down the hospital just to get people talking about it again, Mister Carson turns out to be a fantastic cook (in your face Hughes) and opens his own bed-and-breakfast, directly competing with Missus Patmore and breaking her heart in the process, because she worked so hard on those eggs. Edith calls it off with Bertie Pelham because his name is a ridiculous ripoff of P.G. Wodehouse and he can’t seem to catch on to the fact that baby Marigold is Edith’s own child, Lord Grantham trains Isis the Second to bite Barrow on sight for sport, Mary reconsiders marrying Lord Henry after he agrees to wear a seatbelt and a helmet made of something more than leather, Tom and the Lady Editor start co-writing the advice column for the magazine. They call it Life with Edith and laugh their heads off every time they think of a different spot of trouble for Edith to find herself in and various other humiliations, which includes a series of unattractive boyfriends, all them named Bertie.

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