Downton Abbey: A Day at the Races

Downton Abbey | Series Six We return to the sumptuous setting of Downton Abbey for the sixth and final season of this internationally acclaimed hit drama series. As our time with the Crawleys begins to draw to a close, we see what will finally become of them all. The family and the servants, who work for them, remain inseparably interlinked as they face new challenges and begin forging different paths in a rapidly changing world. Photographer: Nick Briggs MATTHEW GOODE as Henry Talbot

Previously on Downton Abbey: Mary and Edith both got boyfriends, Carson is turning out to be a horrible douchebag of a husband, Molesley might have a chance to become a teacher, and Thomas can’t seem to find his place anymore.

So we’re, what, two episodes from the end of this series and they’ve finally gotten around to giving us an interesting episode? Eh, better late than never, I guess.

Henry and his friend and fellow driver, Charlie, take some practice laps around the racecourse. Charlie beats Henry, and Henry takes that pretty well.

Henry’s next step is to write Robert a letter inviting the whole family to watch him race at Brooklands. Mary doesn’t think Cora will let Robert go, since he’s allegedly still convalescing, though he’s clearly up and about again. Tom has apparently gotten a letter too, at some point, in which Henry tells Tom he’s going to invite Bertie along to the race, even though they don’t really know each other and why would he tell Tom that anyway? Whatever, Edith’s game, Mary’s reluctantly willing to go, and Robert’s dying to get out of the house.

Belowstairs, Patmore and the others chat about her new bed and breakfast. Hughes wanders in and glooms that Carson wants dinner again that night and she’s not looking forward to that for obvious reasons. Molesley swings through and tells Daisy the date of their exams has been set: the 20th.

Isobel has received an invitation to Larry Grey’s wedding, which she naturally thinks is totally bizarre. She takes it to Violet who agrees this is weird and figures this is the work of Amelia, the bride, who’s been making such a show of being friends with Isobel and insisting that Larry totally likes her, even though everyone who’s ever met him knows that’s a total lie. Violet offers to go pay a visit to this girl and try to suss out what’s going on.

With that aside, Violet asks how things are going at the hospital. Well, apparently. She’s still pretty sore about what’s happened and has decided to go lick her wounds in the south of France. Isobel agrees that’s probably a good idea. Violet promises to call on Amelia before she goes. ‘I think she’s quite a tough nut,’ Isobel warns her. ‘I’m quite a tough nut cracker,’ Violet rejoins. Hee! Looks like she’s back on form now that hospital nonsense has been dispensed with.

Thomas draws Carson aside and reassures him he is looking for a job. Carson, never one to miss an opportunity to be an asshole to an underling, basically tells Thomas to get a move on, because it’s not fair on Robert to string it out. Maybe it’ll give Robert the opportunity to reassess his need for a freaking librarian, Carson.

Robert lays out his plan: head to London, stay with Rosamond, see some racing, come on home. Cora isn’t happy to have Robert travel so far, but she doesn’t overrule him. Robert’s surprised Bertie’s willing to go so far and Mary suggests he thinks seeing Edith as a bonus, which is uncharacteristically generous of her. So uncharacteristic that Edith immediately assumes her sister’s being a bitch and gets a bit prickly, and Mary doesn’t quite know how to respond to that.

Hughes finds Thomas outside having a smoke and apologises for her husband being such a dick. She tells him she’s sure he’ll find a great new job soon. Thomas admits that Downton is the first place he’s ever really put down roots, as shallow and unsturdy as they are.

Violet, prepared for battle, goes to visit Amelia, who’s summoned from the garden and apologises because Lord Merton’s out. She reluctantly sits down with Violet, making some room on the chair for her attitude as well. Violet straight-up asks her why she’s encouraging Isobel to become more a part of the family when Amelia’s future husband clearly hates her. Amelia says she thinks Larry may not have quite thought things through properly and Violet immediately figures things out: Amelia doesn’t want her ageing father-in-law around and wants to unload him on a free nursemaid with a home of her own. ‘You’re a cool little miss, aren’t you? I’d feel sorry for Larry, if I didn’t dislike him so much,’ Violet says. Yes. Man, have I missed Awesome Violet.

Carson tells the servants that the family will be away for a few days, so if anyone wants to take some annual leave, now’s the time.

Patmore comes in and says she’s got her first guests coming to her B&B and she’s super excited. Then, even though nobody else has mentioned plans, Thomas grouses that he’s the only one with nothing to do on his free days.

Carson: You totally have something to do—find another job!

What a stand-up guy.

Denker goes and tells Spratt that Violet has decided to sail to France the following week. So, Violet told her maid that (a mere week before leaving, which is unlikely, as arrangements would have to be made) but not her butler? I think not. This scene gets even more bizarre when Spratt wonders what happens to him when Violet’s away. This can’t possibly be the first time she’s left the house for more than a couple of days since he’s been in her employ. And even if it is, he would surely know that the butler stays home and looks after things. Anyway, this is just an opportunity for Denker to rub it in his face that she gets to go away on a glamorous holiday while he’s stuck in Yorkshire.

Cora whines to Baxter about having to go down to London. Robert apologises for boring his wife with this little trip and she covers that she’s just worried about the toll the travel will have on him. Sure you are, Cora. That’s why you just said ‘Clothes for Brooklands’ the way most people would say ‘Clothes for tending the sewage treatment plant.’ Robert says he’s curious about Henry, because he wonders what Henry has that fascinates Mary, of all people. Hang on, so Edith’s boyfriend with no prospects gets ‘no encouragement’ but Mary’s boyfriend with no prospects ‘fascinates’ Robert? Robert, you’re a dick.

[cryout-pullquote align=”right” textalign=”left” width=”33%”]So Edith’s boyfriend with no prospects gets ‘no encouragement’ but Mary’s boyfriend with no prospects ‘fascinates’ Robert? Robert, you’re a dick.[/cryout-pullquote]

Mary confesses to Anna that she’s not looking forward to this, but she figures she has to get used to it, since it’s important to Henry. Anna observes that this sounds serious, and for some reason Mary assumes this means Anna doesn’t approve of the relationship. Why would Anna care either way? Anna says it’s really none of her business, but Mary really wants to know if her maid approves of her new boyfriend. Whatever. Why does Mary care how Anna feels? Anna admits she’s not sure Henry’s life and Mary’s life fit together. I’m not sure why—their lives really aren’t that vastly different. They both live in high society and have ‘jobs’ that seem more like hobbies, if we’re being brutally honest. They’re from the same class and same backgrounds. They have more in common than she and Matthew did.

Anna tries to pull this back by pointing out that opposites attract, so they say. ‘Yes, but do they live happily ever after?’ Mary wonders. Typically, no, which is why it’s pretty good that you and Henry really aren’t opposites.

Baxter tells Molesley she still doesn’t know if she’ll go see Coyle, but she’s leaning towards going because, along with the audience, she thinks this story feels unfinished. She needs to prove he has no power over her anymore. Whatever. Molesley asks her to tell him what she decides.

Andy swings by the Mason farm to see how Mr Mason is getting on. Mason makes them some tea and says he wants to go over some of the books with Andy. Andy’s smile freezes and he says that’s totally cool, but he’s a bit busy just now.

Cut to Isobel being all surprised that Violet is leaving that very day. Violet lays out her whole itinerary, which includes sailing to France on the SS Paris, from Southampton. I’m pretty sure the Paris was a transatlantic steamer and that it didn’t even stop at Southampton (looks like it went from Havre to Plymouth, then New York). Isobel can’t believe that Violet is willing to go anywhere she’ll be surrounded by foreignors. Since when did foreigners bother Violet? As I recall, she once planned to run away with one.

Violet gives Isobel a note for Robert and tells her she’s written to Tom with information on how to reach her, since Tom’s ‘the most sensible.’ Ha! It cracks me up that she has no faith in any of her actual blood relatives (and nor should she). She also tells Isobel what Amelia is planning but warns her that this puts her in a bit of a pickle, because now Isobel needs to decide whether to come between a father and his sons or to abandon the poor man to his horrible family.

Hughes and Patmore check out the new B&B and fill us in on details that aren’t all that interesting, like the fact that Patmore really wants to make a good breakfast. Is this place just down in the village? For some reason I thought it was further afield. And how is she going to be making breakfast for guests on the regular anyway, when she’s got all her work at Downton to do? It works out this time because the family’s away, but what about next time?

Talk turns to dinner at the Carsons’. Patmore has a cunning plan.

Edith swings by the magazine offices and says hi to her editor, who tells her they’ve been contacted by someone named Cassandra Jones who wants to write an advice column for them. Editor thinks the woman’s responses are hilarious and reads this one out as an example: ‘Your husband is losing interest? Well, here’s step one, look in the mirror.’ Yeah, female readers throughout the ages have always loved having fellow women dish out hate and misogyny. Edith suggests they interview the woman and the editor dismisses that a little too quickly for my taste. That seems a tad fishy, but it’ll probably come to nothing.

For no apparent reason, Edith invites—nay, pretty much orders—the editor to join them at Brooklands the next day.

At dinner the family talk about how sad it is that so many of the big London houses are being turned into flats and offices. Robert reminisces about the good old days, when everyone had immense and lavish parties all the time. They’re interrupted by the sudden arrival of Henry, who flirts a little bit with Mary. She informs him that they have a huge list of people coming to the race the next day. He doesn’t mind, having invited several of them himself.

Molesley and Daisy are both nervous and excited about their exams the next day. Patmore offers to bring them some lunch. Hughes asks Thomas how he plans to spend his free time and he bitterly says he’ll be scanning the jobs column, of course.

Editor (actual name Laura Edmonds) arrive at Brooklands, where the Crawleys have put on a lavish spread and Mary’s rocking some cute sunglasses. Edith introduces Laura around and everyone’s polite and welcoming. Tom helps Henry with something on his car and Henry says they should really have him the team. Tom’s tempted. Mary draws Henry over to the buffet, admitting that she can’t eat a thing.

Edith takes off to wander around with Bertie and then introduces him to Laura. Laura has a word with Tom and comments that she’s glad she hasn’t been spat upon or anything. He tells her that he started off as the chauffeur, so this family’s more welcoming than most.

The drivers get ready to start the race. Henry draws Mary aside and tells her it really means a lot that she came.

Mary: I hope so, because my digestive system has backed up completely.

Thanks for the TMI there, Mary.

Henry tells her to relax and orders her to cheer whenever he passes. Charlie calls Henry over and he kisses Mary before joining the other drivers.

Apparently in the 1920s the race started with the drivers actually racing to the cars. Interesting. Henry wishes Charlie luck as he takes his place. They all dash to the cars, start them up and set off. The crowd cheers lustily. The music gets super excited.

Racing, racing. The cars come around after their first loop and the Downtonians cheer Henry on. Tom is super into it. Mary frets, wondering what they get out of going around and around.

Cut from that to Patmore, Daisy, Molesley, Andy, and the schoolmaster having a picnic. Thomas turns up with some lemonade Patmore forgot and is sort of dismissively thanked. Andy asks Daisy how it’s going and she shows him one of the exam questions. Patmore asks him to read it out. Thomas jumps in and offers to do so, but Andy tries to puzzle it out, giving himself away really quickly. Thomas lunges for the paper and reads out the question, but the others are all like, ‘the hell is going on here?’ and Andy admits he can’t read. He says that Thomas has been trying to help him, but he can’t seem to get it and thinks he’s too stupid. Daisy quietly tells him not to say that and Thomas looks really sad. Aww.

Back to the race. Cars are still going around the track. One guy breaks down. Henry accelerates.

Back at the picnic, the schoolmaster offers to help Andy learn to read, reassuring him he’s not stupid. Andy’s delighted. Thomas offers to keep helping him but the schoolmaster tells him to take a step back so they don’t end up confusing Andy with different methods. Man, poor Thomas. Nobody’ll give him an inch, will they? I never thought I’d feel all that sorry for him, but I actually do. With that, the picnic comes to an end and even Thomas’s offer of help clearing up is rebuffed. Heavens, people!

Up at the house, Hughes urges Carson to sit down on one of the sofas in the library, since there’s no one around to see. He joins her on one of them, reluctantly, and just as they’re getting comfy, Thomas comes in and cheerfully asks if he can join in. Carson shortly tells him no, as he and Hughes file out.

Charlie’s in the lead at the race, but Henry’s close behind, then passing him. The two of them are battling it out for the lead. As the cars streak past the grandstand, Mary turns away, and then there’s the sound of squealing tyres and a crash.

Tom rushes in the direction of the cars, followed by Mary. Robert tries to go as well, but Cora yanks him back. Anna (why the hell are Anna and Bates at the race? There is absolutely no reason for them to be there!) rushes to follow Mary, melodramatically saying she has to go to her. Bates tells her she shouldn’t, in her condition, but she insists. Bates asks Baxter to go after her, because apparently this is one of the weeks when his limp is back.

It’s not Henry who’s crashed, it’s Charlie. The car’s flipped over and on fire. Henry tries to pull his friend out but it’s too late and he has to be dragged away. Mary rushes towards the fire and hysterically asks who crashed. Bertie tells them it was Charlie, as Henry comes walking through the smoke like a wraith.

Well, that was a terrible day. As the cars are hauled off later, Henry sits by the track, smoking and crying. Mary finds him there and he gets super maudlin, saying that Charlie as his best friend and Henry pushed him. Mary tearfully tells him that Charlie pushed right back, because that’s just what teammates do. She says her aunt, for some thoughtless reason, doesn’t want to cancel their nice dinner that night.

Henry: Um, yeah, I kind of have to go tell my friend’s family that their relative is dead, and then start thinking of a eulogy, so sorry, I won’t be able to make it to the dinner party.

Mary: Right. I guess that is kind of shitty of us. We’ll catch up later, k? Take care of yourself.

The schoolmaster goes to Downton and tells Molesley that he passed his test and would be welcome to join the teaching staff at the school. Molesley’s bowled over. The schoolmaster tells him to think it all over and let it sink in, then bids him goodnight. Molesley thanks him. Aww, I’m happy for Molesley. Poor guy deserves a break. Patmore calls everyone into the kitchen for a celebration. Daisy asks Molesley if that’ll be the end of service for him.

Molesley: Oh, hell, yes. This is a terrible, low-paid, insecure job. Teaching kids must be about a billion times better. Don’t forget that times are chaaaaaanging and soon there’ll be no service jobs at all!

Thomas remains in the servants hall as the others go celebrate in the kitchen. Oh, so is he going to go back to being a footman now? That’s slightly tidy, though such a move would be an immense step down for him.

Hughes has faked spraining her wrist, which means now Carson will have to cook the dinner and therefore gain some appreciation for all the work that goes into it. Of course he immediately starts to panic over all the steps he has to take just to get a roast chicken on the table.

Over a very subdued dinner table in London, everyone starts getting rather philosophical. Mary’s dressed rather dramatically in all black, which either means Anna was basically just preparing for some tragedy or that was some awful luck she happened to bring that dress. Robert talks about what an awful business the whole thing was and Rosamond gently comments on his lack of erudition, which just gets her the rough side of his tongue. Cora takes that as a cue to send him to bed. Rosamond heads up as well and Bertie asks Edith if he should go. She asks him to stay a little longer and join her for a drink in the drawing room.

Tom briefly leaves, then comes back and tells Mary that Henry’s on the phone. A little callously, she tells him to tell Henry to call back tomorrow.

Tom: Uh, his best friend just died tragically. Could you maybe spare him a second?

Seriously, Mary, I know you’re dealing with your own unhappy memories and some buried trauma here, but please try to think of someone else for a moment.

Looking like this is an awful chore, Mary goes to the phone and urges Henry to get some sleep. He’s pretty drunk and says he wanted to hear her voice and settle their future, because the best time to do that is when you’re grieving, upset, and half in the bag. Mary realises that and tells him this isn’t the best time. Henry reaches into the cliché bag for his next batch of lines, and Mary thankfully cuts him off and dumps him, after admitting she really didn’t want to have to do this right now. She says that they’re just not meant to be together because they simply aren’t right. She wants him to have a long and happy life, just not with her. She bids him goodnight and tearfully hangs up.

Tom has overheard all this and quietly says he wishes she wouldn’t do this. Mary cries and says that the worst thing is that, when she heard it was Charlie who was dead and not Henry, she was glad. What, you were glad to hear that your boyfriend hadn’t just been killed, Mary? Of course you were! That’s totally normal! I’m pretty sure the worst thing would have been if you weren’t glad to hear that. Tom figures she’s frightened of being hurt again and tells her that she almost certainly will be, because that’s how life goes, it’s basically one pain after another, but that’s no reason to give up on someone who’s right for her. Considering how much effort everyone’s gone to to tell the audience how not right for Mary Henry is, I’m not entirely sure what Tom is basing that on. I think he just doesn’t want his bromance to end, even though it’s clearly all so he can be shipped with Mary, which is definitely not a relationship I can get behind on any level whatsoever.

Mary turns away from Tom and goes upstairs.

Carson finally gets dinner on the table, and it’s terrible, but Hughes is nice about it, because unlike her husband, she’s not a jerk.

Daisy sneers a tiny bit about Andy only learning to read so he can learn farming from Mr Mason and Patmore tells Daisy she really needs to get over this strange possessiveness and jealousy over Mason, because Mason making new friends doesn’t mean he’ll love Daisy less. For some bizarre reason, Daisy thinks that’s exactly what it means. Wow, she really is a child, isn’t she? I mean, who believes that sort of thing in their mid to late 20’s? It’s kind of nonsensical. Patmore reassures her she can rely on Mason to continue loving her like a father.

Hughes spoons up some crumble while Carson falls asleep at the dinner table. She taps her spoon on the plate to wake him and tells him he can keep the washing up for the morning. Carson pouts. Guess he thought fairies did the washing up or something.

Baxter runs into Anna in the hallway and congratulates her on the pregnancy, saying it’s nice to think of new life coming on such a tragic day. Anna thanks her and goes into the room she’s sharing with Bates. She tells him that Mary broke up with Henry and is now quite shaken. Bates thinks it’s kind of shitty timing on Mary’s part, but whatever.

Bertie and Edith are all cuddled up on the sofa downstairs. It’s pretty adorable and they totally look like a married couple just chilling in their sitting room. She thanks him for being such a comforting presence and he says he wants to always be there and to marry her. She’s startled but really touched and happy. Before she gives any answer, she asks if she can bring Marigold with her, because she’s super fond of her. Bertie’s like, ‘sure, fine, whatever!’ And yet still, Edith needs to mull this over. Bertie tells her to take her time, he’s not marrying anyone else soon. She promises not to keep him waiting too long. Well, that’s good of you, Edith.

Patmore serves breakfast to her first B&B guests. As she heads back to Downton, some fishy tabloid reporter type hiding in the bushes takes notes. Man, slow news day or what? I can see that headline now: Cook Cooks Breakfast!

The Crawleys return home and find Isobel waiting in the library with Violet’s note and the news that Violet has gone on a Mediterranean cruise. Robert reads the note, which says that Spratt is bringing a gift. Carson enters and says that Spratt’s downstairs with the present. Oh, it’s a puppy, isn’t it? They all head downstairs to the servants’ hall and, yep, sure enough, it’s an adorable yellow lab puppy, cutely chewing on its basket because that’s what puppies do. Robert scoops it up, overjoyed, and names her Tiaa, who was the wife of a pharaoh. He takes the pup upstairs.

Hughes asks Patmore how the guests got on (well) and Patmore asks Hughes how Carson did with dinner (he now has some respect for the work that goes into it). So everyone wins, I guess. Except Charlie, of course.



2 thoughts on “Downton Abbey: A Day at the Races

  1. If this show ends with Mary and Tom together I will flip a table. That is one of the most ridiculous pairings I’ve ever heard. Though considering how far downhill Downton has gone from its beginnings I guess anything goes at this point.

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