Monday, February 22, 2016


So much happens in last night's brilliant next-to-last episode that it is hard to do it justice. It is obvious that the various loose ends are beginning to be tied together - with some happy outcomes and a lot more heartbreak. (But at least Anna is still successfully pregnant!)

At one level, Downton Abbey has always been a tale of two sisters and their forever fleeting attempts to find happiness. When this episode begins, it looks as if Mary has given up on Henry (because, as she admits to Granny, she doesn't want to be a "crash widow" again), while Edith not only gets a proposal but her fiance suddenly inherits a title and becomes the 7th Marquess of Hexham. As Marchioness of Hexham, poor plain Edith would suddenly outrank her father, the 5th Earl of Grantham, and her family. But she has that secret that she has dissembled about every time she had a chance to be honest with Bertie. Once again the chronic problem that so many of these characters have with simply telling the truth gets in her way. When the now titled Bertie breaks it off, it seems less because he is scandalized by Marigold and more because he doesn't want to marry someone who didn't trust him with the truth and whom he therefore can's quite trust. Maybe Bertie and Edith will make up in the final episode and live happily ever after anyway. But the old adage that we are as sick as out secrets keeps coming back to haunt characters who really should have figured that out already!

Speaking of  haunted, Thomas Barrow finally gives up and tries to kill himself. Surrounded by people who are anticipating leaving service and chasing other opportunities, Thomas is the one actually being pressured to leave but who doesn't want to leave the closest thing he has ever had to a home and a place to belong. And Thomas's mean-spirited behavior over the years has not exactly endeared him to his colleagues. But Baxter (who like Anna and Mrs. Hughes is chronically kind) realizes what is happening and saves his life. Some people see through even Thomas's meanness and really do care. So does Lady Mary, who brings Master George to visit Thomas in his sick room. In a moment of mutual self-awareness, both Thomas and Mary recognize that they are people who seem to be best at pushing other people away. Of course, Mary is mean in spite of all her advantages. Thomas is mean because of the chronic lack of love in his life, because he lives in a world which remains unwilling to find a place for him, a world in which even those who are kind to him do so, as it were, in spite of his homosexuality. 

Barrow's brush with death at least gets him a reprieve from being fired. Mary - meanly, of course, but correctly - makes her father feel guilty about Barrow's fate. And even Carson softens, telling His Lordship about Barrow: "I thought he was a man without a heart. I was wrong." There is a lot of admitting wrong in life, and Downton's characters are at their best when they do so.

Meanwhile, at Tom Branson's summons, the Dowager returns and lectures Mary on love. As she did once before with Matthew, Mary finally gives in to her better self. And so the episode ends with a lovely wedding scene (simpler than her previous one, but with the same Best Man). Even Edith comes home for the wedding, after having earlier finally given Mary the tongue-lashing she so richly deserves. But now the order of precedence has been restored, and once again everyone (even Edith) is there to rejoice at Mary's success. "In the end, you're my sister," Edith admits to Mary, "and one day, only we will remember Sybill, or Mama, or Papa, or Matthew, or Michael, or Granny, or Carson, or any of the other who have peopled our youth. Until at last, our shared memories will mean more than our mutual dislike."

That's what family means.

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