Downton Abbey, Season 6, Episode 1: Review

(Beware, spoilers below!)

We experience the excitement of a new season of Downton for one last time as Season 6 commences. As always, if you’d like to skip the recap, just scroll down for the review. With a blast of hunting horns and beautifully polished silver, we’re back. There may be a hospital board meeting on the horizon, but the Earl has decided to go for a hunt instead of attend. Edith isn’t going for a ride, but Mary is, and she notices a mysterious woman watching from the sidelines.

The little children have grown up and are happy watching Mrs Patmore cook and wheedling piggyback rides out from Thomas. Carson and Mrs Hughes might be set to marry, but its clear that in the time we last saw them, they still haven’t set a date. Mrs Patmore uncovers that Mrs Hughes is nervous about bedroom activities because of her old age. Whilst Mrs Patmore’s suggestion of ‘just switching the lights off’ doesn’t go down well, it’s clear that nothing with the nuptials will be moving forward until that issue is settled. Mrs Hughes implores Mrs Patmore to talk to Carson about it for her.

Anna is sobbing when we see her for the first time, but we’re left in the lurch whilst we continue to follow the hunt. When Mary spots the mysterious woman again she ends up falling off her horse, and as the hunt comes to an end the Mary is approached by her. She turns out to be a chambermaid by the name of Miss Bevan who was on duty when Mary spent the night with Lord Gillingham, and she wants money to keep her mouth shut. Mary refuses. We find out that Edith has been running the publication left to her, as the Dowager Countess demands that their local hospital is not taken over by a large hospital in York. Predictably, Isobel and the Dowager Countess are on opposite sides.

The Earl talks to Carson about the need to look at staffing issues. Carson is unhappy about the fact that the numbers are being downsized, but the Earl seems to understand the need to move with the times. Mary confesses her troubles to Anna, and Anna is still worried about her risky situation with the police from last season. Bates mentions to Anna about all the children that need homes, before she finally confesses that she thought for a moment that she was pregnant and now she isn’t, a situation that has happened twice before.

Mary announces that she’s going to take over to help being the agent of the estate, an idea which the Dowager Countess immediately disagrees about. Below stairs Mrs Patmore finally goes to speak to Mr Carson, but the words don’t come out easily, and she leaves without a definitive answer. The Earl confesses to his mother about how long he feels they can go on, given that the wage bill is three times more than it was before the war. As she gets ready for bed, she confesses her fears to her maid Denke, and orders her to keep silent.

Edith decides to go up to London to sort out her inheritance from Michael, which Mary continues to be snide about. The next morning Mrs Patmore confesses that she did not manage to get the information from Carson, but only as Miss Bevan manages to lie her way into the castle, much to Mary’s disgust. Isobel and the Doctor discuss what might happen to hospital, which only ends up with an unfortunate showdown after Lord Merton is name dropped.

Lord Grantham is asked a favour from William Mason, who is under risk of being evicted from a local estate, which surprises both the Earl and Lady Grantham. Denke walks in and mentions staff reductions to cause trouble, but Carson tries to shut it down. Denke causes trouble in her own house, suggesting to Mr Sprat that his job is still in trouble, which leads to a outburst on his behalf. Mary is pulled between giving in to the blackmail or ending up with scandal. Anna tells her not to give into blackmail, and Mary agrees.

Carson invited Mrs Patmore to speak to him again and she finally manages to convey to him what the issue was about. Eventually he tells her that he wants Mrs Hughes to know that in his eyes she is beautiful and that he would like a full marriage with her because he loves her very much. On their walk home Anna brings up at she cannot have children but Bates tries to assure to her that he will be happy whatever happens.

Spratt goes to talk to the Dowager Countess about Denke’s indiscretion, whilst Edith still wonders what to do with her life. Whilst Miss Bevan goes to wait for Lady Mary, much to the chagrin of both Carson and Moseley, Lord Grantham decides to deal with it. He pays Miss Bevan off for £50 and tells Mary that he now believes that she really is fit to run the estate herself. Mrs Hughes thinks about what Mrs Patmore conveyed to her whilst the family goes to see the auction of the nearby estate. The Dowager Countess finally puts Denke in her place when Isobel comes to visit to try and make amends, whilst the Lady confesses that ‘sometimes it’s better to rule by fear’.

In the auction Daisy finally decides to speak her mind to the new owners about how it isn’t fair that men who have given their whole lives to the estate should now be evicted. This doesn’t help Mr Mason’s cause at all, as the new owner just becomes annoyed at her intervention. Back at the house she’s still distraught about the situation but the police sergeant arrives with good news that the whole ordeal with Anna and Mr Green is finally over. The family joins the servants downstairs to celebrate, and the gramophone is put out so that everyone can celebrate.

Carson goes to speak to Lord Grantham over what will happen to Daisy, which ends up in a sharp rap on the wrist for the kitchen maid. After that meeting Mrs Hughes finally speaks to Mr Carson and the pair manage to end up happily on the same page.

A lot of the hype for this season has covered the change and ‘decay’ for the estate. These ideas are hammered home throughout the first episode. This is the road towards the end, and the show is making sure that the audience knows it. At the end of the season there won’t be any Downton left and that cannot be anything else than the inevitable conclusion. As for Anna and Bates, the wrapping up of Edith’s misfortune doesn’t mean that the most unfortunate couple in period drama history will be let up any time soon, and if Joanne Froggat were any less of an actress I might be annoyed that Anna seems to be suffering one misfortune after another. My eyebrow is itching to be raised, but it’s not there quite yet. It seems like with many of the stories this episode their either being wrapped up if not positioned for the home straight, and whilst that doesn’t make for the most exciting 90 minutes it does at least help us find out bearings. Is it the glory days of Downton Abbey? When I look back to seasons 1 and 2, I think not. But it does give the viewers what they know we want, ticking on like a well oiled machine.

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