World Wars, impotence, paralysis, the 1918 Flu epidemic, eclampsia, sexual harassment. Boy! If ever folks needed a vacay, it’s the Crawleys. And that’s just what they’re finally doing in this episode. Instead of Club Med or the South of Spain, though, they’re going to Scotland! Because nothing says “RELAX” quite like offal and organ meat, ill-tempered natives, and tempestuous weather.
It’s a year later. In the opening frames, everyone’s bustling to load the cars that will take them to Doneagle, Cousin Shrimpy’s summer home in the highlands. Carson explains that the family summered there regularly until they were prevented from doing so by the war and the various tragedies we’ve witnessed. Good for them for going on holiday! Mary is now preggo and about to give birth any minute! And red is her new signature color, so I think her Goth phase is over. Color Matthew uxorious because he’s worried about her traveling in her condition. She shushes him, there’s no way she’ll miss this getaway! In the hubbub, Branson crosses paths with a new maid who gives him the eye. Lady Vi in her prescient manner worries about Branson being all alone. Oh, yes, you see, he’s not going. That would be too much of a shock to the Shrimpy family. Maybe Branson is allergic to crustaceans. Isobel tells her not to worry, she’ll invite him to dinner.
The downstairs servants want to know if the family’s absence will mean that they too will get a break. Carson disabuses them of that notion. Silly cows! What do they think this is, communist Russia? Now they can finally clean the entire house, top to bottom.
We learn that the new maid’s name is Edna. And she sure is curious about Branson and Sybil. Mrs. Hughes tells her that Sybil was a “a real beauty, inside and out.” To which Edna replies, “He’s nice-looking, I’ll give him that.” Indignantly, Mrs. Hughes says, “I don’t think you’re required to give him anything!” From the looks of it, Edna is planning to give him a LOT, most of it involving bodily fluids.
Sure enough, over breakfast, Edna pounces on him when she clears the dishes. She introduces herself as Edna Brathwaite. We’ll just call her Goldigger. Branson is a little awkward, but also intrigued. Boy, does the man need female companionship.
The family arrives in Scotland and young Rose runs out to meet them. She introduces Matthew to her Dad as “Matthew, defender of the downtrodden.” I think “Matthew, protector of the hymen” is more apt in Rose’s case, but then again I’ve never been good at job descriptions. Then we enter the summer house, which has obviously been decorated by special tag team consisting of Martha Stewart and the NRA, such is the artfulness with which rifles have been arranged along the walls. Shrimpy must be a little defensive about his nickname because nothing spells “compensating” like an armory used as wall decor.
Back in Downton, who should show up but a new merchant. Thomas is taking his new authority to heart with the intruder. Where’s Mr. Cox, “one of our regulars”? This jolly old fellow is one Just Soften. What’s the opposite of a porn name? (Seriously, though, it wasn’t until I’d watched for an hour and a half that I realized his name was Jos Tuften, not Just Soften. So my mind’s in the gutter and my hearing sucks. It’s such a joy being me.) Anyway, Mrs. Patmore warns him that there better not be anything amiss with the order or she’ll pay him a visit. To which he replies that he hopes that there’s something not up to scratch so he can see her again. Mrs. P realizes that he’s flirting, the cheeky devil! And he tastes everything he can get his hands on too, the glutton!
In Scotland all the servants are addressed by their masters’ names. That’s confusing and would be offensive but political correctness hasn’t been invented yet. Lady Vi admires the landscape: “That’s the thing about nature. There’s so much of it!” And the Crawleys are regaled with such delights as bagpipes and men in skirts! I mean kilts. It’s about time we enjoyed some music and the sight of hairy, manly flesh. “He keeps it up through breakfast,” whispers Rose, meaning the bagpipe playing, you filthy cows. Who wants a good night’s sleep on vacation, anyway? Not Edith. She’s too anxious about the news that her editor, Mr. Gregson, has decided to travel to Scotland too. And he’d love to see her. Shrimpy and Susan, a.k.a. Mrs. Shrimpy, want to meet this fellow and invite him to dinner tomorrow night.
Sure enough, Mr. Tuften did make a mistake: Instead of fresh ginger, he packed dried ginger, which just won’t do. Well, you know when a man gives you the wrong form of spice that he’s one step away from playing footsies with you and slapping you on the bum.
Isobel and Branson have tea together. She’d like to know if he’s lonely and he admits that he is but Old Lady Grantham wouldn’t approve of him eating downstairs with the servants. Isobel then reminds him that he has a new identity and that as agent of the estate, he has a right to talk to anyone he chooses. Oh, oh. There’s a gleam in Branson’s eye. Looks like Edna’s plan to supplant Sybil is taking off.
By the way, the Shrimpys are not a happy lot. Lady Susan and Shrimpy bicker all the time, ostensibly about when he’ll grow a spine instead of relying on his exoskeleton, and Lady Susan is always on Rose’s case because the latter dresses like a slut. Yes, back in the Roaring Twenties sluts wore kitten heels and cloche hats instead of clear plastic stripper heels and peroxide hair. Ah, progress! Poor Rose! Poor Lady Susan! Poor Shrimpy! It’s time for a dance. It’s going to be so much fun, I’m feeling dizzy. Let’s call it Giddy’s Ball!
Mary says that if she were pregnant, she’d dance until dawn. Instead, the only fun pastime she has left is being cruel to Edith, asking her about Michael: “Is he one of your hard luck cases?” Ouch! Then again, Edith does seem to be the animal hoarder of TV romance. If the object of my cruelty were surrounded by so much weaponry, I’d ease up. But I freely admit I’m a wuss.
Mary demands to know why Michael is coming to Scotland. What does he have up his sleeve? He’s on a sketching and fishing holiday, says Edith. “He’s bringing his pencils and his rods!” How is that even the slightest bit suspicious, Mary, you bitch? Why, many a man packs Crayolas alongside a Trojan variety pack when traveling! Now we know how his paper got its name!
Cunning Edna overheard Mrs. Hughes say that Branson will be having his lunch in town and who should she run into at the pub? Why, Tom Branson, as I live and breathe! How very fated! Anyway, she wonders if he’s ashamed of his background and tells him he should have dinner at the servants’ hall sometime. Is Edna a hussy or just a troublemaker? Either way, she makes terrible mealtime conversation, that’s for sure. But then again this is Downton, where no one has mastered the art of light table talk, and every course is another chance to cause heartburn.
In the meantime, it looks like someone has a “fancy man”. And, no, it’s not Robert even though his black silk pajamas sure are snazzy. Why, it’s Mr. Tuften, silly. He fancies Mrs. Patmore and has sent her a little package. He also wants to know if he could ‘esquire her’ to the fair! She asks Carson for some time off and while he’s sputtering indignantly, Mrs. Hughes advocates on her behalf and also for some time off for the other servants. “Must I constantly be undermined?” asks Carson. I know! These people are worse than the Borgias.
But enough scheming and backstabbing, back to Scotland, where Michael Gregson has arrived. I never noticed before that he looks like an older version of Branson. The Earl immediately says, “It puzzles me to know why you should choose to employ amateurs like my daughter!” No wonder Edith keeps choosing unavailable men. My inner Freud says it’s all Robert’s fault. Oh, Edith, you ARE enough. Someone tweet her some morning affirmations, stat. Michael brought tails, by the way, another detail that rouses Mary’s suspicions.
I was all worried that baby Sybbie had gone to that mythical nursery where TV babies are sent to, never to be heard from again. It must be another Skinner experiment. I was wrong for there she is FINALLY. And she is so cute. Excuse me while I blow raspberries into her belly and play peekaboo.
In the meantime, Dr. Clarkson seems to be cozying up to Isobel. Oh, these “romance in the winter’s of one’s life” storylines are all the rage today, huh? He says something along the lines of how nice it is to finally find someone who ‘gets you’ and Isobel is all, Ya know?!
Mary’s got under Edith’s skin and she finally asks Michael why he’s here. “What do you hope to achieve?” She needs a remedial course on flirting because that just sounds like the most passive aggressive job interview question ever. But Michael doesn’t let it get to him. He openly admits that he’s in love with her. Aww! Too bad he’s married already. Oh, well, I suppose they could always kill his wife. This IS the U.K., you know. Land of Macbeth and countless police procedurals. In another corner of the drawing room Mary purrs to Matthew re: Michael, “He was right to invest in those tails, wasn’t he?” Apropos of nothing Matthew tells Mary that she’s nice to which she retorts: “You think me nice but no one else does.” No, Mary, you are a bitch and we can’t even lay the blame on hormones, alas.
But enough sibling rivalry! Enough cattiness and awkward romantic non-banter! Let’s go hunting! The men go skulking in the Scottish glens, and I keep expecting Elmer Fudd to show up. Yes, I know Elmer Fudd’s not Scottish, ya wise asses! It’s those hats.
Mrs. Patmore’s imminent romance also worries Mrs. Hughes. After all, if a man that age is showing interest, he must want something more. Is Mrs. Hughes implying that sending foodstuff is Mr. Tuften’s way of arranging a “casual encounter”? Will Mrs. Patmore let her freak flag fly? My, no! She thinks he must be in need of a wife. This is also the land of Jane Austen, right?
Ever the peacemaker, Matthew has taken it upon himself to be nice to Michael. He suspects that Michael is in love with Edith and that he’s come to Scotland to ask for her hand. They go fishing, sans sketchpad or pencils. Michael openly admits that he’s in love with Edith, that he’s married and that his wife is insane. He’s come to Scotland to get to know Edith’s parents and soften them up. Matthew thinks this the worst idea ever. Really, Michael is daft, isn’t he? For a newspaperman, he sure is naive. Even parents nowadays would look askance at this arrangement. Matthew proposes that Michael use the ball as a chance to say goodbye to Edith. Poor Edith! Does no one know the name of a good therapist, pray tell, or is the estate in such a shambles that they can’t afford treatment?
But enough psychological dysfunction, let’s go to the fair! And rather a useful fair it is: Al figures out his true calling in life: He wants to be a cook. Mrs. Hughes figures out that Mr. Tuften is an incorrigible flirt and ladies’ man who “loves to be in love!” Jimmy figures out that Thomas is in love with him when he follows him and prevents some hooligans from beating him. Instead, Thomas rescues him and martyrs himself, getting the tar kicked out of him. And Isobel can’t figure out that Dr. Clarkson is interested in her.
Some things are falling into place in Scotland as well. Shrimpy confides in Robert that his marriage sucks and that he’s made such a mess of his state that he must take a job in Bombay. Lady Susan for her part, asks Cora to take in wild Rose and Cora agrees. Oooh, boy. I foresee some juicy plotlines with this boy mad teenager along! Will Jimmy catch her eye? Or will Branson? Or will both have to fight for her affections? Shrimpy is grateful that the Crawleys will take care of Rose and show her what love is like: “Love is like riding or speaking French. If you don’t learn it young, it’s hard to get the hang of it later.” This is the saddest line Fellowes has ever written, is it not?
Mrs. P finally gets her marriage proposal from Mr. Tuften. When she tells Mrs. Hughes, she regretfully tells her good friend about Mr. Tuften being a shameless flirt. Instead of being heartbroken, Mrs. P laughs with relief. Turns out Mr. Tuften was getting a bit tyrannical about her cooking. Apparently cooking 10-course meals for thirty people is easy peasy compared to cooking for this guy. I doubt that his appetites reach such Rabelaisian proportions but you know how Fellowes is about servants’ natural inclination for celibacy. Endless toil is sooo much better than regular coitus. Not.
Meanwhile, Jimmy and Thomas have a lovely scene in which the latter declares his love and both agree to be friends. It’s surprisingly affecting. Somewhere upstairs Edna bursts into Branson’s room while he’s undressing for bed and the sight of his torso compels her to feel him up. Men in this household should really lock their doors. She kisses him and he’s all, Whut? She’d like to see him the next day. I knew it! She’s a hussy! On the other hand, I was expecting her to seduce him outright, so this is a relief.
At the ball, Michael screws up his courage to end it with Edith. But she won’t have it! She loves him! This is only the beginning! I truly hope Michael is good in the sack. No, he better be spectacular. Molesley drinks too much and begins reeling, which is Scots-speak for dancing, the sight of which compels Robert to observe, “There’s a wild man in all of us.” To which Lady Vi retorts: “If only he would stay inside!” Lady Vi has never been on the LIRR on Saint Patrick’s Day, has she?
Mrs. Hughes has had enough of Edna’s brazenness and fires her. She informs Branson, who worries that he’s spoiled everything for her and begs her to give Edna a recommendation. Mrs. Hughes agrees although she doesn’t think Edna’s cut out to be a housemaid. No kidding. Anyway, she gently chides Branson for not discouraging her and then he starts crying. He’s lonely and misses Sybil! “I can’t bear to be without her,” he says. “You must be your own master and call your own truth,” says Mrs. Hughes. At least you don’t have to climb every mountain and ford every spring, Branz. Really, I love it when Mrs. Hughes channels Yoda. Let us hope next season she doesn’t channel Gollum, or scenes such as this one won’t be as sweet.
All the foot tapping at the ball has induced labor! Mary must travel to Downton asap to have this baby, but Matthew should stay behind and let everyone know. She must’ve boarded a bullet train because she makes it to Dr. Crawley’s in time to be comforted by Isobel. And she has the easiest labor yet, thank God for pop goes the weasel. I mean, baby. Enter the proud papa. Mary introduces their baby: “Say hello to your son and heir.” Yes, Mary, that’s so much better than your original, “Say hello to your little friend”. Wise editorial choice. While Mary prattles on about how they did their duty and saved Downton, he is over the moon: “I feel like I swallowed a box of firecrackers!” That’s what happens when you dine with the Crawleys, Matt, ole chap. He tells her that he is more in love with her than ever. Aw.
Back at the ranch, Robert has finally seen the error of his ways, thanks to the dysfunctional Shrimpys. He tells Cora that he’s relieved that Matthew has taken over the stewardship of the estate and that he’s saved them. Over these words of appreciation, we see Matthew joyfully driving back to break the news of the latest Crawley addition. A truck approaches in the opposite direction… Mary cradles her baby… And Matthew drives off the road, his car flips over, and lands on top of him! Oh no! Matthew is dead and only we the viewers know! What a sad season finale!