Feb 152016

Downton Abbey, Lady Mary and Henry Talbot at the race track

Your self-knowledge is an example to us all.

Downton Abbey Season 6, Episode 7 is one of those Downton episodes completely and utterly carried by Maggie Smith as an actress, and Lady Violet Crawley as a character. Completely. Everything out of her mouth this episode was solid gold, and I couldn’t write it down fast enough. With the hospital war over, Isobel and Violet are back to having interesting and warm(ish) chats, and here is the Dowager Countess at her finest: Wit of the withering sort, intrigue, and glorious oneupmanship! The first meeting with Isobel and Violet was delightful, the interrogation of Miss Cruikshank was superb, and the second chat with Isobel made me snort, while still advancing the plot. Isobel’s former fiance, Merton, has a new future daughter-in-law, Miss Cruikshank, who has been making overtures of friendship towards Isobel, this episode going so far as to invite her to the wedding. It makes no sense to Isobel, since it was Merton’s son Larry who drove her away from Merton. Violet soon squeezes the truth out of Cruikshank; they want Isobel to be Merton’s caretaker, expecting to kick her out of the family home the minute the old man is dead. Ah, love.

The Dowager Countess carried the episode in part because a lot of the rest of it was unsatisfying, in the ways that the past few episodes have led us to expect: Daisy, Thomas, Andrew, and Anna stories failing to full engage. The Ladies Mary and Edith are lovely, though. There’s a lot to discuss!

It’s interesting that Mrs. Patmore is able to discern the truth of Daisy’s bitchery; never having been loved as a child, she assumes love is at risk and cannot, therefore, be shared. This is all delightfully psychological, but comes a bit late for me. As with Thomas, you can’t just hammer home how detestable a character is, week after week, and then ask for sympathy. The two–bad behavior and sympathy–have to exist hand-in-hand. We loved Don Draper because we always knew the aching heart underneath during the bad behavior. Imagine all that shittiness, week after week, and then in Season 6 Don being given a sympathetic back story!

This is the first place I’ve found where I’ve laid down some roots.

I liked Thomas as a slimy villain (who happened to be gay) in early seasons. This “poor me” Thomas is sadder week by week, and never, to me, sympathetic. Julian Fellowes wants his very own Salvatore Romano, but just being gay in a period piece isn’t enough to engender sympathy, especially when people around him are anachronistically open-minded about “how he is”. Andrew’s illiteracy storyline seemed poised, at first, to save him. Despite Andrew’s enormous shame and ongoing efforts to hide, he conveniently outed himself in front of a whole group of people–people he’d been sneaking around as recently as last week, willing to let go of his fear of The Gay in order to continue to hide. Now, when the plot calls for it, he’s all “Hey everyone! Can’t read! Illiterate, that’s me!” This puts another nail in Thomas’s coffin–the one good thing he was doing is now taken away from him. Maybe the Basketcase vote for his eventual suicide, cliché though it is, is correct.

Speaking of predictions, mark me down for a romance between Edith’s editor and Tom Branson. Her costuming is really suggestive of the teacher last season, but she’s not radical, and she comes approved by Lady Edith. The upper classes are excellent matchmakers.

They do say opposites attract.

Lady Mary and Henry Talbot are so completely not opposites. In fact, both Mary and Edith are having romances with someone quite similar to themselves. Henry is willful, romantic, controlling, and charismatic, all qualities Mary shares, while Bertie is nice, and caring, and smart, and kind of insipid, like Edith. Both pairs are physically matched and look gorgeous together. In fact, Edith cuddling with Bertie on the couch is as beautiful as she’s ever looked on the series.

Possibly for the first time in Downton Abbey history, I can sympathize with Lady Mary. Her husband really did die in a car crash, and now she’s falling in love with someone who will always be risking death behind the wheel. It’s not like this is a horse she can get back on–she’ll be reminded time after time after time, it’ll never end. In fact, it’s kind of sadistic of Henry to ask it of her. Yes, I know your husband died in a car crash. Come watch me race, and cheer for me, and do it again and again. It’s selfish and narcissistic, which is another way that he’s just like Mary.

There was an interesting little twist on the sister dynamic this week. Mary looked prepared to be happy for Edith, but Edith was all bristly and defensive. Can’t blame her, they’ve done nothing but snipe at one another their whole lives, but for a moment, Mary looked ready to make peace and Edith shot her down.

Downstairs, Mrs. Patmore helps Mrs. Hughes engineer revenge on Mr. Carson for being a dick. It went well.

Also, someone is following Mrs. Patmore. That’s…something.

So, Basketcases, how did you feel about this episode? Did you enjoy antique car racing? Are you happy for Moseley? Should Carson and Hughes have sat down?


  5 Responses to “Downton Abbey Season 6, Episode 7: A Tough Nutcracker”

  1. Poor Thomas grins with each hurt.
    I wonder if there is a gay somewhere that he could start his life over with as Mrs. Hughes seemed to suggest.
    The constant digs at him are annoying…we got the message.

    Part of me thinks this last season is just phoning it in.
    They made their name and now they are just going through the motions.
    Remember how it was when there was a huge break between Mad Men seasons. For me, the series never came back to the original sterling story.

    So, Marigold is going with Edith…don’t you think the groom will put 2 and 2 together?
    Carson is getting on my nerves, and I’m not even married to the bugger. Imagine not taking a drink because his master is not! Mrs. Huges is paying for this marriage, God love her penniless-ness. She might end up living with Mrs Patmore before it is all over!

  2. In Downton Abbey Episode 607 we see the dark side of “Amelia Cruikshank” the fiancee of “Larry Grey” the older son of “Lord Richard Merton”. We were introduced to Amelia’s better angel in Episode 606.

    Of Amelia “Isobel Crawley” said, “She’s a tough nut.” To that “Lady Violet Crawley” replied “I’m a tough nutcracker!”

    The face of the actress was not familiar to me, so I looked her up. Her name is PHOEBE SPARROW. She is 25 years old and was born in North Straffordshire. She is represented by Rebecca Blond Associates.

    Her only listed credits are the final 4 episodes of DA and a short film, all in 2015.

    What must it be like to make a professional debut playing scenes with Penelope Wilton as “Cousin Isobel” and Maggie Smith as “Lady Violet”? Those are two of the most talented and powerful performers in England.

    It remains to be seen what happens to “Amelia” in the remaining 2 DA episodes not yet shown on PBS in the USA. My money is on the combination of Isobel and Violet, but I guess we’ll just have to wait to find out.

    Anyway, what a boost to a career for Phoebe Sparrow!

  3. Once again I want the clothes Lady Mary is wearing and the hats, along with the gloves and maybe the sunglasses. And once again, Lady Mary has the good sense/self preservation to cut ties with someone who isn’t what she quite wants or needs. She needs someone with a title, but not much property who has made it in the business realm, money, or someone who is titled,not a lot of money but some, who makes in the diplomatic community or government offices. A person who is an outlier but still a member of the “gang” so to speak. Needs to be clever, a little rascally, and who doesn’t take her too seriously, but respects her intelligence and yet is willing to call her out on some of her behaviors. Not asking too much?

  4. Lady Mary is a dowager in the making.

    • Almost by definition. Except her husband never lived to be Lord Grantham, so she never became Lady Grantham. When her son eventually becomes Lord Grantham, she would normally become the Dowager Lady Grantham, had she ever been Lady Grantham, but I don’t think that will ever happen. She may stay Lady Mary forever. (I think her mother probably does become Dowager when her grandson inherits.)

      But that’s not what you meant at all, of course. 😉

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