Downton Abbey was returning.

It was impossible to avoid on PBS in recent weeks. There were ad spots between shows. “The Final Season,” we were reminded again and again. PBS’s biggest show ever, winner of Golden Globes and Primetime Emmy Awards.

It all got to be a bit too much.

Friday night, following the Sherlock Christmas special, my PBS station (and maybe others?) showed a half-hour Salute to Downton Abbey special, hosted by Hugh Bonneville, recapping the first five seasons, showing sneak peaks of this final season, and putting the actors on camera to talk about their characters.

Sad to say, because it’s so shallow, but I’m madly in love with Ms. Carmichael. Forever will mine be an unrequited love. :)

Sunday, I don’t know what time the Downton Abbey salutes started on PBS, but when I turned on the television a little past 7 (still on PBS from Friday night), it had already begun. One salute ended just before eight, and at eight another began, Countdown to Downton Abbey. Hosted by Broadway star Kelli O’Hara, the program mixed scenes from upcoming episodes; interviews with the cast, both on set at on the red carpet at various events; some live skits the cast performed at (I believe) a BAFTA ceremony; and the cast members themselves holding champagne flutes and telling us how many minutes it would be until the episode began. And yes, there was even a countdown clock at times in the corner of the screen.

Suffice it to say, one could have suffered from Downton burnout by the time the episode began!

And at last…

I should note there are three things I want from Downton Abbey‘s final season.

One, for Lady Edith to find happiness. If that means a life in London, with her company and her daughter, away from the country life of Downton, so be it. I think that would be marvelous for her.

Two, for Isobel and Lord Merton to marry. Isobel has her reasons for spurning Lord Merton, and they’re stupid reasons. She would let his horrible sons ruin her happiness. I want her to realize that spending the rest of her life with a man who loves her is preferable to spending the rest of her life alone.

And three, for Mary to die horribly of syphilis. Even that would not be painful enough, I fear. She is a horrible, horrible person, and I cannot, for the life of me, ever imagine what Matthew saw in her. At times I think he used the specter of the sainted Lavinia Swire as a way of keeping Mary at bay.

The first episode of the sixth season picked up sometime in 1925, and it introduced us to two (apparently) ongoing plots and several smaller plots. As someone who feels that the first season of Downton was the strongest because it had an overarching plot that affected everything — the entail — that there are two “big” plots is a welcome development. In one plot, the cost of labor is rising, big estates aren’t financially sensible, and the Granthams may have to “downsize” their staff and their holdings. In the other, the town’s hospital may be the target of a takeover by the larger hospital in York. People are taking sides in both — Barrow is worried about his job, Denker is messing with Spratt’s head, Violet and Isobel are an opposite sides of the hospital question. These look like engines that will fuel the drama of the next seven or eight weeks.

There are also some minor plots that are disposed of in this episode.

Mary faces blackmail over her weekend of debauchery with Lord Gillingham in the fifth season.

In the aftermath of Mr. Carson’s marriage proposal, Mrs. Hughes wonders, exactly, how Carson views their prospective marriage.

The murder of Mr. Greene is still up in the air; the London police have a confession, but no evidence to tie the confessor to Mr. Greene.

Lady Edith faces a decision about the direction her life will take.

And Daisy’s father-in-law faces eviction from his tenant farm.

It was an amiable episode that left me with warm fuzzy feelings. There was a hunt. There were teas and meals and time spent in the sitting room. There were conversations about various things — will Mary marry again, who will replace Tom as the estate agent, what are the Abbey’s proper staffing levels?

The episode didn’t aspire to greatness. It didn’t need to be great. It only needed to be fun and to remind the viewer of why they loved these characters.

It did that. It’s an auspicious beginning for the final season.

And those 1920s fashions? They were fab. :)

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