Downton Abbey: The Politics of Pig Farming

Downton Abbey vacillates between two extremes — measured costume drama and out-and-out soap opera. Last night’s episode, the second of the sixth and final season, was the latter, not the former.

The episode’s main plot — an autumn farm festival — was the springboard for a number of smaller plots, but then there were other plots, inaugurated last week, that continued on and had nothing whatsoever to do with porcine husbandry. After last week, which was an auspicious start to the final season, this episode muddled for an hour.

Let’s look at the ongoing story threads.

The fight between Isobel and Violet over the future of the hospital sees a number of players in and around the Abbey taking sides — and virtually all of them are lining up with Isobel that the town’s hospital should be taken over by the Royal hospital in York. A moment of apparent rapprochement between Isobel and Lord Merton was nothing of the sort; since breaking their engagement, Isobel is professional and cold with Lord Merton, and it breaks the heart to see it, especially since it’s clear that he’s still carrying a torch for her. I can’t see the fight over the hospital lasting more than two more episodes before someone snaps.

Thomas is still worried about his future among the servants corps, and we see him off on a job interview that goes badly. I’m not really clear why Thomas is so certain that he’ll be the first one sacked when (and if) cutbacks come. Mr. Carson’s attitude toward Thomas is surprisingly snotty. This plot is a snooze.

A wedding at the Abbey cannot happen without stupid speedbumps, and the marriage of Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes is no exception. On the one hand, they have a failure to communicate what they want out of their wedding ceremony and, on the other hand, Lady Mary is a busybody who will insert herself into affairs that are not of her concern. As much as I like these two characters, I couldn’t muster a lot of interest in their problems, which would have been solved ten minutes into the episode if they had simply talked honestly to one another.

Lady Edith’s life as a publisher has hit some snags — she has hired an editor who can’t stand her ideas, and commuting by train from York to London isn’t working for her. She does have an apartment in the city at her disposal, but she doesn’t want to live by herself. I think she should move to London, because she might meet someone…

Anna has a meltdown because she can’t carry a child to term. Here’s how I feel about that:

Daisy, feeling guilty about Mr. Mason’s impending eviction, frets and whines and frets. I’ve reached the point where I simply don’t care anymore…

With those out of the way, lets talk about hogs.

There is a new livestock fair in the autumn, and the Abbey will be entering two pigs in the competition. Naturally, this brings back Tim Drewe, the estate’s pig expert, and his wife, Margery, who fostered Edith’s illegitimate daughter, Marigold, until Edith took her back. When George, Mary’s six-ish year-old son, wants to see the pigs, Marigold goes along, and Margery’s feelings for Marigold are reignited. Then, at the fair, when Marigold goes missing, it’s obvious to Mr. Drewe who has taken the child.

I had this realization:

And by “anyone,” I mean “Lady Mary Crawley.”

Let’s go through the evidence, just from this episode.

Everyone thinks it’s a bad idea that Mary wants to take Marigold with George to Yew Tree Farm. Why? Because everyone not Mary knows that Marigold is Edith’s secret love child and that Mrs. Drewe is mentally unstable.

Everyone, from her father to her ladies maid Anna, asks her how things went between Marigold and Mrs. Drewe.

When Marigold disappears, Edith has a freak-out that’s entirely appropriate for a mother whose daughter has disappeared, not an unrelated woman whose ward has disappeared. (That, by the way, is Mary’s understanding of the relationship between Edith and Marigold.)

There are sound reasons why Mary doesn’t know that Marigold is Edith’s daughter. For one thing, Mary is cold-hearted bitch (and I don’t use that word lightly), and she would use that information against Edith in the worst possible way at the worst possible time. That’s the kind of person Mary is. But for Mary to not see the dots and join things together, that calls into question Mary’s intelligence.

That does open a possibility that it will be Mary’s over-inflated sense of herself that will be her undoing. And I so want to see Mary undone when this season is over. She doesn’t deserve happiness and success. She’s a horrid, horrid, horrid person.


Oops. I seem to have ranted at length on the subject of Mary. I shouldn’t take her so personally.

To pull things back, this episode was quite soapy. What we need in the next week or two is resolution to the Carson/Hughes wedding, the hospital, and Thomas’ employment status. We need to see Mary figure out Marigold’s secret (unless she really is that stupid), and we need to see Edith move to London full-time and find happiness.

And no more pig farming.

Published by Allyn

A writer, editor, journalist, sometimes coder, occasional historian, and all-around scholar, Allyn Gibson is the writer for Diamond Comic Distributors' monthly PREVIEWS catalog, used by comic book shops and throughout the comics industry, and the editor for its monthly order forms. In his over ten years in the industry, Allyn has interviewed comics creators and pop culture celebrities, covered conventions, analyzed industry revenue trends, and written copy for comics, toys, and other pop culture merchandise. Allyn is also known for his short fiction (including the Star Trek story "Make-Believe,"the Doctor Who short story "The Spindle of Necessity," and the ReDeus story "The Ginger Kid"). Allyn has been blogging regularly with WordPress since 2004.

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