Downton Abbey: A Long-Expected Throwdown

Golly gumdrops!

It took six years, the moment has been long prepared for, and at last, it arrived.

Edith unloaded on Mary.

The backstory. Last week, Bertie Pelham, a penniless land agent at Brancaster Castle, proposed to Edith. This week, we learn the Marquess of Hexham, Bertie’s cousin, died of malaria in Tangiers, and the title has passed to the Marquess’ heir, his second cousin once-removed, one Bertie Pelham. Bertie arrives at Downton to “settle things” with Edith, he’s still mad about her, she says she loves him… but she can’t quite bring herself to tell him that she’s not as pure as he may believe, as Edith’s ward, Marigold, is actually her illegitimate daughter with the late Michael Gregson. Unfortunately, Edith doesn’t have a chance to tell Bertie the truth (and, I think she would have, eventually, though now we’ll never know), as Mary, reeling from dumping Ozymandias last week and in shock from learning that Edith will “outrank [them] all,” drops a truth bomb at breakfast. Bertie is devastated. Edith is devastated. Tom goes off on Mary (magnificent performances from Allan Leach and Michelle Dockery) — “You ruined Edith’s life today. How many lives are you going to wreck just to smother your own misery? — You’re a coward, Mary. Just like all bullies, you’re a coward.” — and then Mary goes to talk to Edith, whom she finds packing.

Now, I have no idea what Mary would have said to Edith in that moment. My suspicion is that Mary had no idea what she would have said to Edith, either, and ultimately it didn’t matter as years of anger and resentment come to the fore as Edith unloads on Mary.

Here, I’ll grab the full quote from Vanity Fair:

Just shut up! … Who do you think you’re talking to? Mama? Your maid? I know you. I know you to be a nasty, jealous, scheming bitch. … You’re a bitch! And not content with ruining your own life, you’re determined to ruin mine. … Don’t demean yourself by trying to justify your venom. Just go. … And you’re wrong, you know, as you so often are. Henry’s perfect for you. You’re just too stupid and stuck-up to see it. Still, at least he’s gotten away from you, which is something to give thanks for, I suppose.

The ellipses, by the way, are the moments where Mary tries to get a word in, and it doesn’t happen. Edith is like Ahab in that moment, and Mary is her Moby-Dick. What Melville wrote of Ahab — “He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it.” — he could have written just as easily of Edith Crawley.

Yes, Edith screwed up by not telling Bertie the truth about Marigold. Had he not been blindsided by the truth, perhaps things could have gone differently. But, Edith’s romantic track record — in love with her cousin who was engaged to Mary (until he died on the Titanic), left at the altar on her wedding day, in love with a married man who disappeared (and ultimately died) while in Germany — didn’t give her many good lessons to draw upon; whomever she loved, it turned to ashes.

I don’t often talk about the acting of Downton Abbey, but I feel that the cast — Laura Carmichael as Edith, Leach as Tom, Dockery as Mary, and Harry Hadden-Paton as Bertie — all turn in fine performances, especially Carmichael in the scene where Edith and Bertie part. It’s an astonishingly well directed scene set outside the Abbey, Bertie and Edith walking alone, and they convey the truth that these two characters care about one another deeply, have no desire to hurt one another, but circumstances, such as they are, have driven them apart. The shot, as Bertie walks away and Edith stands alone, is nothing short of beautiful.

We will return to Edith before the end of this post. Let’s get some of the other stuff out of the way.

Let’s start with the nonsense. Yes, the whole Mrs. Patmore plot — her bed and breakfast has become a “house of ill-repute” as it’s become embroiled in a scandal involving a married man — was amusing, but… But. Is this really the sort of thing we needed in what was the season finale in Britain? It was cute. It was even mildly fun. But this was the sort of comedy filler plot you have in episode five or six, not the finale.

The upside to the Mrs. Patmore plot is that 1) we see the Crawleys pay attention to the people who work for them and do something to make their lives better (with the plan to have tea at the B&B) and 2) it once again shows Carson to be the ginormous asshole that he is. I know this has been a frequent compliant of mine, and I’m going to recycle it again, but Carson has become utterly insufferable. He’s so stolid and upstanding that he’s crossed the line over into being judgmental. (Save, of course, where Mary is concerned.)

Carson, of course, leads us to the episode’s other dramatic plot — Thomas’ attempted suicide. It’s been obvious for weeks that Thomas was heading for a dark place, with the constant needling from Carson. I would not have ruled out violence against Carson as a possibility — hell, I couldn’t understand why Mrs. Hughes hadn’t stabbed Carson herself for being a shitty, overbearing husband — but I didn’t expect a suicide attempt. Fortunately, Thomas was as competent in slitting his wrists as he was in curing himself of homosexuality or running a contraband business — in other words, he wasn’t competent at all — and Baxter was able to get help for him in the nick of time.

Molesley has his first day as a teacher!

His first day doesn’t go well, but Baxter says a few words to him about being honest with the kids, and his second day is magic. I look at where Molesley started — valet to Matthew, then ditch digger — and where he’s ended up, and it’s simply amazing stuff. Who would have thought he would be the character with the biggest arc over the series’ run? Not I.

And now, let’s talk about Mary and Ozymandias. (For newcomers, Ozymandias is what I’m calling Matthew Goode’s character; he played Ozymandias in Watchmen, the smartest man in the world.)

Last week, Mary dumped him after his best friend died in a car accident at the racetrack. This week, Tom tries to fix them up yet again, only Mary’s having none of it. Then, after everyone tells Mary that he’s perfect for her — Edith, in her blowup; Tom, in his blowup; the Dowager Countess — Mary calls him up and they get back together for a quickie wedding. How quick? We’re talking like three days quick. He already has the wedding certificate and the archbishop lined up.

Let me be blunt. I have no idea why Mary and Ozymandias married. There’s simply no chemistry between the characters; reviewers online have taken absolute glee in noting that there’s more chemistry between Ozymandias and Tom. For all that everyone says they’re “well-matched,” they seem to have nothing whatsoever in common. They don’t even show any signs of raw animal magnetism. When they finally agree to marriage, it plays like a business negotiation, not an act of passion.

Honestly, that’s my best guess. It’s 1925 and they’re horny. The proprieties of the time, being what they are, say marriage. I don’t see them being happy — or stable — over the long-term.

But! On Mary’s wedding day, a visitor arrives at Downton Abbey. Edith!

Mary can’t understand why. And Edith shows remarkable maturity with a beautiful speech about how they’re sisters and one day their shared memories will outweigh their mutual rancor.

For Mary, life is about what she wants. For Edith, there’s a bigger picture at stake. Edith is content with her life in a way that Mary is not. Were the roles reversed, Mary would not have been at Edith’s wedding. Edith has matured. She’s not the teenager who wrote the Turkish ambassador about the real circumstances behind the death of “poor Kemal” anymore. Life has shaped her, and the closing shot, of Edith watching as the children run circles around Sybil’s grave, shows a woman at peace with herself.

One more episode of Downton Abbey remains, though PBS won’t be airing it until March 6th. (Next week, they’re airing a behind-the-scenes documentary.)

Here’s what I want.

  1. Edith to find happiness and a “win.”
  2. Isobel and Lord Merton to finally get together. (There have been events regarding them the last few episodes, but they’re hardly worth mentioning.)
  3. Mary to die horribly of syphilis.

That’s not too much to ask for, is it?

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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