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Downton Abbey: Season 6, Episode 1 Recap

Picture it: Yorkshire, 1925.

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The sixth and final season of Downton Abbey begins exactly how you predicted it would: with the Crawleys preparing for a hunt. Because despite the fact that the times they are a changin’, and the estate may quickly become more than they can handle financially, there are some distinct pleasures of the upper class lifestyle that they just refuse to part with.

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But what’s this? A bizarre lady drifter approaching the riding-habited Lady Mary who is, le gasp, riding astride? This mysterious woman cuts straight to the chase and tells our raven-haired heroine that she proposes to blackmail her about a certain sexual tryst.

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Lady Mary scoffs in her unaffected and aloof manner, rolling her eyes at the woman who clearly has not done her research, otherwise she would have known that Season One Mary was sufficiently blackmailed about the death of the man she lost her virginity to—The Turk!—and so whatever this little mite is planning simply could never top that.

Oh, and of course the woman wants money to keep quiet, which Mary won’t give her simply on principle. … Also probably because she doesn’t know where the money is being kept these days—possibly in a vase.

Downstairs, there’s a bit of a love-triangle brewing, but trust me when I say it’s not what you’re thinking. While everyone seems to be excited for Mrs. Hughes and Carson’s impending nuptials, the bride-to-be has been doing some epic lip-biting as of late. Not unnoticed by her BFF Mrs. Patmore, the cook corners the housekeeper in her bedroom (which we are finally seeing after five seasons—girl has a skylight!) and demands to know what’s got her knickers in a twist.

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In one of the most comedic—and sincere—plots Downton Abbey has ever had, Mrs. Hughes confesses to Mrs. Patmore that she doesn’t know what Carson’s expectations for marriage will be, by which she means, “Is he DTF?” or even, “Will we sleep in the same bed? Do married-people-things?”

Mrs. Patmore offers some sage advice to her friend on the merits of “keeping the lights off” if she’s worried that she’s “too old” for sexytimes, which of course Mrs. Hughes does not find particularly helpful. But her friend comes through for her and—reluctantly—agrees to suss out what Carson’s expectations in the bedroom are, thereby solidifying herself as WingGirl extraordinaire and subsequently the character on this show with the most glorious comedic timing.

Meanwhile, smolderingly hot but forever forlorn under butler Thomas has become the Crawley children’s personal jungle gym, and he’s seen cavorting through the halls with little George—Marigold is still adjusting to not actually being a farmer’s daughter after all and wanders the halls aimlessly looking for livestock. Sybbie, you recall, has gone to America with her father, Branson, and has probably already become the Irish Shirley Temple.

The schemin’ woman from the beginning of the episode returns—with her VERY OBVIOUS REGIONAL ACCENT SO WE ALL KNOW THAT SHE ISN’T VERY CLASSY—and actually weasels her way into Downton and upstairs to Lady Mary’s bedroom, having duped Mrs. Hughes by saying that she’s a new maid at the Dower House. One has to assume that writer Julian Fellowes figured we would all believe that Mrs. Hughes is too distracted by her newly discovered sexuality to think twice about this chick, but I digress. This woman proceeds to enter Lady Mary’s room, demand money, and eat her toast, this act being the nail in the coffin for Lady Mary, who enlists her lady’s maid, Anna, to do her dirty work.

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Sidenote: Anna may or may not be pregnant. She’s had several miscarriages but girl is sincerely trying, and we are sincerely getting ready for #BabyBates.

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Mrs. Patmore sidles up to Carson in his pantry and downs some liquid courage before awkwardly trying to ask him about his sexual expectations. She fails, at least partially because Carson hasn’t got even an inkling about what she’s on about. She reports back to Mrs. Hughes that she tried, but there’s just no easy way to ask a stoic butler about his kinks.

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While Mrs. Patmore is busy trying to get the image of a sexually excited Carson out of her mind, she’s failed to keep an eye on her Downstairs Daughter Daisy, who you may recall is set to take her teaching exams, after her tutelage with the Infamous and Socially Challenging Miss Bunting. Daisy, it seems, is a bit of a spitfire, particularly when it comes to protecting the interest of her Father-in-Law, Mr. Mason, who, besides Mrs. Patmore, is arguably all the family the girl’s got. After a breakdown in front of Robert and Cora, we begin to sense that Daisy may be getting the boot for her social justice leanings, not unlike her former mentor Miss Bunting.

Just when Mrs. Patmore thinks she’s scrubbed the images of Carson “without his togs” from her mind, he summons her into his parlor. Having sort-of misunderstood the meaning behind her previous visit, he admits that he worries Mrs. Hughes is having second thoughts about marrying him. Oh, Carson!

Mrs. Patmore—an absolutely delightful performance here by Lesley Nicol—refuses to look him in the eye as she explains it’s not that Mrs. Hughes doesn’t want to marry him—quite to the contrary—she’s just worried about the more intimate aspects of their relationship.

Cue Carson’s eyebrow becoming a sentient being and leaving the room in a huff.

But much to Carson’s credit (and Jim Carter’s beautiful acting), once he’s repositioned his eyebrow, he admits that he doesn’t want to live any other way but in a full marriage—sex and all—with Mrs. Hughes. But if that’s not what she wants, he would never force her.

Mrs. Patmore fidgets. Now she’s thinking about Mrs. Hughes’ boobs, and this is not the first time, for we remember that one time Mrs. Hughes had her friend feel for a lump in her breast when she thought she had cancer.

Carson fidgets—shit, now he’s thinking about Mrs. Hughes’ boobs, too.

A moment passes between them, and Carson delivers a very heartfelt speech about how Mrs. Hughes ought not worry about her age, or if she thinks herself plain, because he thinks she’s beautiful, and he wants “to live as closely as two people can for the time that remains to them on Earth.”

Mrs. Patmore—as well as the rest of us—shed a tear at the bear of a man’s sensitive side. She’s also relieved to report back to her friend that, indeed, Carson wants to plough her like a farmer supporting their family.

Amidst all this, Downton is celebrating that neither of the Bates’ killed Mr. Green, and this celebration involves some dancing, where we get a glimpse of Molesley and Baxter getting down to the 1920s equivalent of “Hotline Bling.” Even Robert and Cora get in on the action and discover not only that the downstairs portion of their house now as a REFRIGERATOR, but that they have a downstairs portion to their house.

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And at last, the betrothed confront one another with their adorable insecurities about nakeytime, and after Mrs. Hughes tells Carson, “If you want me, you can have me—to quote Oliver Cromwell—warts and all” (because Elsie Hughes would quote one of the most controversial figures in British history at what is no doubt the most romantic moment of her life), Carson responds by kissing her, with his mouth, on her mouth, proving that though they may be what some journalists have called “mature love,” they’ve still got it after 30 years. Now if that doesn’t give you a little hope in the New Year, I don’t know what does.

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Minor but possibly relevant plot points:

  • Isobel and Violet are fighting about the hospital, but we’d all much rather they were fighting over who gets the side of the bed closest to the window.

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  • The Crawleys go to another estate, which has fallen on hard times, and it gives Robert an existential crisis. What if they too have to start selling off the family silver? He grunts a lot, and Cora looks a little overdressed for an auction of their friend’s home goods.

Abby Norman is an author and journalist in New England. Her work has been featured on Medium, The Huffington Post, Alternet and recommended by Time Magazine and NPR. Her first book FLARE, a chronicle of chronic illness, is forthcoming from Nation Books/Perseus. She is represented by Tisse Takagi. Follow her on Twitter @notabbynormal.

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