Well, we've arrived at last to the very final season of Downton Abbey. I think it's safe to say that the show has reached its use-by date, and all that remains is for Julian Fellowes to usher out the Crawley family and servants with as much dignity as possible.
That said, I do think that a lot of viewers are needlessly vitriolic about the course the show has taken in recent years. Certainly it's not as good as it used to be, but for the most part I don't think it had any particularly high storytelling ambitions in the first place.
To accurately recreate an era drawing to a close, to explore the relationship between the upper and lower classes, to be light and frothy and occasionally witty – that's the purpose of Downton Abbey, and it's been pulling that off successfully for the last six years.
I'm hardly emotionally invested at this point, but I want to see this out to the end...
It's 1925, which means that 20s fashions have well and truly arrived. And if it weren't for the lack of waistlines, I'd be eager to reinstate them.
There's a new mystery girl on the grounds, and she turns out to be Fellowes' favourite type of antagonist: a member of the provoked and ambitious serving class, who hate their aristocratic overlords and can't wait to see the establishment crumble. Yeah, I know I spent the introduction to this review defending Fellowes, but this is one of his major writing problems: making anyone who doesn't adhere to the status quo a villain.
Oh, and she's here to blackmail Mary. How many people has it been at this stage? In any case, it's resolved quite nicely (though naturally at no cost to Mary herself) in a way that allows Lord Grantham to be cool and Mary to realize that she's got the strength to withstand scandal. Though I did get a little laugh out of the fact that she was ready to face a tarnished reputation – but gave no thought whatsoever to what it would have done to Gillingham and Mabel.
Oh Mary. I'd say "never change", but it's perfectly obvious at this point you never will.
The child actors are now old enough to have actual lines, and they're making the most of having a houseful of servants by requesting piggy-backs from Thomas – who is actually not being an ass these days. Has the absence of O'Brien and the influence of Baxter finally paid off?
I don't advocate hunting in any way, shape or form, but you have to admit the sight of it (the red coats, the pack of dogs, the galloping horses) can be pretty impressive. Less so is Lady Mary's artfully muddied back after she takes a tumble. You can't tell me that this:
Led to this:
Elsewhere, Mrs Patmore and Mrs Hughes are having an excruciatingly awkward conversation about the facts of life when it comes to Mrs Hughes's impending marriage to Carson and what exactly he expects from the arrangement. It's adorable and endearing and lovely, and once again I find myself in Fellowes's corner, as – let's be honest here – a lesser writer would not have bothered letting two women in late middle age have this conversation on-screen.
Seriously, think about it. When was the last time (if ever) you saw this happen on prime time television?
It's ironic then that apparently Edith is having a bit of trouble with her magazine editor, who she suspects doesn't like taking orders from a woman. Wow, what an interesting development! Naturally it all happens off-screen. Much like Gregson's death and her pregnancy with Marigold, that seems to be where Fellowes likes to keep all of Edith's stories.
Still, at least she's happy for a change. And I would kill for that London apartment.
It would appear that Anna is the new Edith: the character who is Not Allowed To Be Happy. She used to be so confident and efficient, now it's all doom and gloom. Not only can she not get pregnant, but the Mr Green scandal is still hanging over her – at least until the end of the episode, in which it's wrapped up just as anti-climatically as the Mrs Bates trial three seasons ago. Okay whatever – onwards and upwards.
Violet and Isabel are at war again, and the world is as it should be. I'm not even sure what the particulars are about (something about a hospital?) but what better way to send off these two characters but in the midst of a family feud?
Ah, Denker. Along with Baxter I feel that she's one of the few new characters whose integration into the cast actually worked, largely due to her role as an insufferable shit-stirrer. This time around she's spreading rumours that the servants are about to be downsized, only for Violet to turn the tables on her. Such a funny little household she's got: herself, the trouble-making Denker, the odious Spratt and the unseen cook – you could probably craft a whole new show around these characters. Make it a sitcom.
But there was a little moment here, in which Denker demonstrated a reluctance to stand when Carson entered the room, which spoke volumes about her (and why I can't help but like her!)
Rosamund! I have no idea why, but I'm always excited to see her. Perhaps because she's one of those side characters that you always expect to fall to Chuck Cunningham Syndrome, and yet there she is: turning up again year after year, refusing to be forgotten.
Another character that refuses to be forgotten is Daisy's father-in-law, now about to be evicted off the land that he's farmed for most of his life. I've no idea what Daisy was trying to achieve when she confronted the new owners, but her story-arc for this season will no doubt involve a) making amends, and b) inheriting it herself.
Mary must surely be out of half-mourning by now, though I love the fact she still seems to be favouring shades of purple. It creates a visual link between her and her grandmother, and between that and the confidence her father demonstrated in her, it would appear she's well and truly going to be the heiress of Downton.
That is, if the family can save it. There were certainly more than a few anvils dropped about how the servants are leaving, the estates are dissolving and that this is The End of an Age.
Hey, it's Mr Wickham, reminding us all of just how long ago Pride and Prejudice came out.
The cast is looked increasingly aged, as along with the departures of Sybil and Matthew, Branson and Rose have left as well (though at least Fellowes found a way to write them out instead of killing them off, and I know at least one will be returning...)
I suspect many of the young cast looked upon Downton Abbey as a springboard for their future careers, though it still remains to be seen whether or not this plan will work out for them. I don't think Dan Stevens has been as successful as he initially envisaged (I know he's going to be in Beauty and the Beast, but he'll be in prosthetics/motion capture CGI for most of that) and Jessica Brown Findlay seems to have faded from the limelight a little as well.
But Mary and Edith looked beautiful this episode. The 1920s suit them: