Downton Abbey has a long and illustrious history, and not just the one we heard Cora rattle off tonight. If one googles Highclere Castle, one would learn that an early version of the building that would go on to star in one of the most popular series on television in the 21st century has been standing on those grounds since 749AD. The medieval palace bones upon with the Georgian/Victorian era would renovate has stood since somewhere in the 12th century. The building as we see it today came into being in the late 1830s, when the 3rd Earl of Carnarvon transformed it into the grand mansion that stands today. All tis history, all this talk of merely being caretakers for the next generation to preserve and protect the estate, and yet Robert Grantham cannot understand why the public would treat his house as the living museum piece that it was even in 1925?
Robert: “What on Earth can we show them to make it worth their money? Lady Grantham knitting? Lady Mary in the bath?”
Well, the show hasn’t gone quite so far as to show Lady Mary in the bath, though it did once show us Cora in the bath, so I suppose when it comes right down to it, the truth will out. But though year after year, I claim that the reason we really tune in is for the hats (and this year, the glorious headbands), one of the main draws of Downton Abbey is the chance to glimpse this tremendously splendid estate. (A coworker of mine rather tellingly once referred to it as “that show about the house.”)
If Season 6 has been about everyone heading to their happy endings and their future, why not the house as well? The estate has been just as much a key player in the dramas that unfold about us every week as the costumes, the hairdos, the hats and the changing times. Downton Abbey, and estates like it, have a future in the post-landed gentry era. In today’s world they are museums, reception halls for the asking price, rented out to movies and television productions looking for certain interior and exterior settings, and of course, regular stops on the long running series Antiques Roadshow, where the doors of such estates are thrown open, and the local villagers are invited in to see the sites while bringing along the token items that once came from a household like this that was given to their mum’s mum’s mum back by the grand lady back in 1769, and oh no, they’ve never had it appraised. We just keep it in a box up in the attic, you know. And though Downton’s first experience with the public this week was devoid of a Hugh Scully or an Arthur Negus, that too will come in time. Until then we have the Dowager, having lost her job at the hospital, who turns out to be able to do the honors quite nicely.
Violet: “The library was assembled by the fourth earl – he loved books.”
Mary: “What else did he collect?”
Violet: “Horses and women.”
With only a couple of episodes left (and a Christmas special) in which to wrap everything up, the rest of Downton felt a bit like it had been put on fast forward. Edith has gone from “first date” to “meet the family” with Bertie. The results, by the way, have been the most splendid of any “meeting the family” experience so far, and that’s including the late Matthew Crawley. Meeting the family also means “meeting the ward,” and that seems to have gone rather splendidly too, though we can assume that’s in no small part because every last person in Downton seems to have gotten together with the common goal of cockblocking Mary’s ability to get confirmation on the poor child’s parentage. The household that keeps secrets together should stay together, no?
One would think that, but then, one would also need to tell that to Carson, who in the most ironic moment of the series in six seasons sneers that Thomas is “fragrant with memories of the lost world.” You would know that smell the best sir! And let’s be real, unlike Carson who, despite his wife’s cooking, is finding a little modernity never hurt anyone, Thomas needs more modernity than will probably be seen in his lifetime. Until then, let’s just leave the poor man at Downton and stop trying to kick him out. Turning his frustrated feelings into a one man literacy campaign made me the most productive use of sexual frustration we’ve seen since Mary accidentally used it to kill a Turkish diplomat.
Edith: “And watch Mary flirt with her oily driver? No, thank you.”
Luckily, Henry Talbot seems to be made of sterner stuff, even if he found himself in the middle of a grand cliche, sharing a first kiss in the rain. Let us also hope he is a better driver than her last husband. Just because one races cars for a living doesn’t mean one doesn’t go about crashing them on a regular basis. One has a feeling that will be an entire plot point next week when Mary takes a visit to old school Formula One racing, and sees that the only entertainment to be had when watching cars endlessly turn left is the anticipation of the wreckage to come.
As for the rest of the household, they each had a small drive by. Isobel is being pushed back together with Lord Merton by the oddest and most unlikely of people, the fiancée of the extremely rude and jerkfaced son-of-Merton who was the reason the engagement ended last year. At least someone’s adopted child is working towards a happy ending. Daisy continues to act like a jealous twat, hiding Mr. Mason’s love letters from Mrs. Patmore. (Can we not with that? Thanks.) Molesley getting upset by the love letters that should be hidden from Baxter from her now-jailed once-lover, who she was planning to testify against, but never got to. (That’s a convoluted sentence if I ever saw one.) Perhaps Daisy can give him letter hiding tips when they sit for exams together next month. (They will be sitting together, rest assured.) But then, the roads to true love never did run smooth. And those that did are finding bumps in the road when it comes to expectations of household upkeep, coffee-making, and the most menacing demand of all: “expecting a tasty dinner when they arrive home.” Yes, Mrs. Hughes, that is a threat if I ever heard one.