Downton Abbey Season 6: An Initial Review

By Thursday, March 17, 2016 ,

Photo Credit: Wallpaper Cave
(I do not own the rights to this photo)
 With a final sad farewell, we have watched the curtain close on Downton Abbey and its cast of marvelous characters. You knew a review had to be coming soon, right? I’ve now had time to think and reflect on the season as a whole, and I’m excited to share some thoughts on it with you! 

What I Liked Overall

Romance in Later Years:
This theme blossomed in season 5 and continued strongly throughout this final season. I deeply appreciate that Julian Fellowes respects and explores love stories for older couples. Isobel and Lord Merton’s pairing was one of my favorite plot lines, especially when Violet and Isobel rescued him from his awful son and daughter-in-law. And of course we had the treat of seeing Mr. Carson as Mrs. Hughes as a married couple in this last season. As Mrs. Hughes said, he was quite a curmudgeon at times, but there’s no denying they’re adorable.

The Return of Tom Branson:
I realized pretty soon after Tom and Sybbie’s joyous return that Fellowes brought them back probably because he realized that the family would just implode without Tom. He became such a rock, moral center, and source of wisdom for everyone because he sees through all the aristocratic stiffness and fluff. His relationship with Mary was one of my favorite connections – he became her reasoning and her listening ear at such crucial moments, and I felt myself calming down when he would come in with a sensible comment. 

The Irony of Mary and Edith’s Happy Endings:
 In episode 8, Robert exclaims his incredulity at his daughters’ love interests: 

“If anyone had told me Mary would hitch up with a mechanic and Edith would marry one of the grandest men in England, I’d have knocked them down!” 

Ironic indeed! It’s quite a reversal for Mary and Edith, and the interesting thing is that I’m happy for both of them and it works for both of them. Mary was raised to be glamorous and marry for position while Edith was perpetually unlucky, chasing after any man who paid her attention, from a man 30 years older than her to married farmers. But now, Mary has happily married a man who has a car business and no title, and Edith has gotten her happy ending with a Marquess, one of the highest aristocratic positions.

It’s an enjoyable turning point for both of them. Mary has realized that she doesn’t need to be married to be happy, but that Henry Talbot, though different from everything she was taught to expect, is yet her equal because he loves her passionately and isn’t afraid to challenge her strongly. And Edith has finally experienced a change in her stroke of bad luck that’s so sudden it’s almost funny. It reminds me of the end of Jane Eyre in many ways – a sudden death and a rapid turn of events drop a fairytale ending in her lap, much to the enjoyment of the viewers.

What I Might Have Done Differently

Brought in Henry Talbot earlier:
I was obviously pleased with how Henry and Mary’s story concluded, but I would have liked to see them have a bit more screen time. If he’d entered maybe an episode earlier, their courtship could have been drawn out a little more, which I would have enjoyed.

Given more closure or details on the Baxter/Molesley and Tom/Laura Edmunds ships: 
Baxter and Molesley were such a slow burning romance that I would have really liked more resolution for them! Tom and Laura Edmunds understandably had less time, but I still would have enjoyed meeting Laura earlier and seeing them interact a bit more.
Photo Credit: Molesley & Baxter Tumblr
(I do not own the rights to this photo)
Had Edith apologize to the Drewe family:  

This is maybe my biggest problem with Edith. No matter how you look at it, she cruelly misused the Drewe family through pressuring Mr. Drewe to raise Marigold and then changing her mind, and she never seemed remorseful. The Drewes lost a child they loved, Mr. and Mrs. Drewe’s marriage suffered strain, and the family lost the land they’d lived on for generations. Regardless of how the Drewes mismanaged the Marigold situation later, nothing changes that Edith singlehandedly initiated and concocted the entire plan. If she had realized how deeply she’d wronged them, apologized, and offered contact with Marigold in later years, I think her redemption would have been more complete. 

My Very Favorite Arcs of Season 6 

If you know me, you know that Lady Mary is my absolute favorite Downton character, and I believe her development this season was some of the strongest we’ve seen for her in a while. Personally, I think Mary might be the most complex character to ever grace television, and I sincerely hope Michelle Dockery wins the Emmy she deserves for this season, as she convincingly portrayed such a catalogue of conflicting emotions. All that to say, the turning points involving Mary were my favorites, particularly the roller coaster she was on in the last three episodes.
Photo Credit: Glamour
(I do not own the rights to this photo)

The Car Race: 
From the day at the racetrack and on, the range of emotions Mary experiences is massive – hopeful, broken, confused, cowardly, cruel, cold, vulnerable, pained, introspective, and much more all describe her at some point in the last three episodes, and I loved it. Her breakdown with Henry immediately after the race and on the telephone with him later that evening are poignant and raw, especially when she begins weeping in guilt to Tom after the phone call. We see her paralyzing fear of loving again for the first time, and I was honestly taken aback at just how much her bravado was displaced for the moment. And of course, Tom’s wisdom is impeccable: 

“You will be hurt again, and so will I. Because being hurt is part of being alive.” 

Amen, Tom, and well said.

Mary's Long-Time Coming Rebukes: 
First, Tom’s scathing criticism after Mary’s cold-blooded spite toward Edith at the breakfast table is positively spine-tingling. His thunderous reprimand goes straight through Mary’s armor, showing how sincerely she’s come to trust and rely on him. Chastisement from him sinks deep for her, and I love that it’s him, and ultimately Violet afterwards, who get through to her.

The scene with Violet and Mary might be one of my favorites in all of Downton Abbey. I like to say that if the show continued, Mary would be the next Dowager Countess. If you picture her in 50 years, she would surely be zapping off stinging wit and wisdom like Violet does now. Without question, she’s an apple off the Dowager’s tree – clever, hard, beautiful, graceful, sharp, sensitive, loyal, strong, and fierce all perfectly combined – and this scene demonstrates that to perfection. It shows that the roots of Mary’s bad behavior are raw pain and terror, however well she hides it around others. But Violet understands this tendency because in all likelihood, Mary learned it from her. Propriety and tradition are Violet’s priorities, but she also encourages her conflicted granddaughter to remember that emotions are important too: 

Violet: I believe in rules, and traditions, and playing our part. But there is something else. 
Mary: And what is that, pray? 
Violet: I believe in love. I mean, brilliant careers, rich lives, are seldom led without just an element of love. 
Mary: Oh, Granny, you do surprise me. 
Violet: Oh, I am glad. So climbing all those stairs wasn’t wasted. (both laugh) Now, I would only say this. First, make peace with your sister. And then, make peace with yourself. 

It’s such a tender moment between these two women who represent much of Downton Abbey’s heart, and it’s what ultimately pushes Mary to embrace love, humility, and even a little free spirit. The following scenes cap it all off beautifully, especially her visit to Matthew’s grave, her acceptance of Henry, and her reconciliation with Edith before the wedding. I cried buckets through it all.

So how did you take these scenes mentioned? What did you like or maybe would have tweaked in this last season? I’ll probably be back with more favorite moments and scenes, but these are the top ones for now :) I’d love to hear what you think!

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