The beginning of the end of an era. Not only for our beloved British TV series, which will finish after this season having been on our screens since 2010, but also for the opulent lives that the Crawley family leads. The episode opened with the visually pleasing hunting scene, showing Downton in all its autumn glory and mirroring the hunt in Series 1 where Lady Mary met the dashing Mr. Pamuk (we all remember how that ended). And yet, the plot of tonight’s episode portrayed stark differences between the Downton of 1913 the Downton of 1925, the least shocking of which were the new-fangled refrigerator or Lady Mary riding astride.
Her last season bed romp with Viscount Gillingham finally caught up with her, resulting in her being blackmailed by ex-chambermaid Rita Bevan. Yet after trying to deal with the situation herself, even enlisting Anna’s arm hold of steel, the predicament was resolved by none other than her own father, Lord Grantham. That might well seem a tidy resolution although Lady Mary is now in the position that most St. Andrews’ students dread; their parents knowing about their sex lives.
Ms. Bevan turned out not to be the only bold female servant at Downton; Daisy’s anger at Mr. Mason’s eviction illuminated an assertive (if somewhat foolish in Carson’s eyes) streak to her character which has quietly been developing over the past few series. Anna’s harrowing admission to her husband about her miscarriages was brilliantly played by Joanne Froggatt and added a somber tone to tonight’s episode; her despair breaking the viewers’ hearts as much it did both her own and her husband’s. This contrasted with the giddy, busy-body antics of lady’s maid Denker who dug herself into a hole spreading gossip about servants’ dismissals. Her employee, the Dowager Countess, was back on fine form, her sharp tongued one liners as witty as ever; ‘Does it ever get cold on the moral high ground?’ she asked of Isobel. Ouch.
Happier times could (finally!) be in store for the woebegone Bates as Anna was at long last proven not guilty of Mr. Green’s murder. The real details of the event were somewhat hazy and a tad disappointing, which could leave open the possibility of the ‘whodunit’ rearing its head again later on in the series. Of course, below-the-stairs Downton romances wouldn’t be complete without the calm, stoic love present between the recently engaged Carson and Mrs. Hughes. Their steady affection has been the backbone of Downton since its debut, although tonight took a slightly racier turn (as racy as a sexual discussion between three middle-aged strait-laced characters can be). Carson and Mrs. Patmore’s exchange about, erm, ‘wifely duties’ provided some awkward cringe worthy material, although it was worth sitting through to finally see a kiss and affectionate cuddle between Carson and Mrs. Hughes, which followed a re-affirmation of their feelings for one another. Phew!
Above stairs, Lady Edith seemed more concerned with spreading her wings and finding herself a life in London than selecting a beau, although she touchingly referred to her love with Michael Gregson as the ‘one bit of happiness in her life’. The auction of a family friend’s inherited possessions was yet another reminder of the changing times. Even Lord Grantham’s reference to the ‘Edwardians’ shows how much times have changed for Britain’s ruling classes since the show’s beginning. Could Downton be next to go under the hammer? And yet, whatever Julian Fellowes may have in store for us in the coming episodes, the series opener finished on the best possible note, featuring a party complete with alcohol for all! Both upstairs and down celebrated Anna’s freedom and danced to the gramophone’s jaunty tunes, casting all worries aside, and showing us that Downton is, without a doubt, back with all of it’s signature style and drama.