Downton Abbey started again this weekend on ITV, returning for the final time with season 6, which as we already knew from the trailer is going to be one, long, emotional goodbye to this ridiculous, super-British television series people all over the world have taken into their hearts. Let's take a recap at six key talking points from episode 1, and what they might mean for the season going forward.
1. Mrs Hughes is worried about going to bed with Carson
Given that most of Downton's relationships are built on foundations of what's practical and what society might think, the romance of Carson and Mrs. Hughes stands out as the most believable since Mary and Matthew way back in season one. I truly care about these two, and although it's hard to imagine somebody with the pride of Carson going into detail about his desire for a sex life with a messenger like Mrs. Patmore, her role as reluctant go-between brought some classic Downton lols to this opening episode.
2. Lady Mary's sins are catching up with her
On more than one occasion Lady Mary has artfully found a way around the no sex before marriage law which binds her, and now that secret tryst she had with Tony Gillingham in Liverpool's Grand Hotel has come back to haunt her, in the form of Bevan, a smug chambermaid with a strong Scouse accent and a strategy to blackmail Lady Mary to the tune of a thousand pounds.
Whilst demanding money from lovely Mary in exchange for her silence, she fiercely insists that "we're coming up and your kind are going down", to which Lady Mary has the beautifully spiteful retort, "the working classes may be coming up, but I'd be very surprised if you are!" Nobody spits venom with quite so much grace.
In the end Mary emerges victorious, kind of, when Robert pays off the trouble-maker - to the tune of "fifty quid", in Mary's own (suspiciously slangy) words - and Her Ladyship wins once again - just the way we like it.
3. Anna is still really, really annoying
"There is not a couple in the world who have had as many worries as we've had", Bates tells Anna in what is presumably meant to be a comforting tone, but really just highlights how much relentless misery Julian Fellowes has thrown at Anna and Bates - and, by extension, us - over the past six years.
Their latest problem should inspire some emotion in me - Anna got pregnant and subsequently lost the baby, again - but honestly, it's hard to summon much feeling beyond ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ at this point. The episode ends with a pantry party to celebrate the news that Anna is off the hook for that guy's death (does anyone even remember who he was at this point? Is a wheel round?), meaning finally Anna has good cause to crack a smile. Please God, let that be the end of it.
4. Lady Edith is running a London business from York
One of season 5's more unlikely plots was Lady Edith's surprise inheritance of that publishing company in London. (No, I can't remember the finer details of it either - probably best not to look too closely.) But because she's still part of the main cast, Edith is running the business from Downton, which seems terribly impractical, particularly when she has unruly male underlings who don't enjoy taking direction from a woman boss over the telephone.
The solution to this dilemma is, of course, for Edith to move in with her Aunt Rosamund in London, and take a more hands-on approach to running the business whilst Rosamund reminisces about that time she was Moneypenny. "What is your future," Rosamund grills, "hanging around Downton being sniped at by Mary?", clearly oblivious to the fact that this is Edith's very purpose in life.
5. Lord Grantham suddenly feels like a normal person
We already knew the overriding theme of season 6 would be the decline of the aristocracy - and of Downton itself. So it's not a surprise when Robert tells his faithful butler Carson that they'll need to cut down on staff in the near future. Carson is predictably outraged, and reminds Lord Grantham that the number of footmen and housemaids has already been slashed from eleven to four, but the wheels of time keep turning and Robert argues, hilariously, that he "doesn't like to feel out of step with my fellow man".
Yes, Robert, you're just like your fellow man, totally. Apart from that seventeen-bedroom mansion set in five hundred-acre grounds, and the dinner parties with Turkish princes and the butler and the fact that you've never set foot in your own kitchen. Still, minor details.
6. Sometimes it's good to rule by fear...
As always, the highlight of episode one comes courtesy of the Dowager Countess who, after doing battle with Isobel Crawley over hospital politics ("Does it ever get cold on the moral highground?", she crows over tea) executes a systematic take-down of her ladies' maid Mrs. Denker as revenge for gossiping about lay-offs at Downton, convincing Denker her job could be on the line before turning to Isobel to gleefully remark that "sometimes, it's good to rule by fear". This woman must never die.
What did you think of Downton season 6, episode 1? Have you lost patience with Anna and Bates, or do their woes inexplicably thrill you? Was Mary lucky to get away with her crimes yet again, and can Edith finally make a life for herself in London? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.