There's something strange about this final season of Downton Abbey, and it's hard to pinpoint exactly what. Maybe it's how low-key everything feels after six years of high drama, or maybe it's how quiet the big house is now that most of the downstairs staff have departed. That's not to say that I'm not enjoying it, but it's just a little surprising that they're not building to a much bigger finale - and even moreso that, with just one episode to go, episode 7 didn't even end on a typical cliffhanger, but on Mrs. Hughes musing about life. We'll get to that in a moment.
The big story of the week is the Crawley family's outing to watch Talbot (Matthew Goode) race. Robert, having been laid up in bed for weeks, is bored witless and demands to join the group. Bertie Pelham's interested too, and Edith wonders if she can find something else for him to do to justify the trip. "Isn't it enough that it's a chance to see you?", snipes Mary haughtily, Edith-baiting being her favourite sport, but her little sister has the last laugh with the effortless retort "Would it annoy you if it were?". For once, Mary is speechless. Although it almost feels like Edith's destiny in life to be a tragic elderly cat lady, I have enjoyed seeing her grow in confidence this season.
Neither Anna nor Cora is in support of the Mary and Talbot relationship, both feeling their differences are too much to overcome, although given that Robert married Cora purely for her money, perhaps she's not the best placed to give advice on the subject.
"I'm as keen as you are!", Branson tells Talbot as he joins the spectators in the stands, presumably unaware of the double meaning in his words. As the race heats up and Cora complains of how uneventful it is, alarm bells start to ring. A sense of impending doom begins to loom... and sure enough, it's not long before one of the racing cars has gone up in a ball of flames. But whose? Surely not Talbot?
Well, no. It was Charlie, Talbot's marginally more successful teammate, killed as the two men revved their vehicles to the max in pursuit of the win. For Mary, of course, this triggers memories she'd rather not revive, and later that night she informs Talbot by telephone that the relationship's over. It's hard not to feel sorry for the guy, having just lost his friend and now his potential future wife, but we've known all along that of Mary's two options, he's not the right one. Later, Tom comforts her with his usual brand of reassuring wisdom. "You will be hurt again, and so will I - because being hurt is part of being alive."
Pelham, meanwhile, announces his intention to marry Edith, which is perfect - except for the small, unresolved issue of Marigold's parentage still being a secret. I can't imagine Bertie reacting too badly to the truth, but Edith isn't ready to share it with him yet - presumably that will all have to come out in the finale next week.
With the family away, the downstairs lot are making the most of a few days off, but it's becoming increasingly unenjoyable for poor Thomas, who now seems to exist only to be slandered by Carson at every opportunity. I've always thought Carson a great character, but it's not comfortable seeing him bully one of his staff, and Mrs. Hughes seems to have picked up on the atmosphere too. I maintain that Thomas will still have a job by the end of season 6 - it would be too cruel to throw him out on his ear after he's made such an effort to behave like a decent human being this year.
And finally, Mrs. Hughes gets a little taste of revenge when a feigned injury gives her license to switch the roles and have Carson cook dinner for a change. The sight of his face when he realises that having slaved in the kitchen for hours he'll also have to wash the dishes is something to behold. The episode ends on a low-key note, with Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore laughing about the incident, a bemused Carson none the wiser. It seemed odd for a show which has so long thrived on high drama to forego a cliffhanger at this moment, but perhaps it's not such a bad thing.
What did you think of season 6, episode 7 of Downton? Did Mary choose the right moment to terminate her flirtation with Talbot? Will Thomas get an unexpected reprieve in the series finale? Share your thoughts in the comments.