This is it, ladies and gents. The big one. After 6 seasons and 51 episodes, life at Downton Abbey will become a ghost of Sunday night television. We've seen the Crawley family fall in love, have children, and worry about the future of their privileged existence doing precisely nothing. Downstairs the troubles have been more relatable: death, career woes, (multiple) false imprisonments... okay, so not always more relatable, but certainly less charmed.
Last week I wrote about how season 6 has been notably more low key than previous seasons, the dramatic stakes less exaggerated than before. Nobody got sexed to death by Lady Mary, although there was a particularly hideous case of a burst ulcer at the dinner table which is bound to linger a while in the memory.
Episode 8 kicks off with the big news that one of Bertie Pelham's relatives has usefully (but, y'know, tragically) died, making him the heir to his estate and the new holder of the title of Marquess of Hexham. Suddenly everybody in the Crawley family finds a huge burst of additional affection for Bertie, aside from Mary, who has a face like a slapped arse (albeit an exquisitely contoured one). Edith is left with a dilemma: should she come clean to Bertie about Marigold, or go to the altar with a secret?
Robert thinks she should keep quiet, which is probably not unexpected considering his own marriage was built on a lie of convenience. "Poor old Edith couldn't make her dolls do what she wanted!" he laughs with Cora, which seems cruel but probably quite accurate.
Elsewhere, Mrs. Patmore's new bead and breakfast venture takes a turn for the unexpected when it becomes a "house of ill repute", attracting the attention of a local newspaper. Later, in one of the episode's unlikeliest scenes, Mrs. Patmore and Mrs. Hughes become the subjects of a PAPARAZZI ATTACK! If they're looking for a spin-off, DownTMZ Abbey could just work. Guest role for Lindsay Lohan, anyone?
Mary's spurned suitor Talbot (Matthew Goode) shows up at Downton to make a scene. "If you're trying to get rid of me, I'm going to make this as hard and as horrible as I can!", he aggressively snarls at the good Lady, and for a moment it seems like Downton could be about to channel Fatal Attraction. Mary takes umbridge, refuting the idea that she's a "grubby little golddigger", which doesn't strike me as something said often in 1925.
Her own romantic prospects in the mud, Mary spitefully spills the truth about Marigold over lunch with Bertie. He swiftly exits. Edith catches up with Bertie, who's not angry, but feels unable to marry somebody who can't be honest with him. "My life was about to perfectly wonderful, and now I've thrown it all away!" Edith sobs. The couple's farewell is as heartbreaking as that final goodbye between the lovers who were never meant to be (or were they?) in Brief Encounter.
Mary attempts in vain to persuade Tom that she never meant to spill Edith's secret, prompting the passionate response "Don't lie! Not to me!" Never has the sexual tension between these two simmered more furiously. Later, Mary shows rare heart at Matthew's grave, after a kinder talking-to from Violet persuades her that Talbot really is the guy for her. What is it with this family? Why can nobody see that Branson is Mary's true love?
All series we've seen Edith grow into a young woman who's no longer one of life's eternal losers, so when she gives Mary an epic chunk of her mind - "Who do you think you're talking to, Mama? Your maid? I know you! I know you to be a nasty, jealous, scheming bitch!" - it feels like major vindication for five seasons of systematic sisterly abuse. Empowered Edith is fun.
Soon enough, Mary and Talbot's relationship is back on and there's a marriage on the cards. Edith returns to make peace, which feels rather too neat, although her explanation that one day only she and Mary will remain, their memories of Sybil stronger than their mutual hatred, is quite poignant.
Downton ends its sixth season precisely how it began its first - all about Mary and her prospects of love. On the one hand it feels like it's come full circle, but on the other it was genuinely disappointing that Edith never got that happy ending she so sorely deserved. Then again, with the Christmas Special still to come, who knows what could happen...
Were you satisfied with the Downton Abbey season 6 finale? Happy that Mary got together with Talbot, or were you hoping for her to give in to her chemistry with Tom? Didn't Edith deserve a shot at happiness? Leave your thoughts in the comments!