"I'm a spinster, aren't I? And spinsters live alone."
So begins this festive edition of Downton Abbey, which also doubles as the final ever episode. The stakes were not particularly high in season six: nobody was wrongly imprisoned for murder, Lady Mary did not cover up the death-by-sex of a hot foreign diplomat, and even Thomas couldn't find the energy to be evil.
Really, it was all about Edith, and her long-overdue shot at happiness with Bertie Pelham. What does this Christmas special have in store for our favourite spinster?
Carson has the shakes, spilling wine on Robert at dinner. "I can't think what came over me!" he bumbles, although in fact he knows full well what came over him: a nameless condition that "ended the careers" of his father and his grandfather before him.
"Is Daisy interested in men?" Andy asks of Patmore. "What on earth are you implying!", Patmore barks, as though being in the clutches of lesbianism would rank even in the top 50% of scandalous incidences in the recent history of Downton. As it turns out, Daisy is interested in men, although Andy can't work out whether she's interested in this particular man, and not just because he's got the IQ of a small house beetle. (A downstairs beetle, not an upstairs one.)
Thomas has found a job on the other side of York, but it's frightfully boring and he only works with two other people. If the past six seasons have shown us anything it's that Thomas Barrow despises people, but apparently this new arrangement is not to his taste. Don't worry, Thomas, it's the last episode! They won't let you end your career in such a pitifully small house... will they?
Where's the snow at?
A stray observation: is this the least Christmassy Christmas special ever? There's literally nothing festive about it, except that everybody is being paired off in such a way that it's starting to feel like a 1920s Love Actually. Before it's all over, Daisy will have been given a hospitality job at 10 Downing Street, where she'll catch the eye of the Prime Minister and make a bunch of saucy biscuit puns. Oh, how we'll laugh!
Richard Grey has fallen prey to a disease whose name I can't spell, and appears to be mere days from death, lamenting to Isobel: "I should have liked to have been married to you, but no man can have everything". In an episode steeped with engineered emotion, this moment feels very genuine and really quite heartbreaking...
So of course, Julian Fellowes has to throw in the classic misdiagnosed illness plot twist and have the Baron restored to full health with immediate effect. This episode is pure fantasy, a series of neatly wrapped bows and frightfully happy endings, which I suppose is what most of the audience wanted, but still feels a little bit much.
"What is a hairdryer?"
In the grand tradition of introducing exotic new contraptions into the house, Anna takes delivery of a hairdryer ordered for Lady Mary. Surprisingly, it looks like something that could still be bought today, albeit for four hundred and fifty bucks at an overpriced boutique in London's Covent Garden. "I've never changed my hairstyle!", Daisy remarks with trademark wonderment. She may be as gormless as a box of frogs, but I'll miss Daisy. A little bit.
Rosamund tricks Edith into a reunion with Bertie over dinner at the Ritz, and in the space of sixty seconds Robert and Cora's prize spinster defrosts to the point that the engagement is back on. The troublesome part comes when they visit Brancaster, home to the Earl of Hexham, to break the news of the engagement and Marigold to Bertie's rather bristly mother, but even that truth bomb is diffused quickly enough.
An unlikely truce
"I'd rather we part as friends than enemies", Bates tells Thomas, which makes him a more forgiving man than I would be toward somebody who'd repeatedly tried to have me discredited as a thief and a cripple and fired from my plush job at a fancy house, but as they often said in 1925, #yolo.
A scheming Denker is still trying to have Spratt fired - although, considering her every pleasure in life comes from their never-ending game of oneupmanship, I'm not entirely sure why she'd want him gone from her life. In fact these two would both be miserable if they had to live without one another. In the end her plan backfires, the Dowager utterly transfixed by Spratt's comic agony aunt column, meaning Denker lives to endure another day at the side of the man she secretly adores.
Meanwhile, Carson's illness clears the way for Thomas to return to Downton as butler, and although this is just another heavily contrived happy ending, I can't deny being pleased for Barrow. He deserved this.
It all comes back to the weather in the end
So, Edith got her happy ending in the end. Sure, there were times it really looked like she might die a spinster in a lonely London apartment, rejected by a rebellious teenaged Marigold, surrounded by cats and bathed in the scent of au d'Isgrace, but Julian Fellowes was never really going to enact such a cruel fate on Lady Mary's less glamorous sister. Season six had been all about Edith's journey, and the finale did not disappoint.
"What do you think makes the English the way we are?", a philosophical Rosamund asks her mother at Edith's wedding ceremony. "Opinions differ," Violet responds. "Some say our history, but I blame the weather." Never did one line of dialogue do more to sum up Downton Abbey.