Downton Abbey Devotees analyze ep. 8: something about Lady Mary

Season six’s penultimate episode: ’She’s a bit of a bully, your Lady Mary’
Shown: Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary (C) Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE
Shown: Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary
(C) Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE

Lords and ladies,

We bid you welcome to our weekly blog, Downton Abbey Devotees. We would be remiss if we did not caution that Downton Abbey secrets, even gossip, will be revealed in the writing below. We are concerned that the revelations may trigger a splenic attack for those unfortunates who haven’t seen the new episodes. Perhaps they should depart forthwith?

“Careful, people would think you’re jealous. And we wouldn’t want that.”–Cora to her daughter, Mary

With only one episode left in the series, any pretense regarding Lady Mary Crawley’s character is abandoned. She’s a rude, self-serving bully. Used to getting everything she wants, Mary can’t bear it if her younger sister has something she doesn’t. She’s belittled, mocked and made fun of Edith throughout the series. If Downton Abbey flashes back to their childhood, I’m sure Lady Mary would be tearing apart Edith’s teddy bear because it’s a bit bigger than hers.

Everything comes to a head when the marquess of Hexham, owner of Brancaster Castle, dies of malaria in Morocco. Mary thinks his cousin, Bertie Pelham, may be out of his job as his land agent. She’s right, but for the wrong reason. Bertie is the new marquis of Hexham. His fiancee, Edith, will outrank them all. Mary has fallen in love with a glorified car mechanic (yeah, Henry Talbot is an aristocratic racing driver, but he works for a living, with cars) while Edith gets one of the grandest titles in England. Mary isn’t happy, snipping to Tom, “He won’t want to marry her now.”

Mary just can’t help herself. “She’s a bit of a bully, your Lady Mary. She likes her own way,” Bates tells Anna. And in case anyone thinks her actions are rash, think again.  She knows exactly what she’s doing, sending Carson out of the breakfast room before springing the trap. Tom Branson tries to stop her, but to no avail. Mary tells Bertie she’s impressed he could accept Edith’s “past,” forcing her sister to reveal that Marigold is her daughter. Then she picks up the paper and begins to read. Ice does flow through her veins.

“Was it really a mistake?” the earl asks rhetorically. No one pretends it was.

Bertie is devastated that Edith didn’t trust him with the truth. He can’t spend his life with someone who doesn’t trust him. In an agonizingly restrained scene they wish each other luck and go their separate ways.

Shown from left to right: Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith and Harry Hadden-Paton as Bertie Pelham (C) Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE
Shown from left to right: Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith and Harry Hadden-Paton as Bertie Pelham
(C) Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE

Meanwhile, Tom Branson tells Mary some hard truths. Finally, some common sense! He’s always seen right through his sister-in-law’s cool facade. Usually he shrugs off her actions, but not this time. “You got what you wanted,” he yells. When she tries to explain, he cuts her off, “Don’t play the innocent with me. You can’t stop ruining things.” Then the coup de grace, “Like all bullies you’re a coward.”

In a row building for decades, Edith piles on, : “You want your cake and hate me too,” ”I know you to be a nasty, scheming bitch” and “You’re not content to ruin your own life, you have to ruin mine.”

Mary’s bad deeds aside, it’s an episode of the ultimate contrast between moral vs. immoral behaviour. This blog is getting long, so forgive the point form.

Immoral behaviour:

  • Mrs. Patmore’s B&B is labelled a house of ill repute after guests are revealed to be adulterers
  • Bertie Pelham’s “delicate” cousin who liked the young fishermen of Tangiers (1920s code for being gay, illegal at the time)
  • Tom Barrow’s suicide attempt (also illegal)

Moral behaviour

  • Tom Branson’s home truths, and for persuading the dowager countess to return from France
  • The Crawleys use their own reputations to restore that of their cook. “Mrs. Patmore has been loyal to this house, and now we must be loyal to her,” the earl tells a disapproving Carson.
  • Edith gives Bertie a way out of their engagement (post-title, pre-Marigold revelation)
  • Baxter realizes Barrow may be harming himself and saves his life
  • Moseley teaches the school children that, with education, they could run the country one day: “You must never think education is for toffs, it’s for everyone.” As Bates says, “You’re a kind man Mr. Moseley. It’s about time you were rewarded for your kindness.”
  • Everyone keeps Tom Barrow’s secret, and helps him to get better, including Lady Mary, who brings George to cheer him up.

Everything gets back on track when the dowager countess returns to Downton. “Tom believes you are unhappy and that’s why you lash out,” the dowager tells her granddaughter. Henry Talbot is strong enough to stand up to her. Finally, Mary reveals her deepest fear: “I can’t be a crash widow.” She’s terrified, but can’t ask him to give it up, or he will resent her. Her gran gives her two pieces of advice:

  1. Make peace with your sister
  2. Make peace with yourself

Finally, Mary grows up. She sends for a confused, hopeful Henry Talbot. “Last time you threw me out for saying I love you, now you whistle and I’m here.” She proposes, he accepts. And not wanting her to change her mind, he pulls out a marriage licence (the advantage of having an uncle who is a bishop.) They get married on the weekend.

Even Edith, ever the dutiful Crawley, rushes back for the service. “You’re my sister,” she tells a stunned Mary. “One day they will all be gone.our shared memories will mean more than our mutual dislike.”

This, the penultimate episode, ends with Edith watching the children playing in the graveyard. She’s alone again. Yet all may not be lost. The earl tells his wife that, of all their children, Edith is the biggest surprise. “We haven’t seen the last yet.”