Downton Abbey Season 6 Episode 1 Review: Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

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Welcome back to Downton!

Downton Abbey Season 6 Episode 1 brought us back to our favorite Yorkshire estate, revisiting a few old themes, wrapping up tired storylines, and introducing future prospects.

To start off, I'll admit that I'm in the camp that believes the first half of the show was far, FAR more enjoyable than the latter half. That said, I'm not glad to see the show go!

I'll always enjoy visiting the Crawley family and peeking into this incredibly different, weirdly comforting earlier way of life. I just happen to think that the Matthew and Sybil years were far, far better than these and, unfortunately, series four and five were never able to quite match the feeling of those earlier series.

Fox Hunt - Downton Abbey

The sixth season premiere picked up several months after the events of the Christmas episode from Downton Abbey Season 5. We opened on a fox hunt, which was as good a way as any to get us back into the swing of things; it was a great reintroduction to "Downton as usual."

While going off on the hunt, Mary spotted the incredibly dour-looking Rita Brevan. It was immediately obviously that this chick was going to be trouble. She had her "blackmail" face on, for sure. 

Brevan was not messing around. Confronting Mary after the hunt, she immediately got down to business, telling her that she'd been at the hotel where Mary and Lord Gillingham (bleh) had their tryst the previous year.

Mary, no stranger to being blackmailed at this point, was not having it. We were treated to more than a few classic Mary sneers as she cut down Brevan, who kept popping up at the house trying to finagle her way into getting that thousand pounds from Mary.

I have to say, this was a pretty great way to demonstrate Mary's character development. Of course, the eldest Crawley daughter didn't exactly brush off the threat of scandal without a care – Mary is still Mary, after all, and to pretend that she wouldn't care about being at the center of a scandal would have been out of character and disingenuous.

Despite all that, she was prepared to let nasty Brevan go forward with her threat and reveal the truth rather than capitulate to her demands. Luckily (Mary always is lucky, Brevan was right about that), it didn't come to pass – Robert had her back, as usual.

Lord Grantham's plan to get rid of Brevan and insure she didn't come slithering back for more money was very smart. Robert is occasionally annoying, but my favorite Robert is crafty Robert.

Mary: I'm impressed. My darling papa, transformed into Machiavelli at a touch. Will wonders never cease?
Lord Grantham: Is that a compliment?

The best part of "Blackmail: Revisited" was that, in its resolution, two important points came out: Lord Grantham officially acknowledged that Mary was fully capable of running Downton (for however long it will still exist, anyway...) and Mary told her father flat-out that she'd prefer to remain alone than marry the wrong man. Yay for Mary's character growth!

Meanwhile, the Bateses continued to win the award for most put-upon Downton pair. Seriously, can these two ever catch a break?! It's crazy; I can't remember the last time these two had a happy moment.

Thank goodness this premiere marked the definitive end of the Mr. Green murder storyline. Sergeant Willis was a sight for sore eyes when he showed up and informed everyone that a woman (another of Green's victims) had come forward and confessed to the murder.

Naturally, this being Downton Abbey, they needed to draw out the drama for just a bit longer – which accounted for Willis nonsensically showing up at Downton midway through to cryptically announce that a suspect had been brought in, but not confirmed.

I was with Bates on that one – why would he deliver that news before it was all squared away? Because Anna and Bates needed to sweat it out for a few more hours, of course. Sigh.

Of course, Anna and Bates are now dealing with an altogether new and different problem. Anna revealed she'd suffered from several miscarriages and was sure that she couldn't carry a baby to term. 

I groaned when Anna was all apologetic to Bates, telling her that she let him down. Unfortunately, it was perfectly in character for her to make this issue all about Bates, but I would've liked a second or two more of Anna grieving the loss of her child for her own sake.

One thing about the Bates family, though – if they have a problem, drawn out as it may be, it will be surmounted in the end. I am 100% sure there will be a Bates baby before the show wraps. As much as Fellowes delights in torturing these two, he always makes good on them in the end.

The other forefront storyline involved Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson's relationship. I loved their engagement at the end of the last season, and Mrs. Hughes recruiting Mrs. Patmore to finagle an answer out of Carson about the – ahem – sexual aspect of their impending marriage was hilarious.

Mrs. Patmore is consistently one of the funniest characters on the show, so watching her try to get up the courage to talk to the indomitable Carson about something as indelicate as this was great.

Equally great was the way this comic-relief storyline devolved into something incredible sweet. Carson's speech about Mrs. Hughes and his love for her moved me as much as it moved Mrs. Patmore. Adorable!

I love her, Mrs. Patmore. I am happy and tickled and bursting with pride that she would agree to be my wife. And I want us to live as closely as two people can for the time that remains to us on earth.

Carson

Now that Carson and Mrs. Hughes are on the same page, I'm really looking forward to their wedding.

Elsewhere, Edith continued to be posh as all get out, with consistently fantastic outfits. She was busy taking care of things at the newspaper (remotely) and wondered whether she should move to London and live in the flat that Gregson left her instead of renting it out. Insert special appearance by Aunt Rosamund here.

DO IT, EDITH. There is really nothing for Edith at Downton, and I strongly feel that Edith will flourish away from her family and away from the small-town mentality of her family homestead. She and Marigold would do well to make the leap into the twentieth century and leave the old world mentality behind at Downton.

Plus, it makes absolutely no sense that she's been able to run a newspaper long-distance for as long as she has.

Violet and Isobel were relegated to one of their classic sparring-storylines, in which they are butting heads over impeding changes in the way the hospital will be run. 

Finally, a connective thread through most (or perhaps all) of the current storylines involved the rapidly accelerating decay of the Downton way of life.

This is something that's haunted Downton Abbey over the course of the last several seasons, ever since the first big cut-back in staffing. It's 1925 at this point, so of course we (as viewers residing in the present) know that the Crawley's way of life is in its twilight. 

Lord Grantham: If I could stop history in its tracks, maybe I would. But I can't, Carson. Nor you nor I can hold back time.
Carson: Unfortunately.

Carson and Robert discussed staffing issues at Downton, with Robert commenting that many other houses had done away with their butlers and the like. Obviously, neither of them are into that idea.

In that quintessentially Downtonish way, word spreads about this issue, with Robert mentioning the cutbacks to Violet. Violet, in turn, mentioned it to Denker in passing.

Denker wasted no time in ignoring Violet's explicit instruction to keep quiet about the cutbacks. She announced it to everyone, which was incredible stupid, wasn't it? Did she seriously not think this would find its way back to Violet? Dumb.

Everyone was in a frenzy about being fired, but none moreso than hapless Spratt. The Denker/Spratt feud is an amusing ongoing thing, for sure.

I loved the way Violet continued to play into the feud, "getting back" at Denker's gossiping by pretending she'd fire Denker if the cutbacks went forward. Reminded me of last season's broth debacle in Downton Abbey Season 5 Episode 9.

On a more serious note, the Crawleys visited the auction of a neighboring estate, which was sold by their neighbor (and Robert's childhood friend) who could no longer afford to keep up the house.

It was plain all over their faces: this could very well be them, soon enough. Robert, in particular, looked positively verklempt at sight of the items all lined up for sale.

Lord Grantham: I can hardly believe it. I used to come here all the time as a boy.
Edith: "Sic transit gloria mundi."
Mary: Will you be as philosophical when it's our turn?

"Sic transit gloria mundi" translates to "Thus passes the glory of the world" (or, alternatively, "Worldly things are fleeting").

While at the auction, Daisy did a predictably Daisy-like thing and made a bad situation worse. She told off the new owner of the estate for not agreeing to keep her father-in-law, Mr. Mason, as a tenant.

Which, naturally, pissed off the new owner who informed her that he'd definitely not be keeping on Mr. Mason now.

Oh, Daisy. Obviously her heart was in the right place, but she very likely torched Mr. Mason's future right there. My fingers are crossed that kindly old Mr. Mason winds up being able to stay put where he is, or that he finds another farm to live on.

Other thoughts:

  • Edith met Virginia Woolf in London! Super cool. You go, Edith.
  • Loved Mrs. Patmore dancing around with Sergeant Willis. It was so unexpected and cute, and reminded me how much I hope Mrs. Patmore finds love with someone.
  • I love babysitter Thomas! Seeing the softer side of Downton's most dour butler is always a rare treat, so seeing him give little George piggyback rides was all kinds of cute.
  • Speaking of Thomas, Thomas's confiding in Baxter that he felt the others were turning newer servant Andy against him was really sad, but he's probably right.
  • For a second when Brevan showed up, I thought she was going to be blackmailing Mary about the Kemal Pamuk thing (that's how forgettable Gillingham was, for me). But of course the Pamuk thing was, at this point, about 13 years old, so that thought didn't make much sense.
  • Oh my god, Denker is THE WORST. She's nearing O'Brien levels of terrible, honestly.
  • Carson was all set to fire Daisy? I continue to be baffled that, after all that's happened, Carson's commitment to propriety trumps nearly every personal loyalty in his life.

Did you enjoy the premiere? Are you sad to see the series, and the Crawleys' way of life, winding down? You can watch Downton Abbey online here at TV Fanatic, to reminisce and catch up on any episodes you missed.

601 Review

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Caralynn Lippo is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.

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Downton Abbey Season 6 Episode 1 Quotes

I love her, Mrs. Patmore. I am happy and tickled and bursting with pride that she would agree to be my wife. And I want us to live as closely as two people can for the time that remains to us on earth.

Carson

Lord Grantham: If I could stop history in its tracks, maybe I would. But I can't, Carson. Nor you nor I can hold back time.
Carson: Unfortunately.