Well, that was... a lot.
Downton Abbey Season 6 Episode 8 was easily one of the best of the last three seasons of the series. I've made no secret of the fact that I vastly prefer early Downton (the era of Matthew-Mary and Tom-Sybil) to the latter half of the show.
This penultimate installment of the series managed to capture that early Downton charm, drama, and joy. It was outstanding.
As of Downton Abbey Season 6 Episode 7, it appeared that Mary's future was torched and Edith's was just about set. Unfortunately, as is Downton's way, the tides have turned and everything's flipped a solid 180 degrees for the Crawley sisters.
Mary's behavior was completely despicable but I do believe it was in her character. It's also important to note that Mary clearly didn't enter the breakfast room intending to blow up Edith's engagement by revealing Marigold's true parentage.
She was incredibly jealous at the idea that Edith would marry to manage for both love and status (surprise! Bertie is the Marquess of Hexham!), when Mary couldn't even get herself to accept the love part.
Mary was distracted and upset by Henry's sudden departure (not sure what she thought would happen after she angrily kicked him out, but whatever). She had clearly been in a spiral ever since kicking Henry to the curb; everyone could see it, and Mary's rage over everyone doubting that she knew what she was doing was simmering to a boil throughout.
Edith halted Bertie's announcement of their engagement and then rubbed a bit of salt in Mary's wound by mentioning Mary's ended romance and her own impending wedding. That's clearly what set Mary off.
Which, of course, is not at all to imply that Mary wasn't in the wrong. It was absolutely not her place to tell Bertie, and her insistence that she was sure Edith had told him already was an absolute crock.
It was so gratifying to see the family back Edith up and recognize Mary's horrendous attitude, for once. It's not like Mary makes a big secret about being cold as ice, but the family tends to always turn the other cheek when she makes awful remarks. Now, they were forced to notice because she utterly wrecked Edith's life.
As upsetting as this is for Edith, Mary's betrayal led to two of the greatest scenes in the history of Downton Abbey: Tom laying into Mary for her cowardice, and Edith later calling Mary out on her true nature and calling her a bitch.
You're a coward, Mary. Like all bullies, you're a coward.Tom
Edith: Who do you think you're talking to? Mama? Your maid? I know you! I know you to be a nasty, jealous, scheming bitch!
Mary: Now listen, you pathetic --
Edith: You're a bitch! Not content with ruining your own life, you're determined to ruin mine!
Mary: I have not ruined my life and if Bertie's put off by that, then --
Edith: Don't demean yourself by trying to justify your venom. Just go. And you're wrong as you so often are. Henry's perfect for you. You're just too stupid and stuck up to see it. Still, at least he's got away from you. Which is something to give thanks for, I suppose!
Those two scenes were completely epic. Allen Leech, Michelle Dockery, and Laura Carmichael all killed it with their performances. I think I watched that Edith-Mary face-off five times in a row.
We're used to seeing Mary's biting wit, but Edith's cold as ice denouncement of her sister was a long time coming.
Mary's pain and self-denial were finally resolved with a visit from Granny Violet. After Tom playing Irish Cupid all season, I was a bit surprised that it wasn't him who got through Mary's stubbornness in the end. 95% of his dialogue this season consisted of badgering Mary to admit to her love for Henry.
OK, that's not exactly fair. Technically, Tom did have a hand in it: he was the one to call in reinforcements (in the form of the Dowager) after Mary dropped the Marigold bomb. I'm not quite sure why Tom instinctively knew that Violet would be the one who could get through to Mary, but hey, it worked all the same.
I believe in love. I mean, brilliant careers, rich lives, are seldom led without... just an element of love.Violet
This scene between Violet and Mary was also a highlight (this installment had so many highlights, it was delicious).
Maggie Smith and Michelle Dockery played off of one another perfectly. Seeing cold, stony-faced Mary break and admit that she couldn't handle being another car crash widow after Matthew was incredibly moving (even though I was still firmly in I HATE MARY mode at that time).
While the very proper Dowager is the last person one might expect to encourage Mary to make a love match, rather than a society-approved one, it actually makes perfect sense. Namely, because of her experience last year with Igor Kuragin.
When Violet was Mary's age, she attempted to give everything up for the sake of love, but was thwarted. It became clear, once Kuragin resurfaced, that she was still haunted by that. It makes complete sense that Violet would want Mary to avoid suffering that same regret later in life.
Once Mary realized the truth of Violet's words, she immediately went to make her peace with Matthew which, again, was a lovely scene. She also ran into Isobel, just so Fellowes could get the whole gang to chime in and give their approval before Mary pulled the trigger on her second marriage.
Mary: I believe I've met my match. I have. I'm not 20, trembling at the touch of your hand, but I know that if I leave you now I'll never be as happy as we could've been together.
Henry: I'm not 20 either but I still tremble at the touch of your hands.
Mary: Me, too. I don't know why I said that.
Mary and Henry reunited and married in record time. It would have been preferable if this had been a little bit less at breakneck speed (it rubs a bit the wrong way that Mary got her happy ending so easily after all of the destruction and chaos she caused), but the airtime minutes are slipping away and clearly everyone needs their happy ending in due course.
It is inexplicable to me that Edith forgave Mary so easily. I can only assume that she got bored/lonely in London and decided to come home because a bitchy terrible sister is better than no sister?
Edith: Now you're happy again, you'll be nicer... for a while.
Mary: If that's what you feel, then why are you here?
Edith: Because, in the end, you're my sister and one day, only we will remember Sybil... or Mama or Papa or Matthew or Michael or Granny or Carson or any of the others who have peopled our youth... until, at last, our shared memories will mean more than our mutual dislike.
Her speech was lovely, though, flimsy as her reasoning was. Her name-dropping all of their deceased family members and probably-soon-to-be-deceased family members really got to me; I teared up a bit.
If Mary was the #1 Cad this time around, Carson was a very close second. It seems that Carson has regressed fully to his backwards insistence on propriety at all costs.
The way he treated Mrs. Patmore in the midst of her inadvertent B&B scandal was awful. As if she had something to do with two guests fooling around on her property!
The way he treated Mrs. Hughes for supporting Mrs. P was also awful. On top of all that, he was completely impertinent when he voiced his disagreement with the Crawleys' decision to go have tea at the B&B to revive the establishment's reputation. What a jerk.
It's completely absurd that Mrs. Hughes brushed off all of his rudeness by saying he was "her curmudgeon" and kissing him, but I guess we've now got confirmation that she knew exactly what she was getting into when they married and loves him in spite of (or because of?) his attitude. I don't get it at all, but at least she's self-aware?
Besides Mrs. Patmore's drama, which bridged upstairs and downstairs, there were two additional downstairs subplots in play. One was extremely uplifting, and the other was incredibly heartbreaking.
Uplifting, of course, was Mr. Molesley's rousing success during his first week as a teacher. After a bad first day, something changed and he nailed it. His passion for education came through and left his students full of hope and totally enraptured by him.
No, you see, you must never think that education is only for special people, you know, for clever people, for toffs. Education is for everyone.Molesley
My heart fluttered. It was a perfect moment, and Kevin Doyle really nailed Molesley's nervous, twitchy enthusiasm.
On the other end of the spectrum, Thomas attempted to commit suicide. He was saved thanks to Mrs. Baxter's empathy and compassion – she noticed several instances of his strange behavior and looked concerned after each of them, culminating in her dashing back to Downton and saving his life after Molesley mentioned something Barrow said to him that sounded disturbingly like a farewell.
Poor, poor Thomas. He and Edith are the two characters who I'm still holding out for. Edith will absolutely reunite with Bertie (I refuse to even consider the alternative).
Though Thomas likely doesn't have time to meet a nice man and fall in love in the course of one finale episode, I at least hope that Carson and Robert's decision to keep Barrow on indicates a change of tides for Thomas.
Mary: We're going, Barrow, and I hope things improve for you. I really do.
Thomas: I'd say the same if it weren't impertinent, M'Lady.
It's unfortunate that it took Thomas slitting his wrists for Carson to realize that Thomas has a heart, but to be fair to Carson, Barrow did his best to hide away said heart.
- Spratt is the secret advice columnist, Miss Cassandra Jones! That was a hilarious, unexpected twist. I want to know all about this, but I doubt it'll get much focus during the finale.
- I kind of love Laura Edmunds. I wish she'd been around longer; she's a great friend to Edith and lord knows Edith could've used a few of those around.
- We're still dancing around a Lord Merton-Isobel reconciliation and full-blown relationship. Personally, I don't care much either way because I was always firmly Team Doctor Clarkson when it came to Mrs. Crawley.
- Daisy passed her exams, with flying colors! Proving once and for all that common sense and book smarts are two totally distinct things. Can she be definitively less insufferable now that she's been educated?
What did you think of the penultimate episode of Downton Abbey? What are your thoughts and predictions going into the finale? Let us know by commenting below and watch Downton Abbey online if you've missed any episodes!
Caralynn Lippo is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.